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(EXCERPT) Life As A Female Chef - From 'Blood, Bones & Butter' By Gabrielle Hamilton

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Excerpt from "Blood, Bones & Butter" (Random House) by Gabrielle Hamilton, our latest HuffPost Book Club pick.

Read the thoughts of HuffPost Women's Editor Margaret Wheeler Johnson about this chapter.

I was invited to be a panelist at a conference held at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. The conference was called “Where Are the Women?” and the student chapter of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs had gathered a pretty decent roster of women chefs from around the country to come to the campus for the full day and evening and to participate in discussions, both formal and casual, with all the young women cooking students. Incredibly, it never goes away, this question about women.

My relationship to women is exhaustively researched. I am one, for starters. Not quite as clean and polished as I’d like, but nonetheless... I’m a daughter and a daughter-in-law. I am a sister and have a sister. I’ve got a mother. There’ve been a lot of women in my life. I’ve had sex with them. I’ve hired them. And fired them. Worked side-by-side with them and under them; several bosses come to mind.Women have brought me to the deepest bitterest tears of my existence. And some, equally, have made me feel like brand-new money. And not to rely on that old tired credential, but, some of my best friends are women. Still, what an impossible group to have to represent and presumably, speak on behalf of.

On the early morning train ride up, bleary-eyed, short on sleep by a critical several hours, I was thinking about what a particularly hard time I have had with women in my industry. When I was coming up in kitchens I was not the first or only woman in the kitchen. I was frequently the second woman; the “other” woman. There is nothing worse, I think, than being in an all-male kitchen with only one other female. Invariably, with so much territory at stake, she will treat you worse than any of the men.When I am asked to wax rhapsodic about the virtues of women in a kitchen, I feel claustrophobic and hemmed in by the task. But that was so many years ago.

Now, I imagined what a bust the conference would be. Letting my mind roll over my own payroll, female after female after female — from general manager to bar manager to sous chef to pastry chef to owner to server — I couldn’t imagine that we were still having this conversation, this draining, polarizing conversation about where the women are in the industry. When I opened my own restaurant, nearly ten years ago, I finally put to bed that whole business about being a woman in a male-dominated profession. I was so obviously in charge that I didn’t even need to say it. I unlocked the gate and the office in the morning and brewed the coffee. I wrote the menu, cut the checks, posted the prep list, cooked the food, and locked the door at the end of the night. Men who came to work at Prune understood at the threshold that there was a woman in charge, and all of them worked each shift, virility intact, without needing to challenge that. I received five resumes a week from young women entering the field, evidently not deterred by the reputation of the industry. Surely this stuff is over, I thought, finding my seat on the train. This topic’s a dinosaur. Was it really necessary to get a chef who had worked late in her kitchen the night before out of her bed at such an hour in order to get to the up-state New York campus to talk about this all day long starting at nine a.m.?

Chefs work late and chef/owners work later. There’s always more to do after the food is cooked. It was around one-thirty in the morning when I finally was in my pajamas, and setting the alarm for five. I had stopped nursing my youngest son only a few months before, so the idea and practice of getting very little sleep, in increments, was still completely routine. When I saw the alarm clock digitally glowing its 1:33 a.m. message as I was setting it to wake me up in just a few hours, I strategically coaxed my mind away from thinking ruefully about a pitiful night’s sleep and redirected it to thinking deliciously about a long, full, luxurious nap. Somewhere between kid number one and kid number two and chef and owner and nursing and prepping and line cooking and worker’s comp and commercial refrigeration, I learned to re-envision the amount of time I have available to sleep as an excellent nap instead of a paltry night’s worth.

In the morning, by the still weak light of day — I could not distinguish between the color of oatmeal and the color of yellow, it was still so dim — I dressed with the same grim determination as one about to take her vaccination shots. I packed a small bag, took deep, intoxicating lungfuls of my babies while lightly kissing them as they slept, and slipped out of the house into the dawn.The Peruvian pan-pipe player who sets up at my subway station was unbelievably lively and already hard at work even that early in the morning. He’s five-foot-two and “playful.” He kind of darts and dances around the waiting passengers while he pipes along to the Titanic soundtrack and some Simon and Garfunkel tunes. Someone, I am sure, finds his qualities charming. I have murderous feelings about him and regularly fantasize his violent death on the tracks and imagine how much better off the world would be without him and his Peruvian pan-piping version of “I Will Go On.”

