Gabrielle Hamilton: Blood, Bones & Butter

It is the ephemeral moments in our lives that count; those moments that unexpectedly lead us forward into our careers, our marriages, our great decisions. Not all these moments are clear when they happen. Take the description of the death of a chicken in Gabrielle Hamilton‘s Blood, Bones & Butter (Random House 2011). On the face of it, dispatching a chicken for dinner is exactly the kind of thing chefs, who have a deep respect for ingredients, would focus on. But this chicken dies a poor death:

The first blow made a vague dent, barely breaking the skin. I hurried to strike it again, but lost a few seconds in my grief and horror. The second blow hit the neck like a boat ore on a hay bale. The bird started to orient. I was still holing its feet with one hand and trying to cut its head off with the dull hatchet with my other when both the chicken and my father became quite lucid and not a little agitated…There are two things you should never do with your father: learn to drive and learn how to kill a chicken. (p. 62)

The passage is both funny and sad. Is it a moment when Gabrielle decided to be a chef or one that marks off the first part of her life when her parents divorced and abandoned her and she ended up abusing drugs, stealing and almost getting arrested for a felony?

This is a compelling read – not focused only on food, though there are plenty of wonderful descriptions of getting raw milk from a dairy and preparing a spring lamb roast. It is as much a book about becoming a chef, as becoming a writer:

I had always imagined I would end up as a writer, but I’d never made the time for it or discovered a way – sapped and depleted after those long shifts ¬– to dedicate myself to it. All I had were boxes and boxes of notebooks accumulated over the years– grown-up versions of that silly, cherished red leather lock-and-key diary I’d kept as a kid – the pages filled with, well, nothing remotely disciplined. (p. 91)

Here is a book by a chef that is unsparingly frank and truthful, full of intensely remembered detail and precision about becoming a writer.

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