Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Kitchen Reader: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

What is it with chefs living hard lives? Is it simply self selection? I was barely a quarter of the way into the memoir and this woman had already done enough hard living for someone twice her age. I don't even think Anthony Bourdain got in that much trouble by the time he was 17. In fact, the further I read, the more convinced I became that Hamilton is the female Bourdain. Maybe not the most flattering of comparisons, but I hope she goes on to achieve the same kind of success, since i thought her writing was fantastic. Here are a few of my random observations:

  • How can the same parents produce uber-successful children at the same time as utterly messed up ones? I have no answer, but the idea fascinates me.
  • Her description of Mark Bittman's daughter is so sweet. At the same time, her descriptions of food issues instilled in little girls by their mothers are sad and a disturbing commentary on our culture.
  • The "weird" stuff she ate growing up reminds me of my upbringing, where foreign foods/cultures were not widely accepted (cultural assimilation is the norm!). I'm glad it's not that way anymore, though it's not like we have children who would be subject to any mocking.
  • Her graphic account of cleaning the outside of her restaurant because of poop and a rat really grossed me out. It's the side of NYC that I just don't want to think about.
  • Her stories of her annual trip to Italy reinforced my view that you can't really get to know a country unless you spend the time with locals.
Reviews that I read only after I finished the book seemed to be very critical of her lack of explanation for certain decisions in her life - for example, why she stopped speaking to her mother and why her Michigan girlfriend was the love of her life. It seemed to me that her ability to self-reflect and convey those thoughts in paper was not as well developed in the first part of her life since she seems to open up more in the latter parts of the memoir. She may also just be more comfortable being a descriptive writer, evoking vivid images of the environment around her.

Reviews also criticized the lack of explanation behind her decision to marry, have kids, and stay in the relationship despite it being so profoundly unsatisfying. Oddly enough, I didn't find her lifestyle to be all the strange, probably because I had seen an unusual arrangement of this nature before. When I lived in Montreal, my hairdresser was a fabulously tiny Asian man who could rock stripper platform shoes better that I could ever imagine. He was so openly gay, yet he talked about his wife and 4 kids, much to my confusion. A friend of mine who had initially referred me to his salon explained that he was married to a lesbian, that they had a big family together but they were both free to live their preferred lifestyle. I would have loved to know the why behind this arrangement, but obviously I couldn't figure out a way to politely ask such personal questions while getting my hair done. So Hamilton's marital situation, while unusual on the surface, may not be all that unique.

In our many trips to NYC, we have yet to eat at Prune, but having enjoyed her memoir, I am now eager to try her food - I hope it lives up to expectations.


sarah said...

Aileen, I am glad you chose this book for us this month. I think we all really enjoyed it, and found lots to reflect upon. It was yet another reminder that I have no desire to be a chef--they do seem to live awfully difficult lives.

I would also like to try her restaurant. I looked at their menu online. I hope you do get to visit someday.

I think you are right about each of us posting at different times. Even though I was one of the first to post, I found it hard to keep myself from reading the reviews that were written ahead of mine. I have changed the wording in the round-up to this: "You can post your review any time in the last week of July, preferably as close to the end of the month as possible." I just was aware that those who participated in Tuesdays with Dorie, or other "special day" events might have problems some times. Hopefully this will make it easier for all of us.

Thanks for your continued participation! :)

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) said...

Thanks for choosing this book, Aileen! Even though I think we all had different reactions, we all HAD reactions which I think speaks to her writing. I hope you go to Prune and report back! =)

Julie @SavvyEats said...

Thank you for such a great book selection. I'm loving food memoirs lately!

Jen ( said...

I didn't find her relationship to be odd, either. Just really sad.

Thanks for selecting this book.

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