Readers beware - Chef Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, is smoking hot! Serving it up raw and gritty, Hamilton is absolutely fearless as she narrates the chapters of her life. From her idyllic childhood as a girl in rural Pennsylvania, to the tough renegade chef presently rocking New York City's East Village, Hamilton dishes it out from page one with her edgy literary style.
The "blood" of the book's title refers to her family, and Hamilton firmly establishes her ties to both her parents and her four older siblings who, together, "ran in a pack - like wild dogs." As a child, Hamilton was captivated by her artistic parents and drank them in in great, awe-filled gulps. "My parents seemed incredibly special and outrageously handsome to me then. I could not have boasted of them more or said my name, first and last together, more proudly, to show how it directly linked me to them. I loved that our mother was French... that she had been a ballet dancer at the Met in New York City when she married my father."
She tenderly takes her time to lay out the foundation that both forms Gabrielle as a child and shatters Hamilton as an adult. She warmly observes and absorbs the discerning cooking style of her mother, and from her father "learn[s] how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends." Through the simple joy of recalling childhood memories, Hamilton establishes her family bond, and no event makes a deeper impression on young Gabrielle than that of her father's legendary annual lamb-roast. It is in this magical "feast" for hundreds of friends from "as far away as the townhouses of New York City" that Hamilton's familial and culinary sensibilities become inextricably bound.
When Hamilton's parents suddenly split up, Gabrielle is left alone amidst the broken bones of her family. Cash-strapped and a mere thirteen-years-old, she begins to work the only way she knows how. Hamilton grinds her way through kitchen after kitchen from New York to Ann Arbor, through Europe, and back again. And ultimately, the all-nighters, crusty floors, endless prepping, and the sordid yet seductive world of food all serve to sharpen her artistic skills and caustic wit.
Blood, Bones & Butter is not just for foodies. Though you will find seasoned passages on "ceviche and Israeli couscous and mushroom duxelle and robiola cheese" among others to relish, they merely serve to strengthen and fortify Hamilton's solid story threads. Be warned, however, that Hamilton writes like a rock star; her style is not for the faint of heart and she makes no apologies for who she is. Her smacking, straight-up honesty is highly acidic and a bit hard to take at times, but every page holds a killer quote and Hamilton's hard-core intensity is intoxicating. Blood, Bones & Butter has serious moxie driven by the love and language of all things culinary, and its promise of family, friendship, and food is sure to please.
This review was originally published in March 2011, and has been updated for the January 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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