New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton's first book Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (Amazon) has been out for a week now and the reviews are in. Most reviews are glowingly positive, describing stirring writing that may surpass Hamilton's critically-acclaimed cooking.
And food porn it is, so much so that Frank Bruni writes that sometimes there are "sentences that almost come across as satires of food writing." Based on the reviews, this book is poised to make major waves in both the culinary and literary worlds. To wit: the New York Times (so far) has run a profile of Hamilton and not one but two reviews of her book. Here now, the review roundup:
It’s a story of hungers specific and vague, conquered and unappeasable, and what it lacks in urgency (and even, on occasion, forthrightness) it makes up for in the shimmer of Hamilton’s best writing... There are rhapsodic passages aplenty about eating and cooking, and while such reveries can easily seem forced or trite, hers ring sweetly true. She’s recounting actual rapture, not contriving its facsimile on cue.
Though Ms. Hamilton’s brilliantly written new memoir, “Blood, Bones & Butter,” is rhapsodic about food — in every variety, from the humble egg-on-a-roll sandwich served by Greek delis in New York to more esoteric things like “fried zucchini agrodolce with fresh mint and hot chili flakes” — the book is hardly just for foodies. Ms. Hamilton, who has an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, is as evocative writing about people and places as she is at writing about cooking, and her memoir does [a] dazzling a job of summoning her lost childhood.
To read "Blood, Bones & Butter" is to marvel at Hamilton's masterful facility with language. She turns something as mundane as the deep-frying of "stacks and stacks" of flour tortillas at a touristy Pennsylvania restaurant when she was 15, for instance, into a duo of evocative metaphors... She manages to make an account of killing a chicken just as poetic (if more gruesome).
And while this is a memoir and Ms. Hamilton is a chef, "Blood, Bones & Butter" is not the usual "chef memoir" in our era of sex-in-dry-storage and testosterone-fueled cooking tell-alls. It is instead a minutely observed, artfully structured, fluidly written account of how a tough, eccentric woman navigates her way through a wayward youth and New York kitchens to become a renowned chef and respected author.
It communicates the inner life of cooks as well as any memoir except Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, which is, at least in my opinion, in a class by itself. (This isn't her fault; Hamilton hasn't led as interesting a life as Bourdain, whose résumé both as chef and reprobate is far more colorful.)
One of the most emotionally incisive, jarringly honest, and somehow truly funny memoirs of the year—precisely because it’s the complete story of a person and not just another protracted coming-of-age tale about a celebrity chef in one of the moment’s hottest industries.
Unlike Mario and Emeril and Bobby and Alice, Hamilton, the chef/owner of the Manhattan bistro Prune, hasn't become a household name, and if she ever does, it might just be for her writing, not her cooking. While her roasted marrowbones may be great, her prose is virtuoso.
With all of that blood coursing through the pages, I couldn’t help looking for the heart in this book. Thankfully it can be found, but beating only faintly now and again... Hamilton assiduously overcooks her prose—“I felt cocooned by the thick crescendoing song of the crickets,” “the weeping willows shedding their leaf tears”—and applies none of the rigor one expects from a memoir.