‘Dirt’ by Bill Buford

‘Dirt’ by Bill Buford

WHO: Bill Buford

WHAT: DIRT: Adventures in Lyon
as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth
Looking for the Secret of French Cooking

WHEN: Published by Knopf May 6, 2020

WHERE: The author lives in New York.

WHY: “This is a remarkable book, and even readers who don’t know a sabayon from a Sabatier will find it endlessly rewarding.
“Bill Buford delivers a vivid and often laugh-out-loud account of the tribulations, humblings, and triumphs he and his family endured in the five years they lived in France.
“In the mid-aughts, Buford determines to move to France to learn about French cooking, and after much effort he, his wife, and their twin toddler boys arrive in Lyon, a city notable for ‘its gritty darkness, the sewage smells,’ where it’s initially impossible for Buford to find a kitchen to work in. It isn’t until he does a stint at a cooking school that he finagles a spot in a Michelin-starred restaurant, where the work is relentless and the culture unreformed (an Indonesian cook, for instance, is given the name Jackie Chan).
“Meanwhile, Buford’s twin boys become fully French, and Buford puts on his culinary deerstalker cap to investigate the influence of Italian cooking on French cuisine, and vice versa.
“Buford is a delightful narrator, and his stories of attending a pig slaughter, befriending the owner of a local bakery, and becoming gradually accepted by the locals are by turns funny, intimate, insightful, and occasionally heartbreaking.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, a starred review

“An ebullient, entertaining memoir.”

“An inside look into haute cuisine.”
—Mark Knoblauch, in a starred review for BOOKLIST

. . . . .


On a bright, chilly, autumnal afternoon in 2007, I met Michel Richard, a chef and the man who would radically change my life — and the lives of my wife, Jessica Green, and our two-year-old twins — without my quite knowing who he was, and in the confidence that, whoever he might be, he was someone I would never see again.

My wife and I had just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and were at the head of a line in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, waiting to board a train back to New York. At the last minute, the man I didn’t yet know to be Michel Richard appeared off to the side. He was out of breath and sizable, not tall but round, and impossible to miss. He had a modest white beard, a voluminous black shirt, tails untucked, and baggy black trousers. (Baggy chef pants, I realize now.) I studied him, wondering: I don’t know him, do I?

Of course I knew him! By what algorithm of memory and intelligence could I not have recognized him? He had written a book, Happy in the Kitchen, that, by a fluke of gift-giving friends, I owned two copies of, and, six months before, had won the “double” at the James Beard Foundation Awards in New York City, for Outstanding Wine Service and for being the Outstanding Chef of the United States — and I had been in the audience. In fact, at that moment, I had French chefs on my mind (for reasons that I was about to spell out to my wife), and here was one of them, regarded by many as the most delightfully inventive cooking mind in the Northern Hemisphere. He was, to be fair, looking neither delightful nor inventive and was smelling unmistakably of red wine, and of sweat, too, and I suspected that the black show-no-stains shirt, if you got close to it, would have yielded up an impressively compressed bacterial history. And so, for these and other reasons, I concluded that, no, this man couldn’t be the person I couldn’t remember and that, whoever he might be, he was definitively a queue jumper, who, casting about for a point of entry, had fixed on a spot in front of my wife. Any moment the gate would open. I waited, wondering if I should be offended. The longer I waited, the more offended I could feel myself becoming, until, finally, the gate did open and I did a mean thing.

As the man made his dash, I stepped into his path and, smack, we collided. We collided so powerfully that I lost my balance and flopped awkwardly across his stomach, which somehow kept me from falling, when, without knowing how, I was in his arms. We stared at each other. We were close enough to kiss. His eyes darted between my nose and my lips. Then he laughed. It was an easy, uninhibited laugh. It was more giggle than laugh. It could have been the sound a boy makes on being tickled. I would learn to recognize that laugh — high-pitched and sometimes beyond controlling — and love it. The line surged. He was gone.

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Knopf. 432 pages. $28.95
ISBN 978-0-307-27101-3

To interview the author, contact:
Sarah New | 212-572-2103 | snew@penguinrandomhouse.com