Gabrielle Hamilton is the owner of Prune, a restaurant in New York City’s East Village with a cult following. Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing may have its own cult following after the publication of Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – a no-holds-barred memoir of her life up until she becomes chef-owner of her own restaurant and a little beyond. She reads her own memoir for the audio edition with the competent, matter-of-fact tone that I imagine her taking with suppliers, staff, and siblings, not suffering fools gladly but not really letting them disturb her self-possession, either. She doesn’t cut herself any slack in the kitchen or on the page – remembering her childhood and difficult adolescence, describing her various jobs, unusual marriage, failures, and successes, with straight-to-the-bone honesty.
An excerpt from the first chapter of Blood, Bones & Butter was published in the January 17, 2011 issue of The New Yorker as a personal history piece titled The Lamb Roast, in which the author describes the huge, outdoor party the author’s father and mother threw every year, with a lamb roasting on a spigot as a centerpiece. The story of the free-spirited, unhappy family stuck in my mind after reading it, so I was happy when I found out there was more of the story available.
Take The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls; Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain; Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes; and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (and her other memoirs, too) and roll them into one and you’ll have Blood, Bones & Butter, with the author’s dysfunctional family and issues that go unresolved into adulthood; too many wild, late nights in restaurants and manic cooking jags; summer meals in a crumbling villa in Italy; and plenty of meals and menu descriptions all the way through. The author’s passion and love of food really comes through, but not in an over-dramatized way. There isn’t any gushing or ecstatic renditions of meals eaten. The preparation of good food seems to be what calms the author’s driven spirit, making her years of hard work in kitchens seem in retrospect like a labor of love.
You can listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here. It takes a while for the author to hit her stride in the reading, so an excerpt from later in the book might have been a better sample. At the beginning she sounds more like she is reading than telling the story (which is why I don’t usually like an author to read his/her own book) but her reading becomes more natural as she goes on. Plus, with an author’s reading, you can count on pronunciations being correct.
Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook on CD from the public library.
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