“Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.” The title says it all, doesn’t it?
It’s the new memoir (Random House) by Chef-Proprietor Gabrielle Hamilton of much-loved Prune restaurant in New York, which is adored by other chefs for its soulful, no-nonsense approach, as well as for its roasted marrow bones, fried sweetbreads and extensive menu of Bloody Marys.
I’ve always been impressed by the articles Hamilton has penned for the New York Times Dining section. With a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, she’s one chef who really knows how to craft a beautiful, evocative sentence.
I just started reading her book (which I received a review copy of). It’s a frank, honest recounting of her rather bohemian childhood, raised by her set designer father and former ballerina mother in a burnt-out, 19th Century silk mill in rural Pennsylvania, where they threw great parties complete with baby lambs roasting on spits and wine bottles chilling in the nearby creek. That life came crashing down when her parents split up when Hamilton was only in her teens. She started smoking, shop-lifting and got her first job washing dishes in a restaurant when she was only 13.
She spent many tumultuous years trying to find herself, before opening her restaurant, which she called “prune,” after the nickname her mother had for her as a child.
As she wrote about her vision for the restaurant, “There would be no foam and no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food; just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry. There would be nothing tall on the plate, the portions would be generous, there would be no emulsions, no crab cocktail served in a martini glass with its claw hanging over the rim. In ecstatic farewell to my years of corporate catering, we would never serve anything but a martini in a martini glass. Preferably gin. I wanted all of that crammed into this little filthy gem….”
Meet Hamilton when she visits the Bay Area this week. She’ll host a dinner with Book Passage at Left Bank restaurant in Larkspur, 6:30 p.m. March 10. Tickets are $100 per person or $170 per couple, and includes dinner and a signed copy of her book.
March 11, she’ll conduct a book-signing at noon on March 11 at Rakestraw Books in Danville. Tickets are $20 each. Reservations are required by calling (925) 837-7337. Then, that evening, she’ll be the guest at a special dinner at Camino restaurant in Oakland. The evening starts at 6 p.m. with Negronis, hors d’oeuvres and a book-signing, followed by dinner at about 7 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person. Reservations are required.
March 12 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., Hamilton will swing by Omnivore Books in San Francisco for a book-signing.
If you miss those events, you’ll be glad to know that Food Gal is giving away one free copy of Hamilton’s book.
Contest: Entries, limited to those in the continental United States, will be taken through midnight PST March 12. Winner will be announced March 14.
How to win?
Tell me which woman in the food world — living or deceased — most inspires you and why.
Here’s my own answer to that question:
“Two women tie as most inspirational to me. The first is the late-great Julia Child, whose gusto for life and food, came across in everything that she did. Plus, who can’t help but love a woman whose philosophy about eating was so simple and so right: ‘Eat everything — just in moderation.’ The second woman is my late-great Mom, who showed me every day of her life how important, how nurturing and how vital cooking is to our well-being. I’ll never forget that following the stroke she suffered, which left her right side weakened, the one thing she most wanted to regain was her ability to cook in her own kitchen again. Months later, as my Dad hovered nearby just in case, my Mom stood at the stove again, stirring a simmering pot, while looking proud, satisfied and hopeful again.”
Winners of the Other Contests: Last week, I held two Food Gal contests. In the first contest, I asked you to describe something you’ve eaten that was concocted of seemingly disparate flavors or ingredients that when put together actually was enjoyable. Two people will each receive a $20 gift card to Pinkberry.
Congrats to the winners:
1) Shafe, who wrote: “I served in the Peace Corps in a tiny country called Paraguay. My running water, no electricity, no phones, no stores… and no refrigerator!! My food options were slim: dried goods like pasta and rice, canned food, a few veggies from a garden and a few chickens running around in my pen. After a month or so I had exhausted every possible combination of food one could imagine. So I had to imagine more. Here are two of my creations:
After frying and sauteing chicken every which way but loose I came on an idea: soak the chicken in a mixture of COCA COLA, honey, red pepper flakes and corn starch. I pan fried it as I basted and it came out black as night but deliciously sweet/spicy and crispy. I called it Black Sugar Chicken…
I would go into the capitol once a month to get supplies (a five hour bus ride) and towards the end of the month, when my supplies would run out, it would always get a little dicey around my kitchen. Sometimes i would just eat a half dozen eggs but when even that got tiring I would dip into the darkness of canned mortadella. Mortadella as you probably know is a type of spiced sausage. Like bologna it was supposed to be all of the undesirable leftovers of the slaughterhouse. It was also supposed to be pork too but in Paraguay it was horse meat. I owned a horse in Paraguay so it was a bit unnerving but when the supplies run low and you’ve tried everything in the last 28 days, that crazy itch starts to grow on the brain for something new… Hence my second creation:
Pan fried Mortadella with fresh pineapple, coconut and lemon. What I liked to call Riding the Tropical Horse. And what a dark, delirious ride it was. Pan-fried to extra crispy, the horse meat lost its gaminess to the smoky, blackened crust that was softened with the sweet fruits but not altogether forgotten with the tart citrus accent. Sounds nasty looking back on it but back then, when I was in the middle of the bush in my little hut, surrounding by wild animals, hungry after a day’s hard labor and desperate for new flavors, it really hit the spot! Sometimes I think my horse wouldn’t look me in the eye after one of these dark nights but that might have been the mortadella talking. Besides, I was serving my country. If I wanted luxury I would have stayed in the States!”
2) Chef Barbie, who wrote: “When I was a kid we were pretty poor. My dad used to send me to school with mayonnaise and dill pickle sandwiches. I actually still eat them.”
In the second contest, I asked you to tell me about one of your most memorable visits to a winery. The winner will receive a pair of tickets to the March 11 Berkeley Wine Festival at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley.
Cheri O’Neil, who wrote: “It was the birthday of my 70-year-old Scottish mother-in-law, and her daughter treated her — and the rest of our family—to a special dinner at the Monticello Winery in Napa Valley. We sat at tables in a room with all the wine barrels, where we tasted unbelievably fine wines. And then, at the end of the evening, a bagpiper walked in, playing his instrument as he walked among us. I told myself right then and there that when I’m 70, that’s exactly the kind of party I want.”