After reading the book “Blood, Bones & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton I’ll be honest – I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I really admire her. It takes a lot of guts, hard work, and determination to build your own restaurant from the ground up. It is no small feat and I really respect her for it. On the other hand, I have a really hard time relating to her story. I think a lot of it relates to her youth- all the drugs, stealing, and vagrancy. It’s hard for me to reconcile the fact that she basically wandered around aimlessly and grew up to be a success. I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve her success – she really, really does. But her case is one in a million. A lot of people who have her childhood don’t grow up to be successes – a lot of them end up on the street. A lot of these people are the same people that end up on social programs that are paid for by people who took a more traditional route, studying hard and working hard.
And to be honest, I am a bit jealous. Jealous of her figuring out what she wants to do and pursuing it so wholeheartedly. I think most people spend their lives working in jobs that they like but aren’t their passion, their true calling. I know I do. I like my work, but I like other things at least equally well if not more. I could not spend 18 hours a day pouring my life and soul into my job and still be happy, the way Ms. Hamilton does with her restaurant. I am also jealous of her guts and her fighter instinct. Being abandoned at such a young age to essentially fend for yourself can’t be easy for anyone. And she does what it takes to survive. This same drive and fighter instinct is what drives her to be the success she is today. And she realizes her “bad-assness”, although I’m not sure I agree with how she portrays it.
“At thirteen, when I was stealing cars and smoking cigarettes I wanted to be badass. I was cultivating badass. At sixteen, coked out of my head and slinging chili at the Lone Star Cafe , I was the understudy to badass, and I knew all her lines and cues. At twenty-five, blow-torching my way through warehouse catering kitchens, cranking out back-to-back doubles, and napping in between on the office floor with my head on a pile of aprons and checked pants, I was authentically badass.” (P. 200). I don’t know that I would paint her childhood and young adult exploits as badass. Or cultivating badass. In fact I think it was all a bit stupid and I feel weird about her glorifying that type of behavior. I think what made her badass all those years was her ability to survive. To figure out how to feed herself, take care of herself, lay the foundations to be something in her future life. Not the stealing. Not the smoking. Not the drugs.
I think one of my favorite parts of the book is her experience as a panelist for a conference called “Where Are the Women?” I think it brings to light an issue that you don’t only see in the kitchen, but also in society as a whole. Women are rarely at the top. Sure, women are in the workforce. We hold jobs, do well, and are productive members of society. But when you look at the numbers – where are the women CEOs? The women chefs? The women in positions of power? “Women have self-selected out of the chef life, which can grind you to a powder…”(206). It’s much the same way in industry, where women are often not the CEOs, partially because we give birth and are often the ones to raise the kids – the ones expected to raise the kids. And because it’s a boy’s club up there at the top. Being at the top doesn’t really cater to people who can’t eat, breathe, and sleep their job. And this makes me sad because I do believe that women can fulfill these roles just as well as men. There are many women who are driven to be in these positions of power but keep bumping up against the glass ceiling, apparently prevalent in all industries. And the advice is still the same, work hard – as hard if not harder than men – and you’ll succeed. Would I recommend this book? Yes. Her life is definitely an interesting one.