Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef and owner of Prune in New York City’s East Village. Her memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef has gotten so much praise, and months before the book was released (I first read about it on Eater and Grub Street in September 2010, and the book wasn’t released until March this year!), I was both intrigued and skeptical. (One thing I learned as a student in a college film class: The more publicity a movie gets, the worse it is.) Tony Bourdain, whose last book was a slam-fest, gave Hamilton high praise. So did Mario Batali, who gave this cover blurb: “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. After that I will apply for the dishwasher job at Prune to learn from my new queen.”
(See? You’re skeptical, too.)
And then I went back and read “Killing Dinner“—an essay Hamilton wrote for The New Yorker’s September 6, 2004 issue. It’s a stunning, raw story of killing her first chicken as a teenager, with her father guiding her with shouts. (It was reprinted in Best Food Writing 2005.) There’s this piece, “Open House,” which she wrote for Saveur. I also read “A Rogue Chef Tells All,” a piece Hamilton wrote for Food & Wine, in which she’s sarcastic, funny, and a breath of fresh reality:
If I were a real chef, I’d be at the farmers’ market every morning in my crisp, white, conspicuously monogrammed jacket, handpicking organic produce so vital it practically bursts into song. Anything I couldn’t find there would be delivered to my door just hours after it was picked by my own private forager, a former stockbroker who had tired of the grind and discovered the simple joys of mushroom hunting. A short time later, I’d be back in my kitchen, its walls lined with freshly polished copper pans, tossing off words like fond and entremet and concassé with my staff of culinary-school graduates while we washed the lettuces by hand in mineral water and dried each leaf individually with a chamois cloth.
When this was finished (a leisurely two hours before service) we would all sit down to an intimate and convivial staff meal, passing big platters of nutritious, well-prepared and delicious food that, we would all agree, one could write a book about. And even if I had flown off the handle earlier that day, thrown a fish or a pot, indulged myself in a peevish chefly tantrum, I would know I had only deepened the respect of my underlings and that all was now well.
I read those pieces, became far more intrigued, and realized why many are calling Hamilton the next big name in food writing (even though she says she doesn’t call herself a food writer).
No matter. We’re reading it. Join us for food and a great conversation at 6pm on Tuesday, October 11, place TBA (check back for an update, but I have an inquiry in to a relatively new restaurant in Mountain Brook).