Tuesday, March 6, 2012

book four

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. The best memoir by a chef ever? Really?

Tony, Tony, Tony... don't you know by now that yours is the best memoir by a chef ever?

OK, enough of that.

I really, really wanted to love this book. I had such high expectations because of those gushy and glowing reviews by such food-writing dignitaries as Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. But I was underwhelmed, dammit! And it's all Tony's fault: For praising Blood, Bones & Butter too much, and for writing the far more superior Kitchen Confidential.

Gabrielle Hamilton is said to be a "real" writer, and I'm gathering that other chefs are pretty excited about that. Finally, a well-respected, "serious" chef who knows how to write! On what basis do they say that, though? Because she has an MFA in fiction writing?

I find her a bit hard to read, honestly. Oh, the stories are interesting and the sentiments are lovely. However, she has a tendency to write kilometric sentences that go to the ends of the earth and back-- I lose track of what she's saying.

"I want to be relieved of making possibly poor decisions, to be spared the embarrassing moment when I-- the guest-- am asked to state my preference for red or white wine, meat or fish, sparkling or still water, when I know that whatever I say will be a decision rendered for the whole table."

See what I mean? Like that on every single page. Alright, it's her style. But the editor in me wants to edit the shit out of that sentence.

Halfway through the book, I got over that quirk of hers and I started to enjoy it. She has something to say after all, and it's not about food.

Writing about her sister: "But her purpose is not to merely convey to me the story or the information until I have comprehended. Her purpose is to take a long luxurious bath in my ear and to disgorge the entire unedited contents of her brain... so that she can examine those contents. She is processing... And I understand every single word of it, every stop for gas, every detour. I think exactly what she thinks... And I get it. Entirely."

In Chapter 16, after 15 chapters of narrating the story of her life from childhood to chefhood, she writes about what it's like to be a female chef and this is where she shines. It could have been an angry feminist rant about how hard it is to be held in the same regard as a male chef, but instead it is a poignant account of how hard it is to be a woman, period. It is sad but uplifting. Brilliant. Every woman should read this chapter.

So, no. Blood, Bones & Butter is not the best chef-memoir I've read. It is an important book, however. I believe that if enough culinary students-- male and female-- read it, we will have more and more excellent female chefs making their presence felt. Until finally, we won't distinguish between men and women in the kitchen anymore.

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