Blood, Bones and Butter Book Signing at Left Bank Books
by Diana Davis, Walrus Contributor
After perusing dreadful online reviews of Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, I was compelled to grab a copy. Critical readers stated that although the first third of her book was charming, Hamilton ranted and raved against her mother and husband for the other two-thirds. I read it differently. My interpretation was that she was a cursing, intelligent, irreverent author who wrote tongue-in-cheek. With Hamilton’s January 30th reading and signing at Left Bank Books on my calendar, I was eager to see who was right.
Wearing a cream long-sleeved Jackie-Kennedy-style sheath, brown knee-length boots, Hamilton’s New York sophistication sported a blue and white bandana around her neck as her idea of Midwestern fashion. As the gallery filled with people dressed mostly in urban chic or business casual, she whipped off her bandana, freed her long, blonde hair from her utilitarian hairclip, opened her book and moved to the microphone.
Hamilton reminisced about her introduction to cooking at her parents’ annual party where she and her siblings helped prepare and serve lambs cooked over a fire for hundreds of guests. As she grew older, after working an assortment of food industry jobs both in Europe and the States, she discovered that a small restaurant had become available in the East Village block where she lived. Thus, her restaurant “Prune” was born, the name derived from her mother’s nickname for her as a child.
She told the tale of one of her most challenging times at Prune when, merely a week from giving birth to her second child, she found herself shorthanded. First, her head line chef, who had promised to work for her for six months so she could get the baby settled in, told her he had an opportunity to work less for three times the money–an offer he couldn’t refuse. Unable to match the offer, she asked him if he was giving his two-week notice. She laughed as she shared his reply: “Sorry, I saw that you were under stress last week so I didn’t say anything. Now I can only give you eight-day notice.”
Hamilton was still reeling from the shock, as her main salad girl announced that she, too, was quitting. At least the salad girl gave a two-week notice. But the situation was critical, her two most-experienced employees quitting when her baby was due. She made one of her famous “to-do-lists” which went something like: “request a temporary-agency-chef to run Prune, order supplies, have baby, replace filters in the blower screens.” That’s the story of how she ended up
Closing the reading on this hilarious high note, Hamilton went on to answer audience questions with wisdom and wit.
How large is your restaurant?
It seats 30 people in an intimate space so close that you could be holding a conversation and reach out and accidently pick up a wine glass from another table.
Are you planning to open a larger establishment?
No, I feel happy and content right where I am. If I get too big, I will not be able to personally create my entrees and care for my boys.
How long did it take to write this book?
Five-years to reminisce; one and half years to write. I always kept journals as a chronicle, so I didn’t have to generate notes.
How old was the baby when your book sold?
He was a week old when I carried him in a baby sling against my chest when I went to the publishers.
Why did you select that title?
“Blood” represents my family ties; “bones” because I have a few bones to pick with people; and “butter” because my sweet relationship with my mother-in-law.
That’s an odd cover with an upside down rooster on it.
Yes, but you have to read the book to understand about the rooster. I had been shopping the book around and another publisher had thought they were going to produce it; even had their designer do the cover. When they decided not to go with it, they presented me with the cover as a souvenir. When it finally sold to Random House, the first publishing house graciously allowed us to use it.
Do you have a tattoo?
No, but I have a slash and burn of an asparagus spear going up my left arm. And it hurt three times more than a tattoo.
What method do you have for your writing?
I concentrate on telling small stories with all the little details written in, and the big story gets dragged along with the little ones.
How successful is your business?
I was just named the New York Chef of the Year.
Are you anxious about leaving your restaurant to do this book tour?
I used to be, but now I am more experienced. After going to other four-star restaurants and getting poor food, I realized that everybody has a bad day when things are not up-to-par. Your regular patrons will, hopefully, forgive you and come back.
Will you write a cook book?
Yes, now that my memoir is finished, I am trying to get a cookbook contract.
What do you want to do that you still have not done?
Truthfully, if a bus hits me tomorrow, I’d be okay with that. I’ve had a good life.