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Blood, Bones and Butter

One chef’s unlikely path to culinary celebrity.

(Page 2 of 2)

Alluded promiscuity, drugs, brushes with the law, and a solo trip around the world all transpire before Hamilton begins to center herself at the free-form Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts and much later in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan. All the while Hamilton is working food industry jobs – serving tables, assembling colossal trays of catered food, cooking at a summer camp – wondering about her path. Hamilton clings so tightly to the order she finds in industrial kitchens that she almost doesn’t recognize it as her lifeline.

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Back in New York and trying to write a novel, Hamilton opens a restaurant almost on a whim, simply because a decrepit, abandoned storefront down the street from her apartment stoop has been idly waiting for its next creative visionary. She has no idea how to run a restaurant, she admits, but the name of the place appears without effort. “Prune” was a childhood nickname her mother had for her.

“[T]here I was, pacing around my apartment, puzzling out how I could harness a hundred pivotal experiences relating to food – including hunger and worry – and translate those experiences into actual plates of food and wondering if eight dollars was too much to charge for a wedge of aged Gouda cheese and a couple of warm salted potatoes,” writes Hamilton.

“Harness” is hardly word enough – “wrestle,” “bind,” or “truss” perhaps. Prune opens as a success, and remains so today. Ever unpredictable, Hamilton eventually marries one of her customers and bears him two sons, though they never live together. Her Italian husband has an affectionate
elderly mother and summer visits to the family home in Puglia at the tip of Italy’s boot heel are one place the memoir mellows with romance.

This is not a story that neatly wraps up into a sugary ending. But like any meal constructed with passion and daring, the minute you finish reading Hamilton’s searing, fascinating life in food you will immediately want more.

Kendra Nordin produces the Monitor’s food blog Stir It Up!

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