In a break from our usual Q&A format, Chef Anthony Bourdain talks about Gabrielle Hamilton and reviews her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter.
The Best There Is by Anthony Bourdain
Very quickly after meeting Gabrielle Hamilton, I understood why she was a terrific and
much admired chef. I knew that her restaurant, Prune, was groundbreaking, that she
seemed to have come out of nowhere, instead of being a product of the "system" (she'd
emerged from the invisible subculture of catering), to open one of the most quirky, totally
uncompromising, and quickly embraced restaurants in New York City. Her purportedly
(but not really) Franco-phobic menus were intensely, notoriously personal, her early
embrace of the nose to tail attitude was way, way ahead the times, and chefs - all chefs - seemed to like and respect her. Almost as quickly, it became apparent that this chef could write.
Short pieces appeared here and there over the years and they were sharp, funny, incisive, unsparing of both author and subjects - straight to the point and pretense-free, like Hamilton herself. She could write really well. And she had, from all accounts, a story to tell. So when it was announced that Blood, Bones, and Butter was in the works, I was very excited.
It was a long wait.
Five years later, I finally got my hands on an advance copy and eagerly devoured it. It was of course brilliant. I expected it to be. But I wasn't prepared for exactly how goddamn brilliant the thing was, or how enchanted, difficult, strange, rich, inspiring and just plain hard her life and career - her long road to Prune - had been. I was unprepared for page after page of such sharp, carefully crafted, ballistically precise sentences. I was, frankly, devastated. I put this amazing memoir down and wanted to crawl under the bed, retroactively withdraw every book, every page I'd ever written. And burn them.
Blood, Bones, and Butter is, quite simply, the far and away best chef or food genre
memoir... ever. EVER. It certainly kicked the hell out of my Kitchen Confidential, which
suddenly, in a second, felt shallow, sophomoric and ultimately lightweight next to this...
this monster of a book, this - at times - truly hardscrabble life... Blood, Bones, and
Butter is deeper, better written, more hardcore, more fully fleshed-out; a more well
rounded story than every sunflower and saffron account of soft core food porn in France.
It's as bullshit and pretense free as AJ Leibling - and at least as well written, but more
poignant, romantic - even thrilling.
It makes any "as told to" account of famous chef's lives look instantly ludicrous and bloodless. It makes the supposed "bad boys" of the genre look like pussies - and the romantics look like writers of ineptly written Harlequin romances. I've struggled to think of somebody/anybody who's written a better account of the journey to chefdom and can't think of anyone who's come even close.
Writing a memoir of one's life as a chef - or even writing about one's relationship with food - has, with the publication of this book, become much more difficult. Hamilton has raised the bar higher than most of us could ever hope to reach. This book will sell a gazillion copies. It will be a bestseller. It will be an enduring classic. It will inspire generation after generation of young cooks, and anyone who really loves food and understands the context in which it is best enjoyed, NOT as some isolated, over-valued object of desire, but as only one important aspect of a larger, richer spectrum of experiences. Each plate of food - like the menu at Prune - is the end result of a long and sometimes very difficult struggle.
Read this book and prepare to clean your system of all that's come before. It's a game changer and a truly great work by a great writer and great chef.
Anthony Bourdain is the author of the novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, in addition to the mega-bestseller Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. His work has appeared in the New York Times and The New Yorker, and he is a contributing authority for Food Arts magazine. He is also the host of the Emmy Award-winning television show No Reservations.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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