Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recent Reads: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton's, Blood, Bones & Butter is probably the most talked about food memoir since Julie Powell's last memoir, Cleaving. Hamilton is the chef/owner of a Manhattan restaurant, and her book gets some major foodie street cred by carrying a hyperbolic Anthony Bourdain quote: "Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."

Bourdain's quote might lead to assumptions that Hamilton's account is similar to Kitchen Confidential, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, while it is a memoir of a chef and her cooking is omnipresent, it isn't really about food or restaurant work the way that Bourdain's book was. In Kitchen Confidential, restaurant life took center stage and food was a prominent part of the story. In Blood, Bones & Butter, those elements serve as vehicles by which Hamilton conveys her life story.

In some ways, nothing in Hamilton's story is that interesting or surprising. She had some rough patches, no doubt, but nothing out of the ordinary. The thing that keeps you drawn in is a compelling narrative style. She's a story teller and she weaves the stories through the different periods of her life, catches up with themes when you aren't expecting them, is emotional without being maudlin, and is able to present something interesting by way of that style. A chapter which begins with a description of a particular ravioli made for her by her husband when he was first courting her then wanders into other stories and only at the end do you understand that the ravioli is a metaphor for Hamilton's troubled marriage.

And unlike Julie Powell's most recent memoir, Hamilton's use of food and restaurant work to tell the story doesn't seem contrived or forced. It's part of her life and she relays it as such.

In the end Blood, Bones & Butter is a good read, but maybe not so much a food read.

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