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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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- Publisher : Random House; First Printing edition (March 1, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 140006872X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400068722
- Item Weight : 1.27 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.38 x 0.97 x 9.55 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #395,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
1) Her childhood in New Hope and Lambertville. I grew up in Princeton but went to High School up 518 from there, so I knew the area aggressively well and she just has it nailed down in her descriptions.
2) Her time as an MFA. I "hate" MFAs though I aspire to be one. I just find that the writing that happens in these microcosms is so removed from reality....and it appears so did Hamilton
3) Her discussion of service, how to treat people, how to get through things in different service scenarios. It is nice to read someone actually put into words, what so many people have a hard time putting into action.
The book does talk a lot about cooking and her career, and how Prune came to be, but it was really nice to just read about her take on life with food, not food with life. Her marriage, and the latter third of the book, I never understood. Maybe when she was writing this she was still going through the emotions of her divorce thus everything related to Michele took on very heavy coloring (whether in a positive tone or negative one). I wouldn't try to replicate most of it, just the kids and Alda, but since Prune just closed last year during the pandemic, I'd love a new memoir for the last ten years...
This story is so emotional that she lost me several times because she seems to jump around from scenario to scenario and mixes memories together to the point where they arent very coherent. The moments in this book are more emotionally connected than chronologically connected – if that makes sense. Thats probably my only knock on the book. This book has plenty of indirect recipes, where the chef gives the name if the dish and briefly describes how to prepare it. I love "recipes" like that because I get to research it and interpret it on my own. There are a lot of memorable moments in the book and what Hamilton has been able to accomplish is pretty impressive considering.
If you love chef memoirs this is definitely one of the better ones and I would encourage you to check it out.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
It's about food, about cooking, about starting out in life in a family that has everything, then collapses, with repercussions that ring through the decades. But, then in the end (as one other reviewer has noted, somewhat negatively), it also becomes a platform for self-analysis around the author's own marriage, and how her life is secure professionally but fragile personally.
It's a bit scattered in places - a chapter devoted to a conference about women in restaurants is worthy, but out of place. What holds it all together, however, is the writing style, which has a wonderful cadence, and which reveals the passion of the author for her profession.
I really enjoyed it. I would be interested if she turned her hand to another book, one slightly more focused.
Her restaurant is great as well. Do go there if you get the chance.