To coincide with the Crave Sydney Food Festival I thought I’d write a post about the wonderful biography “Blood, Bones & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton. Gabrielle is the Head Chef and owner of acclaimed restaurant Prune, in the East Village New York. I read this book a few months ago and found the author so pragmatic, down to earth and honest that I am a little bit envious of anyone attending the festival and getting to hear her speak. I have also marked Prune on my list of places to eat when I go to New York (I’ve been planning a trip to NYC for the past 4 years, I obsess about it as much as I do competitive cookery.)
This is an autobiography that describes a relationship with food and cooking through early family life, travel, work in huge commercial kitchens and then accidentally owning her own restaurant. The thing I found most interesting, having read male versions of chef biographies, is that as a woman there is an inherent requirement to nurture, so it’s no surprise that Gabrielle learned how to cook from her French mother. Gabrielle describes in lovely detail the grand BBQ’s her parent s would have every Summer, the preparation her and her siblings would partake in and the food that was served. Her descriptions of food and food preparation are worth the read alone and I think these are definitely the strongest chapters within the book.
After her parents divorced Gabrielle was left to drift and feeling a little lost and insecure dabbled in drugs whilst working as a drinks waiter in a Country & Western themed bar, a brief brush with the law sees Gabrielle attempt to “find herself” and in doing so travels overseas and eventually studies writing. Through each stage of her life Gabrielle is always cooking and has an innate respect for produce. It is clear that whilst somewhat a misfit in social situations she is obviously a natural in the kitchen.
The chapters about commercial cookery and cooking for large functions is particularly enlightening and I love that she is never attempting to hide, but rather, expose her background and what is done to food to prepare it for these mass catering exercises. By accident it seems, she decides to open Prune and at the same time gets married to an Italian, her life to date she had lived as a lesbian. As a couple they travel annually to stay with her partner’s family at both the city-house in Rome and then the country villa. Gabrielle certainly embraces Italian life and seasonal produce but at the same time gets frustrated with the inability to source things that are out of season.
The menu at Prune caused a minor sensation at the time it opened because the food was as down-to-earth and pared back as it’s owner, all the food Gabrielle had been fed and loved as a child and the meals that had nurtured her through her travels and relationships. Gabrielle comes across as a no-bullshit kind of person and seems to find the chef as celebrity thing a bit odd. I have heard she is a crowd favourite at food festival events and I’ll be looking forward to the reports that come out over and after the weekend when she has spoken. I’d recommend this book to any lover of food or industry professional. Her descriptions of produce, preparation and meals are wonderfully evocative. I just wanted to get on a plane and go eat at Prune.