Review: Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones & Butter”

Gabrielle Hamilton chef/owner of PruneNever have I seen a contestant on Iron Chef: America become as popular as mild mannered Gabrielle Hamilton.  She has been one of the most searched for subjects on my blog for three years.  Chef Hamilton wowed judge’s Karine Bakhoum, Louisa Chu and Michael Ruhlman en route to a 53-49 victory over Iron Chef Bobby Flay in Battle: Zucchini.  Gabrielle’s modest Zucchini Tian was one of the most searched-for recipes on the Online for months after that appearance.

For those who don’t know Hamilton, she is the chef/owner of Prune, a popular bistro in New York’s East Village.  Prune is known for churning out scratch-made Continental Cuisine with an unassuming and decidedly cozy feel.  The chef draws on her travels abroad and her dysfunctional childhood for the inspiration on her menu.

It is that childhood that provides the backdrop for both her success as a chef and as the subject matter of her chef memoir Blood, Bones & Butter (available in the Wannabe TV Chef Store).  Since its release this past spring it has been one of the hottest food-oriented books on the market.  So popular in fact that the publisher actually had to dig a little to come up with a review copy to send me.

The praise for Blood, Bones & Butter has been exceptional.  Dig some of these quotes:

“I will read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this.”
Mario Batali

“I have long considered Gabrielle Hamilton a writer in cook’s clothes and this deliciously complex…memoir proves the point.”
Mimi Sheraton

“Gabrielle Hamilton approaches storytelling the same way she does cooking-with thoughtful creativity that delights the senses.”
Daniel Boulud

“Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.”
Anthony Bourdain

That’s high praise from some highly respected people.  Though Bourdain’s quote demonstrates his adulation for Hamilton’s book, his own memoir Kitchen Confidential remains, for me anyway, the benchmark for all chef memoirs.  Being a guy I like a little more raunch in my chef memoirs I guess.  Still Blood, Bones Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton& Butter is a terrific read that is filled with poignant moments and emotional leeching.  It is wonderful story telling.

As with many of us in this industry, cooking did not start out as Hamilton’s Plan A.  It was simply something she could do well enough to pay the bills and maintain a steady supply of drugs and alcohol.  She worked her way to an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan by working as a catering chef.  And while her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Food & Wine it is for her rustic comfort food that she has gained most notoriety.

Blood, Bones & Butter may change all of that.  Hamilton’s gift with words is equal to her talent in the kitchen.  She has passages that are almost lyrical as she recites the life’s events that led to opening her renowned Manhattan eatery, her transition from lesbian feminist to loving mother and business woman not to mention the sordid affair (with a man no less) that eventually lead to marriage.

The best section of the book is at the end where she regales the reader with tales of her annual vacation to her husband’s family home in Southern Italy.  Her admiration for her mother-in-law Alda forms the heart of her love of everything about her new Italian family, the family she never had growing up.  Why don’t I let her tell you:

[mp3j track="Excerpt-Blood-Bones-Butter.mp3"]

Blood, Bones & Butter is a great memoir, chef or otherwise, that will genuinely entertain.  Fans of Hamilton will not be disappointed.  Unless of course they are looking for the recipe to her Zucchini Tian.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
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