by Gabrielle Hamilton (Vintage Books, R180)
It was her appearance, her talk about food and family on a Charlie Rose show (DStv channel 411, Bloomberg TV) that caught my attention.
She was horrified that after only a year of running her tiny restaurant, (only 30 seater) Prune, in Manhattan, she was offered a book deal. That’s all it took, she exclaimed, to be given the chance to write her own cookery book. It’s preposterous and that’s what makes Hamilton so appealing. This is no run of the mill chef who is happy if others are duped by her skills. She’s quick to say that she’s had no formal training. She learnt the hard way. Her parents were divorced when she was in her early teens and as the second youngest of five children, she and her brother were almost forgotten for a few months in their house and had to fend for themselves.
That’s when she first turned to kitchens as her solace.
Like some of the best chefs, she knows she doesn’t want to go big because for her, it needs to be a hands-on operation and a personal one.
“Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever,” writes Anthony Bourdain on the cover. It’s easy to see why he feels that way once you’ve read the book. Hamilton studied writing more extensively than she did food. She married an Italian doctor who worked in Manhattan but spends his holidays back home with Mama in Italy. This is where Hamilton loses her heart. It’s also what first hooked me when I heard her talking to Charlie.
She was enamoured with the ageing of women of rural Italy. She believes they have the best lives planting their vegetables and cooking, yet always ruling the family.
It’s an extraordinary story about loves gained and lost, about a woman who truly made her own way in the world and about food and the way someone believes it should be treated and served to those who wish to dine at her table. Bon appetit but this is much more about the appetite for life than anything else. – Diane de Beer