Review: Blood, Bones & Butter

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabrielle Hamilton

I like to cook, though I’m strictly a home cook and have never worked food professionally. I went through a fascination with the early Food Network (does anyone remember the original Two Hot Tamales and the first seasons of Good Eats). And ever since Tender at the Bone, chef memoirs have regularly been on my reading menu (along with occasional servings of food-centric mysteries). So when the audiobook of Blood, Bones and Butter, the memoir of Gabrielle Hamilton – chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York, appeared on my library’s new Audiobooks this month list, I decided to give it a listen.


There’s a line in Blood, Bones and Butter, where Gabrielle Hamilton, describes her dread and distaste for potlucks – how you never quite know what you are going to get and it is likely to be badly balanced with 6 overly dry lentil salads and everyone hovering over the insufficient quantity of warm shrimp. I feel similarly when an author chooses to narrate the audiobook rather than leaving it in the hands of a trained voice actor. Sometimes it works wonderfully (such as Khaled Hosseini getting the place names “just” right in The Kite Runner), and sometimes, you get an author who goes just a little too fast and frenetically and just doesn’t get the emPHASis quite right. Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of Prune Restaurant, skirts the latter, though I adjusted to her pacing and phrasing after a while. She has the authorial chops down relatively well for a semi-celebrity memoir, but hasn’t quite mastered being the voice of an audiobook.


That quibble aside, I enjoyed the first part of Blood, Bones and Butter, where Gabrielle takes a disjointed, meander through her early life. Like the image of the long-ago lamb roasts that she uses as an anchor, she keeps rotating the story and basting to layer in the flavor. I especially liked the off-hand mentions of “my girlfriend” without angsty examinations of her teen discovery of the direction of her love interests or tortured “coming-out” scenes with her parents. During her early life, her young adult travels, a stint in grad school for writing, and the opening of her restaurant, there are plenty of meaty descriptions and spicy vignettes that overall balance out into a somewhat disjointed but flavorful menu.


The latter third of the book, where she focuses about her marriage to Italian doctor Michele (pronounced Mi-kay-ley) and the birth of her children isn’t nearly as satisfying. The descriptions of summers in Italy and the food have some charm, but by the last repetition of “we didn’t really have anything except the physical to connect us,” I found myself wondering – so why don’t you divorce him already! The conclusion of the book has them heading in that direction.


P.S.  Inspired by the descriptions of Italian summer cooking, we had Boiled Zucchini Salad with Tuna and heirloom tomatoes for dinner tonight