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.