Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Publisher: Random House
Published: March 1, 2011
Hardcover: 290 pages
Source: purchased at

My Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (from 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.

My Thoughts: As someone who works in the restaurant industry, I was originally drawn to this book for several reasons. For one, I wanted to see what it takes to own and operate a successful Manhattan eatery. I was also curious to see someone else's take on the whole experience. If you have ever worked in food service, whether it be as a dishwasher, a line cook, a waitress ... you know that it is a strange business. Filled with strange people, long hours, and crazy guests, it is an exhausting job. It can be fun, though. I was looking for someone else's view on this crazy business, and Gabrielle Hamilton definitely gave me a different perspective.

The book follows Hamilton from her childhood all the way to her mid-30s, when she is raising her own two children. She chronicles the way that food has shaped her life, from the way that her mother prepared meals to her first job at the age of 13. She was pretty much worked every job in this industry, and she describes many of her experiences in this book. She also describes her exasperation with the food industry, how draining and unrewarding it can be. I loved how she acknowledged the highs and lows, the small things that really make your day (her description of organzing the coolers was so dead on. It's one of the few ways that you feel you can have control and organization in your restaurant, which is why it is one of my favorite things to do), and the small things that can push you over the edge.

Hamilton's writing is superb. She perfectly captures various activities and knows just how to describe them. While her writing and restaurant stories were great, I really didn't enjoy the parts chronicling her home life. Her marriage and children, I just didn't feel a connection between those passages and the other parts of the book. I felt that if she had just focused on her career and life in the restaurant, it would have been a more cohesive book. Overall though, I found Hamilton's story to be engaging, funny, and a great representation of the food and beverage industry. Even if you do not work in this line of business, I think that it would be refreshing to read and learn about this crazy world that she lives in.

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