Monday, December 20, 2010

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Title: Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Themes: food, restaurants, growing up, family, drugs, marriage, Italy, New York, responsibility
Release: March 2011

Plot: Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton’s ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.

My Thoughts: Hamilton is a writer of great talent; with a steady voice and an unflinching view of her sometimes difficult life. If she wasn't more attuned to physical work (i.e. the restaurant), I think I would be reading some excellent fiction from her instead of this memoir. From the title I had assumed that this book would be about Hamilton's experiences learning to cook and opening a restaurant in New York City. I was pleasantly surprised to find so much more. This is a full biography (up-to-the-present) of a hard working and dedicated individual with a variety of life experiences, both terrible and sublime.

Hamilton's childhood and family are covered in the first third of the book, titled "Blood." Her rather whimsical and unusual family dynamic are explored, and honestly a whole book could be written on her experiences up until age twelve. The radical changing of this family dynamic sets the foundation for the rest of the book, where Hamilton struggles for independence and adulthood through restaurant work, cocaine, several college stints, and eventually an MFA and a restaurant of her own.

"Bones" seems to be presented as an in-between period of her life. In this second third of the book Hamilton has pulled her life together and is now on the straight-and-narrow, exploring writing and cooking both. Of the entire book, all of which is very exciting to read, this is the most dry-simply because the reader knows something more must be coming up, and so much titillating things have already happened.

In the third and final section of the memoir, "Butter" describes Hamilton's more recent experiences, including a difficult marriage and two children, in addition to the running of a restaurant and the strained family relationships she faces from her own family as well as her Italian in-laws. This final segment is the most poignant, and it seems to be very heart-felt, leaving Hamilton's emotions and pains out in the open for all to read.

I heartily enjoyed this memoir of a chef, because it wasn't just about cooking and the restaurant business. Hamilton writes about life experiences and all of those things that lead to food and inspire food. Her life as a chef wasn't a given, this memoir shows the twisted path that led her there and examines incidents along the way. Her writing style is casual yet well-crafted prose, and her willingness to expose so many faults, mistakes, and current problems are bound to engender respect, at the very least.

Recommendation: Anyone who likes memoirs, food, tales of family troubles and triumphs, will enjoy Hamilton's well-crafted memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter. Be forewarned, there is rampant cursing, in addition to drugs, theft, and melodrama.

Similar Reads: Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell*, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain*, Heat by Bill Buford*, The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White*

Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones, and Butter:The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. New York: Random House, 2011.

* I haven't read any of these, but similarities do seem to exist!

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