Blood, Bones, and Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House, 2011. 291 pages. Nonfiction
Gabrielle Hamilton did not have the standard upbringing. Her parents' divorce and the subsequent splintering of the family left Hamilton pretty much on her own at age 13. Working with food was the one consistent thread in her life. Whether she was thirteen and washing dishes at a roadside cafe or pretending to be 21 and serving beer and chili to hungry urban cowboys in New York City, she learned her way around a kitchen. When circumstances forced her to graduate from school (high school) and get clean, all she had left was writing and food. Eventually Hamilton becomes a caterer, then a chef, gets an MFA, and starts her own restaurant at age 35. Hamilton focuses her memoir on her estranged mother, her childhood, her twenty years as a chef, and her non-traditional green-card marriage to an Italian doctor. She puts herself on the page, flaws and all.
This is a beautifully written, brunt, authentic account of a life that is at times hard to believe and at others all too familiar. Hamilton doesn't pull any punches. She is honest about herself, her life, and about the industry. There are times in this book where Hamilton's choices and her attitude drove me nuts. Though she detests her mother, Hamilton reveals that she propagates her mother's snobbery and contempt for weakness in other human beings. Yet as Hamilton describes her own cooking, her writing, and her children there is a deep sense of love and humanity in her. She is full of contradictions. Overall, this was a fascinating peek into what makes chef and food writer Gabrielle Hamilton tick.