To be assaulted by this little nuisance ten minutes after living through the agony, the unmitigated heartache of leaving my two guys in their beds asleep without one moment of being with them on this day — out before they wake and home well after they’ve gone to sleep — was more than I could take on less than four hours of sleep. When Mr. Pan Pipes segued into “El Condor Pasa,” I stood at the farthest end of the platform cursing both him and these cooking school girls who could even think to drag me from my barely warmed-up bed, from my two boys with their soft tubbied faces mushed up in perfect sleep, their diapered asses up in the air.

Grand Central was fully alive with commuters clogging the escalators and shops and the concourses. I stood in a long but fast-moving line at a coffee place where the women in front and back of me ordered — with straight faces — drinks called double-skim half-decaf vanilla latte — and the young caffeinated barristas called these very same words back to the customer when putting up her drink without a single hint of scorn or derision in their voices, and I marveled, genuinely, at their generosity. I hate hating women but double-skim half-decaf vanilla latte embarrasses me. I ordered a plain filtered coffee, as if I were apologizing on behalf of my gender, and when I dug through my heavy purse to pay for it I discovered in my bag a diaper, a re-sealable jar of apricot puree, and one of Marco’s socks, which had somehow in the general loss of boundary and private real estate that is Motherhood, made its way in there.

Once on the train, I sipped the coffee and read the prepared questions for the panel and the agenda for the day. I felt a small nervousness set in. What would I possibly have to say that could help these young women? I had never had a television show on the Food Network, had never hired a PR firm in my life; I had never chosen this career formally and had no experience climbing a ladder. I had just jumped into the fire and opened a restaurant of my own without ever having cheffed in one. The questions all seemed largely aimed at discovering how to attain recognition for oneself and on this particular morning, lovesick for my own children, terrifically backlogged on work at my own restaurant, I wondered uncomfortably why I was making the journey to Poughkeepsie just for that. Just to end up carping bitchily at the girls about the most obvious of all obviousnesses: Put your head down and do your job and let the recognition end of things sort itself out. When I stepped onto the platform in Poughkeepsie, I was afraid of my own mood.

I expected to fall into the company of my fellow female chefs and immediately, comfortably, be grousing with my sister panelists about these young, entitled students who know nothing of hard work and who just wanted to instantly have a cooking show on the Food Network so that they can be “famous.” I thought we women chefs would be allied against this obsession among the young with Recognition and Fame above Merit and Talent. I was not interested in answering this tired question: Where are the women? Especially when we know perfectly well where the women are.They jumped to publishing, and are now busy with idolizing the male chefs who made it impossible for them to continue cooking in restaurants and they are so busy writing features and articles about them that they don’t have time left — or column inches — for the female chefs who actually toughed it out. Women have self-selected out of the chef life, which can grind you to a powder, and have become happily married recipe testers and magazine editors, or private chefs, working moderate hours for good pay and benefits while successfully raising several small children whom they do not damage. I was sure my peers would feel equally disinclined. What was there left to say, really? Get in the kitchen; cook well; and the rest will take care of itself. You can’t be a recognized woman chef if you are working at a magazine.

My phone rang and it was Carlos, my sous chef, calling from the restaurant to check in.When I had left the night before, I wrote a long note for the day crew, but couldn’t explain everything for a new dish we’d been running that nobody else had prepped but me. So he was calling for that most frustrating of experiences — the chef-by-phone-tutorial.

“Hi, boss!”
“Good morning. How’s it going?”
“We’re fine. I’m going to start this rabbit project now. I think I’ve got it. I’ve read your notes.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just take care not to over- brown or to brown too fast the legs — you know how it really toughens the flesh as there is no ‘skin,’ like on a piece of poultry or whatever.”
“So, don’t brown the rabbit?” he asked.
“No. Yes. Brown the rabbit, yes, I’m just saying take care not to over-brown it or to use too high a heat. It can make the meat have a stringy, tough quality even after the braise.”
“Okay, I got it,” he said, with a little unsettling tone that makes me, on the platform in Poughkeepsie, feel useless and not confident in Table 7’s experience with the rabbit later this evening.
“Okay, and then, Carlos?”
“Yes, Boss?”
“It’s not fatty, you know, and the bones are quite small.You can’t just leave it to braise and forget about it. It can only braise about twenty-five minutes and then it’s done. So, when the joints are loose but not falling apart. It’s finished.”
“What joints?” he asks.

