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Gabrielle Hamilton – Blood, Bones, and Butter

August 17, 2011

102. Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011)

Length: 298 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir

Started: 31 July 2011
Finished: 06 August 2011

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? Kitchen Confidential totally whetted my appetite for foodie memoirs.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 February 2011.

This chef’s memoir spends
more time in her childhood and
less in her kitchen.

Summary: Gabrielle Hamilton differs from your average chef memoirist in two ways. One, she’s not a celebrity chef, doesn’t have a TV show, and still spends most of her days working in her NYC restaurant, Prune. Two, she’s got an MFA in creative writing to go along with her twenty-plus years working various gigs from dish washer to catering chef in the restaurant industry. This memoir starts with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage when she was twelve, and covers her somewhat unconventional career path and the new family she has built from her husband’s extended Italian family.

Review: I am, by-and-large, not a memoir reader. Of the memoirs that I’ve read, the ones I’ve enjoyed most have a central theme or topic that is something I’m interested in anyways (birds, travel, Jeopardy), while the ones I’ve enjoyed least are the more personal, introspective, “look-at-my-messed-up-childhood” variety. I absolutely loved Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, which frequently gets classed as a memoir, so I thought another chef memoir would be right up my alley. And I was partly right: the parts of this book that are talking about food, or her parents’ lamb-roasting parties, or cooking for a camp’s worth of children, or the process of opening a restaurant, or making a meal for an entire extended Italian family? Those parts were wonderful. Hamilton is a skilled writer, and although her words aren’t always polished to perfection they flow so naturally that they’re a joy to read.

However, the parts of this book in which I was interested (the food/cooking parts) were interspersed with a number of parts (the more “memoir”-y parts) that I found less engaging. This is assuredly my own non-memoir-reader idiosyncrasy, but I just had a hard time getting into the parts about her parents’ divorce, her self-destructive teenage behavior, her green-card marriage and its subsequent problems, her musings on the joy of motherhood, etc. Not that they were badly written, and they did contribute to the narrative of the story, but just… not my cup of tea. On balance, there were enough good parts that I enjoyed the book overall, but I wish I’d realized going in that it wasn’t all about the food. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Recommended for memoir fans who are also foodies, as well as fans of Kitchen Confidential, although be advised: this is as much about the author as it is about her cooking.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: BookHounds, Jayne’s Books, Largehearted Boy, Lindy Reads and Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: We threw a party.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 80: “Somehow, a crack in my fully cultivated antipathy toward children and their insipid tenderness had formed, and without even the slightest understanding of why or how, I felt worse at the thought that I might be undernourishing the kids than I did when, for example, all the quenelled saffron-pistacio ice cream melted onto the gold-rimmed plates when the king of Thailand spontaneously rose from his seat at the luncheon honoring his presence and gave an unscheduled and wordy toast.” – a food item made into an oval or egg shape.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2011 8:30 am

    I share your feelings about memoirs – I’m not really that interested in other people’s lives, at least not the ones living now. The Glass Castle was good enough for me! It looks like Kitchen Confidential would be a better choice for a food memoir.

    • August 17, 2011 8:44 am

      Meghan – I read The Glass Castle, Running with Scissors, and Angela’s Ashes within the span of about six months, and that put me off the “look at my terrible childhood” type of memoir, possibly for good. Just… I’m not your shrink! I don’t need to know these things!

      Kitchen Confidential gets called a memoir, and I suppose it is, but I think of it more as about the behind-the-scenes restaurant world in general, and just illustrated by anecdotes of the kitchens in which Bourdain has worked. It’s also hilarious, and I highly recommend it!

  2. August 17, 2011 11:43 am

    I am a bit tired of memoirs about terrible childhoods, too. I did like The Glass Castle, but generally I avoid books of that sort. I would rather read about historical figures troubles if I was going to read anything at all. If there is more going on in the book, though, that isn’t so bad.

    • August 22, 2011 8:40 am

      Kailana – There’s definitely more going on in this book, it was just more childhood stuff than I was expecting.

  3. August 17, 2011 2:49 pm

    I’m a memoir junkie, so I’m sure I’d like this one more than you did.

    • August 22, 2011 8:48 am

      Kathy – I think so! With the focus on food and cooking, it seems like it would be right up your alley!

  4. August 17, 2011 5:04 pm

    I’ve never read a memoir by a chef, it must be interesting.

    • August 22, 2011 8:49 am

      Carolina – I thought Kitchen Confidential was *fascinating*, since I didn’t normally give that much thought to what was going on on the other side of the restaurant. This one doesn’t have quite the same focus but does give a decent taste of what working in the food industry is like.

  5. August 19, 2011 1:08 pm

    I have lots and lots of food related books that I could recommend if you are interested. It is one of my favorite genres!

    • August 22, 2011 8:50 am

      Jessica – Yes please! I loved Kitchen Confidential and Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant; where should I go next?

      • September 7, 2011 9:56 pm

        I would highly recommend any of Ruth Reich’s works — Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic & Sapphires. Also, Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte is really cute. I also enjoyed The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto. If you’re into travel writing as well, Peter Mayle’s books about Provence are a wonderful combination of food & travel memoir writing. A Year in Provence is the first.

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