Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter may as well have been called Bitter, Boring & Bypassable because it was a big fat buttery disappointment. Anthony Bourdain outright lied to us on the cover when he said “Simply the best memoir by a chef. Ever.” EVER? That is a big statement. Granted I haven’t read any other memoirs by chefs before, but I’m going to go ahead and call “bullshit” on this one.
I’ll admit, I went a little far with the Bitter, Boring & Bypassable title. I actually didn’t hate the book; I can even go so far as to say that I really enjoyed the in-depth and very detailed portrayal it gave of the difficulty, dedication and focus needed to be a chef.
“The egg shift at Sunday brunch alone could take down an average man. That heat in the egg station at brunch has a formidable physical presence. It moves about, undulating, coming at you in waves, some of them, like when you open the oven door, smacking you and by accident you tip a gallon of pancake batter over in your reach-in — both wasting a product you desperately need and now creating a jam in your reach-in because you can’t work with pancake batter all over everything. The expediter does not stop calling out tickets just because you have a mess in your station. The orders, all of them at least in part your responsibility because every dish at brunch comes with eggs, keeps pouring in while you hustle to get that glop cleaned up and your station back on track. The circumstances won’t change. You are always, always going to face forces that can bring you to your knees. No matter how well set up you are, how early you came in, how tight and awesome your mis en is, there will be days, forces, events that just conspire to fuck you and the struggle to stay up - to not sink down into the blackest, meanest hole - to stay psychologically up and committed to the fight, is the hardest, by far, part of the day. The heat, the crush of customers, the special orders and sauces on the sides, the blood-sugar crises - none of it is as difficult as the struggle to stay in the game, once you have suffered a setback like dropping a full quart of ranchero sauce, which has cracked open and exploded in your station all over your clogs and the oven doors.”
But at the end of the day, Blood, Bones & Butter was just underwhelming. And frustrating. And exhausting, so very exhausting. Reading about Hamilton’s restaurant Prune was great, but it was her descriptions of her strained relationship with her husband, extreme mood/temper fluctuations, and ultimately her inability to live life at ease, constantly straddling the line between bliss and utter and complete desolation, that unnerved me.
What I did take away from Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir is that I never, EVER (now here’s the appropriate use of the word “ever”) want to be a chef. And that really it is a blessing in disguise that the only way I know how to prepare vegetables is by steaming them. And that my specialty entree also happens to be the only entree I know how to “cook.” … Did someone say takeout?