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.