Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Okay – a title such as Blood, Bones & Butter is not enough in itself to inspire one to a nirvanic eating binge.  Reading the book will, or at least in places.  The author writes an unbridled memoir of her unconventional childhood and her troubled early adulthood, where food and the preparation thereof is an all-consuming motif.  Her French mother ran a kitchen with flair, an emphasis on fresh ingredients, and thrift.  Her father created theatrical sets and hosted gargantuan lamb roasts – Hamilton’s recollection of these dinner parties in the first chapter is worth picking the book up.

Her parents divorced when Hamilton was about ten and she started her own food-immersed life when she was thirteen, bussing tables, and at the same time, cultivating her own brand of juvenile delinquency, stealing cars and committing petty theft. She came precariously close to jail, then got a chance for college and went with it, for better or worse. 

All along, Hamilton never left the restaurant world; about halfway through the book, she finds the remains of a decrepit bistro in her New York neighborhood and decides to open her own eatery there.  And from there, it gets complicated, as she eventually meets and marries an Italian doctor and winds up spending yearly summer holidays with him and his extended family in southern Italy.

Blood, Bones & Butter is not exactly a joy ride, but don’t think that the entire read is cheerless – far from it.  Hamilton has a strenuous life as a restaurant owner and chef, but she injects a great deal of humor into her recollection.  The high points in the book are the food and the descriptions of preparing it.  Some parts are in-your-face gritty, such as the time when Hamilton has to kill a chicken while her father looks on.  She doesn’t sugarcoat her marriage, either – she is quite honest about the problems that she and her husband experience.

I think ultimately that what I liked about the book is that it’s not a dewy-eyed foodie’s view of restaurant life.  The author likes more varieties of edibles than most of us will pass up in a lifestyle, but she’s not snobbish about this, and is also happy to relish the basics of eating.  The simple egg never sounded so good. 

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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