Now I’m pacing on the platform, dodging the few people who have exited the train and are filing toward the station.

“The joint between the thigh and the leg. It’s got to have give and motion but if it separates, you’ve gone too far. If it’s too underdone, it won’t recover in the pickup. It has to be braised properly in the prep, otherwise it’s just hot but not adequately cooked through when they pick it up at service.” As I’m trying to explain this, the platform has completely emptied and I am the last one standing on it. A train employee with a rolling garbage can enters the empty train to collect discarded newspapers, coffee cups, and breakfast wrappers.

“Okay, boss, I got it. Have fun up there. See you tomorrow!”

I took a taxi from the train station to the campus and stood for a moment where the driver dumped me at the bottom of the circular drive. I felt like I was at an Ivy League college in New England that I would have been rejected from had I applied. There were big brick buildings and sweeping views of the surrounding valley. Students were flocking across campus in every direction, in a hurry, but instead of low-cut jeans and cashmere sweaters and backpacks, all were dressed in checks and whites and carrying their knife rolls. Ivy-covered brick buildings in which to learn the five mother sauces!

In the lobby of the building I met up with the other women chefs who were also just arriving, and Cat Cora came in behind me, looking so fresh and excited and pretty. I immediately got caught up in her good energy and natural kindness, and the dangerous mood that had started to take hold of me on the train quickly evaporated. I shook hands with the few panelists I had never met, and I warmly hugged the women I already knew. It’s not that uncommon, after a very short while, to feel like you know all of the other women in your industry, as the pool gets small fast. If there’s an event for women, we are all trotted out sooner or later, and we meet each other with some frequency.

That should have made me think, then, while greeting my co-panelists, that maybe there was some validity to the conference after all. If there were so few of us visible in the industry that we kept seeing each other at so many events, there must still be a problem with employing female chefs. I suddenly recalled running into a male colleague on the street in New York one summer. He’s not a chef, but he owns some restaurants and has an excellent female chef at the helm of his places. He was walking down the sunny street with his tall, elegant mother, who was visiting from San Diego.

“Hey!” we exclaimed to each other. “Hello there!” He introduced me to his mother as one of the top, one of the best female chefs in New York City.

I laughed. “Well, there are only four of us in New York, so I don’t know about that.”

We all laughed. And then, without even thinking about it, I said, “Now, if we could just get that word ‘female’ out of the sentence.” And suddenly, this dead cheerlessness came over the sidewalk, and all of us felt awkward, taking that moment to reimagine the same sentence without the qualifying word female. “Mom, this is one of the top, one of the best chefs in New York.” I wished I hadn’t mentioned it. But on this morning in Hyde Park, I was fixed on dismissing the validity of the conference. Even though I can’t understand for one second what the difference is between a male chef and a female chef—the food has to be cooked and we all just cook it. Even though I simultaneously soar and cringe to be called one of New York City’s top female chefs. Somehow I had set my mind to it, that this conference would be a bust, even as I was palpably buoyed by the sudden shift in power, that infectious energizing feeling, while standing together in the reception hall with this bunch of smart, strong women.

There was a brief awkward moment in the coat-check area, where we were asked to don our chef coats for the rest of our time on campus and I didn’t want to — whenever I see a chef outside of his kitchen in the civilian world, dressed in his whites, I think he looks like a dipshit with an insecurity issue. But the organizers wanted to make a statement, with the visual cue of ten women in starched monogrammed chef coats walking from building to building, from lecture to cocktail reception, to dinner to evening panel in the auditorium. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to emphasize my femaleness or my chef-ness. If I were emphasizing my chef-ness, I would have worn the jacket. But if I was emphasizing my femaleness and my confidence in my equal abilities and talents, I wouldn’t want to wear the jacket. I would want to say, sartorially, that I am so confident and secure in my role that I don’t need the costume to prop me up.

At every single event with women chefs that I participate in, I can see the women struggling, on some level, with this very basic question of what to wear. The woman in shiny pink patent leather clogs has decided one thing. The woman in a black shirt and apron but no jacket has decided another. The woman who dresses exactly like Thomas Keller has decided yet another. Even this question of dressing for your work is exhausting.Would a guy have gone through this kind of soul-searching? I think he would have just worn the coat. He may even have arrived wearing it. If there’d been a toque requested, he probably would have thrown that on too without hesitation.

