Kitchen Confidential

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.

Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentices

How famous and important a restaurant is El Bulli?  When preparing for this assignment I typed “el b” into a google search field and El Bulli was the first thing that came up.  That’s impressive.  If you have dining there on your bucket list but you don’t yet have a reservation then you need to replace it with something else because in just over two months the most famous restaurant in the world is closing it’s doors.

From the El Bulli web site:

First of all we would like to thank everybody who has shown an interest in visiting us to enjoy the El Bulli experience during these fifty years as a restaurant. Also to all the professionals who have been part of the team and helped make it happen.

On July 30th 2011 El Bulli will have completed its journey as a restaurant. We will transform into a creativity center, opening in 2014. Its main objective is to be a think-tank for creative cuisine and gastronomy and will managed by a private foundation.

The Sorcerer's Apprentices by Lisa AbendIn 2009 Lisa Abend, Time magazine’s Spain correspondent for the past several years, spent an entire season in the kitchen of the little restaurant in Roses, Spain.  She was the proverbial fly on the wall as a staff of 40 sum odd cooks developed the 31 course extravaganza  that has made Ferran Adrià the most famous and revered chef on the planet.  The result was the newly released The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli.

She watched as a team of 32 stagiaires (apprentice chefs who work for no pay) invest six months of their lives just for the invaluable line on their resume, “worked for Ferran Adrià at El Bulli.”  It is the culinary equivalent of walking on the moon.

What Abend captures extremely well are the emotions of the stagiaires as they discover that their tenure in Roses is nothing like they imagined.  The El Bulli kitchen is unlike any they will work in the rest of their careers.  At some point or another every single one of them will be vastly disappointed in the experience and rewarded by it.

Some will get angry.  Some will be frustrated.  Some will get laid.  All of them, at one time or another will be bored.  The most exciting dining experience known to man is quite possibly the most boring kitchen a chef could work in.  That is but one of the ironies revealed in Abend’s book.

The author introduces the reader to many of the stagiaires who are gleaned each year from thousands of applicants.  Another testament to the legend of Adrià, that each year 3000 chefs from around the world volunteer to work for him for free for six months.  Their only compensation is sharing a small room with their co-workers and one meal a day.

If you are looking for the scandalous tales made famous in chef memoirs like Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential you’ll be disappointed.  But that does not mean the book is devoid of scandalous revelations.

For all of Adrià’s unquestionable creativity and skill and vision and genius and artistry he is apparently not a very good businessman.  With 32 chefs working for free, a large number of servers who also work with out pay and an average cost of $350 a head for dinner at a restaurant with a reservations wait list years long, El Bulli is not exactly a profitable endeavor.

If you are a foodie or a chef you will find this book engaging and eye opening.  It is well written by an author who smiths words that are eloquently lucid.  It is a must read.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so either:

“Abend is successful in conveying the intense pressure felt by the young stagiaires, while providing insight into Ferran Adria’s commanding but beneficent rule over his well-oiled machine of a kitchen.” Leah Douglas, SeriousEats.com.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into a culinary rite of passage, and the incomparable genius behind it.”  Dan Barber, chef/owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

“This is a worthy addition to the literature of the professional kitchen and a pleasure to read.” Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio and The Making of a Chef.

Abend and I have Tweeted back and forth since I received my review copy and I have told her that she is the envy of every food writer in the world.  She assured me that is not the first time she has heard that and that the experience was a once in a life time event.

Color me green.

My Summer Reading List: Heat

Originally posted on July 08, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List, I reviewed Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Cheflebrity Anthony Bourdain. Beyond all of the hype Kitchen Confidential is simply a book about a chef who becomes a writer. This time around I am reviewing Heat by Bill Buford. All awards and accolades aside Heat is simply a book about a writer who becomes a chef.

Bill Buford HeatOh those midlifes. In my first 40 years on earth I’ve been a musician, a dot com guy, a writer and a chef. I wonder what 50 holds for me?

