the kitchen reader: blood, bones & butter

by Stacy

The June selection for The Kitchen Reader book club was Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, chosen by Aileen of Pharmafoodie.

Blood, Bones & Butter is a really good book. You should read it.

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef-owner of Prune Restaurant in New York City. She’s a writer who cooks, with an MFA in writing but no formal culinary training, the youngest of six children with a set-designer father and former ballet-dancer mother. The book is sort of like watching a movie in fast forward, slowing to watch certain scenes, then speeding past others.

A story which painstakingly recreates the setting of a family lamb roast is followed by her parents’ divorce and unraveling of her family life. Left at home with only her brother and a pantry of strange items, Hamilton has to become self-sufficient in and out of the kitchen. She even gets her first restaurant job when barely a teenager.

After a coke-fueled stint as an underage cocktail waitress in NYC, Hamilton takes us with her to several colleges, assorted catering jobs, and eventually a graduate writing program in Michigan. Feeling out of place in the ivory tower of academia, Hamilton finds familiarity and an unexpected mentor and friend in a catering kitchen. She moves back to NYC, girlfriend in tow, and ends up opening her 30-seat establishment, Prune.

She meets and marries a green-card-seeking Italian doctor a decade older than her and has two sons with him, but they don’t live together. She loves the idea of his Italian family who they go to visit every summer for a month, but she can’t speak Italian. She avoids her own mother for the better part of two decades, then realizes that her mother is perhaps not the monster she made her out to be.

Two particular moments stood out to me. Her vivid description of working the egg station at brunch while 8-plus months pregnant with a slight sense of incredulity that she actually did such a thing make for a compelling read. Her experience speaking to culinary students about women in the restaurant business gave a provocative glimpse into the things she wanted to say but didn’t. Yet she managed to say them in her book after all.

Hamilton’s life is so unlike any of my own experiences that it’s borderline voyeuristic. She tells the tale without regret or pride, sometimes offering emotional insight, but often not. She’s not reverential about cooking; there’s no “food porn” aspect. She’s simply most comfortable in the kitchen with the type of people who work in kitchens — people like her. Her path in life may not be traditional, but it’s the one that got her where she is and she makes no apology for it.

Have you read Blood, Bones & Butter? What did you think? Check out the Kitchen Reader blogroll for more opinions.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly July 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Not to self-promote, but we also did a book club on this book a few months ago and kicked off the event with a brunch date at Prune. After her tales of eggs and war, man, did I feel kind of guilty. But the food was great! All our posts chatting about the book (and some pics from the restaurant) are here.
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Stacy July 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

Really interesting feedback, Molly, and how fun that you went to Prune at brunch, too! My old book club was also approximately 2/3 food and wine, 1/3 book discussion.


sarah, simply cooked July 1, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Oh, maybe I will eat there one day. What about you, Stacy? It’s not really in my neighbourhood, though….! I thought sometimes Hamilton was a bit emotionally detached from her stories. But I don’t know how she can work so hard and still have time to write at all. It’s amazing.


Stacy July 4, 2011 at 9:41 am

Hey, I may be closer than you, but I’m still almost 3000 miles away! I’m intrigued though, for sure.

I agree about the detachment, though I felt like it said a lot about her personality — the lack of major comment on breaking up with her girlfriend and the almost casual decision to marry Michele seemed par for the course and in character with her tone.


Julie @SavvyEats July 5, 2011 at 5:28 am

I did really like her thoughts on women in the culinary world and how out of place she felt during the panel. Great review!
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Jen R. ( July 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I really found myself wishing while she was at that panel that she’d stand up and say something.
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