When we got to the auditorium it was packed to the gills and humming with the excitement of hundreds of young women. They were sitting in every seat and spilling into the aisles.We took our seats at the table on stage facing them, and I felt nervous and looked down at my own stomach and noticed that in the dim light of early morning, I had not seen the dried, crusty oatmeal on my yellow sweater that Marco must have rubbed there with his little fingers some or other morning ago. For some reason, I worry terribly about appearing dirty and ill-put-together. In the same way that I don’t want to be taken care of in a hospital by a pale, chain-smoking doctor, I feel like the people who prepare your food should look healthy and robust and tidy. I scraped at the oatmeal with my fingernail and pushed my open handbag farther under the table so no one would see the sock, and the diaper, and the apricot puree tucked in with the wallet and the keys and the travel toothbrush.

There were a bunch of young men in the audience as well. We were introduced by the moderator, and I thought our chiding would start right then and there about how you should put your head down and do your job and stop worrying about fame and fortune, but the first question came to the panel from a young woman high up in the balcony on the right and my heart broke in the first five seconds. She stood up and in a thin voice that she managed to project all the way down to the stage, she asked her pressing question.

“Is it okay to cry?”

I do almost $2 million a year in sales. I know that is nothing compared to my colleagues who have hundred-seat restaurants and four branches, but for an independent, thirty-seat “joint,” with no single wine over $89, I am very proud of this volume. We have never accomplished the standard industry ideal of 10 percent profit, but I love the revenue number nonetheless. I think it’s an accomplishment. More important, I decide who our purveyors are, what sodas and beers we carry, what linen service we use, what garbage removal service we use, the glassware, tableware, the wine and liquor, the cheese, the meat, the vegetables. I mention this only because if I’m going to spend $100,000 a year on produce, or linen, or printing, you can’t send a sales rep who calls me “Hon.” You can’t be a potential produce vendor seeking my business by addressing your query letter “Dear Sir.” I will drop that purveyor’s list in the trash can unread —right on top of my bloody tampon — as soon as I see that out-of-date salutation at the top of the page. But I won’t cry.

Equally, someone seeking employment can’t fax in a resume to “Sir” because I won’t hire him if that is his default point of view. I won’t cry; I just won’t hire him. You don’t have to fight or argue or bitch or cry at all; I just quietly spend my money with another company that I perceive has caught up to the times and I hire people I can enjoy working with.This genuine power makes you gentle.

Many of the students were concerned about the constant negotiating one does, internally and externally, to get by in the male kitchen and asked the panel how to navigate that. Melissa said she used to just do her work and quietly shine. But Helene said, “No way! I roared through the kitchen, I ‘bested’ the men at every turn. When I got promoted and they didn’t, I turned around sweetly and said, ‘Bye Guys!’”

I had tried smoking filterless cigarettes, swearing like a sailor, pissing in bottles, and banging out twice as much as my male cohorts. And I’d also given lipstick and giggling a try, even claiming to not be able to lift a stockpot so that the guys would help me. Neither strategy is better than the other.

It was not until I opened my own place that I realized how present and ongoing the struggle to be female in a professional kitchen had been. It’s like the hood during service. Everybody talks about the heat in a kitchen, and the heat, without doubt, is formidable. It’s a powerful opponent. But for me the real punisher is the exhaust hood, with the suction so powerful that it sucks up all the metal bound filters from their spots and bangs them against the lip of the hood. The big mechanic kick of the fan belt starting up, the unified clank of the filters rising — like a Rockettes kick, all in unison — then followed by eighteen draining hours of heavy-duty vacuum hum, over which orders are barked, dishes are clanked, pots are slammed around, and the stereo blasts. Then finally at midnight or one, after the disher has turned off the fryer, someone turns off the hood and a profound silence descends. I never realize how much space the noise of the hood takes up in my mind and head — that heavy vacuum sound — until I shut it off, and total bliss and relief set in.

In the same way, when I opened my own restaurant, I enjoyed such an absence of boy-girl jostling that I only then understood that, all through my entire work life, I had been working a double shift. I had been working the same shift as my peers, with all of its heat and heft and long hours on your feet. But I had been doing a second job all along, as well —that of constantly, vigilantly figuring out and calibrating my place in that kitchen with those guys to make a space for myself that was bearable and viable. Should I wear pink clogs or black steel-toe work shoes? Lipstick or Chapstick? Work double hard, double fast, double strong, or keep pace with the average Joe? Swear like a line cook or giggle like a girl?

