Synopses & Reviews
I wanted the lettuce and eggs at room temperature...the butter-and-sugar sandwiches we ate after school for snack...the marrow bones my mother made us eat as kids that I grew to crave as an adult....There would be no "conceptual" or "intellectual" food, just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry. In ecstatic farewell to my years of corporate catering, we would never serve anything but a martini in a martini glass. Preferably gin.
Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton's ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.
Blood, Bones and Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton's idyllic past and her own future family — the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.
Blood, Bones and Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton's story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.
"Owner and chef of New York's Prune restaurant, Hamilton also happens to be a trained writer (M.F.A., University of Michigan) and fashions an addictive memoir of her unorthodox trajectory to becoming a chef. The youngest of five siblings born to a French mother who cooked 'tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones' in a good skirt, high heels, and apron, and an artist father who made the sets for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Hamilton spent her early years in a vast old house on the rural Pennsylvania New Jersey border. With the divorce of her parents when she was an adolescent, the author was largely left to her own devices, working at odd jobs in restaurants. Peeling potatoes and scraping plates 'And that, just like that, is how a whole life can start.' At age 16, in 1981, she got a job waiting tables at New York's Lone Star Cafe, and when caught stealing another waitress's check, she was nearly charged with grand larceny. After years of working as a 'grunt' freelance caterer and going back to school to learn to write (inspired by a National Book Foundation conference she was catering), Hamilton unexpectedly started up her no-nonsense, comfort-food Prune in a charming space in the East Village in 1999. Hamilton can be refreshingly thorny (especially when it comes to her reluctance to embrace the 'foodie' world), yet she is also as frank and unpretentious as her menu and speaks openly about marrying an Italian man (despite being a lesbian), mostly to cook with his priceless Old World mother in Italy. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Gabrielle Hamilton has changed the potential and raised the bar for all books about eating and cooking. Her nearly rabid love for all real food experience and her completely vulnerable, unprotected yet pure point of view unveils itself in both truth and inspiration. I will read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this. After that I will apply for the dishwasher job at Prune to learn from my new queen." Mario Batali
"I have long considered Gabrielle Hamilton a writer in cook’s clothing, and this deliciously complex and intriguing memoir proves the point. Her candor, courage, and craft make for a wonderful read but, even more, for an appreciation of her talent and dedication, which have resulted from her often trying but inspiring experiences. Her writing is every bit as delectable and satisfying as her food." Mimi Sheraton, food critic and author of The German Cookbook and Eating My Words
"[A] lusty, rollicking, engaging-from-page-one memoir of the chef-owner of Prune restaurant in New York's East Village. Hamilton opened her eating establishment without any prior experience in cheffing, but the life experiences she did have before that bold move, told here in honest detail, obviously made up for any deficiencies in heading up a restaurant and also provide material for an electric story that is interesting even if the author hadn’t become the chef-owner of a successful restaurant. An idyllic childhood turned sour when her parents divorced; her adolescence and young womanhood encompassed drugs, menial jobs, and lack of direction and initiative when it came to continued education. All's well that ends well, however, and her story does indeed do that. Add this to the shelf of chef memoirs but also recommend it to readers with a penchant for forthright, well-written memoirs in general." Booklist
"Funny, feminist-minded, ferociously sane, it's a motivational rap, an informal memoir, a samurai manual for the streets, and a liberal guide to living without fear all wrapped up in one black belt." -- James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
"A fascinating look at karate, fear, anger, physical discipline, mental toughness, Zen wisdom, and self-improvement." -- Spirituality and Practice
"The tale of her journey to empowerment is an engrossing and inspirational read." --Publishers Weekly
, starred "Although karate may not be the right discipline for some people, Schorn's experiences encourage women to stand up and fight for what they believe in, despite the odds, and to smile and enjoy the process while doing so. Useful, perceptive advice on life found through the practice of karate." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Funny, focused, and fierce with wiry wisdom, this memoir is a muscular meditation on living fearlessly. Its a sort of ‘Code of the Samurai' for every 21st century person, written by a witty literature professor with a second-degree black belt and a keen eye for spotting human folly. Schorn breaks down our conventional understanding of confronting menace in the world with the same ease that she breaks planks of wood. A perfect, engaging read for tackling college, the workplace, marriage, or prison—basically anywhere humans congregate with complicated motives."
