Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By: Judy Levin

Memoirs by chefs are more popular than ever these days, but this one stands out not only because the author is a two time James Beard Award Winner and TV’s Top Chef winner (beating out Bobby Flay), but because the writing is so clean and honest. While reading you may ask yourself "just what exactly is this book about? – food, love, life, finding oneself, creating and managing a life and how fascinating is this woman and do I want to meet her, work in her restaurant or eat there?"

Hamilton begins her story with childhood memories of her French, former ballet dancer mother with spoon in hand, wielded continuously over pots on the stove – simmering and rendering meals from every piece of every animal and vegetable they procured. Her father‘s artistic skills as a theater set designer inspired yearly outdoor parties where he created stage sets and magical tableaus with candles, greenery and pit-smoked food. 

When her parents’ marriage exploded, her world fell apart and so begins her story of finding her place in the world while finding a way to feed herself. Her first summer restaurant job, given to her by a man in town who knew she was lying about her age (14) when she applied, imbued her with a work ethic and the pride of earning her own wages. These early experiences enable her to begin her own life and help sustain her through the many trials she endures over the next many years. Even when she eventually opens her own restaurant, Prune, in NYC, she still believes in doing all the levels of work herself – from cleaning out the refrigerators and scrubbing floors, pots and pans, to creating the most exquisite dinners for guests, family and friends.

Hamilton is a tough one to love, and you may finish this book with lots of questions for her, but you will have a respect and admiration for the character and moxie of this woman who admits right in the title, that cooking is more than the smooth ingredients of butter, but also includes the grittier elements of blood and bones – both those of the actual ingredients and those of the chef themselves.  

I’d say by the time you complete reading Blood, Bones & Butter you will want to page through Hamilton’s signature restaurant cookbook Prune. Delivered with bright pink canvas-like covers, her recipes appear as though written just for herself with scribbles, notes and stains, stunning photographs, reminders and suggestions in the margins.

Personal note: My neighborhood book club gets together once each June for a dinner and discussion on my screened porch. I try to choose a book both worthy of discussion and with a menu inspiration. This June we read Blood Bones & Butter and each one of us brought a dish created from one of Hamilton’s recipes or at least inspired by such. Needless to say, we had a delicious and creative menu of food & beverage while discussing Hamilton’s loves, life choices, family, ambitions and achievements. Bon Appetit!

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JUDY LEVIN - Book Reviews 

Judy Levin has been facilitating discussions with book lovers for nearly 35 years. With a teaching degree and an English major put to excellent use, Judy currently facilitates and moderates discussions for 30 groups including libraries, organizations and private groups. A life-long Chicago land girl, Judy is a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Follow Judy on Twitter and Facebook and see what’s trending and newsworthy.