Blood, Bone, and Butter

There are times while reading Blood, Bone, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton that I find myself smiling from the simple pleasure of her prose. A good writer can tell you how she makes pasta. A great writer makes you want to dust the flour off your hands once she has finished telling you how she makes pasta. Gabrielle Hamilton is a great writer.

The opening pages of Blood, Bone, & Butter paint an achingly beautiful portrait of an ideal life lived with the perfect family that you know it will go terribly wrong in short order. And when it does go pear shaped, there is a great sense of loss. I wanted, really wanted, that perfect vision of living the good life to carry on for a little while longer. But that is not what this book is about, that is just the fantasy of what was, like Bambi before his Mom dies. The end of innocence is the beginning of the story.

And there are a lot of stumbles and rambles and pointless meanderings in this 291 page story of one of the best female chefs in NYC. (She is waiting for the day when she is one of the best chefs.) But like the odd and off topic chapters in Moby Dick, I didn’t really mind most of it, as I find the author’s company charming and her word choices and descriptions always visceral and engaging.

One of the interesting discussion is the fact that women chefs are still something of an oddity in the rarefied world of cooking. This strikes me as odd, since I grew up watching the flamboyant Julie Child and the flaming Graham Kerr. The idea that being a chef is one of the last strongholds of Real Men in America was something of shock when I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential-I guess somethings never change. This is kind of like hearing that being a Hair Dresser is the last job for Real Men in America.

Hey, didn’t the 19th Amendment pass in like 1919 or something? Just wondering.

More than anything else it brings out my latent desires to cook-to do more than whip up the occasional familiar meal, to make something grand and unusual like the great meals that Gabrielle plans and prepares with those rare and wonderful ingredients that don’t seem to exist outside the small world where she lives and moves.

It is funny to read her loving descriptions of unusual and exotic foods, and then have her immediately berate the whole food movement as nothing more than a bunch of morons on both sides of the transaction ruining fresh produce markets with their self righteous views of food.

Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef/author/mother/wife/lesbian/nutso/feminist and she puts her years of college writing classes to good use. She has honed her sentences to brilliance, but like many other great technicians of the English language, she tends to focus of the trees at the expense of the forest. The overall story is a mishmash of random recollections that are loosely tied together in chronological order with food as a central theme. The most jarring bit is when we jump from Gabriellia being a poor schmuck working as a catering cook to being a guest on the Martha Stewart Show and sitting on a panel at The Culinary Institute of America. The transition from her looking at an unrented restaurant to being a celebrity chef appears instantaneous. Her move from lesbian to married with children also seems to happen in the blink of an eye.

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chefends without any real resolutions to the many issues brought up in the last third of the book. We are left feeling that Gabrielle’s greatest accomplishment in life is not being a great chef, but in having the courage to trim a few tree branches. It was still a great read, I just wish it had a bit more structure.

As a portrait photographer I found the author’s photo to be a bit odd. Gabrielle Hamilton is standing barefooted behind a house holding an industrial tray of tomatoes. It’s an awkward pose and it makes my shoulders and back hurt to look at it. It’s one those author’s photos I look at and think-you know, I could have taken a better portrait.