In 2002, New Yorker staffer Buford began apprenticing after-hours at NYC's Babbo. Though as a novice he was known as ''the kitchen bitch,'' he fell hard for the gutsy food and eventually went on to study tortellini wrapping and hog butchering in Italy.
Mario Batali, Babbo's flamboyantly Rabelaisian, filthy-mouthed chef. His motto: ''Wretched excess is just barely enough.''
Buford's account of his romance with Italian cooking is wonderfully thoughtful and personal, if meandering.