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"It must have been my mother, the cook, who was in the kitchen with the six burners and the two-bin sink...doing 'the bones' as my father called it. But it was from him...we learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends."

So begins Gabrielle Hamilton's idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania, one centered around agriculture, artistry and an annual spring lamb roast for 200 people. Such sublimity is shattered, however, when Hamilton's parents divorce and split the family in two. The break-up impels her to seek independence, landing a kitchen job at age 13 and embarking on a lifetime of culinary adventure.

Blood, Bones & Butter waxes rhapsodic about food but reaches a much larger audience than just the foodie crowd. Hamilton has an M.F.A. in fiction writing and employs her scholarly, effortless style to evocatively describe surviving poverty in Manhattan, reconnecting with her estranged mother and visiting the south of Italy.

At the heart of her memoir is Hamilton's decision to open her own restaurant (the famous Prune in NYC) in 1999. Despite some disorienting gaps, chronological disorderliness and perhaps too much detail about her dysfunctional marriage, Hamilton provides an engrossing, tactile and aromatic chronicle of her experiences cooking and eating around the world.
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on October 31, 2013
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Hamilton, Gabrielle First Edition. First Edition [2012]

The front cover of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, contains a rather fulsome blurb from celebrity food writer and chef, Anthony Bourdain. I can't say that I share Mr. Bourdain's enthusiasm in its entirety, but this is indeed a great food memoir.

One of the things that makes it great is that it's messy. I'm not referring to Hamilton's personal history so much, although that is fairly convoluted, but more the way the book is organized. It jumps back and forth in time and place, but in a way that feels quite natural.

Anyone telling their story will of course self edit. However, as we tell our stories we often realize that we have left out a part we need to include because an earlier event helps to clarify the later event we are describing. Such a writing styles lends a level of authenticity to Ms. Hamilton's writing.

Blood, Bones & Butter, begins with Hamilton telling the story of the annual lamb roast that was the centerpiece of her growing-up years as the child of artist parents. It was an idyllic experience, which when ended sets her on a search to recover that idyll.

The rest of the book deals with her search. It's a search that takes her from being an underage server, through to a criminal record, to student, cook, and restaurant owners, Along the way there are many romances, mostly with women, and what I would describe as a rather odd sort of marriage, to a man.

Through the search, it is food that continually serves as the continuing link. It is in food that Ms. Hamilton hopes to find her way back to the idyllic life she knew as a small child. As she experiences working with food in many different settings she finds bits of the family life she was seeking. When I say I'm not suggesting that these are insignificant, but they are less whole than what Ms. Hamilton is looking for. Yet, it is in experiencing the fragments that she is able to define for herself what that whole should be like.

Along the way Hamilton comes to appreciate food that is meant to meet the hunger one feels. While she is capable of pulling off the fanciest of meals, she realizes that hunger, physical, emotional, spiritual is at the base of all our food desires. Her overwhelming desire becomes to produce food that feeds all these hungers.

In opening here restaurant, Prune, Hamilton takes another step along the journey to get back to that sense of family. Designed to be small, and intimate, the restaurant becomes an extended family for her. One that is built around the sharing of food in small places.

As the title Blood, Bones & Butter suggests, there is a certain messiness to Ms. Hamilton's life. However, just as in the kitchen, so in life, it is in working through the mess that we come to meal.

Ultimately, it is the marriage she enters into that leads her back towards those early days. Her husband is Italian and as their marriage traverses its bumpy road, that road passes through and makes frequent stops at his family home in Italy. Here Ms. Hamilton reconnects food and family in a way that is fuller than that which she encounters in her journey through the world of food and cookery.

Blood, Bones & Butter would be a great gift for any food lover in your life. Or, buy it for yourself and enjoy it as you sit down to a meal.
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on October 9, 2014
This is a phenomenal book. Gritty, realistic, evocative and descriptive. Gabrielle Hamilton may well be a great cook (I have to visit Prune to find out), but she is easily the best food writer for this reader. I bought three copies!
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on January 17, 2016
I'm a lover of memoirs. I love having insight into different people's lives and the journey they have been on to get to where they are.

Hamilton's story was so interesting to me. She endured so many different experiences throughout her life and this was her interpretation of her life's events. It was engaging and captured my attention the entire time I read her story and actually enjoyed the fact that while food is a big part of her life, the book wasn't just about the food and the restaurant but had more "ingredients" such as her relationship and experiences and feelings about her family, Italy, etc.
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on July 9, 2013
This book was a great read! From the moment I picked it up I was hooked, I stayed up way to late eating up all this book and author had to offer me. This book doesn't just stay in the heat of the kitchen, it moves throughout a life that lead to the kitchen, through all the ups and downs that bring people to the place that they are most at home, the place they are meant to be. Love love love this book and would recommend it to anyone.
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on June 4, 2011
I just loved this bio I thought that she was very honest about everything and I connected with Gabrielle in every way. I always thought that I missed my dream of being a chef maybe a restaurant owner... but now I'm happy to be a mother and teacher. When I'll go to New York I will go to Prunes. This would make a great movie.
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on March 1, 2016
I like the way she incorporates food and her life - she is a strong woman who overcame all her setbacks
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on December 10, 2013
The initial third of this was funny, engaging and even enjoyable but on the whole, I hated the story. I found it tedious to read, pedantic and even arrogant at times. I kept asking myself who wants to know. The only reason I read the book is because it was recommended to our book club. Not sure why. Whist her ability to write is not in question, but the ability to lead the reader through her narrative is. At times I found myself drowning in a sea of verbiage and not sure where the narrative was taking me. The book reminds me of an apple pie which had first class ingredients but was spoil by being cooked at a super low temperature!
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on July 5, 2016
fast, good book
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on May 19, 2011
She is a VERY good writer but if you are expecting a gritty exposé of restaurants behind the scenes (like Bourdain) rather than personal, autobiographical stuff, you will be disappointed.
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