Have you read Heat, by Bill Buford? He’s a New Yorker writer who became a “kitchen slave” to Mario Batali. I hated the book. Buford glorified the abusive, hierarchical management style of many European-trained (mostly male) chefs. There’s something macho about being able to survive the rants, anger and insults of someone like Batali. If you’re not familiar with him, perhaps you’ve seen Gordon Ramsey on his reality TV show, Hell’s Kitchen. (And no, I don’t think his behavior is an exaggeration put on for television).
Years ago, I worked in a kitchen headed by a French-trained German chef who would get drunk on Friday nights and throw knives. But I’ve also worked for a woman chef who mentored me and ran a sane, kind, and yet highly professional kitchen. There are generous and talented male chefs out there, too. What this profession doesn’t need are the Bill Bufords buying into, and popularizing, that demeaning and nasty management style. Trust me, you can have camaraderie, brilliance, and the cook’s high after an exhaustive night, in a caring kitchen as well as an abusive one.
What does this have to do with chickens? Nothing! But, Buford did have something to say about eggs. He was obsessed with Italian pasta, and he traveled to Italy to learn how to make perfect pasta from a woman named Betta. Buford romanticized her method of hand rolling. Then he discovers that a master pasta maker, named Miriam, no longer rolls her pasta by hand; she uses a machine. What made her pasta perfect? She said, “My eggs are the best in the region. They are very, very good eggs.” Buford went on to write that “an egg was modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided it was a very good egg.” And by that he meant a very fresh egg from pastured hens. Mario Batali, in his NYC restaurant, had to add yolks to his pasta, because he couldn’t get good eggs. Pasta is simply flour, water, salt and egg. If that egg is a battery-farmed egg, it just won’t do. I didn’t like Buford’s book, but I liked his conclusion about good eggs.