Reader beware – chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter is smoking hot! Serving it up raw and gritty, Hamilton is absolutely fearless as she slices through the chapters of her life. From her idyllic childhood as a girl in rural Pennsylvania to the tough, renegade chef presently rocking NYC’s East Village, Hamilton cranks it from page one with her edgy literary style.
The “blood” of Hamilton’s title is literal and tightly establishes Gabrielle’s ties to both her parents and her four older siblings who together “ran in a pack – like wild dogs.” As a child Hamilton was captivated by her artistic parents and drank them in in great, awe-filled gulps. “My parents seemed incredibly special and outrageously handsome to me then. I could not have boasted of them more or said my name, first and last together, more proudly, to show how it directly linked me to them. I loved that our mother was French… that she had been a ballet dancer at the Met in New York City when she married my father.”
Hamilton tenderly takes her time to lay the family foundation that will both form young Gabrielle as a child and shatter Hamilton as an adult. She warmly observed and absorbed the eclectic cooking style of her mother, and from her father “…learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends.”
Through the simple joy of childhood memories Hamilton solidifies the family bond, and no event makes a deeper impression on young Gabrielle than that of her father’s legendary annual lamb-roast. It is this magical “feast” for hundreds of friends from “as far away as the townhouses of New York City” where Hamilton’s recognition of family and culinary senses become inextricably bound.
When Hamilton’s parents suddenly split up, Gabrielle is left alone amidst the busted bones of her now broken family. Cash-strapped and only thirteen, she begins to work it the only way she knows how. Finding her way to the familiar, Hamilton begins to grind it out kitchen after kitchen working her fingers to the bone from New York to Ann Arbor through Europe, and back again. Ultimately, the all-nighters, crusty floors, endless prepping and the sordid yet seductive world of food serve to sharpen Hamilton’s artistic skills and caustic wit.
Blood, Bones & Butter is not just for foodies. Though you will find seasoned passages on “ceviche and Israeli couscous and mushroom duxelle and robbiola cheese” among others to relish, they merely serve to strengthen and fortify Hamilton’s solid story threads. Be warned however, that Hamilton’s style is not for the faint of heart and she makes no apologies for who she is. Her smacking, straight-up honesty is highly acidic and a bit hard to take at times, but eventually Hamilton settles into herself “like butter on toast.”
I could toss up the cooking metaphors all day long, but in the end chef Hamilton writes like a rock star. Every page holds a killer quote and Hamilton’s hard-core intensity is intoxicating. Blood, Bones & Butter has serious moxie driven by the love and language of all things culinary, and its promise of family, friendship, and food is sure to please.
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-Post by Megan Shaffer
**The edited version of this review can be seen at BookBrowse.com.