The writer uprooted his young family to France so he could train to be a proper chef. How did it work out?
There is a chapter in Bill Buford’s book Dirt – his hugely entertaining account of a five-year journey into the earthy, primal food culture of Lyon – in which he persuades local farmers that he should help in the killing of a pig. The blood from the animal will be used to make the pungent Lyonnaise speciality, boudin noir.
As with much of his book, Buford might have been careful what he wished for. The slaughter is a secretive and deeply traditional ritual. It becomes Buford’s job to stir the blood as it flows from the cut throat of the animal into a bucket, to prevent it from coagulating. Then, by mouth, he is required to blow up the casually sluiced intestines of the pig, ready to be filled by the blood and a mix of herbs and onions for the sausage. The chapter, which is not for the faint-hearted, gives an idea of the lengths to which the author went to get fully under the skin of his adoptive French city.
Buford, former fiction editor of the New Yorker, has form in this regard. His previous book, Heat, was a comparable quest into the soul of Italian cooking that began in the restaurant kitchen of Babbo in New York and ended with an apprenticeship to pasta-makers and butchers in the hill villages of Tuscany. Before that, when he lived in England and edited the literary magazine Granta, there was an account of football hooliganism, Among the Thugs, in which Buford became an insider in a “firm” during the running Saturday afternoon battles of the 1980s.