Friday, August 05, 2011

Book Review: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Title/Author: Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Genre: Memoir? She's just my age, so it's too soon in her life to be an autobiography, right?
Will you like it? You might like this book if you're a foodie, or if you like gritty tales of survival, coming of age, and lives lived outside of conventional boundaries. 
Note to sensitive readers: It has a lot of profanity and some very, shall we say, earthy descriptions of the vagaries of restaurant life. 

Gabrielle Hamilton is the Chef/Owner of Prune, a restaurant in New York City with just 30 seats and a huge following. She fell into the food and restaurant business sort of sideways and her story is actually really interesting. She decided to open a restaurant not because she was a trained chef with an ambition to have a show on the Food Network, but because she wanted people to be fed and actually nourished the way she felt nourished (after a period of near starvation while backpacking around Europe) in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a remote Greek island. I really admire her lack of desire for fame and fortune. It really is all about the food for her. And the writing. The writing is beautiful.   From the beginning,  I couldn't put it down, so to speak. Actually I couldn't close my laptop because I was reading it on Adobe Digital Editions as an e-loan from my library. I guess we need some new terminology for this grand age of digital reading.

Anyway, as you might discern from the title, this is a highly visceral book and so sensorily sculpted that you can practically taste, see, smell and feel every single thing that she tells about. I really like that. I want to be able to use food the way she does-as so much more than mere calories. The way she describes the food in this book is gorgeous.  She has not lived an easy life, but she is very, very, VERY honest about it (so hold on tight and be prepared to close your eyes occasionally). This quote from an interview in the NYTimes sums up the impetus behind the toothsome way she told her story:
Ms. Hamilton might scoff at fussy, doctrinaire belief systems when it comes to eating, but it’s safe to say that she does have a life philosophy, one that might be boiled down to the following roux: Life is messy. Get used to it.
“Books, movies, music, restaurants, advertising: something’s happened to us,” she said. “We’re not telling the truth. We don’t stink. We don’t have yellow teeth. We don’t have crooked teeth. We don’t have to suffer disagreement or pain or setbacks anymore. You can go to your doctor and get a pill — you don’t even have to be melancholy anymore, right? I mean, it’s just incredible what the new way of being is. We’ll see how that works out.”
I agree a lot with her chagrin at the sanitization of modern life. I like the idea of actually experiencing what is really going on around me. Not that I don't love my conveniences and the structure that my upbringing has given my own life, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be romantic about anarchy or going back a century or anything, but there is something to be said for remembering the origin of things, for having balance to all the crutches we have available to us, for occasionally having to be uncomfortable in order to appreciate comfort, to be hungry in order to appreciate being filled.  There is a heartbreaking story in the  book, when she and her husband are visiting Italy and they are in this impossibly beautiful old villa by the sea that is his ancestral home and there is one of those rooms in the middle of the house with no ceiling. She is looking at the stars and he is right there, under the sky, looking down and mapping the constellations on his computer with google earth or something. She mourns the inauthenticity of his interaction with the world in that moment.  The way she writes it, in the context of their relationship, it made me cry.

The author's life is so completely, utterly different from my own, that one might think I would have nothing  to gain from reading such a sometimes sordid tale, but I found myself intrigued, incensed, incredulous, impressed, and then finally, inspired. I may seem to have little in common with her on the surface, but we're both humans, so underneath our skins I'm more like her than not, and she reminded me with her telling of her messy life that I need to remember passion and to value what's actually valuable.

1 comment:

  1. We saw her interviewed on Charlie Rose. Fascinating lady. Will put the book up a notch higher on my list after reading your thoughts.

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