Blood, Bones & Butter (Hamilton)

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Gabrielle Hamilton, 2011
Random House
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812980882


Summary
Winner, 2012 James Beard Foundation Award for Writing & Literature

I wanted the lettuce and eggs at room temperature...the butter-and-sugar sandwiches we ate after school for snack...the marrow bones my mother made us eat as kids that I grew to crave as an adult.... There would be no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food, just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry. In ecstatic farewell to my years of corporate catering, we would never serve anything but a martini in a martini glass. Preferably gin.


Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton’s ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
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. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Though Ms. Hamilton's brilliantly written new memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, is rhapsodic about food — in every variety, from the humble egg-on-a-roll sandwich served by Greek delis in New York to more esoteric things like 'fried zucchini agrodolce with fresh mint and hot chili flakes’—the book is hardly just for foodies. Ms. Hamilton, who has an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, is as evocative writing about people and places as she is at writing about cooking, and her memoir does as dazzling a job of summoning her lost childhood as Mary Karr's "Liars' Club" and Andre Aciman’s "Out of Egypt" did with theirs.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


[L]uminous…Hamilton quickly proves that her decade-in-the-making work can live up to the extraordinary "best memoir by a chef ever" hype. That quote, by the way, is from the previous title holder, Anthony Bourdain...Hamilton...shares two of Bourdain's traits: a wicked, sometimes obscene sense of humor and a past checkered with drug use and crime. But as he admits in his jacket testimonial, she's the superior writer by a mile. To read Blood, Bones & Butter is to marvel at Hamilton's masterly facility with language.
Joe Yonan - Washington Post


Hamilton’s writing about food is so vivid it could make you half-crazed with hunger, leaving you in front of the open fridge with a cold chicken leg in one hand and the book in the other.
Boston Globe


Blood, Bones & Butter, more than any book I know, captures the essence of contemporary cool when it comes to food. This is what you'd read if you came here from another country (or from another decade) and wanted to know what people valued in dining.... Her vision is so aptly and evocatively written that it's hard not to succumb to its rough-hewn glamour. So preferable to the corporatized alternatives most Americans are stuck with—in both city and country alike—which is one reason for the book's almost certain success. And if Blood, Bones & Butter isn't made into a movie in the next 12 days, I will eat stilted food in sterile dining rooms for a week.
Time.com


(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.
Publishers Weekly


The book’s subtitle should arouse interest. How was the author’s education inadvertent? What is the reason she was reluctant to become a chef? All will become clear upon completion of the final page of this lusty, rollicking, engaging-from-page-one memoir of the chef-owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village.... Add this to the shelf of chef memoirs but also recommend it to readers with a penchant for forthright, well-written memoirs in general. —Brad Hooper
Booklist



Discussion Questions
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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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