The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Written by Gabrielle Hamilton
ISBN 13: 9781400068722
ISBN 10: 140006872X
Publisher: Random House
Hardcover: 304 pages
Blood, Bones & Butter was one of those books that got rave reviews from industry publications to food bloggers. I think every major food blogger on my Google Reader got a copy of the book and shared how much they enjoyed it.
I quickly got a copy of Gabrielle Hamilton's book on the last week of April this year and finished it on the first week of May. My apologies for not writing a review sooner! Since then, I've lent my copy to two friends who were interested in reading it for different reasons - for the Italian family dynamic and for how difficult restaurant work is. The friend who read it for Hamilton's restaurant moments was able to identify with this line from Hamilton's mother, "There are no accidents, only carelessness."
That is actually a line that has been stuck with me since grade four. My elementary teacher once yelled at our class and ingrained that saying with us. He used to tell us that car accidents happened because someone was being stupid.
It has been awhile, but the book made it's way back to me during the Thanksgiving weekend, and I thought it would be nice to pair my review with a post about our visit to Hamilton's restaurant.
I think Hamilton has an appealing story because it's a story of having a strong work ethic. We read about her rough childhood, dropping out of school, trouble with the law, and the jobs after jobs she had before she ran her own business. There's no doubt that she encountered many detours, both in her personal and professional life.
One of my favourite section was reading about her summer camp experience. Perhaps I'm being a bit nostalgic of my summers as a camp leader. Or, even further back to when I was a camper and was fed overly sugared cereal for breakfast, flavourless spaghetti at lunch, and from-the-box mac and cheese for dinner. I wish I knew as much about food like Emma, asking for balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. I was beyond floored when Hamilton revealed who Emma's father was. Then, shocked when she finds the suffocated lobsters on the kitchen floor.
An eye opener for me was when Hamilton did catering work. The stale food, the shortcuts, and multiple handling. It makes me shudder to think about how many events we've been to that have been catered!
I liked reading about how casual her approach was. She didn't go looking to open a restaurant, it sounded like it all fell into place. A place opened up and she knew it was her. She didn't know how to open or run a restaurant yet, but focused on the parts that most of us love to do. Picking out the cutlery, the menu font, and the soundtrack. While in hindsight, everything could have gone wrong, she was lucky enough to open and garner lots of publicity for her restaurant.
Hamilton's book introduced me to Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner. After reading about how Soltner made an omelette, I no longer felt like I had to master cracking and splitting an egg with one hand. I even scraped the egg shell when I made pancakes that weekend. It's moments like these that I love reading about, because they change the way you do things in the kitchen.
While Hamilton was honest and wrote eloquently about everything else, her personal life left me puzzled. Her relation with now ex-husband, Michele, made no sense to me. I wasn't fond of her reason for marrying him and how she had to tolerate with his behaviour. Most people who I discussed the book with were also confused with why she started a family with him. This could be the reason why I finished the book feeling like a bit of the story was not finished.
Unlike other chef biographies and food writing, there are no recipes in this book.
Disclaimer: A copy of Blood, Bones & Butter was given to me by Pamela Osti (my colleague at Random House of Canada) as a gift. There was no agreement or expectations that a review would be written and posted on this site. Thanks again Pamela!
54 East 1st Street
New York, NY 10003
During our visit to New York in September, I was still intrigued enough to want to try Prune. This was the place she described in her book. She took the dump and renovated it to what it is today. Sure enough, I spotted copies of the book on shelf above the bar.
We went on a Tuesday night without reservations - so we arrived when dinner service officially opened. The staff (in their pink T-shirts) was standing around the bar and the hostess came up to seat us. Corner seat by the opened front window. You can see it in the photo above. The window was open, as if inviting us to sit there. If I tipped back and turned my head left, this was my view:
The open window was also functional, once the waiter reached through from outside to refill our glasses with water.
We were served some chickpea flour crackers in a pail as we browsed the menu. Confused, I was pretty sure we had the wrong menu. We did! The hostess took the brunch menu and found the dinner menus for us.
We'll have to say that service was a bit of "tough love," (something you feel in her book too) I don't think we saw anyone smile at a customer or do friendly chit-chat. Two gentlemen were seated right beside us, and they were probably the second or third group to arrive that night. "With all this room, you'd think they would space us out," one of them joked. Yes, the restaurant is small and the tables are really close together (thankfully, our elbows didn't touch). A bit odd, but maybe they had lots of reservations later that evening? However, it still wasn't full when we left.
As an aside, the two gentlemen both ordered the fish and were served the whole fish. It looked amazing.
I ordered the lamb blade chop with Greek salad. We were told it was a very popular choice when Howard asked for recommendations. The lamb was cooked very well - it was juicy, tender, and didn't taste gamy at all.
Look at the feta cheese! I really enjoyed the Greek salad, differently put together than any other I've had before (because how authentic is Mr. Greek?). I liked the seasoning and the dressing, and felt that I could have had a whole plate of this salad.
Howard had the crispy chicken - but as you can see, there was only one piece of crispy chicken skin sitting on top. We both agreed that I had the better dish this time!