Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What to Read Before You to go Culinary School: Blood, Bones & Butter

I breathed in her exhale: wine, vinaigrette, tangerines, cigarette smoke.  While all of the others were excused from the table, I got to sit, alone with my mother and father as they finished.  I watched her oily lips, her crooked teeth, and felt the treble of her voice down my spine while she had adult conversation and gently rested her chin on the top of my head.  She cracked walnuts from the Perigord and picked out the meats, extinguished her occasional cigarette in the empty broken husks, shifted my weight in her lap; she squeezed the tangerine peel into the candle flame and we watched the oils ignite in yellow and blue sparks.  I sat in that woman's aproned lap every single night of my young life, so close to the sounds and smells of her that I still know her body as if it were my own.

--Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones & Butter

Not only does this woman own a restaurant in the East Village, one with a good and growing reputation.  But she's getting great reviews from venerable media sources, not to mention fellow chefs who write: Mario Batali has offered, with characteristic hyperbole, to burn everything he's ever written and apply to wash dishes at Prune, Hamilton's place of business.  Anthony Boudain, thankfully, is just choked with envy.  Did I mention she is slender, blond and really pretty? Take a number, Tony. 

Then I heard Hamilton's interview on Think, Fort Worth/Dallas' local noontime NPR show--I'll not apologize for being a slavish lover of public radio, let it be said here, though I am well aware of its recent collective gaffes--and I really liked her.  She is incredibly accomplished, yet not haughty.  Better yet, I could detect not a smidge of false modesty.  So I ran out to buy her book, and found it sold out.  Yes, I need an iPad, but that's a wrenching decision and an entirely separate post. 

Eventually I found the book.  Hamilton is as thoughtful and considerate to her readers as she was to her interviewer. She tells her story as if you are a really good friend who doesn't blink at the fact that she shoplifted and stole cars and drank and did lines of coke when she was fourteen. She writes about her family--a divorce left her, the youngest, essentially on her own from adolescence--in an intimate way that doesn't make the reader squirm.  And yes, she writes about food.  Her take on the business around it? Read this before you go to culinary school.

You don't need to be a foodie to enjoy this book. If your family lived off the grid in their own minds or in those of others, if you ever rebelled, if you wound up in a place you didn't ever imagine you would or didn't think you deserved to be, read this.  

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