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Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking Reviews

Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking by Bill Buford

Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking

Bill Buford

3.44 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 1 Oct 2020
ISBN: 9781787333116

'A chomping, romping, savoury tour de force: by turns hilarious, and seriously thought provoking' Simon Schama For most of his adult life, Bill Buford had secretly wanted to find himself in France, in a French kitchen, having mastered the art of French haute cuisine.

4 stars out of 5
26 Mar 2021

"Dirt is an at times riotous celebration of the French kitchen, but it is also a wistful account of what can be lost and forgotten with the passing of time."

The narrative is subtly haunted by the death of Bocuse, often considered the “leader of nouvelle cuisine” and immortalized in France’s most prestigious prize for cookery, the Bocuse d’Or. In Buford’s telling, however, Bocuse is better thought of as “the most prominent member of a generation of chefs when French cooking, in many forms, nouvelle and not-so-nouvelle, had a wonderful postwar flourishing, a renaissance … more than anything else, a Lyonnais chef”. Dirt is an at times riotous celebration of the French kitchen, but it is also a wistful account of what can be lost and forgotten with the passing of time.


3 stars out of 5
Jonathan Meades
2 Dec 2020

"The Buford of Dirt shares a name with the sassy publishing operator he once was: a name, and not much else."

Buford is a persuasive advocate for the rough edges of what was his adopted home. He still longs for its “gritty darkness, the sewage smells, the graffiti, the cobblestone streets ... its low cloud of melancholy”. His affection for the everyday details and specificities of the place is attractive. But it is, strangely, not matched by an enthusiasm for the vernacular cooking of the city... For the Lyonnais/New York chef Daniel Boulud, who opened many doors for Buford, Lyon is a “time-warp city”, which accords with Bertrand Tavernier’s neat aphorism “the last time I saw Paris it was in Lyon”. Lyon is what France was an indefinite time ago: Buford is lucky to have lived there then. He has written a report from that past.

4 stars out of 5
Roger Lewis
10 Oct 2020

"A tale of chef training in Lyons is hugely Francophobic but fun"

Dirt — the title is a pejorative reference to the French reverence for their soil — is the most Francophobic opus since Marcel Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity (the 1969 documentary about wartime collaboration) yet hugely enjoyable for all that. Buford’s patience and composure are remarkable, his reportage illuminating, and despite the provocation and stress his love of fine dining remains evident.

3 stars out of 5
1 Oct 2020

"Buford’s writing is assured and voluptuous"

Buford’s writing is assured and voluptuous, well up to the task of suggesting the fierce magnificence of a trembling blood sausage or the subtler charms of a quenelle de brochet – though there’s a mixture of twinkliness and fastidiousness about the cultivated American bon vivant that sits oddly with all the macho stuff. It also tends to jar on the cisatlantic ear. If you’re an Old Worldster and you write about food at all, you’ll probably have found yourself scrabbling desperately round the nether reaches of the word hoard for a synonym for ‘delicious’, but if you happened upon ‘scrumptious’, I would like to think you’d put it straight back again. At times, reading Dirt is like going out for dinner – a pretty good dinner, admittedly – with the love child of Ned Flanders and Dr Frasier Crane. Buford takes a swipe at the ‘self-consciously I-am-literary prose’ of M F K Fisher, but given that he once published Angela Carter in Granta, I wondered if he’d read her frankly magnificent London Review of Books review of, inter alia, Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed, in which Carter ever so courteously eviscerates a certain cohort of food writers, generally patrician and female, who go and live among stout, mustachioed peasant widows somewhere poor and hot, the better to imbibe the secrets of their austerely magnificent lives.

3 stars out of 5
Rachel Cooke
29 Sep 2020

"If it were a dish, it would be something rich that can only be eaten in small amounts."

The things that I like about this book – sometimes, I love them almost as much as I love a fat, chewy slice of saucisson sec – are also the things that make it flawed. I adore Buford’s enthusiasm, which is unstinting, endlessly curious and absolutist in the best sense (no, he will not hang out with other expats; yes, he will try to enjoy the piggiest treats, even when all he can taste is the sty). But could he not, sometimes, rein himself in just a little? There is an awful lot of Dirt (it’s named, incidentally, not after the muddiness of the pike, nor after the state of anyone’s fingernails or filthy mind, but after the land that is the ultimate source of the ingredients of Lyonnaise cooking).

4 stars out of 5
26 Sep 2020

"Bill Buford masters the art of French cooking the hard way — including slaughtering a pig for boudin noir"

Buford comes to love the French, the Lyonnais in particular, and the feeling seems mutual. He is, to borrow his description of some of his culinary heroes, a ‘charismatic fanatic’. His devotion to making food, and to learning about food, is contagious. Early on in Among the Thugs he explained his motivation with engaging modesty: ‘I wanted to find out what I didn’t know.’ That openness to experience, to adventure, has remained with him. He’s the better for it, and so are we.