on 20 January 2012
This is a book that really satisfies on both the food and the writing.
The food part is covered by the engrossing tale of Gabrielle Hamilton's journey to becoming a chef, through her childhood meals, waitressing and contract cooking experiences, through to planning and running her New York restaurant, Prune. The details of each of these food worlds are colourful and interesting, and described in a much less macho way than Anthony Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential', perhaps the most obvious comparison in terms of chef memoirs.
But the writing is what I found so satisfying about this book. Gabrielle Hamilton describes her writing Masters in one part of the book, and the thought and originality she puts into the prose really shines.
I couldn't put this book down, and can't wait to go back and start again from the beginning.
Flattering book cover quotes by famous authors can work against the book as much as they can work for it. The cover of Blood, Bones and Butter is emblazoned with a quote from Anthony Bourdain: "Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever" (sic). When I was lent this book and read this quote, my heart sank. "Oh no, not another wannabe ballsy chef," I thought. "And what a title for a book. Sounds horrible."
Well, as the cliche goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. This book is a masterclass in the art of the memoir.
Like a good meal, the narrative arrives in three courses.
The starter, or Blood, as Gabrielle terms it, describes her early idyllic life in rural Pennsylvania as the youngest of five children. Her French mother (a great domestic cook) and her American theatrical set designer dad hold amazing neighbourhood parties where they roast several whole spring lambs in the meadow of their 19th century silk mill home. You get the picture.
The idyll comes to an abrupt end when her parents unexpectedly divorce and Gabrielle's young life comes apart at the seams. Bones, the 'main course', follows the time when she goes off the rails but finds work in the kitchens of various local restaurants before departing for the potential excitement but inherent dangers of New York.
The last course sees Gabrielle opening her tiny New York restaurant, Prune, how she gets the restaurant off the ground and meets the Italian man who will become her husband, despite the fact that she is a lesbian. Each year, she, her husband and their two small sons spend a month with her in-laws in Puglia. I couldn't disagree more with the reviewer who found this section of the book so poor. I thought this was perhaps the finest part of a very fine book.
If my resume makes it sound hackneyed, I can assure you it isn't. Not in the least. The writing is exceptionally good. The subject matter, for anyone who is interested in food, is riveting. And Gabrielle Hamilton's gutsy determination combined with a tender empathy is to be admired. I recommend this book highly.
on 29 July 2011
Incisive and evocative words that describe a life lived with all it's joys and trials. Having read most of this book out loud to my rather bemused husband, I'm about to head to the store to get a copy for mum, mum-in-law, gran, my closest friends, my son's girlfriend! An absorbing, exquisitely written story.
on 7 October 2014
I guess the problem with memoirs is it is hard to judge if you enjoy the book without deciding if you also would want the person as your friend . BBB is a great romantic savage story of a lost girl who was saved by food , a girl who could write but found academia [ and so much more] stifling and found herself in the kitchen scrambling eggs . There could have been a better book here , yes Gabrielle writes beautifully and I loved the eccentric family memoirs and the early penniless days but then when she opens Prune I sense there is a change . A girlfriend is cast aside for an Italian husband she seems to careless for than his food and her confidence becomes arrogance ; so what she doesn't care for farmers markets [ does she need to pick when her words were so lyrical before . Towards the end her anger towards first her mother and then her husband just seem bitter and cruel . What starts as the heartfelt words of a woman discovering herself through the simplicity of food and bloody hard work become an ugly rant . Disappointed as this could have been a foodie eat pray love.
on 11 July 2012
Totally absorbing from the start, this one of those books, you don't want to end ...because they're so good. Thank you Sarah for giving it me. The prose simply stuns and satisfies with it's energy and aching finesse. Firstly Gabrielle describes her lifelong love of food, given her by her mother, belonging in a large family ...and from her father, the 'how to' graphic initiation of killing her own chicken, simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking as we see the manifestation of her transformation from dependent to independent. Later, her survival (literally) after her parents' marriage break-up, finds her parcourir ing her way through a labyrinth of kitchen sinks, bars, hiding, working illegally, underage, funding her habits, learning ...all the time from her own mistakes, yet moving on, spurred on by her own hunger for food, life and people. Her energy is intoxicating! She describes the way I love food, the crunch, the fat, the carbs, the sour, sweet, her need to source and create good food, the simplest sometimes the best. Her meeting (s) with her husbands Italian family for summer breaks in Rome and Puglia, are so descriptive ..this is where the 'perfect summer reading' comes in, her bystander respect for the family structure is beautifully set out, her passion to belong and unravel. A powerful book. I shall be giving it to as many people as I can. It is a wonderful wonderful read and Gabrielle, you simply MUST.Write.ANOTHERBook.SOON.
