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Chef Gabrielle Hamilton Doesn't Step Into the Same River Twice

Sara Deseran | November 12, 2014 | Story Restaurants

Reprinted with permission from saradeseran.com

A couple of years ago, when I first picked up Blood, Bones, and Butter, New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s first book, it was only meant to be an airplane read—entertaining enough to get me through a flight to New York. I was over food memoirs—or so I thought.

Let’s just say that B, B, and B is no I Loved, I Got Divorced, I Made a Casserole. Hamilton’s writing is raw. It goes beyond what’s labeled "food writing." Her gorgeous/grotesque chapter on the gluttonous monotony of catering alone will live with me forever. I could go on.

I've never eaten at Hamilton's New York restaurant Prune, but after reading through the new Prune cookbook, I feel like I have. The chef’s delicious-sounding, if quirky, recipes are wryly straightforward (Bitter Greens Salad Without Acid, Only Oil and Salt) with a touch of “restaurant” (Duck Liver Garbure with Toasted Chestnuts). Her personalized instructions are aimed more towards her line cooks than home cooks, which gives you a sense of what it would be like to work in her kitchen. (I think that I would be quickly fired.)

I got a chance to speak to Hamilton, who blazed through the San Francisco to promote her new cookbook. She’s not a gushy type, so I tried to keep it cool.

Where are you headed now?
Last night I had dinner at Camino in Oakland. I think Russ is one of my favorite cooks in the country. He could do peanut butter and jelly and I wouldn’t care. Tonight I have a dinner at Lucques in Los Angeles with my good friend Suzanne Goin. The last dinner she did for me, she had a lamb going round on a spit over a fire.

After finishing the book this spring, you changed a lot of your menu at Prune.
I had the experience of putting all 15 years of my recipes in the cookbook. There was something about knowing my recipes were safe and sound in their little beds—that I could put them to sleep. The other revelation was that I’m not the same cook in 2014 as I was in 1999. I’ve done more traveling. I have a different appetite. I’ve allowed myself access to some heat and herbs. Things that aren’t in the Mediterranean idiom, which is how I’ve defined my cooking. Prune has typically relied incredibly on olive oil, parsley, lemon, and salt and pepper.

Any words of wisdom you’d give that 1999 version of yourself?
I would have to say, “Hey, nice job lady. You worked hard and you put your finger on the right thing and your instincts were great. Congratulations.”

How would your sous chef describe you?
I’m not sure, but I’ve noticed that about three times in the past two weeks, someone has said, “You know, you’re a very intimidating presence.” So I’ve taken that to heart. I haven’t done anything about it, but I’m thinking about it. They weren’t insulting me. They were giving me the data.

You have two kids. Who’s watching them while you’re touring, and what are they eating?
Their father. They have a lot of wonderful, sugary breakfast cereals because you know how the Italians think of breakfast as dessert. They have bowlfuls of Krave. It’s like cereal with chocolate “ganache” filling. But they’re fine. They’re healthy, happy children as long as they food in their body a couple meals a day.

What do you eat when you eat alone?
I cook a lot of late night crap and it’s always Asian-y and it’s quick and easy. It’s usually based on some sort of boxed chicken broth and a poached egg and I pull some frozen shrimp and I stir some Korean chile paste or if I’m lucky enough to have frozen spinach, I’ll put that in. I just want Asian.

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