Foodie Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

A weekend of fun and family–and no cooking–brings another foodie book review. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fond of this as most of Hamilton’s more public reviewers.  

3 out of 5 stars
Hamilton is the chef du jour in New York, as her restaurant, Prune, has won rave reviews. She doesn’t sugar coat what it’s like to run a restaurant. I think in this day and age of The Food Network, where chefs are superstars, many have a misconception of what it takes to own a restaurant, I myself being one of them. I have this fantasy of a hot kitchen, then going out to the dining room in my whites and receiving plaudits from my customers. Yet aside from cooking, there are also things like hiring and firing people, running a payroll, cleaning up human poop, dealing with rude (and in their eyes, entitled) customers, the list goes on. (After reading this, I now know I could never run my own restaurant!)

Aside from being what many say is a wonderful cook, Hamilton is a truly gifted writer. She is no holds barred, nothing is off-limits. Whether it is her upbringing, where she was abandoned by her mother, her drug and alcohol use as a pre teen, her language (which I’m sure she cleaned up for the book!), her sexuality, her subsequent marriage to an Italian she hardly knows and with whom she has two babies with, she is all out there, with no fear of judgment on the part of the reader. While the first two-thirds of the book were wonderful, the last part, “Butter,” felt like an over extended therapy session. Basically, she worked out what was wrong in her marriage on the pages, and frankly, I could give two hoots. While most takes place on her yearly holiday she takes to Italy with food descriptions, I left the dinner table feeling more than a little unsatisfied. Take me back to Prune and the meals you create and save all the other stuff for your therapist.

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Foodie Book Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

4 out of 5 stars

The first sentence in Elizabeth Bard’s food memoir, Lunch in Paris, is “I slept with my friend husband halfway through our first date.” From there I was hooked–and so was she. An American living in London, who meets a Parisian, never to return to live in the States again. Was it the man or the food? “The waiter slapped down my pavé au poivre.  It was not a particularly impressive plate—a hunk of meat, fat fried potatoes piled carelessly to one side. But something happened as I sliced the first bite—no resistance, none at all. The knife slid through the meat; the thinnest layer of crusty brown opening to reveal a pulpy red heart. I watched as the pink juices puddled into the buttery pepper sauce.” Bard and this reader were swooning at this point!

Bard aptly captures what it’s like to live in a city and country with little knowledge of the language and eventually learning the ropes; visits to the farmer’s market and the butchers ends up with a mixture of English, French, and finger pointing. Finding friends, finding a job, life as we all know it is not as she knows it, with everything different and a struggle. But what she does have is cooking skills, and she learns how to make traditional French dishes and weaves entertaining recipes in each chapter. The recipes even are fun to read, and she carefully crafts each one with clear directions for even the novice cook. Along with cooking, Bard loving describes Paris and for the armchair traveler (and armchair foodie), this is a joy to read. It’s a romantic love story, filled with observations on French women, food habits, Paris, and even the unsexy themes such as the French health care system and buying real estate in Paris.

If I have one criticism for the book, if it can be called that, is I feel Bard may be on a different plane than perhaps her average reader as she was able to travel to the United States (and her parents to France) in what appeared to be several times a year. Most of the people I know don’t have that luxury of traveling to see overseas family once a year or more. Still, this was a fun journey to take and a life to live in for a little while.

Foodie Book Review: Eating, by Jason Epstein

I’m heading off to Maine this morning and dinners have been sparse this week, so I thought I’d bring you something different this morning. I’ve been writing short book reviews for books I’ve read on a social networking website called “Good Reads” since 2008. Here is the review I recently wrote on Jason Epstein’s food memoir, Eating

3 stars (out of 5).

A review from Newsweek on the cover says, “An unpretentious chronicle of an extraordinary life well lived.” Unpretentious? I don’t think so. Epstein, an editor with Random House, has worked with some of the finest writers including Norman Mailer and Nabokov and edited Alice Waters’s cookbooks, a definite name dropper. Unpretentious he is not. We hear he went to Columbia at least twice, he has a penthouse in Manhattan and a house in Sag Harbor, he lived next door to Craig Claiborne and Sheila Lukins, and the way he wrote about his career, he made it sound like he was the one who thought of publishing hard cover books into paperback was his idea. (Maybe it was, but still.)

Yet, this hoity toity Manhattanite does have a great story to tell, and have to admit I wanted to run out and get a two-pound lobster to make the lobster roll recipe he gave. (I’ll have to wait until I go to Maine, though.) Each chapter was sprinkled with his take on recipes he’d either eaten in restaurants or had cooked for him by a chef. Although my pocketbook doesn’t lend itself to affording duck or lobster on a regular basis or eating at upscale restaurants like Lutece and 21 in the city, imagining what it would be like to live the life of a privileged editor in the country’s greatest city, where you could walk and find all sorts of sights and smells of food in your own neighborhood did appeal to the cook in me.

I was disappointed in this, because when I saw Judith Jones speak a couple of years ago (Julia Child’s editor, how’s THAT for name dropping?! :-)) Epstein is a friend of hers and she mentioned the book, which is why I bought it.