By Gabrielle Hamilton. I read this book in October 2012.
Reading this book happened completely by chance. I didn’t hear or read any book reviews or see any interviews on GMA. I just perused the shelves at the library and plucked this one off the shelf out of many hundreds of books. The inside flap described a story that piqued my interest. I had never heard of Gabrielle Hamilton or her restaurant in NYC called “Prune”.
But from the first few pages I was hooked on her writing style. It may also have helped that we lived very close to her childhood town when we lived in New Jersey and it was easy for me to picture the setting she described with her brothers and sisters, sleeping outdoors with campfires and fireflies. This part of New Jersey and Pennsylvania is idyllic.
But idyllic is not the word to describe Gabrielle Hamilton’s life after her parents divorce. Her tales of a life she forged on her own describe a young girl growing up quick and learning the ropes for survival. Backed by an early introduction to and love of good quality food from her French mother and artistically eccentric father, she finds her way through many kitchens describing scenes with vivid words.
Her first job at the local town restaurant at the tender age of 14, she lies about her age to get a waitress job. And while she is mature beyond her years, she not able to maneuver through some delicate situations. Her boss fires her for not showing up for her shift yet she can’t tell him the real reason for her absence is attending her high-school softball games for fear of finding out her real age.
At 16, she moves to NYC without a real plan but somehow scrapes together a living as a waitress with a fast-paced lifestyle. You continue to follow her life through various haphazard avenues that have been stitched together with little more than a few bucks and a will to persevere: a grueling stint with a catering company, a uncharted journey across Europe, a side-stop at a Michigan University, a camp cook for a kid’s summer camp in New England.
Each of these forays into the cooking world help to prepare and shape her for the opening of her own restaurant, Prune. By the time she opens Prune, she knows how she wants the place to feel and what types of foods she will serve. Her vision here is very clear. Her story continues on to describe the frustrations and difficulties that come with owning a restaurant – employees quitting at the drop of a hat, carrying on an affair while working 20-hour/7-day shifts, and planning the birth of a child so as not to interfere with the Saturday night dinner crowd and the Sunday morning brunch rush.
Through it all, you hear Gabrielle’s voice loud and clear. She is not one to mince words. She is raw and passionate. And her story is the same.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for foodies and bookies alike.