Friday, August 5, 2011

Blood, Bones and Butter by Grabrielle Hamilton is anything but reluctant

I don't normally read non-fiction.  I prefer the world of make-believe much more than the troubles of reality.  I avoid it as much as possible,  hehehehee.  So why did I pick this one up?  Truth?  It was the title.
"Blood, Bones and Butter."  I didn't even look at what it was about because the title captured me immediately.  I downloaded it to my NOOK before I even realized this would not be about mass murdering, vampires, zombies or pirates.  When I did realize this was a memoir of a chef I was let down, so much so, I read 3 books before I looked at it again.  Boy, was I silly.  This book was fantastic.  Gabrielle Hamilton is so passionate about what she does she makes some paranormal characters seem dull.  On the face of it the book is her memoir of how she came to be who she is, Owner/Executive Chef, of the restaurant Prune but really it is an adventure in growing up and finding yourself even if who you are is a sometimes cranky, sometimes crazy cooking dervish.
The story, of course, starts at her beginning in a family of odd people.  Her mother was a French ballerina with OCD and her dad was a theatrical set designer who was more buddy than daddy.  Dad was very loose in his parenting which was in direct contrast to the controlling manipulative mom.  Ms. Hamilton’s growing years were the typical dysfunctional story most of us have experienced to some extent.  Parents divorce, no one is taking care of the kids, drugs, a little homelessness thrown in.  It is the stories in between the dysfunctional episodes that pulled me in. Every summer they would have a lamb roast.  Her dad would select the lambs for slaughter, secure them to large spits and slow roast them over an open fire. Then with the male guests he would hoist the spits up and parade them across the yard to sawhorses for carving and serving.  Kids would be running around and the adults would be feasting and drinking wine. I would fall in love with food too.  The mom was no slouch in the culinary area either.  She was a frugal woman to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Everything was used.  She pickled vegetables, meat and eggs.  Crusty bread and cheese veiny and stinky were mainstays of their diet.  Chickens gave eggs until they couldn’t and then they would become dinner and then they would become leftovers and then they would become feed for the other animals.
It was in college when she was trying to get her degree in writing that she took up with another foodie who was a caterer and her love deepened as she worked with fruity olive oil, ripe tomatoes, fresh pasta, and seafood of all varieties.  She moved to New York and she discovered a whole subculture of the catering world.  Who knew New York caterers often used massive kitchens of the same staff regardless of the catering company?  Like a catering factory.  Everyone smoked, dressed in black and cursed a blue streak.  She falls in love with a woman but marries the Italian man she had an affair with.
This is all lovely but it wasn’t why I loved this story.  I loved this story because Gabrielle Hamilton is a real woman following her real passion and sometimes her life really sucks.  She had falling outs with family.  Her restaurant is small and cramped and she wouldn’t be anywhere else.  She was married to a strange man who she didn’t live with but had two children with.  Through it all she cooks.  Her Italian mother-in-law can’t speak English and Gabrielle can’t speak Italian but in a kitchen over a pile of flour, egg and water they speak the mutual language of pasta and the love of cooking for family and friends.  She sits on a panel with other female chefs to share with upcoming young female chef wannabe’s and she wants to scream at them, “Cooking is work, it isn’t about celebrity or money, it is about love and life.”  She doesn’t say this because she recognizes she can’t burst their bubbles.
I loved her direct, funny writing style that made me see the omelet station she worked while she was nine months pregnant with her second son.  I felt her surprise when on family day at the camp she was cooking for the dad she met of her favorite camper was none other than Mark Bittman.  She made me cry for dead lobsters!  I laughed with her and cried with her and she reminded me following my passion isn’t about accolades or immortality or whatever.  It’s about living out loud and being less than you are if you don’t.  She inspires me to not give up on my passions and not to follow them but to live them. 
Thank you Ms. Hamilton.  I will be visiting your restaurant, Prune, in the near future to tell you personally.

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