Tuesday, April 27, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Gabrielle Hamilton

Title: Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton

via Amazon

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune, a restaurant in New York City.  Blood, Bones & Butter is her memoir covering childhood to the professional success and personal struggles of middle age.  Her history is an undeniably colorful one.  Essentially abandoned when her parents divorced, she took to hard living quickly - snorted her first line of cocaine at age 13.  But what she lacked in personal discipline she more than made up for with a willingness to work hard.  She entered the restaurant business at about the same age and was hustling tables as a cocktail waitress in NYC by 16.  She found her way into catering which eventually led to her buying her own place, never having even worked the line in a restaurant kitchen before.  Along the way, there was college, a backpacking trip through Europe and an MFA in creative writing at Michigan.

Her restaurant is a successful one and it's impossible not to admire Hamilton and her uncompromising approach.  She writes beautifully.  The time in Ann Arbor paid off.  But I can't say I envy her.  There's a lesson in her story: life can be messy, even (especially?) for apparently successful people.  Her emotional life is disastrous.  As the book ends, her marriage is on the verge of falling apart and the warning signs have been evident from the beginning.  On top of everything else, she's a devoted mother and juggling work and family requires daily heroic effort.  I am confident in saying, it's more than I could handle myself.

Successful doesn't necessarily equal happy.

As such, the book, while well-written, is frequently difficult to read.  To her credit, Hamilton never paints herself as the victim, fully owning her contributions to her frustrations.  But still, for me it's a stressful read, like watching someone walk a tight rope over a deep ravine.  I would happily eat at Hamilton's table any time but as a friend, she would drive me nuts.


  1. Replies
    1. That's a good word for it. As I said, the quality of the writing is excellent. But sometimes, it's just too much.

  2. Actually, this sounds like a good (but difficult) read. After a little distance after my last Cormac McCarthy book, I would like to pick this book up.


    1. Indeed, I think you would enjoy it. It could pair well with Kitchen Confidential. I prefer Bourdain's sense of humor but the female perspective - not to mention, a more professionally successful perspective - on a similar story is fascinating.

  3. The book sounds interesting, but discomfiting.


    1. I guess I wish I found her more like-able. I definitely admire her. But on a personal level, I would find her stressful.