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Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2011: Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, is just what a chef's story should be--delectable, dripping with flavor, tinged with adrenaline and years of too-little sleep. What sets Hamilton apart, though, is her ability to write with as much grace as vitriol, a distinct tenderness marbling her meaty story. Hamilton spent her idyllic childhood on a wild farm in rural Pennsylvania with an exhilarant father--an artist and set builder--and French mother, both "incredibly special and outrageously handsome." As she entered her teens, however, her family unexpectedly dissolved. She moved to New York City at 16, living off loose change and eating ketchup packets from McDonald’s; worked 20-hour days at a soulless catering company; traveled, often half-starved, through Europe; and cooked for allergy-riddled children at a summer camp. The constant thread running through this patchwork tale, which culminates with the opening of her New York City restaurant, Prune, is Hamilton's slow simmering passion for cooking and the comfort it can bring. "To be picked up and fed, often by strangers, when you are in that state of fear and hunger, became the single most important food experience I came back to over and over," Hamilton writes, and it's this poignant understanding of the link between food and kindness that makes Blood, Bones & Butter so satisfying to read. --Lynette Mong
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
Starred Review. Owner and chef of New York's Prune restaurant, Hamilton also happens to be a trained writer (M.F.A., University of Michigan) and fashions an addictive memoir of her unorthodox trajectory to becoming a chef. The youngest of five siblings born to a French mother who cooked "tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones" in a good skirt, high heels, and apron, and an artist father who made the sets for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Hamilton spent her early years in a vast old house on the rural Pennsylvania–New Jersey border. With the divorce of her parents when she was an adolescent, the author was largely left to her own devices, working at odd jobs in restaurants. Peeling potatoes and scraping plates-"And that, just like that, is how a whole life can start." At age 16, in 1981, she got a job waiting tables at New York's Lone Star Cafe, and when caught stealing another waitress's check, she was nearly charged with grand larceny. After years of working as a "grunt" freelance caterer and going back to school to learn to write (inspired by a National Book Foundation conference she was catering), Hamilton unexpectedly started up her no-nonsense, comfort-food Prune in a charming space in the East Village in 1999. Hamilton can be refreshingly thorny (especially when it comes to her reluctance to embrace the "foodie" world), yet she is also as frank and unpretentious as her menu-and speaks openly about marrying an Italian man (despite being a lesbian), mostly to cook with his priceless Old World mother in Italy. (Mar.)
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Top Customer Reviews
From, at first, a superficially happy childhood, to a rudderless, loveless and seemingly parent-less teenage, with drugs, cigarettes and often no money, this woman by pure bloody-mindedness and tenacity fights her way up through menial jobs to be the chef of "Prune", and she still is one of New York's best chefs. Take note that she really is a very hard worker, who doesn't mind cleaning up the most yucky stuff -- she cannot stand disorganization and mess. Hats off to her for that.
Yet the memoir is in many ways too self-centred. She carries within her issues and old angers which the reader picks up on as the story goes on. Her husband Michele seemed to me to be a very nice man, actually, to put up for so long with this impatient woman who (she never admits this) finds it hard to love unconditionally. The (seeming) total lack of communication between her and Michele made me want to shake her and say, "For God's sake, so he's not a talker: YOU talk then!" It seems her way of expressing fury towards him -- often not well understood by the reader -- is to sulk for weeks. And yet somewhere she confesses that although she screams, swears like a sailor, and throws things when angry at Michele, he has never uttered a harsh word towards her. An easy-going woman she is not!
Her one true love, apart from her children (who could well have been created by immaculate conception), is cooking. She's brilliant at that, and to keep a N Y restaurant going on her own takes true grit -- there is no other word for it.
Like another reviewer I also did not understand her dislike, almost hatred, of her mother. She says they're too similar, but that does not ring true, really. And in the end we still do not know much this mother who abandoned most of her children when she left her husband.
I'd recommend this book to any intelligent foodie -- just know it's not always a light or easy read, but it should keep you spellbound.
Step by step through her unlikely life, she carries us along on her journey to top chef of Prune restaurant in NYC. Along the way we learn what it takes to be a chef and way they make such lousy spouses. Driven by their desire to excel, and the demands of their profession, they are married to the restaurant with little time or energy left over for people.
This lively account of her life shows the price she pays and whether she thinks it is worth it. Lively, honest and fascinating, it give a glimpse into the life of a top chef.