Meanwhile, the parsley needs to be chopped, and the veal chops seared off. There is, still, the work itself to do.

Someone on the panel to my right said, out loud into the microphone, “Women are more clever than men.”

And then, as if inspired, the woman to my left said, “Women are smarter than men.”

I was feeling hot and insecure about the oatmeal on my sweater to begin with, and was still reeling and deep in thought about the cry- ing question, so I had said only a few words so far into the microphone, and I felt like while I had withdrawn for those few minutes, this group of women, my sister panelists, had set up camp and staked out the territory in a very different place than I wanted to be.This was not double-skim half-decaf vanilla latte embarrassing, but a different kind of bothersome.

Ann said, “Women don’t like to come out from behind the stove and be a presence on the floor of their restaurants.”

Helene said, “Women have better palates than men.”

Odessa said, “Women are more nurturing than men.”

Nora said, “Women are not competitive. They shy away from the limelight.”

I slumped in my chair, dying.

We attract and hire a lot of female cooks at Prune because word got out in the industry that if you wanted a nice place to work with- out the feel of hostile male colleagues, you should come here — Prune likes women. That is not technically true — we like anybody who gets the job done — and that happens to be the profile of many hard-working and qualified women who have passed through my kitchen over the years. And it is sure that if you work at Prune, you will be handling the meat and the fish as much as the guy next to you; you will not be shoved into the pastry or the salad station in perpetuity. And you will probably enjoy the way that being in the company of many women renders your own femaleness almost inconsequential, such a non-issue that it is never a distraction from the work itself. But I could never truthfully, or proudly, utter the sentences these women were letting fly out of their mouths. If anything, I have come to love the men who also feel that the kitchen is a better place when women are allowed to work in it, the men who feel that if any part of society is abused, that it demeans the rest of the society. Those are the men and women I want to spend eighteen hours a day with over a hot stove under a relentless humming hood.

Identity politics never ends up going the distance for me.The categories tend to fall apart on me when I rely on them too heavily — gay people, women, whatever. Every time I think I can rely on a group or a category — like my sister women in the industry or my sister lesbians or whatever — Ruth Reichl frosts me at an event, for the seventh time, or the women on my panel say ridiculous things about women’s superiority or the lesbians go out and start voting Republican — and the whole thing caves in for me, and I start to mistrust my own kind. Especially when they start saying things like “Women are better than men.”

I had really checked out of the panel. I was so caught up in a livid confusion deep in my own mind that I wasn’t even listening to the panel anymore. I get adrenaline rushes sometimes that are so thick I feel as if I’ve blacked out. When I could hear again, I heard a young woman ask, “How do you manage family and career? I want to get married and have kids but I am afraid I won’t be hired as a chef if I say that to an employer, and I’m worried I won’t even have a boyfriend anymore if I have to work the hours I’ve heard about.”

To her question, my sister panelists gave peppy, cheerful “You can do it!!” kind of crap answers — completely generic, unspecific answers —

And before I knew it, I had reversed my own allegiances and was now in love with all of the CIA students and totally dismayed by almost half of my peers on the panel. I wanted to hang out with the students and gripe about women panelists. I now wanted to answer all of their good, valid questions and I suddenly felt that the conference was highly pertinent and overdue!

I really started itching when this sixty-year-old woman droned on into the mic to her twenty-year-old audience about the joys of building relationships with local, sustainable farmers, as if these young cooks were about to enter jobs that would put them anywhere near to the sourcing of the restaurant’s ingredients. I was thinking about the pleasure, the sheer pleasure of killing the line on a busy night, setting those tickets up and knocking them down, of the knives laid out neatly on the magnet, the worn wooden cutting boards, the feel of the cool, silky flour every time you dip in with the measuring cup, of sitting down with everybody after work and drinking cocktails telling grossly distorted tales of your own heroics on the line that night. I felt I had to testify to this pleasure, to speak about the total satisfaction of killing the line, the way scrubbing down your station afterward puts your mind right, about “the third shift,” the drinks after work. I wanted to say that we are all not sitting around in our naturally woven fibers eating our organic quinoa salads and thinking up our next sustainable charity project. Some of us are actually cooking. And enjoying cooking. But I had shut down and couldn’t muster for this part of the panel, where my supposed peers were gassing on about themselves, giving these young women the impression that each day in a kitchen is like going to some priggish church.

