Gabrielle Hamilton is a badass. She is also small business owner. And a chef. With a wicked sense of humor. You can read all about it in her memoir: Blood, Bones, and Butter.
Raised in rural Pennsylvania, Gabrielle was fascinated by the cooking techniques of her French mother. Of course, she didn't realize it at the time but watching rabbit stew get made live and in person would be something that influenced her for the rest of her life.
The book is divided into three parts. Section one is blood, where she talks about her early, seemingly idyllic childhood with an artist father and ballerina mother. The legendary parties they would throw is described with such mouth-watering detail I considered chucking my vegetarianism out the window to track down some roasted pork or braised lamb for dinner. Visual sentences like this populate the pages (taken from the Blood, Bones, and Butter website):
"Prying back the lid on a fifty-gallon barrel of silver glitter—the kind of barrel that took two men and a hand truck to wheel into the paint supply room of the shop—and then shoving your hands down into it up to your elbows is an experience that will secure the idea in your heart for the rest of your life that your dad is, himself, the greatest show on earth."
This section closes with Gabrielle's parents separating when she was 12, and the next section, bones, details her time fending for herself. Lying her way into bussing, then waitressing and cook jobs to support herself, she writes my favorite quote from the entire book: "No future graduate-level feminism seminar would ever come within a mile of the force of that first paycheck. The conviction was instant and forever: If I pay my own way, I go my own way." She then moves to New York City on her own at age 17 and secures a job at an Urban Cowboy ripoff restaurant. I don't want to spoil this part of the book. It involves a highly entertaining, crazy string of events that are actually quite sad and only justified because of the crushing desperation for love and survival that Gabrielle is honest about going through. She visits Europe and falls in love with the kindness of strangers and the food there, returns to New York, and falls into a grind of being a cater chef. She enrolls in an MFA program at the University of Michigan and as a woman that has spent most of her life working to support herself, feels out of place among her more sheltered fellow students. So she returns to cooking in a restaurant to keep her sanity after an incident in a study group when she contemplates bodily injury to another member.
In the final section, butter, we learn what all that struggle has been about for this powerful chef. She falls in, and out, and sort back in, love with two different people (three if you include her mother). She has two sons that she adores. She opens her successful restaurant, Prune, because her neighbor suggests they look into the previously abandoned space on their street. She visits her husband's home country of Italy for a month each summer, and once again, keeps her sanity through cooking. The ending isn't overly happy, but like the rest of the memoir it's honest and engaging.
Obviously, anybody that loves food will love this book. But this book isn't about food and that's why I love it. It's about working hard at something because it's such a part of you, you can't imagine doing otherwise. It's about being self sufficient and all the mistakes it takes to get there. And mostly it's about the crazy path one woman took to find her own version of success. So, bottom line: go buy it and read it one day. Because you're not going to be able to put it down.