—Joe Loya, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber
“This book delivers a swift, lethal karate chop at pantywaistedness in all its forms. With huge amounts of wit and grace, Susan Schorn looks Adversity in the eye, and crushes that sucker's windpipe.”
—Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners
“Smile at Strangers is an elegant, often hilarious, and very personal account of women who fight and the paths they take to fearlessness. If youre anywhere on that path—and if you love someone who is—it might be your most essential read of the year.”
—Michael Erard, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners
“Eat, pray...kick ass. Smile at Strangers is the ultimate self-defense guide—from the liberation of the word 'no' to protecting yourself from overzealous Girl Scout troop leaders—all the while cleverly disguised as an insightful, grounded memoir with bursts of hilarity that hit you like a roundhouse. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. In fact, Schorn's skill at karate is only outmatched by her mastery at prose. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”
—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting: Clear, Comprehensive, Month-by-Month Dread
"This is a memoir Ill be thinking and talking about for a long time. To begin with, the voice is unique—trust me, youve never heard anyone talk about coping with fear and anger the way Susan Schorn does. The writing is hilarious at times, dead serious when it needs to be, and always brilliant. The insights into the psychology of martial arts training—with special emphasis on the experiences of female students and teachers—is sure to launch a thousand discussions about violence, gender, confidence, and how to deal with alligators. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I will make sure never to get into a fistfight with its author."
—Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk
"Susan Schorn is a badass black belt with a huge heart and generous wit. This inspiring, often funny tale of her journey—from a cowering, self-confessed "neurotic" to a martial arts master—is not just about the kick. Its about how the lessons of karate can be applied to womens daily lives to make us stronger and less fearful—as friends, mothers, wives, and professionals—no matter how we dress or where we go. Smile at Strangers is a power tool indeed. Its a swift chop to the myth that women need to live like victims in order to survive. It made me want to take up martial arts too—and keep reading."
—Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress
"Hey readers! Time to put on your karate pants and crush some imaginary trachea! In Smile at Strangers Susan Schorn urges us to confront our fears in an increasingly scary world. Who knew that the highs and lows of the dojo held superb—and often funny— lessons for life? Schorn never suggests that karate is the only path, or even the best path. She is reminding us that we have a choice. We all experience fear, but we can choose our response to it. Overall, reading Smile at Strangers is sort of like watching samurai chanbara, only with more safety helmets and female bonding. You wince, but you cant look away."
—Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
A rollicking memoir about the rewards of risk and the surprising facts of safety and self-defense, from a woman who has earned two black belts in her pursuit of living fearlessly.
“Eat, pray . . . kick ass. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting
Susan Schorn led an anxious life. For no clear reason, she had become progressively paralyzed by fear. Fed up with feeling powerless, she took up karate.
She learned how to say no and how to fight when you have to (even in the dark). Karate taught her how to persuade her husband to wear a helmet, best one bossy Girl Scout troop leader, and set boundaries with an over-sharing boss. Here this double black belt recounts a fighting, biting, laughing woman's journey on the road to living fearlessly—where enlightenment is as much about embracing absurdity and landing a punch as about finding that perfect method of meditation.
Full of hilarious hijinks and tactical wisdom, Schorn's quest for a more satisfying life features practical—and often counterintuitive—lessons about safety and self defense. Smile at strangers, she says. Question your habits, your fears, your self-criticism: Self-criticism is easy. Self-improvement is hard. And don’t forget this essential gem: Everybody wants to have adventures. Whether they know it or not. Join the adventure in these pages, and come through it poised to have more of your own.
About the Author
Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York's East Village. She received an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and Food & Wine. Hamilton has also authored the 8-week Chef Column in The New York Times, and her work has been anthologized in six volumes of Best Food Writing. She has appeared on The Martha Stewart Show and the Food Network, among other television. She lives in Manhattan with her two sons.