“It’s not an obsessive food story. I don’t care about food that much.” — Gabrielle Hamilton
I read a multitude of articles and often times the information that I garner ends up somewhere in that dark pit of my brain labeled: useless information/potential trivia. However, every now and again, I read about someone that invokes intrigue. Gabrielle Hamilton fell into this category after I read about her restaurant, Prune, and memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Anyone who knows me is keenly aware that, while I enjoy fabulous food, I am not at all inclined to cook it, so, upon seeing the title of her memoir, my immediate inclination was to suggest it to a dear friend who loves all things culinary. Gabrielle was placed on that mental shelf of intriguing people and her memoir was passed on to someone who could possibly benefit from its reading.
My memory would be retrieved though, when a weekend visit to Oxford, Mississippi to introduce my eldest child to Ole Miss led to a chance meeting. Girlfriends joined me in Oxford for an annual art show and we decided to grab dinner at City Grocery. Feeling a bit under dressed, we chose a seat at the downstairs bar, located in the back of the restaurant. It was perfect: Our bartender was delightful and the food was amazing. Mid-way through our dinner, a woman and man walked in and took the two remaining seats at the bar. The drink order captured my attention and sent that wheel in my mind spinning (she ordered a Negroni). Information retrieved, we connected, and, long story short, Gabrielle Hamilton had taken the seat next to me. It was as if we had planned to have dinner together all along. Granted, I was a bit star-struck; I had read enough to know that she was James Beard’s best chef in New York in 2011 and that her book was being held in high regard by industry people and critics alike. However, there was something else: She wasn’t a chef that night, nor was she a writer. She was a woman and a mother, not unlike myself. There was a genuine interest on her behalf about the college visit, my daughter’s non-profit, parenting and the task of figuring out how to send a kid to college. My intrigue had been warranted and, by the end of our dinner, I was certain I had found a friend.
Back in Birmingham, I grabbed the book from Church Street Coffee & Books and was hard-pressed to put it down over the next week. It was not at all a memoir just for would-be chefs or foodies, although there was a plethora of images painted and descriptions that would captivate both. While food plays a central role in the book, it is a role of connecting, not of cooking. Gabrielle says of the book, it is “not an obsessive food story.” I was in complete agreement, but it was a story though, her story, or at least the first part of her story. I was hooked.
Gabrielle shared her story in the way that Toni Morrison proclaims stories should be shared, as she implores the storyteller, “Make up a story. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” Gabrielle makes a story that connects to the greater story of all of humanity. Her words reveal “belief’s wide skirt” as she offers us a glimpse into both the dark and light places that she has trodden in her first four plus decades. There were moments that I was certain that I knew this girl she writes about. I knew that catch in the back of her throat, that loneliness and that determination. She is clever and honest in her telling and, for me, she reveals that “stitch” Morrison demands as she loosens the veil of fear by connecting her revelations to my own. Revelations that remind me: I am not alone.
In her words, “girl walks into a bar in Oxford, Mississippi … friends for life.” Sounds like a great start to a new story!
Come meet Gabrielle and hear her speak about Blood, Bones & Butter at Emmett O’Neal Library this Saturday morning at 9 a.m (click here for more information). Read more from Jorja on her blog, Living Beyond the Pale.