My preparation for every trip always includes choosing what books I’ll bring with me, and since I’ve had my Kindle, that number has expanded. For our trip to Paris, one of the books I downloaded in advance was Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. I had been reading so much about the book, and I’m a devotee of food memoirs, and for a trip to such a legendary foodie city, it seemed completely appropriate.
The funny thing is that one of the reasons Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is so unconventional is because she is not a classically-trained French chef, but instead, a kind of renegade chef who got the majority of her training on the fly. In her adult life, she spends summers cooking for privileged children (including Mark Bittman’s daughter) and the rest of the seasons banging out fancy appetizers as a freelance caterer. She picks up an MFA along the way and kind of stumbles into the chance to own her restaurant, and at so many steps along the way, she questions whether she should even be a chef, and whether she should be a writer.
Luckily, I don’t think there can be any more doubt about her writing skills. Her writing in the sections of the book before she opens her restaurant, Prune, is absolutely spell-binding; I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open and feeling so completely entranced by the way she constructed her sentences. Once she opens Prune, her stories of chef-ownership are also wonderful, full of the sensory details and lacerating honesty that she displays in the rest of the book. While I know from other pieces that Prune is terribly difficult to get a reservation for, I don’t think anyone reading would close the book and not want to eat there, and I’m hoping a cookbook will be one of her next ventures.
However, the weakest areas of the book for me (and for other reviewers) were the sections about her marriage, which is complicated, unconventional and seems to be irreparably fractured. Hamilton seems defensive at times and at other times, just as puzzled as the reader is concerning how this marriage “works” and why she stays in it. Yes, she spends the majority of the book in lesbian relationships, so this marriage to an Italian man comes as a little shock, but more importantly, it seems clear that she is still so tangled up in this part of her life that she hasn’t achieved as much clarity in her vision when looking at it.
If you are a foodie, a reader, a chef, a writer, I’d heartily recommend it.
- HuffPost Book Club: Blood Bones and Butter 1 (jowanabueser.com)
- Wild girls of the food world make no apologies (thehimalayantimes.com)
- lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #6: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (cannonballread4.wordpress.com)