This book. Oh man, this book. If you don’t know, Gabrielle Hamilton is the head chef and owner at a New York City restaurant called Prune. Blood, Bones, and Butter is the story of “the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef.” I will warn you, before you pick up the book, I would plan some sort of trip to New York to eat at Prune because I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time staking out the menu online and I WANT TO GO TO THERE.
Anyway, about the book. I’m sure that Gabrielle Hamilton’s food is knock-your-socks-off good, but she is a writer. I mean, it’s undeniable. She has an incredible ability to reproduce the details of a scene that I can only guess at. Do you know how you feel when you’re with your family, doing things that your family does, when you feel totally at ease, and it’s almost like the air is thick with sentimentality? Does it have something to do with the way the lights twinkle? Or the particular smell of salt in the air? It’s almost impossible for me to put words to what it is that makes those moments come alive. Do you know what I mean? You can feel it, but asked to describe it, words don’t ever quite fit. This is not a problem for Gabrielle Hamilton. Seriously, in one paragraph, I feel like Hamilton’s mother could be my mother. She says:
“I remember the smell of sulphur every morning as she lit a match to warm the tip of her black wax pencil. She pinned her dark hair back into a tight, neat twist every morning and then spent the day in a good skirt, high heels, and an apron that I have never seen her without in forty years. She lived in our kitchen, ruled the house with an oily wooden spoon in her hand, and forced us all to eat dark, briny, wrinkled, olives, small birds we wold have liked as pets, and cheeses that looked like they might well bear Legionnaire’s Disease” (pg. 7).
After that, I can feel the respect that Hamilton has for her mother, edged with a lingering bitterness. I can see Hamilton’s mother, wielding her oily wooden spoon, as if she were my own mother. That is a gift. The whole book is quietly honest; it’s a beautifully patchworked tale of how Gabrielle Hamilton became a chef.
If I had to recommend one book that I have read so far, it’s this one. It reminded me what’s so great about books, especially memoirs. I felt transported: Hamilton’s childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, the bar where she worked as a seventeen year old, the Italian home of her mother-in-law, and the tiny, hot kitchen of her own restaurant in New York. Buy it. Read it. Pay attention to those little things that make your world beautiful.