REVIEW by Meganne Fabrega
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House, March 2011
Hardcover 304 pp., ISBN: 978-1400068722
I ate dinner with Gabrielle Hamilton last night. She served me fresh zucchini flowers that she bought from a toothless farmer whose pants were tied up with a ratty piece of twine. She poured me glass after glass of wine as she told me about her “salad days” in New York City, a not-so-romantic solo European trip in her late teens that opened her eyes and her palate to the beauty of food, and the day-to-day exhaustion and exhilaration of pursuing her passion while being a mother, wife, sister, daughter, writer, business owner, and all-around responsible adult. I laughed at her snarky comments about the proliferation of “food allergies” and her brief stint at Hampshire College (my alma mater). And I secretly envied her bravery to live a life so full, and her ability to talk about it with such candor. While we finished the meal, taking an “unconditional pleasure in food and eating” that Hamilton learned from her French mother, and now serves up in her restaurant, Prune, I felt lucky to spend time with someone who can put it all out there without sounding like a stereotypical arrogant chef.
Okay, so I didn’t actually eat with Gabrielle Hamilton, but her writing style is so descriptive, so familiar, that you can’t help but be immediately pulled in to her world of inadvertent adventures and the messy business of a life spent at full throttle. The illusion that she is right next to you, that you are her guest and she is entertaining you, brings her memoir vibrantly to life.
Blood, Bones & Butter begins with her childhood of growing up in an idyllic bohemia, her stylish mother trotting off to the local farmer’s in her suede heels to get fresh milk while their father constructed huge sets for theater productions and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus. “There was no ‘artisanal’ at this point,” Hamilton writes, “no ‘organic’ or ‘diver-picked’ or ‘free-range’ or ‘heirloom’ anything.” Her mother cooked for Hamilton’s large family with what little she could afford from her husband’s meager income, but she did it with French savoir-faire and her trusty burnt-orange Le Creuset pots.
By the time she was twelve Hamilton’s family had disbanded, her parents divorced, and most of her four siblings were out on their own. Left to her own devices, Hamilton made her way through the restaurants of nearby towns, earning her way as a runner, salad girl, hot line cook, lying about her age, her home life, and experience to get a paycheck. She decided early on, “If I pay my own way, I go my own way.” Hamilton’s path was anything but straight, and included several colleges, a graduate program in creative writing, countless restaurant jobs, and freelance catering gigs in New York City that would make you think twice about nibbling that canapé at your next Hamptons cocktail party. It was a simple act of going out to move her car that put Hamilton at the right place at the right time, where she found the perfect space for the restaurant that she didn’t even know she wanted to open until she was there, standing in the filth of an abandoned space, writing the menu for Prune in her head.
What I loved about Blood, Bones & Butter is that its tone is humble yet experienced, raw and honest in a way that you are with your closest friends late at night after a couple of bottles of wine and you’re all just trying to figure out how the hell you got where you are. With her memoir Hamilton has invited us to her table, and served us an unforgettable meal.January 20, 2011