... may well be an even greater pleasure than its predecessor ... most enjoyable (for us, if not for him) are the apprenticeships in which he sets out to master the five mother sauces, bake the perfect baguette and construct the same misleadingly named 'duck pie' by which one year’s candidates for the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (a kind of culinary knighthood) were judged ... The book’s dust jacket breathlessly proclaims it as 'the definitive account of one of the world’s great culinary cultures,' but Dirt is something better: a delightful, highly idiosyncratic exploration of how, as Buford puts it, 'a dish is arrived at not by following a set of instructions but by discovering everything about it: the behavior of its ingredients, its history and a quality that some chefs think of as its soul.'
You can almost taste the food in Bill Buford’s Dirt, an engrossing, beautifully written memoir about his life as a cook in France ... Mr. Buford brings a novelistic approach to his story; he is both observer and participant. He’s an entertaining, often comical, raconteur ... His descriptions of his new city are vivid and evocative.
This is a more sober book than Heat. It’s as if Johnny Cash followed up 'Get Rhythm,' as a jukebox single, with 'Hurt.' ... As with good cookery, no shortcuts are taken in Dirt. When Buford picks up a subject — be it bread or language or culinary history or Italian versus French food or the nature of Lyon — that subject is simmered until every tendon has softened ... This is a big book that, like an army, moves entire divisions independent of one another. Watching Buford choose a topic for scrutiny is like watching an enormous bodybuilder single out one muscle, on the mountain range of his or her arms, for a laser-focused burn ... this book has a blind spot as regards money. Buford and Green abandon their jobs and apparently their incomes and rent an apartment in Lyon that has six marble fireplaces. They order dear bottles of wine in restaurants and consume extortionate menus and take high-priced classes and send their children, when they finally return to New York, to an elite private school ... I don’t demand that a writer tell me where his or her seemingly endless supply of scratch comes from. But the lack of even vague disclosure, in a book that takes an interest in social class in Lyon, leaves an odd crater. Buford’s story may have some readers skating along the line that separates envy from something else ... At a time when writers really, really want us to like them, and it’s all a bit gross, Buford doesn’t try very hard. He has a smart, literate, sly voice on the page. But he doesn’t go overboard, for example, when it comes to calling attention to himself as a good father. He’s away from home a great deal, leaving a lot of the messy work to his wife ... I admire this book enormously; it’s a profound and intuitive work of immersive journalism. If I didn’t turn every page with equal enthusiasm, well, it’s a long trip. There will be gray days and sunny ones. Walter Bagehot said some writers are incisors, while others are grinders. Buford is a grinder of a high order.