Book review: Blood, Bones and Butter

“Blood, Bones and Butter” is a memoir by chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who owns the restaurant Prune in New York’s East Village. As a disclaimer, I have never ate at or been to Prune so I am in no capacity to pass any comments about the establishment or its food.

What really drew me in though was when I learnt that apart from being a cook, Hamilton also holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. That combination, undoubtedly, is uncommon and got me intrigued.

My first impression of the book? It is a very frank memoir documenting Hamilton’s personal journey to cooking professionally, and frank might just be an understatement to describe her strong-willed personality, which is plainly reflected in her writing style and also the vision behind her restaurant she wrote passionately about.

“To be picked up and fed, often by strangers, when you are in that state of fear and hunger, became the single most important and convincing food experience I came back to over and over, that sunning afternoon humming around my apartment, wondering how I might translate such an experience into the restaurant I was now sure I was about to open down the block… I knew I had to somehow get that kind of hospitality into this minor little thirty-seater in the as-yet-ungentrified and still heavily graffitied East Village.”

Starting out early as 13 years old to peel potatoes in a restaurant kitchen in attempt to support herself after her parents got divorced, Hamilton had bounced around in different roles in the food/restaurant industry. Underage bar-waitressing? Check. Summer-camp cook? Check. Catering? Check.

These experiences in turn shaped her to be one tough cookie who does not mince her words even when discussing about rough patches in her life. My full respect went out to her when she talked about being nine-months pregnant and was all ready to pop, but because the kitchen was short staffed, she continued to stand for hours in front of the stove sweating buckets while frying up plates and plates of eggs for the weekend brunch crowd.

Towards food and cooking, she has her own attitude and approach, whether is it ingredient sourcing or the cooking process itself, and she stands by her beliefs, no hum haw involved.

“Of course, I’m in love with the toothless guy with the gaping trousers. He’s everything I grew up with, he’s the end of an era, he’s the last of what it was like to just be a good eater and a good grower. A time when we just grew it and cooked it and ate it and didn’t talk so much about it. When we didn’t crow all over town about our artisanal, local, organic fwa fwa. We just went to the farm and bought milk.”

This is a delectable read enveloped in a generous amount of sincerity and made with honest and down-to-earth cooking philosophy that makes for a hearty read. On a side note, even though deliciousness was written all over the pages while devouring the book, I strangely did not end up with any hunger pangs … maybe I am just weird?

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