Gabrielle Hamilton's lavishly acclaimed and highly anticipated memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, is now available. As anyone who has read reviews of it or The New Yorker or The New York Times excerpts knows, the book is completely frank. Unlike cloying memoirs that portray the past through rose-colored glasses and the present as overly optimistic, Hamilton's book is, above all else, honest and shows life as it is—hard. Sometimes very hard. Recently I spoke to the chef cum author about the book, her marriage, family, and future plans.
Louise McCready: You wrote about your desire to eliminate the qualifier "female" from female chef, and you equated the difference between navigating within a male-dominated to gender-neutral kitchen as the noise of the hood compared to silence. Have you noticed any changes in the culinary world with regard to women since you first started cooking?
Gabrielle Hamilton: I'm actually not sure what's going on in the real world because I've been living in my own little utopia at Prune. In my own restaurant, that I get to run the way I want, it's not about gender or women or men. It's a non-issue.
LM: I feel as though a few readers might find your laissez-faire attitude toward your marriage, which at times you refer to as a performance art, as surprising or unsettling. Did your attitude toward your marriage ever change and did you end up divorcing Dr. Michele Fuortes, your "Italian Italian"?
GH: My attachment to and dedication to the marriage was not laissez-faire beyond the actual ceremony. The off the cuff, leap into the fire, "Oh, you need to get married? Fine, we'll get married," attitude toward the ceremony was like a piece of performance art, but we grew to have a 10-year marriage and two children. The tenacity between us became very fierce and very strong, and we had an incredible devotion to the family we were creating. My relationship to him has always, always, always been troubled and my loneliness never evaporated, so we are finished but not divorced yet. I say at the end of the book, it feels like we're going to go home and talk about divorce, and that's exactly what happened.
LM: Your reunion with your mother was humbling and quite touching. Do you still keep in touch with her?
GH: I send my mother a photo calendar of my kids ever year. She sends me occasional postcards for Christmas for the kids. It's very minimal contact. She is being amazing about the book, and I'm very proud of her. She's proud of the book. She understands me. She's a brave woman, and she has an incredible sense of humor. She's doing great. We don't need to find each other and have some sort of Hallmark reunion. It's been this way for a long time.
LM: Did you worry how the people included in the book would feel? Did you send anyone a draft?
GH: It was almost the only thing I worried about throughout the writing of the book. Writing about other people was the greatest challenge. I wanted to write about my experience by describing it and not editorializing it. I tried to take as best care of the people involved as I could. I sent the book out to my family members, my parents, my husband, my in-laws, former cooks, and asked them to vet it. I said, "Can you read this? Tell me if you're cool with it. If not, I'll do whatever you need."
LM: Maybe I missed this, but did you mention your father after you left home?
GH: My dad is very much alive and so great. I know him and we see each other. He's around. I included people as they pertained to the food in my life. There were probably ten chapters in which he appeared later that I edited out because they didn't work. And there's probably two other books' worth of material that didn't make it into this one because it didn't drive the story line or wasn't enough about food. I couldn't quite connect all the dots and keep all the threads going until the very end. I get invited to this literary party, if you want to call it that, because I'm a chef and chefs are having their moment in the world in these recent years. People seem to be interested in what chefs have to say and do, and that's how I got invited to write a book. I understood that food was my ticket to the party, so I understood that I had to write about food only.
LM: Did you draw from journals or create an outline for the book?
GH: It was guerilla writing. I don't even know how the book happened. I literally wrote while driving. I'd be stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge or on the Williamsburg Bridge, bumper to bumper, trying to come into the city in the morning, and scribbling on my lap, looking up, moving ahead two inches, and then looking down on my writing. Or I would be on the subway and there'd be something that'd had to be written down and I would get off the subway because the train was moving too jerkily, sit on the bench for a few minutes just to get the page down, and then get back on the next train and finish my journey. Or my kids would fall asleep on either side of me on the bed, post-nursing, and I'd put on the itty bitty booklight and try to hammer out a page or two. It's just disgusting. That whole Virginia Woolf ideal of "a room of one's own," where your meals are cooked, you play the piano—that experience didn't happen for me. It's a miracle that there weren't more spelling mistakes and grammar problems then there already are.
LM: Do you have any plans to write a second book or open a second restaurant?
GH: I can't imagine that there won't be, but I'm so eager to enjoy myself for five minutes, ride this little splendid wave I'm lucky enough to be having, and relax for a second. Part of what I hoped from the book, for me at least, is that I'd have these conversations with people about what's honestly going on in our lives.
LM: With the impersonal reader or with people actually in the book like your family and friends?
GH: I guess I meant both. It's been very nice to meet people who say, "I read your book, and my favorite part was.... I get that all the time." Because for me, as I go through the world, I so frequently feel like everyone's got it figured out except for me. Everyone looks groomed, their teeth are whitened, their depression is medicated away, and everyone's got it together except for me. What the hell am I doing wrong? Now I'm meeting people and they're talking to me, and I feel validated and part of the universe and not so isolated and alone.
LM: In a way, you're making the impersonal the personal.
GH: The short answer to your question is the next book is probably going to be a cookbook. The temptation of some nice recipes, a lively headnote, and some glossy photographs is very compelling.