6. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
I am well aware that this is the third food memoir I’ve read this year, so you may doubt my recommendation, but this is by far the best book I can remember ever reading about food. It transcends the world of chefs, food writers, or even foodies- this is simply a fantastic memoir that happens to be written by a chef. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Anthony Bourdain’s review, which raves, “Hamilton packs more heart, soul, and pure power into one beautifully crafted page than I’ve accomplished in my entire writing career.”
Reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, I have come to greatly admire her- a fierce, strong woman who knows how to write and cook, is extremely opinionated and tough as hell, but is feminine, feminist, and a person I’d love to know better. In fact, she reminds me of a woman I deeply admire in my own life, one who has been an important role model and mentor. I would call Gabrielle Hamilton a badass- in the most complimentary way, but I know she wouldn’t like it. When discussing her restaurant work, and working a hellish brunch shift at 37 weeks pregnant, Hamilton writes:
“…badass is the last thing I am interested in being. Badass is a juvenile aspiration. At thirteen, when I was stealing cars and smoking cigarettes I wanted to be badass. I was cultivating badass. At sixteen, coked out of my head and slinging chili at the Lone Star Cafe, I was the understudy to badass, and I knew all her lines and cues. At twenty-five, blow-torching my way through warehouse catering kitchens, cranking out back-to-back doubles, and napping in between on the office floor with my head on a pile of aprons and checked pants, I was authentically badass. But at thirty-eight years old, hugely pregnant with my future tiny, pure, precious son, I don’t want anything to do with badass. I want to be J.Crew catalogue clean.”
After working in kitchens for years, Hamilton earned her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan. Whether her magnificent prose is a product of her education or her unique perspective on people, food, or life in general, I don’t really give a shit. What I do know is that I loved every second of this book. When reading about Hamilton’s life- the respect and love she has for food is so apparent, reading about her summers with her family and mother in law in Italy, a friend’s garden in Michigan and the feasts she cooked from it- I wanted to live inside of the pages, so I could soak up every word, every morsel of detail.
Hamilton starts with her childhood, and goes in chronological order through her life, so you’re able to get a sense of her life as a whole, until the present. I found it fascinating to read about her childhood growing up in rural Pennsylvania, and how she escaped at 16 to New York. I had already fallen in love with the book when I read a chapter in which Hamilton described going to a panel at the Culinary Institute of America about women in professional kitchens. She writes how it seems so unnecessary to talk about women in the kitchen, but at the same time she can’t bring herself to speak up during the panel, to refute the stupid things she thinks the other panelists are saying- making the conference about themselves and the theory of women in the kitchen and not actually about women cooking.
“I wanted to say that we are not all sitting around in our naturally woven fibers eating our organic quinoa salads and thinking up our next sustainable charity project. Some of us are actually cooking. And enjoying cooking. But I had shut down and couldn’t muster for this part of the panel, where my supposed peers were gassing on about themselves, giving these young women the impression that each day in a kitchen is like going to some priggish church.”
Hamilton’s take on the whole situation, as well as her thoughts on the “issue” of women in professional kitchens really made me respect her, and her stance resonated with me. It’s obviously an issue that she cares deeply about, but she also hates the fact that it has to be an issue at all, that people still make a big deal out of it. Even here, when Hamilton touches on feminism in the kitchen, she always brings it back to the sheer joy of cooking.
This is a fantastic book for anyone who’s ever enjoyed eating anything, or has ever eaten in any restaurant anywhere, or might want to sometime in the future, or for anyone who likes reading good books about interesting people. It’s just that awesome. Hamilton’s life is fascinating, and I found myself wanting to know more about her, about the gaps of time she doesn’t talk about, about her relationship with her estranged mother, and what’s happening to her now. I know for sure that I’ll be eating at her restaurant Prune the next time I’m in New York, and that I’ll definitely buy anything else she decides to write.