Dirt is Bill Buford’s second contribution to the swelling subgenre of middle-aged memoir in which a man or, less frequently, woman of letters endures a traumatic but ultimately rewarding apprenticeship in the fetid air of a restaurant kitchen. In the first instalment, Heat (2006), ‘good home cook’ Buford pulls a drastic career switcheroo, going from fiction editor at the New Yorker to ‘kitchen bitch’ of the hot-blooded Italian-American superchef Mario Batali. Cynics might say that what inspired Dirt was the drop in paperback sales of its predecessor after 2017, when Batali fell thumpingly from grace over an alleged series of sexual misdeeds. Certainly, one imagines that the prosecution team will have glanced at Heat, which is full of the kind of rampaging carnality, around both food and the body, that’s widely assumed to be a symptom of toxic masculinity, or masculinity full stop.
Dirt is a more autumnal affair (the epilogue is titled ‘Just About Everybody Dies’). Buford spends a ‘stage’ in the kitchen of Citronelle in Washington, DC, where chef Michel Richard has perfected a modern take on classical French cuisine. From there, via an entertaining imbroglio that sees him trying to