They were speaking as women who were thirty years into an industry, and the young women we were meant to address had yet to experience even their first day of it.

Why didn’t a single one of us mention cooking? Why didn’t we say, If you want your cooking career to be recognized, be a good cook! Cook, ladies, cook.

Defeated, I thought about what I had had to do to arrange getting to the conference that day in the first place. If I had just told them about that small journey, from my apartment with two sleeping children to their campus, as the chef and owner of a restaurant and the mother of two little kids, wouldn’t just that answer all of their questions about family and career and motherhood?

If I told them about the pan-pipe player and the full day in which I would never see my boys awake. If I told them how I joke that I now pity the women who start families who have not been chefs. How I wonder earnestly, how does the office worker woman who is so accustomed to her forty-hour workweek, her daily lunch hour, her in- box, and her out-box, handle all the pain and the physical contortions, and the mayhem of suckling, crying, ear infections, and working if she has never had to skin a live eel, placate the angry patron at Table 7 who finds his rabbit a bit stringy, and carry an epileptic line cook off the mats who has suffered a grand mal seizure during service? How will the woman who is accustomed to great personal and bodily integrity suffer the cannibalizing feeling that nursing constantly can leave you with, as if you were being eaten alive, not in huge monster-gore chunks, but like a legion of soft, benign caterpillars makes lace of a leaf?

I thought of telling them how changing a diaper reminds me, every time, of trussing a chicken. How sleepless nights and long grueling hours under intense physical discomfort were already part of my daily routine long before I had children. How labeling every school lunch bag, granola bar, juice box, extra sweater, and nap blanket with permanent Sharpie is like what we’ve been doing every day for thirty years, labeling the foods in our walk-ins. How being the chef and owner of a restaurant means you have already, by definition, mastered the idea of “systems,” “routines,” and “protocols” so that everyone who works for you can work smart-hard rather than work stupid-hard. So that by the time you are setting up your household and preparing yourself for adding children, you have a tendency toward this kind of order, logic, and efficiency.

Multitasking — answering questions on the phone, cooking something, and trying to monitor a line cook, while hearing your name repeated possibly six or seven hundred times in less than eight hours — is exactly like trying to run a family and a business. A choking patron, a grease fire, a badly cut employee — once you have been through that, figuring out how you will get your injured child to the emergency room of a hospital in the nearest Italian town where you are alone on vacation should come a little easier to you.

Not to give the impression that if you’ve been a chef, then adding parenthood to your day is just as easy as running a lamb shank special on your menu. Days go very badly and there is never balance. Everybody gets shorted, everybody gets hurt, and you, the mom, not the least. But it does give you a leg up, I often think, because the restaurant family is a perfect starter family. It’s such an accurate in-flight simulator that I have grown to feel sorry for anybody who enters parenthood and a domestic project without having first run a restaurant. From the earliest stages of family life when you are pregnant and uncomfortable and not sleeping well at night, the parallels to running a restaurant are almost over-obvious and all of that work you’ve done on your feet all day, with back problems from lifting so much heavy stuff or standing in one place for so long, with sometimes no time to eat or even to pee, and not sleeping much at all because of your commitment to your restaurant will all feel incredibly familiar and doable. And then when the suckling critter arrives, you will just fold that into your day like you have all the other leaking, sticky, oozy fluids you’ve been handling for the past decade. Every time you have to change the diaper of a noncompliant kid you will be reminded of every chicken you’ve ever trussed and every eel you’ve ever had to wrangle. Petulant adolescents who just want to borrow money, raid the refrigerator, and talk on the phone with their friends about what a bitch you are? That will be a piece of cake once you have managed a front-of-house staff, denied the bartender her vacation request, and uneasily loaned the new line cook her first and last months rent deposit on her new West Village apartment, knowing well you will never see that money again.

I wanted to interrupt my fellow panelists now going on about how women cook better than men, and how they’re faster and cleaner and smarter, and just tell this story to the young woman in the fifteenth row. But their essentialist drone drove me to silence. And I saved my tears for the train ride home.

Excerpted from "Blood,Bones & Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher