Hype is huge in the food world. New restaurants will float or flounder based on diners’ need to try the Next Big Thing. What’s new and in is not always what is good (think of how much upscale comfort food you’ve eaten in the last few months) but somehow impossible to avoid.
So trying to get away from the hype – that’s my excuse for not reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s much-lauded, delicious, solidly satisfying book Blood, Bones & Butter (“Magnificent. Simply the best book by a chef ever. Ever.” – Anthony Bourdain).
But this book! I simply adored it. I ravished it. I consumed it. It will make you hungry for food and more good writing.
Hamilton begins her book with a description of a family dinner party. It’s the 1970s in rural Pennsylvania, and her set designer father and glamorous French mother host a lamb roast outside for dozens of friends. The descriptions – dinner slowly cooking outside, candles and a fire pit illuminating the darkness, the bohemian sensibility – are evocative reminders of how food works with memory to create something more far more rich and complicated than just what we consume to survive.
Shortly after the magic of the barbeques, Hamilton’s parents split up. Her brothers and sisters, all older, scatter. She writes about the period, later, reflecting with her sister:
We have had long incredulous conversations with each other about our often starkly different experiences of the very same family. … There are only five years between us, but five years is enough time for the geography and topography of a family to change dramatically, for ravines to form, trees to upend, streams to run dry (156).
She ended up working prep in a kitchen, then as a waitress and for a catering company. It’s through a combination of hard work and some luck that she ends up chef and owner of Prune in New York.
Hamilton’s work with food and appreciation of good, simple ingredients is evident, but we’re able to almost taste everything with her because she is such a strong writer. Take this description of visiting her husband’s family estate in Italy, where his mother cooks every meal:
Pine nuts in the shell that fall out of the tree in the courtyard of her youngest sons’s summer house–so piney they taste almost metholated; her own orages, their juice squeezed over ice crushed in a dish towel with a mallet for a midday snack fo the kids; figs that are juicy and cool when picked at ten a.m., warm and jammy at four p.m. Burratta and buffalo mozzarella and giuncata- the fresh cow’s milk cheese that sits in giuncata (rush) baskets that impart its flavor and its name-were brought to the hourse by the local man who makes them–still warm!–the first time I tried them (172).
Blood, Bones & Butter is nothing but satisfying, and inspires me not only to get in the kitchen, but to write as well. I’d say one of the best books I’ve read about food, and definitely one of the finest books of 2011.
She’s interviewed at Epicurious!