A couple weeks back I picked up Blood, Bones and Butter by
Gabrielle Hamilton. The title alone is enough to make me faint, but I heard so much praise for the book, I decided to give it a go.
I still have about 80 pages left, but let me just say it: I love this book. The opening chapter makes me feel like I’m under a warm-fuzzy, purple, starry-night sky. The way Hamilton describes her early memories of her mother makes me want to really be French. I want to cook amazing meals in my kitchen wearing Dior heels, a classy skirt and apron while sipping French wine. I want to have a child and teach her about brie with pears and coq au vin.
After her parents’ divorce, Hamilton describes being a young child and having to fend for herself. This is where my starry-night sky feelings shifted. The book recounts Hamilton’s experience working for New York City catering companies and later, living in Ann Arbor while attending the University of Michigan for an MFA in writing. I loved reading her observations of mid-western culture, and especially her thoughts on graduate studies (her “WTF” moments made me laugh out loud; I’ve so been there).
I also love the way she describes the chef life. I’ve sort of become fascinated with the idea of it in a way that makes me want to work long hours in a hot kitchen and drink cold beers at the end of the night — so I too can be infinitely badass.
But what I love most about this book is the way it reminded me of running around the fine-dining restaurant where my mom worked for 25 years. I crept around the old basement wine cellar, totally fascinated by the hiss-pop of the CO2 machine and the walk-in beer cooler where they also kept fresh flowers. When I got old enough, I worked the coat check, and after that I went on catering jobs with my mom. We did weddings, swanky parties at private homes, new year’s eve parties and everything in between.
In my current food-related job, I once made a suggestion about the service for a special event breakfast. Someone retorted how funny it was to have a suggestion about the service coming for me – someone with no food service experience. “Hold it right there,” I thought. I’ve done my share of hard work.
In high school I worked every Friday and Saturday night (and many a Sunday afternoon) on a dinner train. I helped haul every water glass, spoon, fork and knife on and off that train for nearly three years. I carved prime rib on a moving train in a kitchen no bigger than the bathroom in my basement at home. I carried five-gallon buckets of dirty silverware and soapy water from the boxcar to the catering truck, which I often drove, packed to the gills with everything needed to pull off a four-course meal on a moving train.
Personal story aside, if you have any interest at all in foodie culture, I highly recommend Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir. It’s beautifully written. I believe Mario Batali says it best:
I will read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this. Then I will apply for the dishwasher job at Prune to learn from my new queen.