Gabrielle Hamilton bucks the cookbook trend

Prune cookbookGabrielle Hamilton is celebrating the 15th anniversary of her NYC restaurant Prune. Coinciding with this milestone is a cookbook named after the eatery. Prune goes against the trend of lavishly photographed, semi-autobiographical chef cookbooks aimed at home cooks, as The Washington Post notes in its discussion of Hamilton and the book.

When Hamilton began working on the cookbook, she attempted to write for the home cook. However, “in about 15 seconds flat, I realized I was lying my brains out,” she said. “What I know and what I can really tell the truth about is what I’ve been doing every day for 15 years, which is cooking in a restaurant.” So instead of writing to home cooks, she wrote to the audience she knew best: restaurant line cooks.

You won’t find detailed headnotes or behind-the-scenes restaurant stories. Hamilton already provided much of that in her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, so this time the aim was for “the antithesis of the “food porn” that celebrity chefs routinely use to cement their images.” That doesn’t mean the book is dry or dull, however. Annotations are written in Hamilton’s own hand (the book is intended to replicate the restaurant’s kitchen binders), and the cookbook is dotted with vivid descriptions of how the food should look, smell and taste.

Even though the book is written primarily to restaurant cooks, home cooks will likely find many of Hamilton’s instructions informative. For example, she instructs her cooks to only use special cutting boards usually reserved for pastry: “I have tasted our fruit salad when one of you has carelessly used the all-purpose cutting boards, and no matter how well they were washed and sanitized, there can sometimes be a lingering, remote onion/garlic tinge.” Other advice assumes equipment or materials not found in most home kitchens, or is only applicable to a restaurant (like sticking the ham used in a recipe in the oven if a health inspector arrives).

If you have eaten at the restaurant and were wondering if your favorite recipes are included, note that among the book’s 250 recipes you will find many of Prune’s most requested, including Grilled Head-on Shrimp with Anchovy Butter, Bread Heels and Pan Drippings Salad, and Prune’s famous Bloody Mary (with all 10 variations).

Read the entire review, which also includes quotes from Ruth Reichl and a more detailed discussion of what you’ll find in the cookbook.

Does the fact that Prune is the “antithesis of food porn” make you more interested in the book?

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  • JFM  on  November 6, 2014

    Yes. The book sounds very interesting. I'm always looking for good material and tools to use in the kitchen – perhaps I'll find some tips there.

  • Jane  on  November 6, 2014

    I'm really looking forward to seeing this. I loved reading 'Blood, Bones & Butter' – she's a very interesting writer. Fiona and I visited Prune a couple of years ago. We loved the place. It was my favorite kind of restaurant – small, friendly, casual. It felt like a real neighborhood restaurant – with exceptionally good food.

  • jlg84  on  November 9, 2014

    I read a review of the book (a rather disparaging review, taking issue with Gabrielle Hamilton's rather snarky comments and commands in the handwritten notes) on some blog or another, and that alone prompted me to buy the book, which I have perused pretty thoroughly already and found extremely interesting and useful. I've already bookmarked several recipes to try in the coming weeks!

  • Nancith  on  November 13, 2014

    I think a look behind the scenes in the restaurant kitchen would be quite fascinating.

  • tjnelson1hotmail  on  November 15, 2014

    I am curious what a cookbook aimed at line cooks would be like. If nothing else it would make interesting reading, but that is part of the reason I like cookbooks which have more than recipes.

  • Sharylmk1  on  November 30, 2014

    I like hearing about the back of a restaurant. It's a whole other world.

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