Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

by Gabrielle Hamilton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812980882
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/24/2012
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 107,923
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village. She received an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Food & Wine. Hamilton has also authored the 8-week Chef Column in The New York Times, and her work has been anthologized in six volumes of Best Food Writing. She has appeared on The Martha Stewart Show and the Food Network, among other television. She lives in Manhattan with her two sons.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

We threw a party. The same party, every year, when I was a kid. It was a spring lamb roast, and we roasted four or five whole little guys who each weighed only about forty pounds over an open fire and invited more than a hundred people. Our house was in a rural part of Pennsylvania and was not really a house at all but a wild castle built into the burnt-out ruins of a nineteenth-century silk mill, and our backyard was not a regular yard but a meandering meadow, with a creek running through it and wild geese living in it and a Death Slide cable that ran from high on an oak to the bank of the stream and deposited you, shrieking, into the shallow water. Our town shared a border so closely with New Jersey that we could and did walk back and forth between the two states several times in a day by crossing the Delaware River. On weekend mornings we had breakfast at Smutzie's in Lambertville, on the Jersey side, but then we got gas for the car at Sam Williams's Mobil on the New Hope side. In the afternoons after school on the Pennsylvania side, I walked over to the Jersey side and got guitar lessons at Les Parson's guitar shop.

That part of the world, heavily touristed as it was, was an important location of many events in the American Revolutionary War. George Washington crossed the Delaware here, to victory at the Battle of Trenton, trudging through the snowy woods and surprising the British in spite of some of his troops missing proper shoes, their feet instead wrapped in newspaper and burlap. But now my hometown has become, mostly, a sprawl of developments and subdivisions, gated communities of small mansions that look somewhat like movie sets that will be taken down at the end of the shoot. Each housing development has a "country" name-Squirrel Valley, Pine Ridge, Eagle Crossing, Deer Path-which has an unkind way of invoking and recalling the very things demolished when building them. There is now a McDonalds and a Kmart- but when I was growing up, you had to ride your bike about a mile down a very dark country road thick with night insects stinging your face to even find a plugged-in Coke machine where you could buy a vended soda for thirty-five cents. Outside Cal's Collision Repair in the middle of the night that machine glowed like something almost religious. You can now buy a Coke twenty-four hours a day at half a dozen places.

But when I was young, where I lived was mostly farmland, rolling fields, rushing creeks when it rained, thick woods, and hundred-year- old stone barns. It was a beautiful, rough, but lush setting for the backyard party my parents threw with jug wine and spit-roasted lambs and glow-in-the-dark Frisbees. The creek dividing the meadow meandered and, at its deepest bend, was lined with small weeping willows that grew as we grew and bent their long, willowy, tearful branches down over the water. We would braid a bunch of the branches together to make a Tarzan kind of vine rope that we could swing on, out over the stream in our laceless sneakers and bathing suits, and land in the creek. That is where we chilled all of the wines and beers and sodas for the party.

We were five kids in my family, and I am the youngest. We ran in a pack-to school, home from school, and after dinner at dusk-like wild dogs. If the Mellman kids were allowed out and the Bentley boys, the Drevers, and the Shanks across the street as well, our pack numbered fifteen. We spent all of our time out of doors in mud suits, snowsuits, or bare feet, depending on the weather. Even in "nature," running around in the benign woods and hedges and streams, diving in and out of tall grasses and brambles, playing a nighttime game that involved dodging the oncoming headlights of an approaching occasional car, bombing the red shale rocks down into the stream from the narrow bridge near our driveway to watch them shatter-we found rough and not innocent pastimes. We trespassed, drag raced, smoked, burgled, and vandalized. We got ringworm, broken bones, tetanus, concussions, stitches, and ivy poisoning.

My parents seemed incredibly special and outrageously handsome to me then. I could not have boasted of them more or said my name, first and last together, more proudly, to show how it directly linked me to them. I loved that our mother was French and that she had given me that heritage in my very name. I loved telling people that she had been a ballet dancer at the Met in New York City when she married my father. I loved being able to spell her long French name, M-A-D-E-L-E- I-N-E, which had exactly as many letters in it as my own. My mother wore the sexy black cat-eye eyeliner of the era, like Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, and I remember the smell of the sulphur every morning as she lit a match to warm the tip of her black wax pencil. She pinned her dark hair back into a tight, neat twist every morning and then spent the day in a good skirt, high heels, and an apron that I have never seen her without in forty years. She lived in our kitchen, ruled the house with an oily wooden spoon in her hand, and forced us all to eat dark, briny, wrinkled olives, small birds we would have liked as pets, and cheeses that looked like they might well bear Legionnaire's Disease.

Her kitchen, over thirty years ago, long before it was common, had a two-bin stainless steel restaurant sink and a six-burner Garland stove. Her burnt orange Le Creuset pots and casseroles, scuffed and blackened, were constantly at work on the back three burners cooking things with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones-whatever was budgeted from our dad's sporadic and mercurial artist's income-that she was stewing and braising and simmering to feed our family of seven. Our kitchen table was a big round piece of butcher block where we both ate and prepared casual meals.

My mother knew how to get everything comestible from a shin or neck of some animal; how to use a knife, how to cure a cast-iron pan. She taught us to articulate the "s" in salade nicoise and the soup vichyssoise, so that we wouldn't sound like other Americans who didn't know that the vowel "e" after the consonant "s" in French means that you say the "s" out loud.

And yet I remember the lamb roast as my father's party. I recall it was really his gig. With an art degree from Rhode Island School of Design on his office wall, two union cards-stagehands and scenic artists-in his wallet, five able-bodied children, a French wife, and a photograph torn from a magazine of two Yugoslav guys roasting a lamb over a pit, he created a legendary party-a feast that almost two hundred people came to every year from as far away as the townhouses of New York City and as near as our local elementary school.

My dad could not cook at all. He was then a set designer for theatrical and trade shows and he had a "design and build" studio in Lambertville-the town where he himself had grown up, the town where his own father had been the local country doctor. We kids were forever running into people who'd say, "Your granddaddy delivered all three of my sons!" Or, "Your granddaddy drove a Cadillac! One of the very few cars at the time in Lambertville!"

After growing up in that small rural town, my dad, the youngest son, went away to college and then to art school. He came back with a mustache, a green Mustang, and a charcoal gray suit and installed himself there, in his hometown. In 1964, he bought the old skating rink at the dead end of South Union Street with its enormous domed ceiling and colossal wooden floor. In that building he started his studio, an open work space where scenery as big as the prow of a ship could be built, erected, painted, and then broken down and shipped off to the city for load-in. Every year when he got the job to build the sets for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus there, we would go after school and zip around on the dollies, crashing into the legs of the chain-smoking union carpenters and scenic artists who were busy with band saws and canvas and paint. We would run up and down mountains of rolled black and blue velour, laid out like in a carpet store, and dip our hands into oil drums full of glitter. Prying back the lid on a fifty-gallon barrel of silver glitter-the kind of barrel that took two men and a hand truck to wheel into the paint supply room of the shop-and then shoving your hands down into it up to your elbows is an experience that will secure the idea in your heart for the rest of your life that your dad is, himself, the greatest show on earth.

We made our Halloween costumes out of lighting gels, backstage black velour curtaining, scrim, and Mylar. When we went with our father to see the actual circus at Madison Square Garden, we spent almost the whole show backstage where we met Mishu: The Smallest Man in the World, and petted the long velvety truncks of the elephants in jeweled headdresses. We met Gunther, the lion tamer, and marveled at his blond blond hair and his deep deep tan and, giggling like the children we were, his amazing ass-high and round and firm, like two Easter hams-in electric blue tights.

I associate my dad almost exclusively with that lamb roast because he could dream it up and create the scenery of it. My dad has an eye for things. He can look at the stone rubble covered in scaffolding that is the Acropolis, for example, and without effort, complete the picture in its entirety, right down to what people are wearing, doing, and saying. In his mind's eye, out of one crumbling Doric column, he can visualize the entire city, its denizens and smells, the assembly's agenda and the potted shrubs. Where the rest of us saw only the empty overgrown meadow behind our house, riddled with gopher holes, with a shallow, muddy stream running through it and a splintering wooden wagon that I had almost outgrown, he saw his friends: artists and teachers and butchers, scenic painters and Russian lighting designers, ship captains and hardware merchants all with a glass in hand, their laughter rising high above our heads and then evaporating into the canopy of maple leaves; the weeping willows shedding their leaf tears down the banks of the stream; fireflies and bagpipers arriving through the low clinging humidity of summer; a giant pit with four spring lambs roasting over apple-wood coals; the smell of wood smoke hanging in the moist summer nighttime air. I mean it. He sees it all romantic like that.

He says, about all of his work, "Everybody else does the bones and makes sure the thing doesn't fall down. I do the romance."

It must have been my mother, the cook, who was in the kitchen with the six burners and the two-bin sink making the lima bean salad and the asparagus vinaigrette and the all-butter shortcakes, counting out the stacks of paper plates with the help of my older sister-the two of them doing "the bones" as my father called it. But it was from him- with his cool, long sideburns and aviator sunglasses, his packet of unfiltered Camels, and box of watercolor paints (and artist's paycheck)-from him we learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends. From him we learned how to make and give luminous parties.

There was a Russian Winter Ball, I remember, for which my dad got refrigerator-sized cartons of artificial snow shipped in from Texas and a dry ice machine to fog up the rooms and make the setting feel like a scene from Dr. Zhivago. And there was a Valentine's Day Lovers' Dinner, at which my father had hundreds of choux paste éclair swans with little pastry wings and necks and slivered almond beaks that, when toasted, became their signature black. He set them out swimming in pairs on a Plexiglas mirror "pond" the size of a king's matrimonial bed with confectioner's sugar snow drifts on the banks.

"Swans," he pointed out, "mate for life."

For a kind of Moroccan-themed party that my parents threw, my dad built low couches from sheets of plywood and covered them with huge fur blankets and orange velour brought home from the studio. By the time the candles were lit and the electric lights extinguished, the whole house looked like a place where the estimable harem of a great pasha might assemble to offer their man pomegranates, pistachios, and maybe more carnal treasures. There were tapestries and kilims stacked as tall as me, where adults stoned on spiced wine and pigeon pies could lounge. By the time that party really got rolling, I remember walking from room to dimly lit room feeling acutely the ethos of the era-the early 1970s-as if it, too, were sprawled out on the "scene shop" couch wearing long hair and a macramé dress, barely noticing how late it was and that I was still up.

But the lamb roast was not a heavily themed and elaborately staged one- off. It was, as parties in our family went, a simple party, thrown every year, produced with just a fire and a sheet of plywood set over sawhorses for the carving of the lambs. We built a fire in our shallow pit, about eight feet long and six feet wide. It's possible that my dad dug it alone, but if there was an available sixteen-year-old around, like his son, my oldest brother Jeffrey, it's very likely that they dug it together. At each end of the pit they set up a short wall of cinder blocks with a heavy wooden plank on top, looking like the head and baseboards of a giant bed, where the long wooden poles onto which the baby lambs had been lashed would rest. The baby lambs, with their little crooked sets of teeth and milky eyes, were slaughtered and dressed up at Maresca's Butchers, then tied onto ten-foot poles made of ash because the branches of an ash tree grow so straight that you can skewer a baby lamb with them easily.

Jeffrey had a driver's license and a 1957 Chevy truck with a wooden bed and a big blue mushroom painted on its heavily Bondoed cab. It had big dangling side-view mirrors and torn upholstery over which we threw a mover's blanket, but it ran. So on this bluish early summer weekend, Jeffrey drove his new jalopy out the winding country roads, past Black's Christmas tree farm, and past the Larue bottle works. I rode in the bed of the truck, in a cotton dress and boy's shoes with no socks, hanging on as tight as I could to the railings and letting the wind blast my face so hard that I could barely keep my eyes open. Even with my eyes closed, I could tell by the wind and the little patches of bracing coolness and the sudden bright sunshine and the smell of manure when we were passing a hay field, a long thick stand of trees, a stretch of clover, or a horse farm. We passed brand-new deer emerging from the woods and standing in herds of forty in the wide open cornfields. Finally we got to Johnson's Apple Orchard where we picked up our wood for the fire.

Reading Group Guide

1. What does food mean to the author? How did your particular attitude toward food develop?
 
2. What challenges do writers and chefs share? Are they unique to those professions?
 
3. What saved the author from a life of substance abuse and crime?
 
4. Gabrielle Hamilton’s mother-in-law is a central figure in her book. Why did she become so important for her? Do you have someone equally important in your own life?
 
5. Being invited by Misty Callies to prep for a large dinner party and, later, to work at her restaurant were milestones for Gabrielle Hamilton. Why were these experiences significant for her?
 
6. Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her ambivalence in wedding her husband. Why do you think she married him? Have you ever felt similarly about your own relationships?
 
7. Getting one’s needs met is a recurring theme. How do you think Gabrielle Hamilton feels about this and how has it influenced her journey?
 
8. Is Blood, Bones & Butter a funny book?
 
9. Many have commented on the “honesty” of the book, suggesting that such candor and intimacy are uncommon. Are readers mostly responding to the way Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her own family or does that “honesty” manifest elsewhere? What is her point or objective in being so forthcoming? Do you think you would be so upfront in your own memoir?
 
10. Did you like/not like the ending and why?

Customer Reviews

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Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 208 reviews.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of the acclaimed New York restaurant Prune. In Blood, Bones and Butter she chronicles how she ended up a famous chef giving lectures in cooking schools and running a successful restaurant. Gabrielle grew up in a big, boisterous, unconventional family with a French mother and an unreliable, artistic father. Both her parents taught her to love food, so when the family split up and she was a teenager at loose ends and needing money, she went to work in a restaurant. Through all kinds of turmoil and instability Gabrielle clung to food as the one thing she could count on. As many others have pointed out Blood, Bones, and Butter is more about Gabrielle's neglectful childhood and subsequent struggles than it is about food. When she is describing food she does so beautifully with a sort of melancholic nostalgia that is very appealing. I loved the early scenes about her father's outdoor parties and all the preparation that went into them. However much of the book is written in the vein of - I grew up doing drugs, stealing stuff for the fun of it, generally being a badass, aren't I cool. I have read too many of these type of stories to be very impressed anymore. The best memoirs tend to come from the author's ability to dig deep and come to some stark truths about their own motivations and mistakes and end with the feeling that the author is headed in a better direction. Gabrielle seems to leave out the deep parts, somehow skimming over the astonishing changes her life has undergone. How did a lesbian, in a committed and passionate relationship, suddenly find herself married with two kids? How did she go from years of defeated drudgery in the catering kitchens to suddenly having her own, successful restaurant? I would have loved to see the emotional transitions that must have taken place for these things to happen, but I feel like Gabrielle was unwilling to make herself that vulnerable to her audience. Overall an interesting story with some nice foodie tidbits, but lacking the depth I was hoping for.
imcnulty More than 1 year ago
If you're looking to learn about professional cooking and running a restuarant, this is not the book for you. More about how the author pulled herself up by her bootstraps despite her parents,etc. I thought it was very boring and was sorry I wasted my money on this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writing itself is good. However, the author just seems to constantly whine about her life which gets very tiresome.
BooksNBeans More than 1 year ago
It seems fitting that a book that is different from most should have a review that's different than most. This review is a collaborated effort, as it's a compilation of 20 opinions with the rating being the calculated average (3 1/2 out of 5), but with one person &quot;authoring&quot; it. <i>Blood, Bones, &amp; Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef</i> by Gabrielle Hamilton turned out to be a book perfect for a book club discussion. There were so many topics to discuss starting with her childhood, her parents, her siblings, her adolescent years of crime, her lifelong love-hate relationship with cooking, the confusion her &quot;wish-washy&quot; sexuality caused, her adult years as a person, her constant desire and need for a family, and of course her experiences as a restaurant owner. Though the majority of the ratings fell to the middle, with areas of the book being really well-liked and other areas being really despised, there were a few that positively loved the book and were balanced by those that absolutely hated it. The opinions varied so heavily in the discussion that it's really difficult to pin down where BB&amp;B did well and where it failed to appeal to the reader. But let's give it our best try. My personal opinion is, that regardless of whether you end up loving or hating the book, Hamilton's bravery at producing a book that analyzes her entire life is to be commended. How many of us would be able to put our life out there for the world to judge? How many would be as blatantly honest? Would you be tempted to gloss over certain events and choices, or would you be able to let all the ugly and undesirable hang out there? Her overall writing style (voice) was enjoyed with the majority of the readers appreciating that she was open and sincere in her revelations, even when they failed to put her in a better light. Though her failing to stick to a chronological sequence was a source of contention. The overall agreement being that it made the story a little harder to follow at times, and it made the book seem less like a professional publication and more like a set of journal entries slapped together. As for the story itself, this was another area where opinions varied greatly. For some the focus on the food and the food experiences were the better way to go, for others the better focus was the life story itself. No matter what camp a reader was in they felt that there was too much of the other and that it took away from the &quot;true&quot; story. There was only one who appreciated the intertwining of the two as it is a &quot;perfect illustration of how they intertwine in Hamilton's life&quot;. This was acknowledged as a very valid point. The last point of agreement was the ending, no one felt the story held itself up through to the end. The overall consensus was that it just fizzled out. However, the small section at the back discussing the status of Hamilton's marriage and her status with the Italian side of the family was largely appreciated. It was a moment of absolute frustration when we though the book had ending with no closure on either subject. *Note*: I don't know if this section is in other editions of the books, it's not labeled as an epilogue or anything, it's just sort of there. This particular edition was the Random House Reader's Circle with the little gold circle on the front. I hope this compilation review helps you get an idea of <i>Blood, Bones, &amp; Butter</i> and whether it might be something you wish to get your hands on. A high recommendation is for it to be a book club read, as it was done here. It is absolutely perfect for creating discussion! *Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for using it as a book club read and a review*
Barnesie More than 1 year ago
It's not until halfway through Blood, Bones & Butter that Gabrielle Hamilton begins to shed light on the fact that she probably always wanted to be a writer and studied the craft all the way through graduate school. Until that point, her endlessly run-on sentences and colorfully personal descriptions seem to be quite an unexpected talent for a chef to possess. The fact that she studied creative writing with such effort, while continuously and almost accidentally stumbling higher and higher into the culinary world paints a portrait of a would-be writer who took several wrong turns to end up in a kitchen. Readers seeking deep dissertations on culinary techniques or restaurant business mechanics will be disappointed, as it becomes more and more apparent that cooking is less who she is and more an innate part of what her life has become. Eggplant and roasted lamb carcasses may decorate the background, but at its core, Blood Bones and Butter is an unflinching portrait of a woman who has stumbled along in the passenger seat through long corridors of her life to become an accidental chef, an accidental restaurateur, an accidental wife and an accidental Italian adoptee. The journey is an intensely introspective look at a writer who cooks, not a chef that writes, and the unvarnished accounts of selfishness, unrequited expectation and disappointment result in writing that alternates between pictorially charming and self-deprecatingly brave.
lmf22purple More than 1 year ago
Loved her descriptions of Italian food and life and her insights into catering. Otherwise, disjointed and really lacked focus. Her narrative is a bit hard to follow and left more questions than answers. An autobiography of the chef/owner of Prune, a restaurant in NYC. She is too young to have memoirs and while it is all the rage for chefs to write their stories, the stories need to be well told. This book seemed to be more hurry-up-and-get-something-out-there-while-the-trend-is-hot. She is a self-proclaimed lesbian who ends up married to a man. There is some discussion about what happens and not enough about how - how does a lesbian end up married and having babies with a man? She tries to explain that she fell in love with an idea, and somehow falls flat. I would like to re-read this story in a revised version after a good editor gets hold of it. As it stands, I can't recommend it for anyone other than food insiders because you will quickly tire of her peripatetic style when it doesn't seem to go anywhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the book. I was not impressed. It seemed to glorify the drug hazed life style. I did not appreciate it (this was a book club selection).
Fester More than 1 year ago
This is a very readable biography, as Hamilton is a good writer. Her story is interesting. My only complaint is that she spends too much time expressing her bitterness about her parents' divorce, for which she blamed her mother, without fully explaining why she is so bitter or why her mother initiated the divorce. The book is best when it focuses on Hamilton's love of food and the use of food as an expression of love and human interaction.
wattfarms More than 1 year ago
This book is exhilarating to read. It is unlike any other I have experienced. And you do experience this book as if you were with Gabrielle as she endures the total desertion by her parents at a young age and as she travels and becomes educated from and by so many situations and opportunities in her life. The result is the ownership of her own NYC restaurant, Prune. You can feel each unpleasant and each wonderful moment that leads to her development. As she trips through her daily evolutions becoming such a knowledgeable chef, not from intentionally studying the business, but from immersing herself from childhood in the wonders and glories of food and its myriad of historical and more recent combinations, you can visualize and almost taste what she savors with each bite. This is such a fine read!
nemoman on LibraryThing 7 months ago
As a memoir, from someone who succeeded in the food industry, Hamilton's book is at least the equal of Kitchen Confidential by Bourdain. From her childhood in a dysfunctional family, to her career as a chef. Hamilton writes beautifully, with humor and unflinching honesty. Notwithstanding sexism, and her own nonconformity, she succeeds in owning and operating Prunes, a highly recognized restaurant in New York City. She writes somewhat vaguely, and confusedly, about her confused sexual identity. She mentions lesbian relationships, but also marries an Italian to get him his Green Card and also to have children. I did not know what to do with this information because it never really developed or went anywhere. I enjoyed her trips to Italy where she interacted with her mother-in-law, notwithstanding the language barrier, through participation in the preparation of meals.
manatree on LibraryThing 7 months ago
ehhh.......it's quickly evident that Hamilton is a good writer, she's great when she is talking about the food, however, it's not that great of a story. Basically yet another sanctimonious, pompous chefography in the vain of Bourdain, which is why he gave it so much praise. And yes, I did mean vain. The schtick is a bit old and hard to overlook. However, if you can, there are some good bits in there among the snark.
frisbeesage on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of the acclaimed New York restaurant Prune. In Blood, Bones and Butter she chronicles how she ended up a famous chef giving lectures in cooking schools and running a successful restaurant. Gabrielle grew up in a big, boisterous, unconventional family with a French mother and an unreliable, artistic father. Both her parents taught her to love food, so when the family split up and she was a teenager at loose ends and needing money, she went to work in a restaurant. Through all kinds of turmoil and instability Gabrielle clung to food as the one thing she could count.
bruce_krafft on LibraryThing 7 months ago
So I do a lot of reading, a lot of reading, depending on what I am reading I can easily read a book or more a day. Hands down this is the most stunning book that I have read in a long time, if not ever. This book is about as close as you can be to being there without a halo deck from Star Trek. Contrary to what other people say this is not one of the best `chef memoirs¿ around; it is one of the best memoirs around period. You are living, breathing, smelling, and hearing her life in every page. You are blown away from the very beginning by the images created in your head by the words you are reading.Just - WOW
Emidawg on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The author of this book is a gifted writer and it shows. Her memoir reads much like fiction and is full of wonderful imagery. Heavy drug use and a general lack of direction in her youth make this a somewhat gritty story. Her life seems less than ideal, her marriage to her husband is less than happy and her relationship with her mother is rocky. Somehow despite all this she pulls her life around to open an acclaimed restaurant Prune in NYC. It's not exactly a fairy tale story but I respect her for being open and not trying to gloss over the hard parts of her life.The verdict - a wonderfully written book that is aptly named for the blood and bones the author bears to the reader. The butter, as is nutritionally responsible, is tucked in here and there for sweet bursts of creamy goodness.As an aside: I had always wanted to be a chef when I was younger, but when I signed up for the cooking program at Vocational Technical school my guidance counselor pulled me aside and told me I was too smart to be wasting my life in that sort of profession. I ended up going to college for a major I really hated and ended up failing miserably in. I regret believing him to this day.
audramelissa on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This book is more than a chef or food memoir. It is about growing up and falling in love with food and cooking. At the end of her book, I wanted to know more and I hope that Hamilton plans to continue her personal writing.
mabs on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Hamilton is the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York. Her memoir recounts her childhood, which was disrupted by her parent's divorce, leaving her to raise herself. After graduating from high school early, she moved to NYC and began working odd jobs, including waitressing. Eventually she begins catering and working as a chef at a children's camp, and finally opening her own restaurant. Hamilton got into her fair share of trouble, and at times the reader may wonder how she will manage to pull it together. This isn't the typical behind-the-scenes, fast-paced, gritty chef tale, but a story of family, pain, loss, struggle, and survival. Food is a big element of the story, but this is a good read even if you aren't into the foodie scene.
karieh on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Although I am not sure that I enjoyed ¿blood, bones, and butter¿ with the same nearly religious fervor that the chef/authors on my copy of the book did, this book was a satisfying experience.The default television channel in my house is ¿Food Network¿ ¿ not so much because I more than passable cooking skills, but because the preparation and description of food feels to me nearly as gratifying as eating. Reading about food has nearly the same effect. The appreciation of food of high quality, with love and care behind the cooking of it, came late in life to me¿but not to Hamilton.¿from him (her father) we learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends. From him we learned how to make and give luminous parties.¿From her French mother, she learns much of how to make the most of food ¿ either in flavor or by using every last bit. But as wonderful as these aspects of her young life may have been, her teenage and young adult years are anything but magical.¿I hastily grazed through the menu of adult behavior and tried on whatever seemed attractive, for whatever inchoate reasons, as they occurred to me¿¿ Until, ¿I knew that I did not want to go to that juvenile detention program because I had an intuitive sense that it would turn me irrevocably into the kind of character that I was only now rehearsing to be.¿For the rest of the book, Hamilton yearns for the sense of family, the sense of togetherness that she once seemed to posses. With food being such a large part of so many family events, she starts to draw people in with her cooking, and then with her restaurant. She creates the family she so longs to have, the one she so wants to nourish and satisfy.There are descriptions of food and of place (Italy, Greece, New York) that draw the reader in, filling the senses with smells, tastes and color. Some of the dishes she makes and tries are ones that I would never be brave enough to attempt, but was able to experience them through her words.I finished the novel, however, profoundly sad. I was very impressed with who she has become and what she has accomplished given the path of her childhood¿but felt a sympathetic emptiness at the conclusion. As rich as most of her life is as a successful restaurant owner, mother, friend¿there is more she yearns for and has not yet discovered.
MrJgyFly on LibraryThing 7 months ago
While by no means a terrible read, I put Blood, Bones & Butter down with a sense of relief. Perhaps Anthony Bourdain's review gracing the front cover ("Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.") should not have been a significant factor in getting me to read this book. Most comprehensive? Perhaps. But best? I shudder to think at the reasons why other chefs' biographies fall short of attaining this status.Complaints aside, it is admirable that Hamilton stays on topic throughout the entire book. Blood, Bones & Butter isn't so much a memoir as it is an extensive autobiography, starting with Hamilton's earliest memories and ending at present day. She does not get sidetracked (unlike Anthony Bourdain) by dedicating entire chapters to food and everything that goes along with it. The passion for her bread of life is there, but it infuses her life story, rather than strives for its own sections.This passion is the beauty of the read. There is not a single page that does not relate Hamilton's culinary tastes to her life in general. Food is by far the most important thing in her existence, which should not be taken as a sad statement. Meals become holy in this book, something to be worshiped. Home-cooked food is the mainstay of her childhood, representing the one constant in her life. She's poetic about her subject, even when most would shy away from her disgusting culinary findings, such as near-rotting meat in France:"Pheasants...hung for a few days until their necks finally gave out, and you could see, physically, a kind of perfect ripeness to the meat when it became tender enough to pleasurably chew, as if the earliest stage of rot itself was a cooking technique."Unfortunately, the poetry, while very moving, might actually detract from some of the more interesting aspects of Hamilton's life. For example, her mother's decision to leave her husband and take all of her children with her is an abrupt transition in Hamilton's life, even though her parents' relationship had been on the rocks for a long time. Her mother quickly becomes demonized and despicable in Hamilton's eyes, but not with the justification one would expect. Hamilton herself struggles with identifying concrete reasons for hating her mother for most of her life, so much that she severs all ties with her for decades. Don't get me wrong: I'm not hoping to de-emphasize the impact any divorce can have. I'm just saying, compare this to what you'd expect in most memoirs discussing childhood turmoil, and it is not nearly as moving. Perhaps this is due to Hamilton's hyper-awareness about what she eats. Seemingly every meal, even minor ones, throughout her entire life is described in explicit, delectable detail. She is a master at food writing, managing to tease one's taste buds, without crossing over into "food porn." I don't fault her for these descriptions at all--they are a mainstay of this memoir--but the lack of detail concerning other major life decisions eventually creates a sense of dullness throughout the read (for example, the first time she tries cocaine is quickly brushed over, whereas family meals are discussed for nearly entire chapters).Food is Hamilton's saving grace for many domestic problems in her life, which is why it takes precedence over the troubles themselves. While I was perfectly satisfied with this for the Blood and Bones sections of the book (the book is divided into the three nouns of its title, respectively), Butter grated on me. Not only did it irritate me, it outright bored me and I kept checking my page count, hoping to finish soon so I could move on to something else.The boring bits begin with Hamilton's marriage to her Italian immigrant husband, Michele. The situations of the marriage itself are thoroughly entertaining, and the bizarre nature of the relationship give one pause for thought (the two lived separately for most of their years together). This is all part of what makes Blood, Bones, and Butter entertaining; however, the mu
MCalvert on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I really enjoyed this book. If this lady can cook like she writes, I really want to try her restaurant. I got so caught up in her life I didn't want to let her go at the end. You can truly feel her love of food her love of feeding others. I recomment this book to all who love to read about food, getting your life together, and starting your own business.
mlanzotti on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Simply the best memoir I have read. Passionate,angry,funny,heartbreaking,all adjectives apply. More than a timeline memoir,the author takes important times in her life and by the end you feel like you know her.
wineisme on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Engaging from the moment you pick it up, Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir is vivid, passionate, and brutally honest. Her excellent prose and detailed descriptions sweep you into her world as she experiences it, mostly centered around food, family, and hard work. I appreciate the review that this book is anything but cookie cutter, and will re-emphasize this point. This particular chef was not shaped by the sanitized world of an expensive culinary school and famed apprenticeships, that's for sure.The lesson peeking out of Gabrielle's life accounts is that your career and work ethic are shaped early-on. No need to run from a trade you are inherently good at, rather embrace the trade for all of its nuances. Even after 20+ years of not cooking alongside her mother, Gabrielle is humbled to discover so much of her strength as a chef was shaped by this very woman presenting a simple roast chicken.You will eat up these pages.
michigantrumpet on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune Restaurant has been an East Village favorite for over 10 years, garnering a 2008 James Beard Best NYC chef nomintation for its chef owner, as well as regular plaudits from the NYT, New Yorker, etc. Ms. Hamilton has earned her stripes and then some. But to call this a book about opening a fabulous, popular NYC eatery is akin to calling Gone With the Wind a book on Southern Living. Sure, foodies will rejoice over tantalizingly recalled meals from her childhood in Pennsylvania to Italian delicacies shared with her husband's family. A writer for Food and Wine and Saveur Magazines (among others), Hamilton's descriptive powers on culinary and gustatory matters have few peers. (Google Hamilton -- her 2001 article calling banker-turned-forager food purveyors to task will have you cackling with glee.)This book, however, is so much more. Hers is an unapologetic memoir of a negligent childhood (negligent child rearing by her parents as well as her own cocaine infused larceny from her employer); followed by the tug and pull conflict between education/writing and her hard won proficiency and happiness in the kitchen. Most moving to me were the passages on childrearing and her marriage. One would have thought it impossible to be hard-bitten and clear-eyed yet lyrical at the same time. Hamilton makes it look effortless. Entertaining, touching and funny. Give it a try -- I think you'll be glad you did.
dhelmen on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Hamilton's book is a brave and entertaining exploration of her life related to food and cooking. At times it can be uncofortably honest but Hamilton has a no-nonsense approach which prevents it from every becoming maudlin or twee. I was engrossed within the first couple of pages and could not put it down until I had finished. I was very happy to read a succesful and hardworking woman's story which does not hide behind syrupy self-reflection or mother-earthey philosophizing. This is a book for anyone who wants to be inspired by a person building a life the best they can and living unashamedly!
TadAD on LibraryThing 7 months ago
In all likelihood, the path to becoming the chef/owner of a successful New York fine dining restaurant typically does not include a youth spent on cocaine addiction, car theft and feloniously acquiring tens of thousands of dollars from restaurants where you work as a waitress. The undergraduate experience is more likely to be the Culinary Institute of America than dropping out of an experimental college after a year dedicated to working as a short order cook in a diner and defining oneself as a "staunch Marxist feminist, a budding lesbian, a black nationalist sympathizer." An M.F.A. in Writing from the University of Michigan is probably not a common credential. And actually working in such a restaurant at least once before starting your own might be considered sine qua non.Nonetheless, that's where this memoir takes us. In a story remarkably free of both whining and bravado, Hamilton simply tells us how she got from Point A (youngest child of a slightly unconventional and definitely dysfunctional family) to Point B (chef/owner of Prune restaurant in Manhattan, writer for the New York Times and Food and Wine). However, she tells it with such unsentimental self-reflection and with such engaging intimacy that I found it impossible not to wish I knew her personally.If you can imagine a book with some of the tell-all qualities of Anthony Bourdain's writing but with 80% of the cynicism removed you would have some sense of this book. There's subtle poking at the "food as a game" trend epitomized by molecular gastronomy and some not-so-subtle poking at the reverse sexism fashionable among celebrity female chefs but, by and large, there's simply a life story told with warmth and humor against a constantly moving counterpoint of food and cooking.
snash on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I loved the author's irreverent attitude, her candor, and honesty about herself, the cooking industry, and Italy. At times it seemed superficial but it wasn't at all, it merely reflected the author's guarded, tough nature. It's an excellent enjoyable book. As a resident of Lambertville, NJ, I also enjoyed the references to local places and people in the early part of the book.