on 12 October 2015
You don't have to be a foodie to enjoy Gabrielle Hamilton's engaging memoir charting her journey from childhood in small town Pennsylvania to her present status as a celebrated chef and owner of acclaimed NYC restaurant, Prune. Growing up in a converted silk mill, Hamilton's early years sound rather magical. Her parents were not typical suburbanites; her theatrical director father was noted for staging creative and flamboyant parties and her French mother was passionate about cooking. But this idyllic life came to a sudden end with the divorce of her parents. Hamilton became, at a very tender age, something of a tough cookie. Left to a semi-feral life with one brother, she lied about her age to land restaurant jobs - already honing skills that would inform her life choices. She went off the rails with drink and drugs...nearly landed in jail...yet somehow managed to finish university. There is a rather hard, almost brittle undercurrent to Hamilton's voice. As her story unfolds she makes some mystifying choices such as her green card marriage to an Italian PhD student - a wedding she describes as 'performance art'. In spite of being a lesbian, she maintains the marriage which eventually produces two children. Estranged from her mother for 20 years, she finally visits her after the death of her brother. Yet it is no warm reunion, and Hamilton seems to feel only a faint contempt for her mother. Interesting then, that her famous restaurant is named Prune, referencing her mother's nickname for Hamilton. Hamilton writes very well and her story is hard to put down. I don't think I like her, however, and I am certain she is not remotely bothered about anyone liking her.
on 14 May 2012
What an odd book. What a wonderfully written, elegantly prosed (if that's such a word) book.
It's about food, about cooking, about starting out in life in a family that has everything, then collapses, with repercussions that ring through the decades. But, then in the end (as one other reviewer has noted, somewhat negatively), it also becomes a platform for self-analysis around the author's own marriage, and how her life is secure professionally but fragile personally.
It's a bit scattered in places - a chapter devoted to a conference about women in restaurants is worthy, but out of place. What holds it all together, however, is the writing style, which has a wonderful cadence, and which reveals the passion of the author for her profession.
I really enjoyed it. I would be interested if she turned her hand to another book, one slightly more focused.
Her restaurant is great as well. Do go there if you get the chance.
on 12 December 2011
I just finished reading this book today. As someone very interested in food I looked forward to it very much since it had been hailed as a female version of Anthony Bourdains' Kitchen Confidential. I loved the first half of the book (the blood and bones sections); it was beautifully written and very evocative. Fascinating retelling of her childhood and her development as a cook into a chef to finally running her own restaurant. But the last section after her marriage was lack lustre. The book seemed to be two parts welded together not all that successfully. I can understand her wanting to work through the disappointement and anger at her marriage but she did go on and on and she lost my sympathy. I was with her all the way in the first half of the book but by the end she came over as rather less sympathetic. Arrogant almost in her critical views of the Italian matriarchal family and culturally imperialist. She seemed really rather too pleased with herself for having reorganised her mother-in-law's kitchen and cut down the trees blocking the view of the sea. I was finally glad when the book came to an end, which is a pity. With better guidance by her editor it could have been a more rounded and satifying book.
on 29 November 2013
I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say this is the best memoir by a chef ever written (I feel Anthony Bourdain might be a little given to hyperbole looking at that quote on the cover!), but it's an enormously enjoyable read.
Hamilton traces the roots of her fascination with food, from enormous parties at her parents' rural home to opening her award-winning restaurant, Prune, and cooking with - because she can't speak to - her Italian mother in law, via a lawsuit for grand larceny, a green card marriage and a lot of coke. I don't imagine there are many people with quite such interesting lives!
The style is a little grating in places (quite what she has against verbs, and actual sentences, I don't know), but it's a very appealing read, and it's worth reading now before Gwynnie sanitises the role on the big screen.
on 26 January 2015
An open and honest account of an intuitive cook, delighted and deflated in equal measures.........a cook/chefs lot!
Wonderfully written and an absolute pleasure to read.