In Blood, Bones, and Butter, chef Gabrielle Hamilton recounts her meandering life and gives foodies a dose of tough love.
Why do you think people love to read about the inner workings of a restaurant?
I don't know why people are so fascinated. Maybe because it's something they can imagine themselves doing? They hear about what cooking is like in a professional setting and it's enlightening? I don't love that people are so obsessed with chefs and kitchens. Come on, guys, there's so much going on in politics and the world around you—let's get away from the food. But it does seem soothing to people.
What do you make of the heightened interest in farmer's markets lately?
I love going to markets. It's something that's done around the world. I was just looking at some pictures I took on a backpacking trip around the world 20 years ago, and I was looking at the food markets I went to and how workaday and utile they are. In many of the poorer places in India it's just these burlap sacks laid out on the sidewalk, and there's stuff piled up against a building or a clay wall. And this is where you buy your food. These markets are so useful; they're for the people, all the people; the stuff is cheap, abundant, and so vibrant and exciting. But the market here... I don't know ... They're so beautiful, so styled, commodified. I don't have any problem with the farmers or the produce itself. But there's the people who are buying one tomato, or they spend all day there to buy their perfect little leek and they put it in their bicycle basket [groans].
The writer Jo Carson once told you, "Be careful what you get good at doin' 'cause you'll be doin' it for the rest of your life." Do you think that it's easy to get "stuck" on a path?
I think there are afflictions that can befall you. One is that you don't know what you were born to be. And I think that's an incredibly unenviable position to be in. And then there's the other problem, which I did have, and I prefer it, which is, you know what you were born to be or what you want to do and you get derailed. Somehow that's more optimistic for me.
Ever worry you got good at the wrong thing?
I had to resign myself to what I was good at. It's not what I thought I would do, but at a certain point, it's unattractive in a way to keep going on thinking, I was going to be a rock star, or I was a good singer in high school, or I was a good soccer player in high school, or whatever the idea you had of yourself was—to carry that along too far or too long gets sort of unappealing. It's like, come on, girl [Hamilton knocks on the table twice], you know what you are? You've been a chef for 20 years and you're good at it, so why don't you just buck up and realize that this is what you do?
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