Blood, Bones & Butter, The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,
by Gabrielle Hamilton
The chef memoir seems to be hot these days, and this one by Gabrielle Hamilton, Chef-owner of Prune in NYC indeed came out to much buzz. Who knows if it due to effective marketing, the novel female point of view, or because she is an actual writer as well as celebrity chef. It certainly didn’t hurt that someone coined it the female version of Kitchen Confidential along the way.
In any case, it’s not that. Aside from her inherent rebellious streak and years clocked on the line swearing a blue streak, this is obviously her own very personal story, more about herself than the industry.
On the route from life-loving inquisitive kid to naughty teen, to diligent, frustrated catering cook and finally to entrepreneur and mother of two, the unique path of her life is unravelled in an engaging yarn.. On the side, there are very real glimpses of life in the professional kitchen.
I had a hard time putting the book down. Mostly because I related so much. In the details of her day to day, in her feelings and reflections, so many lines resonated with me.
From rats in the back alley to the grating sound of the fan.
The rebellious, freedom seeking bad ass in her so drawn to life on the edge - yet thoughtful, happy to have a moral backbone to lean on, inhabited with a desire to please.
Solitary, hard working, beating to her own drum, ‘creating her own castles’.
Loving writing and cooking, questioning everything.
Her belief that women in the kitchen is a non-issue, while knowing damn well it still is.
The insane number of annoying details that you have to deal with behind the scenes that don’t seem to count – how the restaurant business is about so much more than the food, cooking and serving - all that meets the eye.
How breaking down your station at the end of the night and scrubbing away makes everything feel all right in the world.
Throughout, I felt like I was hanging out with a friend.
When she got on my nerves, it was often for the same reasons I get annoyed with myself, for her impatience, perfectionism and relentless analyses.
I love that she walked out on Iron Chef. I’m not into silly kitchen battles and faux dinner in 30min Tv shows that make a joke of our industry; it is indeed sad that this is the new barometer for success with seasoned veterans reluctantly obliging to stay in the game.
Of course I didn’t always agree with her. Especially when it comes to her Oh-so-cool now anti-local&organic stance, because it’s just the way it was and should be without talking about it. Ya! But! The fact is, we have strayed so far from there, so that most of what is available at the supermarket and from purveyors is industrial, not fresh, to the detriment of our local communities, health and pleasure. She even lamented the disappearance of the dudes with no teeth bearing the perfect produce - the face of the small farmer, the artisan.. Well that’s because we haven’t been paying attention and opting for the cheapest price. If we don’t talk about it, and make a point of choosing what’s best, while making the client value the difference, real food will never be normal again.
There is no doubt that she writes well for a chef. Her story is compelling; a strong voice and definite personality carries through. She is honest, witty and insightful, and I admire her spunk and ambition. When her tone gets tiresomely angry and griping, I can only sympathize. On occasion, I did find the writing contradictory and repetitive, but realize that both could be due to editing, or perhaps simply the truth, which is always fine by me.
All in all, this is a good read. I can only have the highest respect for a woman more or less my age who managed to build and maintain a successful restaurant of the kind I believe in most – quality but small, down to earth, personal and real… On top of having two kids, spending her summers in Italy and writing a prize winning book (just watch). Hats off.