Gabrielle Hamilton.

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 Appétit, 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.

We threw a party.
The same party, every year, when I was a kid. It was a spring lamb roast and we roasted four or five whole little guys who only each weighed about forty pounds over an open fire and invited over a hundred people. Our house was in a rural part of Pennsylvania and was not really a house at all but still a domicile built into the burnt out ruins of an nineteenth century silk mill and our back yard was not a regular yard but a meandering meadow, with a creek running through it and wild geese living in it and a Death Slide cable that ran from high on an oak to the bank of the stream and deposited you, shrieking, into the shallow water. Our town shared a border so closely with New Jersey that we could and did walk back and forth between the two states several times in a day by crossing the Delaware River. On weekend mornings we had breakfast at Smutzie’s in Lambertville, on the Jersey side, but then we got gas for the car at Sam Williams’ Mobil on the New Hope side. In the afternoons after school on the Pennsylvania side, I walked over to the Jersey side and got guitar lessons at Les Parson’s guitar shop. (Read more of this excerpt here)

FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?

CHEF GABRIELLE HAMILTON: This question pertains to the writing, I guess, not the cooking? Because I have a full-time job in the restaurant, I have to cram writing into the interstices–between pushes on the line, early in the morning before the prep day really gets going, many times even in bed at night between the sleeping kids with an itty-bitty-book-light. I like to write by hand first and then transfer to the computer, at which time the writing tends to get bigger and fuller, so almost everything I’ve written has started out on sheets of the brown paper that we use to cover the dining room tables and are written in black sharpie like we use to label containers in the walk-in refrigerator. Then, later, when you have to get down to the disciplined and judgemental part of writing–which usually means gently jettisoning most of what you have while taking extra good care of what you are able to keep–I put the headphones on at my desk and play music loudly to try and not get distracted by the reservationist on the phone and the manager ordering wine and the porters coming in and out of the office for tools or lightbulbs or band-aids. Under certain intense deadlines I put a sign on my back that says to leave me alone if possible.

The way I understand writing, though, is that it should be hospitable and generous

FYD: In one word, how does it feel to win the James Beard Award?

GH: Relieving.

(Prune light image by Molly Sheridan via Wonderland Kitchen, Above image courtsey of photographer Julia Gillard)

FYD: Is writing like running a restaurant, in the way of prepping (outlining, the writing itself), cooking (the act and labor) and presentation (the final, finished act)?

GH: For me they feel precisely opposite and as such, they act as antidote to each other. Writing is solitary and unwieldy and certain things you are faced with rendering accurately remain recalcitrant, elusive and often impossible to complete. Restaurant work is social, team-oriented, organized and hell or high water–you are up and running by 5:30. It’s an incredible relief to be able to step into the lively restaurant kitchen after a day of writing and to address yourself to the comparatively fun question: what shall we do with today’s halibut; and conversely, on many mornings I am so glad to have a few hours to sit with and to work out on a page much larger, juicier questions than: have I ordered enough parsley for the weekend? The way I understand writing, though, is that it should be hospitable and generous and that overlaps exactly with how I understand restaurant work.

Lucky enough to live in NYC? Eat at Prune. Otherwise, read Blood Bones and Butter and pretend you do.

Leave a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *