Ultimately, Heat is less a studied exploration of the influence of Italian cuisine than a steamy romance about big men and their equally large appetites. (A few female cooks populate its pages, but they play secondary roles.) In the last chapter, titled "Dinner with Mario," Buford recounts a Rabelaisian evening with his molto mentor that includes a case of wine, 43 or 46 plates of food (he understandably loses count), and the playful, yet lurid, propositioning of the wait staff at Lupa, another Batali venue. Why do we find these culinary delinquents and their excesses endlessly fascinating? Why does Buford? Is it because, like samurai and back-street fighters, they carry knives and aren't afraid to wield them? The goody-goodies in white toques also get away with murder (as long as it's just chicken), but frankly, trailing the screamers, the spitters, the knife throwers, and the chemically dependent is far more titillating. And if you can perfect your ragú in the process, so much the better.