Heat: “I am an artisan”

“I am an artisan. I work with my hands. My model is from the Renaissance. The bodega. The artist workshop. Giotto. Rapheal. Michelangelo. These are my inspirations.”

I just finished Bill Buford’s, “Heat.” He gets a wild hair and asks to work in Mario Batali’s restaurant, Babbo. From there he goes to Italy and eventually ends up in Tuscany, apprenticed to a famous butcher, Dario Cecchini. Dario’s scenes are by far my favorite and his approach to his work is beautiful in its passion. Yes, he’s cutting meat, but the care, work, and intention he devotes to it is more thoughtful than most modern art I encounter.

“What I saw now was what Dario called, ‘my works’ (le mie opere), which I’d been reluctant to acknowledge because it sounded so pretentious. But that was what you got: a butcher and his works… And yet as I stood there, suddenly taking in the display case, I had to admit that the food had something of an artist’s purposefulness. Every item there made a point… But every item really was a “work,” even the ones that seemed very simple.”

“I wondered if I was glimpsing Dario’s secret. Fundamentally, he didn’t want to be a butcher, and therefore if he had no choice- then he would be unlike any butcher you’d ever met. His was a calling, not a trade- he was an artisan, not a laborer- and his “works” were about history and self and being Tuscan and only indirectly about dinner. They amounted, ultimately, to a tortured response to grief, and the “works” had become Dario’s way of remaining in touch, physically… with those who are no longer with him. When you came to his shop, he didn’t want to see a butcher- and wouldn’t be able to say why- but he knew what you should see instead: an artist, whose subject was loss.”

I feel strangely reinvigorated.


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