The memoir of a New York chef is not one that would grab vast attention. And when the title is Blood, Bones & Butter that may not help. However within the first few pages one finds this is a memoir not about how to perfectly braise a rabbit or the antics of a drug fueled kitchen staff, instead it is one woman’s story about her childhood in a broken home; facing difficult challenges growing up and finding her way no matter how hard she tried to escape her ultimate destination.
It’s a memoir of a working mother and wife in an unsteady marriage carefully balancing all of her responsibilities like everyone else. But it never strays from the overall theme of a woman with great talent and drive injecting herself into a world many see as difficult for women of any ability or ambition.
Gabrielle Hamilton writes of her life sputtering to realization, taking the reader on a journey beginning with her childhood — with a lamb roast at her parents rural Pennsylvania house which she describes as “not really a house at all but a wild castle built into the burnt-out ruins of a nineteenth-century silk mill”. Those first sentences of her childhood surrounded by the artist and actor colleagues of her father and the food and culture her ex-ballarina mother brings from her native France set up a life headed in one direction: Food.
Hamilton tells her story in such vivid detail that one has the sense of being a family friend, awkwardly standing in the kitchen and witnessing the crumbling of the family unit and wishing her well. And eavesdropping years later while living in New York City as she is advised over the phone by her lawyer, “you need to enroll in school and get out of state”.
This is not the story of Prune, Hamilton’s widely famous 30-seat restaurant, or the food which makes it a perennial hot spot in NYC. She did not have to be a chef to write this story and, in fact, admits to never having dreamed of cooking for a living. It is her life story through and through, as evidenced by her voracious writing style that mixes a real life with real pain and real relationships. As one of New York’s best
chefs, her journey has the added adventure of 18 hour days overseeing her restaurant and raising her two young boys. Her observations (“I can’t understand what the difference is between a male chef and a female chef–the food has to be cooked and we all just cook it) are frank and honest.
In the end, not everything is perfect. There is no Hollywood ending. But there is Gabrielle Hamilton standing tall with a successful restaurant and a life filled with blood, bones & butter.
NOTE: you can hear Gabrielle talk about her experience writing Blood, Butter & Bones on American Public Media’s The Splendid Table.