What I’m Reading: Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones, and Butter”

I decided to “read” (i.e., listen to) Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef solely based on the blurb written by Anthony Bourdain: “Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.” As the author of what many consider the best memoir ever — Kitchen Confidential — I took Bourdain’s endorsement seriously. Having now listened to the book, I have to disagree with his overall assessment — even if it was an enjoyable read.

Like many people who work in the food service industry — in my experience, at least — Hamilton came from a damaged background after her parent’s break-up. Who moves to Hell’s Kitchen at age 16 and waits tables? Much of her story is trying to come to terms with who she is and where she came from — though food.

It’s mostly a compelling and interesting story, especially the intricate details of getting her now famous restaurant Prune up and running. I was really rooting for her through this part. But there is also a couple of places where she is notably not forthcoming and here I begin to question her credibility as a memoirist. She was estranged from her mother, and we don’t really find out why. She had a relationship with a woman while doing a creative writing program in Michigan, then has two sons with a man seemingly out of convenience. Much of these stories are elided.

I’m not saying she needs to take us into her bedroom to be honest in her memoir, but she tells parts of these stories when it is convenient to her and so not having the whole story is frustrating.

Overall, a fun and interesting read, the frustration notwithstanding.



What I’m Reading: Grant Achatz’s “Life, On the Line”

I had heard of but did not know anything specific about Grant Achatz and his Chicago restaurant Alinea prior “reading” (i.e., listening to) Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat.

The book is cleverly and accurately titled, as it tells the story of Achatz’s career as a chef working “on the line” in various kitchens (including for such luminaries as Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller) and it also tells the story of Achatz’s diagnosis of and battle with the cancer that put his life “on the line.” Cruelly ironic was that he develped stage IV squamous cell carcinoma-tongue cancer at the same time that he was being recognized as one of the best chefs in America.

I didn’t realize until I reached his chapter that the book was co-authored with Achatz’s friend and business partner Nick Kokonas. At first I thought, why do I care what the financier has to say? I want to know about the chef and his cooking. But then I realized having Kokonas as a co-author and alternating chapters between Achatz and Kokonas was very clever because it allowed Kokonas to say all of the very flattering things about Achatz that it would have been uncouth for Achatz to say about himself. And given his ability as a chef, those flattering things are a very important part of the story.

Getting in Shape

What’s wrong with this picture? I am sitting at the kitchen table this morning, reading an article in Esquire magazine about “being a better man, getting in shape,” etc. The timer goes off. I get up and take the biscuits I am baking out of the oven. I take two biscuits, cut them open, and top them liberally with corned beef hash. I return to the kitchen table. I finish my breakfast before I finish the article.

Observations from Biscuitville

I was at Biscuitville for breakfast this morning, as I am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I was enjoying my eggs, corned beef hash, and — of course — biscuits and gravy when I glanced out the window to see the following bumper sticker: I [HEART] GRITS. If that were not choice enough, consider the following additional aspects of the bumper sticker. The heart was sealed with the “stars and bars” of the Confederate flag, and GRITS actually stands for: “Girls Raised In The South.”

To which I could only say (to myself, of course): God Bless the Hill-Rods!

North Carolina Come On and Raise Up

NOTE: Any time I put a proper name in quotation marks, that means I am using a pseudonym. I will try to do this the first time I use a pseudonym in any posting.

First of all, let me say that my two kids, “Chipper” (9 going on 10) and “Beth” (7 going on 8), and I made the two day, 700 mile journey from our previous home to North Cackalacka without incident. And, yes, we did blare Petey Pablo as we crossed over from West Virginny into NC. If I wasn’t driving, I would have taken my shirt off, twisted it around my head, and spun it like a helicopter.

We are currently separated from my wonderful wife of nearly 12 years, “Bella,” and our youngest son, “Lil Ricky” (4 going on 5), who are back in our previous home trying to sell our house. On the afternoon of our arrival, we moved into our 3 bedroom apartment. We had more clothes than any person has a right to own, but only one folding chair and a card table for furniture. A quick trip to Wal-Mart got me an inflatable twin matress, which doubles as a sofa when we’re watching TV. The kids both sleep on the floor. I told them it is fun, like camping! They don’t seem to find it as uncomfortable as I would. Of course, they have less body mass pressing down on the wood floors to make themselves uncomfortable.

On the domestic front, I am feeling some pressure from being entirely responsible for getting them three meals a day. We’ve been eating healthy cereal for breakfast and they have gotten good lunches to take to school so far (we’re 3 days in). Dinner has been typical of my diet during college: hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, pizza, and hamburgers. I should say that they also have to eat vegetables with every dinner, so it’s not terrible.

On a brighter note, we now have cable TV for the first time since 1991, which is good for kids shows, sports, and movies, but otherwise is a total — but irresistable — waste of time. Why was I up at 2:00 am flipping back and forth between “Iron Chef,” professional wrestling, and “The Real World”? Because it was there! For the past 13 years, the bulk of my knowledge of popular culture has come through print media (magazines and the New York Times) or students. I don’t know what’s going to happen now that I can access this culture directly.

Although we’ve been here less than a full week, our weekday routine is as follows: I’m up at 6 or 6:30 am to shower and get dressed. The kids are up at 6:30 or 7 am for breakfast. We head out for the bus around 7:45 (it picks them up about 100 yards from our apartment). I then make the 6 minute walk up to my office where I work until 3 pm when I head back to the bus stop to get the kids. Of course, since I work more than 35 hours a week, I put in more hours after the kids go to bed at 8 pm.

Overall, I’m excited to be here and to get started on my new professional and personal life. Of course, our time here hasn’t been without disappointment. I took the kids to Pig Pickin’s the other day for some bar-b-que and they told us they were out of pig. No ribs, no tips, no pulled pork. Nothing. How is a father supposed to explain to his children why they have no pig at Pig Pickin’s? Well, no one said being a parent is easy.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for my reflections on the previous 7 years and my thoughts looking to the future. Slappy is outtie.