Rob Brunner
March 02, 2011 AT 05:00 AM EST

Blood, Bones & Butter

Current Status
In Season
Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House
Memoir, Cooking/Home

We gave it a B

Gabrielle Hamilton has the sort of life that memoirs are made for. Left to run wild by her dysfunctional boho parents at 13, she developed a taste for cooking, car theft, and cocaine. She took off for Manhattan at an age when most teens are just getting their driver’s licenses, and after a long slog through the food-service industry she lucked into her own restaurant, transforming a rat-ravaged dump into a foodie destination where she turns out beautifully unfussy dishes with perfectionist finesse.

If only this book were so carefully fashioned. Blood, Bones & Butter can be frustrating, with nicely observed takes on food and restaurant life but too little on her own story. How does Hamilton spin such vivid imagery (the ”pig-urine stench of? pancetta,” the way ”changing a diaper reminds me, every time, of trussing a chicken”) but fail to satisfyingly explain why she didn’t see her mother for 20 years or how she and her husband had two kids without living together? There’s also a lot of sloppy writing: Pointless repetition and samey sentences — does every line need an aside set off by dashes? — make for a choppy read. Still, those descriptions stick. Here’s Hamilton on a French butcher shop: ”Pheasants in full stunning plumage hung for a few days until their necks finally gave out, and you could see, physically, a kind of perfect ripeness to the meat when it became tender enough to pleasurably chew, as if the earliest stages of rot itself were a cooking technique.” Whatever this book’s faults, you have to admire a writer who can make even decomposing meat sound tempting. B

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