Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter


Ok, I've sung the praises of Anthony Bourdain on this blog before, but I think there is a new chef/owner vying for my attention, Gabrielle Hamilton.  It's OK; Tony gave her big endorsements on the dust cover of her book Blood, Bones & Butter.  Since Tony said it is "simply the best memoir by a chef ever", I guess I'm lucky I haven't read too many of them, because now I don't need to bother with the rest.  That's a time saver.

And time saving is what I need.  It does drain me of my time when I have to sit glued to a book for up to 10 hours in the course of two days.  Thank goodness it was a holiday, and I had all that extra time to not put the thing down.  I was simply reading, and would look up after laughing so much and, "oh my, look at the time!" The kids were trying their hardest to get me to tuck them into bed, and I had to just keep shooing them away so that I could read about Gabrielle's struggle to mix her work and personal lives together seamlessly.  As I sit to write this review my 3-year-old is climbing on my head, asking for her gummy bears that Santa brought.  Come on kids, don't you understand all these other professionals don't have the same demands on them, nor demons they have battled, and certainly have never had any feelings like I do of inadequacy. 

Oh, wait, there does seem to be something similar in my life and in Gabrielle's.  While I didn't have quite the extreme upbringing she had--I wasn't working in a restaurant at the age of 13, didn't move in with my sister in New York's Hell's Kitchen when I was 16, and never had potential charges of Grand Larceny and Possession of Stolen Property during my teen-age years or ever--there were some common elements that I could relate to.  Growing up out in the boondocks as the youngest sibling, there was plenty of idle time I spent out in nature and looking up to my superhero older siblings.  For anyone who has ever raised chickens like Gabrielle's family and mine did, you should get the symbolism of the jacket cover. And I have a great food memory, often remembering the food I ate at places more than who I was with or why I was there.  Chicken and dumplings, ratatouille, rye bread and pate--those things send me right back to the place I ate them--salivating for more.  Also, I think a strong work ethic is crucial--but some people have it and others don't.  Hopefully I do.

With this book Gabrielle Hamilton, AKA Prune, talks about her upbringing, her antics during her teenage years, and her struggles to be a grown-up.  All through it there are great references to the good food and hard work she loves.  And hard work it is.  Her writing about the demands she puts on herself back in her catering cook days to the all-too realistic accounts of running a very successful restaurant in Manhattan while being pregnant and then raising two small children thoroughly illustrates her fortitude.

What really got me was her account of being a speaker at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  The topic was "Where are the Women?" and Gabrielle was one of 10 women chefs discussing the issue in front of hundreds of female students, as well as several male students.  The students asked questions about how to be successful in the restaurant business, which is a male-dominated one.  "Is it okay to cry?" was one of the first questions asked, and one that Gabrielle used as a great vehicle to discuss her thoughts on working in the restaurant business, how she was successful, and poignantly how she mixes being a woman, a restauranteur, an intellectual, a feminist, a lesbian now married to a man, the mother of two very small children, and a contributor to society.  This is my favorite chapter.  I think Gabrielle did a great job of describing her own perspective as well as giving some great comments about figuring out how to do it all.  Oh, and any working mother reading the book can totally related to the baby sock in the purse and the oatmeal on the sweater. 

So, plan wisely and get yourself some spare time to read this book.  It shouldn't take long.