Sometimes when I meet people and they hear my husband is a chef, they’re envious. They’ll say, “Ooh, does he cook for you at home?” He does now sometimes, but for most of the past twenty five years, he’s been gone not just for dinner, but for lunch and breakfast too.
So when I came across an article in Food and Wine magazine by Gabrielle Hamilton where she described how unromantic and unglamorous her chef life is, I thought, Yes! It’s this way for other chefs too. Then I sent the article to my husband and he said, “I love that woman.”
As you might imagine, I devoured Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir. Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Chef is Hamilton’s story of how she came to open Prune, her bistro in New York’s East Village.
When Hamilton was just 13 years old, she and her 17 year old brother were abandoned for the summer by their divorcing parents. When the food ran out, she walked to town, talked her way into a dish washing job so she could feed herself, and thus, began her career.
The path to Prune was anything but stable. She delved into cocaine, was charged with grand larceny, and then went on to cook, possibly for your kids, at a summer camp in upstate New York.
She also straightened out her act and earned herself an MFA in Writing. Afterwards a friend introduced Hamilton to the abandoned restaurant space that would become Prune.
The thrills continued when, after things got rocky with the love-of-her-life girlfriend (which they do when one half of a couple is holed up in a restaurant eighteen hours a day), she began dating an Italian man, and then married him when he mentioned green card issues.
I almost forgave her as she recounted her new husband whisking her from Rome to his family’s country villa on the back of a motorcycle, her arms tightly wrapped around him, his buttered mortadella sandwiches packed, chilled rosé awaiting their arrival. At the villa, they’d sleep together under the stars in dew covered sleeping bags. How could that not be right?
His family, especially his mother, Alda, embraced Hamilton. Despite their language differences, they bonded through cooking and Hamilton described in luscious detail new ingredients, cooking methods, and daily life at the villa. I wanted to be there when villagers stopped by bearing a trunk full of fresh tomatoes or a bicycle basket filled with eggs.
But real life crept back. Their marriage was rocky at best and didn’t improve after they had children. Hamilton doesn’t hold back. Many times while reading, I wondered if her husband was okay with her depiction of him.
Hamilton ends the story in Italy with a small triumph but leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. And this, I decide, is how most of us live, attempting to create moments of sweetness amidst adversity.