It has been 30 years since Bill Buford, the charismatic author and literary editor, released Among the Thugs, an anthropological epic of life among Britain’s infamous and violent football hooligans. Buford’s latest book, by way of contrast, is filled with the misfits and culinary gods who populate France’s most prestigious professional kitchens.

Dirt is Buford’s second deep dive into the world of food (his 2006 book Heat focuses on Italian cooking, initially under the tutelage of bacchanalian chef Mario Batali, whose future #MeToo reckoning looms on the story’s horizon). Buford quits his job at The New Yorker and transplants his family to the French city of Lyon — “the Gastronomic Capital of the World” — to work in a kitchen, the “only” proper training. Again Buford is a participant-voyeur. Fearlessness (or shamelessness?) in the service of curiosity is his trademark. Buford is shepherded along by a cast of the world’s most famous French chefs, who seem to admire his pluck...<...

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