If M.F.K. Fisher’s fervour for food, Calvin Trillin’s tender humour and Anthony Bourdain’s potty mouth magically materialized into a book, the result could very well be Blood, Bones & Butter by Hamilton, the owner and chef of Prune—a homey 30-seat gem of a restaurant in New York. The sometimes cantankerous author delivers a memoir that so lucidly describes the events of her 45 years that readers will be left wondering how she recalled it all without the aid of a transcript.
Hamilton’s idyllic childhood in Pennsylvania descends into a troubled youth marked by her parents’ divorce and punctuated with theft, drugs and the then-17-year-old vagabond moving to Manhattan. And although adulthood promises quieter moments, particularly pastoral summers spent with her in-laws and two young sons on the coast of southern Italy, the author’s accounts of odd jobs catering and cooking are captivatingly loud: for those who’ve toiled in kitchens, her unglamorous, gritty descriptions of the service industry will cut deep to the bone: she doesn’t gussy things up for the sake of Food—a discourse now so supersaturated with pomp that the people who labour to feed others, including the author, risk exasperation.
Plenty else annoys Hamilton, too, including farmers’ markets and the girls who fill up their bike baskets with “two apples, a bouquet of lavender, and one bell pepper.” She’s uncomfortable being labelled a female chef; and she hates talking about food, preferring the time “when we just grew it and cooked it and ate it.” But she’s too laconic about other vexations—including her disdain for her mother—to garner much sympathy. This, and narratives that aren’t elucidated, including how Hamilton is a lesbian one minute and marries an Italian man the next, leave the reader hungry. But there’s enough delicious detail throughout to satiate every appetite. The best morsels result from Hamilton’s passion for feeding people and her remarkable ability to record the nooks and crannies of the good life—which inevitably makes an appearance when people gather to eat and drink.