I could sit here all day trying to wax poetic about the transformation Buford made from literati to culinarian. but I don’t have to. I’ll just steal Buford’s words, “In the beginning, there was a writer, the ghost was the chef. In the end, there was the chef, the ghost was the writer.” Heat reads like two different books. The first is one of those culinary adventures that are so en vogue and the other a biography of Mario Batali.

The idea for Heat began when Buford threw a dinner party back in 2002. Batali was a guest at that party but by the time it ended the then-editor at the New Yorker had decided that someone needed to do a profile of the Iron Chef. Unfortunately Buford got no takers so he resolved to do the story himself. A fateful decision to say the least.

Buford elected to take six months to work in the kitchens of Babbo, Batali’s three star Italian restaurant located in New York’s Greenwich Village. When the story was done, Buford wasn’t. He resigned his post at the magazine to continue work his way up the ladder at Babbo. Before long he was on a plane to Italy to learn the old ways. His journey would find him hanging with Marco Pierre White in London, hand rolling pasta in Tuscany and butchering a pig in his New York apartment.

Heat is very well written as one would imagine from a writer of Buford’s experience and does a wonderful job of showing his journey from white collar to chef whites. Those thinking of making the career change to the culinary arts would be well served to read this book before turning in that letter of resignation.

Next: The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten.

My Summer Reading List: Kitchen Confidential

Originally published on June 17, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List I reviewed Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the beautiful story of a little girl in love with food who grows up to be a renowned food writer. Tender is a romantic telling of a life spent in food. Kitchen Confidential is a whole other beast.

Kitchen Confidential BourdainSemi-retired chef Anthony Bourdain shocked the world with his tome on the inside workings of the restaurant industry, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. As the story goes, Kitchen Confidential blew the lid of the industry upon it’s release in 2000 by revealing the drunken, drug-laden debauchery that exists in American professional kitchens. I question how many people were genuinely surprised by the revelations in Bourdain’s work, after all the restaurant industry employs more people than any other industry in the nation, save the Federal government, over 12 million jobs nationwide.

I believe that most of the hullabaloo was feigned. After all, of those in the media not currently employed in the Life (as Bourdain calls it) most at least used to be employed in it. To a lifer like myself the book was comfortable. It was like sitting down with an old friend over a bottle of Johnny Walker getting three sheets while reliving memories and swapping tales.

Bourdain paints a perfect picture of life in the kitchen, testosterone driven trash talking, seducing servers and drinking way too much. But what surprised me was the author’s love of food. Images sketched in words of his first raw oyster freshly plucked from the brine while only a lad to his experiences with the amazing creations of Scott Bryan, Eric Ripert and Ferran Adrià. Throughout the text I was constantly reminded of both Bourdain’s love affair with food and his sheer talent for the smithing of words.

Anthony Bourdain Medium RawThe boy’s got chops. At the time of its publishing I don’t think Bourdain knew just how good a writer he was. The book was so explosive, so popular that it actually was made into a television series, all though it was a short lived one. Fast forward nearly a decade and Tony is no longer commanding the kitchen at Les Halles, no longer going on three-day coke benders (I hope) and no longer chasing tail. He has become what he loathed and found it’s a pretty nice gig, this celebrity chef thing.

I made sure to put Kitchen Confidential on my summer reading list because I knew how important a book it is. What I did not expect was how much I would learn from it. In fact, I have gotten a whole new reading list from it. Bourdain emphasizes how important it is for any chef to read the classics, if you will, of our profession.

In sports the greats of the game are known by just one name: Hank, Bo, and Michael. Sports fans know of whom I speak. The culinary world is no different and it is these chefs of which Bourdain speaks. Works of literature produced from chefs so revered that they are known by just one name, Escoffier and Bocuse. So thank you, Tony. Not only have you penned a great book, but you have also made my summer reading project a little longer.

Next: Heat by Bill Buford.

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google

addtomyyahoo4

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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
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
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

Archives

Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification