Ever get that feeling that it's too late to begin?
With three weeks to go before my twenty-eighth birthday, I'm reminded of the person I thought I'd be by now and, turns out, it's someone who I've never even met and whose name, now, escapes me. I was 20 at the time when I learned about her; these were pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-LinkedIn days, so the information that surfaced on Internet Explorer pointed to text that existed in print first, web second. What I found was the woman's marriage announcement in the Times that said she was the associate editor at Vanity Fair at 27. Just married. Working at Vanity Fair. And so that became my measurement of where I wanted to be in seven years.
Why was I Internet-stalking a woman I'd never met? My mentor was an occasional Hollywood columnist for Vanity Fair and made a passing comment between the lines of an email exchange in which I mentioned I was looking for editorial work at a magazine. I'll introduce you to so-and-so there, he said.
The meeting never happened; I started an internship at FHM (yes, the lad mag) instead, which, a year later, led to a junior editor role at the restaurant review guide, Zagat Survey.
Fast forward a few years and with only weeks of my twenty-seventh left, I began reading Blood, Bones & Butter at the suggestion of HuffPost's lovely Annemarie. I bought the book last December as a present for my then-new boyfriend Chris, and it had sat, untouched, on the dining table, waiting to be navigated after he finished Bill Buford's Heat.
As I often do with a new book I've been told I have to read, I ate up the jacket cover, the praises, the blurb and author's biography in hungry anticipation first before turning a page.
Gabrielle Hamilton racked up nearly 20 years of kitchen work without ever thinking she'd run her own restaurant someday. She began waitressing at 13, passing herself off as 16. Then she was 17 pretending to be 21. Gabrielle opened Prune in 1999, 13 years ago, in her thirties. I met her briefly last May at the James Beard Awards at Lincoln Center, seconds after she stepped off stage to accept her win for Best Chef in New York City. Sure, she was dressed for the occasion, but she looked radiant somewhere in her forties with bright alert eyes, tattoos inked in each exposed and sculpted arms, and silvery blonde-brown hair. At the time I knew little about her, except that her Dutch style pancakes were eff-ing great even when I had to choke one down my first time at Prune as the result of an ill-conceived decision to have one last meal with a boyfriend whom I'd just broken up with.
There's a great quote I read recently: 'The days are long, but the years are short.' To me, Gabrielle's Blood, Bones & Butter is the recollection of a woman who, in her youth, had to rush through both. Her writing is just as fast and fluid, rolling off my tongue when I read them out loud to Chris as he braises beef with ancho chiles for dinner or slipping into sleep. Still, even having counted many blessings in my 27 years, I still feel behind: I should have read all the books I keep buying by now, I should be making more money, I should visit more countries... But what I'm taking from this incredible gift of a book is - thanks to one person who pours her gut and soul into nourishing a roomful of strangers in the East Village - is that it's never too late to get where you're going.
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