I’ve eaten at Prune five, maybe six times. That’s enough for it to be one of my favorite NYC restaurants. Once was enough for that really. It’s a small, cool place, with an eclectic group of people inside, and the staff’s passion for good, honest food is clear from start to finish. It’s a great place to be.
This is not a review of Prune. I’m writing briefly about Blood, Bones & Butter, a recent, brilliant memoir by Prune’s founder and original chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. I’m tempted to say Blood, Bones & Butter is not about Prune, but I’m not sure that’s true. Although the book spends little time focused on the restaurant, the disarming honesty and unadorned passion with which Gabrielle tells her story clearly animate the restaurant too. If you want a whole fish, you get a whole fish. Someone who has the courage to delight you with triscuits and sardines isn’t going to shy away from telling you about uneasy relationships with Mom and husband.
It’s not surprising to learn that Gabrielle spent time studying writing in graduate school. It also makes sense that overly precious graduate school discussions of literature and writing alienated her, as does the preciousness that sometimes haunts contemporary farmers’ markets. There can be too many syllables and not enough truth. Gabrielle really wants to jump into it and not be pretentious in any way. She writes like she cooks. I find great symbolism in the fact that a frequent site at Prune is a table full of people digging for tasty bone marrow.
And so it’s easy to say you should read Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef if you love books, just like you should check out Prune if you love food. It’s that good. Blood, Bones & Butter is a work of literature. And I don’t mean that to sound pretentious! Rather, Gabrielle has a deft touch with epic themes like the unraveling of family; urban and rural life; how we feed ourselves and others; and the launch of a creative venture. Her unrelenting honesty and heartfelt images are incredibly moving. Dead lobsters and a dead rat!
As a reader, I should admit that some parts of the story felt less successful. I was hungry for more of what happened to create her strong, conflicted feelings toward her mom, and also to some extent her husband. I felt a little stuck in Gabrielle’s head in those parts and wanted to see the events. But maybe that was just her not holding back in conveying her feelings, even though she couldn’t fully put us there. She’s honest about her most difficult relationships, like everything else. I admire her approach.
Blood, Bones & Butter is a work of passion. Like Prune, the restaurant. It is no ordinary chef’s tale, as in as told by so-and-so to so-and-so. No recipes. No Tasting Menu. Just a beautiful and telling memoir by a writer being a writer and, oh yeah, she also happens to be a stellar cook. It tells you how she got there. If you asked her who wrote her book, she might just punch you in the face.
The pictures displayed here (taken by Joann Falkenburg and Cathy Curtis) are from a great event at Camino Restaurant in Oakland a few months back celebrating the book’s release. Great food and a good crowd! We are very fortunate to have a hometown place like Camino…where creative and passionate risk-taking is on display… and it was a perfect place to welcome Gabrielle and her story.