Monday, April 25, 2011

Blood, Bones and Butter

I just finished listening to Gabrielle Hamilton's book on CD in time to ask her some rather okay questions (I hate when I interview someone and haven't read their book, seen their movie or whatever and end up asking a question that even a five year old would know the answer to) and she took the time to really give me some great answers, ones I hadn't seen written in 25 other places.

She is totally compelling, seemingly frank and honest and not really into the glamour of being a top chef who owns one of New York's best restaurants but instead focused on cooking, her family and friends. Listening to her made me want to get in my kitchen and cook fried sweetbreads with capers which are on her menu at Prune though I refuse to kill my own chickens, pigs and lambs which Hamilton has no problem doing.  Alas, I had a deadline so instead of cooking I had to write. Here's one of the articles I wrote about the book which ran in the Northwest Indiana Times -- or  read it on their Website:

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton: Finding the end of a journey in food

Gabrielle Hamilton knows what she's hungry for and what she isn't, and this fierce chef, owner of Prune, a very popular New York City restaurant, won't let anything stop her. Her honesty for life translates well in her newly released memoir, "Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef" (Random House $26).

"Being extremely honest is my nature and also a family trait - we all were raised with such candor in the household," says Hamilton, who will be at the Publican in Chicago on Sunday for a reception and book signing.
"That said, I exerted terrific effort to take good care of everyone I had to include in the book and wrote about people and places and events as I experienced them and with as much gentleness as I possessed. I also did not exempt myself from such honesty. I frequently am unlikeable in this book, as in life."
The book is, in some ways, about her search to recreate a family like the one she had when young. It was a childhood ranging from her parents' wonderful parties, sometimes for over 100 people, of pit-cooked lamb and fresh root beer, to breakfasts of homemade Italian sausage and fresh bread made by her father.
This dream existence, at least for Hamilton, ended one morning when her mother, cooking over a six burner stove in the family's rural kitchen, swept the New York Times off the table and away from her father and he retaliated by throwing dishes and food to the floor before walking out.
"It probably took over a year, or almost two, to dismantle the family," writes Hamilton. "But I was eleven turning twelve, and I felt as if I fell asleep by the lamb pit one day and woke up the next morning to an empty house, a bare cupboard, the leftover debris of a wild and brilliant party, and only half an inch of Herbal Essence left in the bottle on the ledge in the shower."
Hamilton and her older brother were pretty much abandoned by both parents - often for weeks at a time. Or they'd be isolated in a remote area of Vermont with their mother and then back to a distracted father who set no limits and had no money.
Next came jobs in restaurants starting at age 13, as Hamilton tried to make money, and also often "borrowing" cars from a local repair shop when they left the keys in the ignition. It was on to more stealing, inventive illegal schemes, drugs, affairs and that continuing achy hunger for what no longer existed.
"I wrote a book in a way that I would like more people to write books," says Hamilton, noting that she isn't afraid of the real truth. "There is nothing you can tell me about yourself that is going to make me clutch my pearls."
Her honesty is legendary. Asked during an audition why she wanted to become "The Next Iron Chef," she pondered and then replied that she really didn't, removed her microphone and left the room.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
At times she has even said that she isn't a real chef by society's standards, looking down on the celebrity chef phenomenon.
"I was commenting that I must not be a real chef if I am still in my kitchen cooking," says Hamilton, "while my peers all seemed to be out golfing at charity events or cooking in their Tuscan summer villas for an elite group of wine enthusiasts or buddying around at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival."
But despite all this, there is still more of Hamilton that we don't yet know.
"I realize the book feels intimate and deeply personal to the reader," she says. "But I withheld significantly and aimed to write with a larger or greater point of view than simply my own little personal story."
It will be interesting to learn what Hamilton held back, if she ever decides to write another book.

1 comment:

Erika Aylward said...

I picked up this book recently and thought it would be another "foodie memoir" of kitchens, cooks etc. Maybe I should give it a read, sounds interesting and might make a good choice for my Culinary Book Club! Thanks for the review Jane!