“I pressed on. “No one in America eats food out of a pig’s bladder.”
Oh boy, it’s been ages since I’ve read a foodie book, and I was so excited to read this one. I read Buford’s previous book, Heat (published in 2006), and really enjoyed his adventures in the cooking world. In that book, he got to train in Mario Batali’s kitchen (of course, now that things have come to light about Batali, I wouldn’t know what to think of that), but at that time, I really enjoyed Buford’s writing, and his brashness in being able to jump into a professional kitchen and move from station to station.
Similarly, this happens again in Dirt, this time in Lyon, France. Why Lyon? It’s the home of Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud grew up near there, and some consider it the gastronomy capital of the world.
Also, Buford had come across the idea that French cuisine originated in Italian Renaissance kitchens:
“In any case, the implications were intriguing to consider: that at one point French cuisine did not exist, or at least not in a form that we would recognise today; and that then, at another point, it did, and that the Italians may have had something to do with its coming into being.”
Packing up and heading to a new country for a while is nothing new to Buford and his family. They lived in Tuscany for a year, his wife loved to travel and could easily pick up languages. And Buford had been wanting to work in a French kitchen. But they soon learned that France was not Italy. That is, while it was easy to land in Italy, figure things out as they went along, even just the process of getting to France (legally that is) was hard. All kinds of supporting documents were needed, even financial statements for each child (though they were still in diapers). And somehow needing to prove residence in France – although they were still in the process of applying to be residents??
At any rate, they made it there, with a little help from some friends.
But there, still, Buford had a hard time getting his foot into any restaurant kitchen. He does, however, work for a baker, and attends culinary school for a bit – not just any culinary school, but L’Institut Bocuse – then eventually lands up at La Mère Brazier, which first opened in 1921.
I have enjoyed eating French food, one of my favourite all-time meals is Duck Confit. But I have no clue about the food of Lyon, some of which sounds like nothing I’ve ever seen on French restaurant menus. For instance, andouillette, which sounds like the andouille sausage (common in the US), but is instead full of pigs intestines and stomach. Or the volaille à Noelle (I could only find recipes in French, so the link here is to a Youtube video of a chef making the dish), it’s essentially a deboned bird, refilled and stuffed with vegetables and meat. And then there’s the Poulet en Vessie, which is a chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder. Yup. The dish looks like a ball in which a chicken is enclosed. Fascinating!
“After twenty minutes, the vessie is transformed: No longer thick and opaque, it has the appearance of a beautifully golden, nearly translucent beach ball that some maniac is still insisting on pumping more air into. Also, you can see the chicken.”
And reading about French schools, especially their school lunches – three course meals, the food served at the table, and kids cannot get the next course if they haven’t finished.
Another fascinating part, is the principles of a French plate:
“If your dish uses colour strategically, volume (i.e. has height), and texture (mixes soft and hard, or juicy and crunchy), then it will appeal to a diner.”
This was a book I needed to read. The thought of someone travelling to a different country is such a foreign concept right now. Getting on a plane and moving your family to another part of the world, to live there for a few months – which turns into five years? What a dream! This was armchair – and foodie – travelling during a pandemic.
Here’s a tip: If you’ve ever watched the late Anthony Bourdain’s TV series Parts Unknown, Season 3 Episode 4 is the Lyon episode and it features Daniel Boulud, who is often mentioned in Dirt. The episode also brings in Buford himself. The season was aired in 2014 and so that possibly means that he was still living in Lyon when it was taped? He had moved to Lyon in 2009 and they stayed for five years. Also, the chefs cook the Poulet en Vessie, and that is quite a sight.
Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs