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Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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Guest Reviewer: Anthony Bourdain on Blood, Bones, and Butter
Very quickly after meeting Gabrielle Hamilton, I understood why she was a terrific and much-admired chef. I knew that her restaurant, Prune, was ground-breaking, that she seemed to have come out of nowhere, instead of being a product of the "system" (she'd emerged from the invisible subculture of catering), to open one of the most quirky, totally uncompromising, and quickly-embraced restaurants in New York City. Her purportedly (but not really) Franco-phobic menus were intensely, notoriously personal, her early embrace of the nose-to-tail attitude was way, way ahead the times, and chefs--all chefs--seemed to like and respect her. Almost as quickly, it became apparent that this chef could write.
Short pieces appeared here and there over the years and they were sharp, funny, incisive, unsparing of both author and subjects--straight to the point and pretense-free, like Hamilton herself. She could write really well. And she had, from all accounts, a story to tell. So when it was announced that Blood, Bones, and Butter was in the works, I was very excited.
It was a long wait.
Five years later, I finally got my hands on an advance copy and eagerly devoured it. It was of course brilliant. I expected it to be. But I wasn't prepared for exactly how goddamn brilliant the thing was, or how enchanted, difficult, strange, rich, inspiring and just plain hard her life and career--her long road to Prune--had been. I was unprepared for page after page of such sharp, carefully-crafted, ballistically-precise sentences. I was, frankly, devastated. I put this amazing memoir down and wanted to crawl under the bed, retroactively withdraw every book, every page I'd ever written. And burn them.
Blood, Bones, and Butter is, quite simply, the far-and-away best chef or food-genre memoir...ever. EVER. It certainly kicked the hell out of my Kitchen Confidential, which suddenly, in a second, felt shallow, sophomoric and ultimately lightweight next to this...this monster of a book, this--at times--truly hardscrabble life…Blood, Bones, and Butter is deeper, better written, more hardcore, more fully fleshed-out; a more well-rounded story than every sunflower-and-saffron account of soft-core food porn in France. It's as bullshit and pretense-free as AJ Leibling--and at least as well written, but more poignant, romantic--even thrilling.
It makes any "as told to" account of famous chef's lives look instantly ludicrous and bloodless. I've struggled to think of somebody/anybody who's written a better account of the journey to chefdom and can't think of anyone who's come even close.
Writing a memoir of one's life as a chef--or even writing about one's relationship with food--has, with the publication of this book, become much more difficult. Hamilton has raised the bar higher than most of us could ever hope to reach. This book will sell a gazillion copies. It will be a bestseller. It will be an enduring classic. It will inspire generation after generation of young cooks, and anyone who really loves food and understands the context in which it is best enjoyed, NOT as some isolated, over-valued object of desire, but as only one important aspect of a larger, richer spectrum of experiences. Each plate of food--like the menu at Prune--is the end result of a long and sometimes very difficult struggle.
Read this book and prepare to clean your system of all that's come before. It's a game-changer and a truly great work by a great writer and great chef.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
When Hamilton writes about food, she's entertaining, irreverent, and even spiritual. Her engaging account of her father's spring lamb roast (an edited version of this piece recently appeared in The New Yorker) establishes the origins of her love of food. Her account of her years working for catering companies will make you think hard before you pick up that next wedding hors d'oeuvre from the waiter's silver plate. And a chapter about cooking at a summer camp in the Berkshires is funny and deft in its handling of detail. I loved her wry depiction of the time she spent in a master's writing program, from the satirical descriptions of her fellow writers to her homage to Misty, a fellow cook and, for Hamilton, a kind of culinary muse.
This book aspires to be more than just a chef memoir, however, since the subtitle refers to "The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef." In particular, this is a book about family: about Hamilton's own family, painfully riven by divorce when she was still a child, and about her marriage and the birth of her two sons.Read more ›
Gabrielle Hamilton looks back on her nine-year-old self in that passage -- over-the-moon infatuated with her older siblings, her mother's way in the kitchen and her father's way with setting a stage ... and unaware that divorce and neglect are just around the corner.
By 13, she's drugging with an older crowd and lying about her age to get work in restaurant kitchens to support herself; before long she's participating in a felony-level employee theft racket. Yet she has a knack for stumbling onto cooking mentors and gradually learns enough to run the kitchen at a kids' summer camp and freelance-cook at high-volume caterers for fancy Hamptons (NY) parties. She completes a fiction-writing MFA, but only because she simultaneously finds a wellspring of sanity and true creativity in a side cooking job that recalls the down-to-earth food and settings of her childhood. And it's with that "real food" perspective that she eventually opens a restaurant -- New York City's acclaimed Prune.
There's evidence of that MFA in this memoir -- a beautiful mix of literary and culinary creativity.Read more ›
But then you get to the third section, which is basically a diatribe on how much she hates her mother and her husband. Ms. Hamilton sounds like a very confused, very angry woman. She spends most of her adult life as a lesbian, but then somehow decides it's a good idea to marry a man she hardly knows because the wedding will be like a piece of performance art for her friends to watch. Then, when her husband doesn't read her mind every second, she blows up, throwing profanity-laced accusations at him. I just kept hearing the same phrase in my head while reading: why doesn't she just tell him what she wants??? She also continually laments that five or seven years later, he's no longer taking her on romantic motorcycle rides. Does she ask him to? Nope. I also think it's strange that the two don't actually move in together until they have been married for multiple years and have two children, and then she doesn't understand why her marriage is failing and they don't get along. Her husband must have had the patience of a saint because I would have put up with her for about 2 weeks. And don't get me started on her poor mother. I STILL don't understand what the woman did, other than want her daughter to love her.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First of all, you need to be tough to make it as far as Ms. Hamilton did in the NYC restaurant business. Read morePublished 10 days ago by Elizabeth S. Case
Although at times I glossed over the food, I attentively read the Italian family dynamics. I also realized families come in many varieties .Published 29 days ago by NJ MOM
Loved the book, love the author. She did a beautiful job humanizing all her experiences, and used humor to tell it!Published 1 month ago by iris
Will be an all-time favorite. Thrilling, chilling, gritty, raw to the bone truths about her rise to where she is today.Published 1 month ago by Patty
g hamilton, please share more stories. love this book and i didn't want it to end.Published 2 months ago by slook
I like a good memoir. I also like entertaining books about food or cooking. Sadly, for me, this book fell short. I had to force myself to finish this book. Read morePublished 3 months ago by J. Dahl
What a terrific book. It winds like an Italian road, it surprises and delights. The characters are well-defined. The food sounds incredible. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Barbara Jones
I loved Hamilton's writing and story. It's interesting and beautiful to read. Would recommend to anyone that enjoys food or great writing.Published 3 months ago by Sarah