Last night chef Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco and chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in New York participated in a public conversation about food and writing at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Hamilton is the author of the award-winning memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, which was incredibly well-received when it was released in 2011. Patterson has just released his debut cookbook, Coi.
Hamilton acted as the host for the evening, asking Patterson questions about his writing process and the book. The conversation wound its way through the importance of deadlines, the similarities and differences between writing and cooking, and how to properly capture a voice in words. Hamilton also touched on the hot topic of international food conferences and symposiums, asking "How come I've never been invited to one of these things?" Below, the top ten quotes from the discussion:
1) Patterson, on not opening a New York City restaurant: "I don't need to open in New York. New York City seems to be doing just fine without me."
2) Patterson, on not wanting to be on TV: "So this is how much I like television. I would rather work myself to the bone then go on for one episode. Which I knew full well, because everyone told me, would have had 100 times the impact that this book has."
3) Patterson, on writing versus cooking: "We talk about cooking and writing. The thing that I learned is very similar is that it's practice. It's not like native ability, it's not like God reaches down ... People are not born with the ability to write really well anymore than you're born with the ability to cook really well.
4) Hamilton, on the writing process: "Everyone always asks 'How long did it take you to write your book?' And of course, writing is such a practice of discovery, so do you mean to write it, or do you mean to sit around and figure out that I was taking a completely wrong path?"
5) Hamilton, on memoir writing: "I think that's the actual secret to — if there is a secret — to writing good memoir, which is, it seems like you're writing about yourself. But if you're writing a very good memoir, you're writing about other things or others, in a way."
6) Patterson, on food symposiums and conferences: "Let's be honest. I'm a cook. I went into the kitchen to hide from people, I didn't go into the kitchen to sit up here and talk in front of people ... Now I don't even make food anymore because I'm not going to make anything better on stage than I can show in a picture."
7) Hamilton, on food symposiums and conferences: "How come I've never been invited to one of these things? Is it that I have nothing to offer? ... I really want to know, are there chicks at these things? ... Do I have to start running an 11-course tasting menu of bits that are this big at my restaurant in order to get invited to the international conferences? ... I'm wondering, what's going on in there and what are these guys talking about ... I want to be invited, and I want to have the opportunity to f-ing turn it down."
8) Patterson, on cooks versus congressmen: "This government thing? If you put cooks in charge of the country it would be great. The government now it's like, what'd you do today? Nothing? It's ok, it's alright. You know cooks, you ask 'What did you do today? Nothing? You're fired.'"
9) Patterson, on how he "terrorizes" cooks out of complacency: "They send a plate up and you look at it and you're like 'You're going to serve this?' The whole kitchen goes quiet. And I slowly walk back to the line, and I put it down and I say 'You're not going to serve this. And you know why?' And then you get really close to their ear, and you're re-doing it in front of them as you're talking in their ear and you just watch them melt into a puddle ... For us, seriously, if people break under that kind of pressure, they're not for us."
10) Hamilton, on possible reasons finding cooks is challenging: "I do read about a new half-dozen restaurants a week it feels like, so maybe we're oversaturated?"