May 8, 2011
Blood, Bones & Butter Tribute Dinner
How to roast a whole lamb on the terrace of Restaurant Eugene
By Nancy Staab
- Photos by ErinAshford.com
Chef Linton Hopkins serves up a literary feast with bestselling author/chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune
When Restaurant Eugene (www.restauranteugene.com) announced that they would host Gabrielle Hamilton, the famed New York City chef of Prune (http://www.prunerestaurant.com) and recent The New York Times bestselling author of Blood, Bones & Butter, for the April installment of their popular Literary Dinners (co-hosted by A Cappella Books), both foodies and bookworms rejoiced. Foodies have long exulted over Hamilton’s unpretentious, homey eatery and it’s eclectic menu inspired by childhood nostalgia and world travels. A typical Prune dinner menu might include something as simple as a well-made parmesan omelet or pork chop with warm cabbage and apple slaw, to more urbane pleasures such as roasted bone marrow with parsley sea salt or striped bass and shellfish in a saffron tomato broth. Indeed, this May, Hamilton handily won the James Beard Award for Best Chef New York.
But lately, Hamilton is wining just as many accolades for her warm, honest, sensual and slightly rough-and-tumble autobiography subtitled “The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.” Even as gifted a food raconteur and chef as Anthony Bourdain has hailed it as “Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.”
And Rabelasian Italian chef Mario Batali declares, “Gabrielle Hamilton has…raised the bar for all books about eating and cooking…I will…burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this. After that I will apply for the dishwasher’s job at Prune to learn from my new queen.”
A bit of hyperbole maybe, but Hamilton’s book lives up to the hype.
The title of Blood, Bones & Butter alludes to family ties, the bones of the kitchen craft, the heartache of her journey and lastly, the sweetness that great communal meals can provide. The memoir is bookended by two tremendously sentimental and lyrical chapters at the very beginning and end of her autobiography that demonstrate how intensely food is intertwined with family and memory. The book opens in an exquisite reverie as Hamilton recalls her all-to-brief pastoral childhood before her parents unfortunate split that left her somewhat orphaned and left to fend for herself as a young teenager. Hamilton’s passages about her regal French mother, a former ballet dancer, who fetched milk from the pastures of rural Pennsylvania in high heels and cashmere sweaters; had a habit of peeling orange skins and flicking them into blue candle flames for sweet incense, and taught Hamilton the basics of cooking with her scuffed Le Cruset pots and her love of cooking every part of an animal as well as lesser known verdure like clover, are bittersweet. Hamilton’s recollections of her dreamy, artistic, theatrical stage-crafting father are even more tender. Perhaps the seminal moment of the book is the huge lamb roast that he hosted every year for family and packs of neighbors-- the beers and sodas cooling in the family’s stream, the glow -in-the-dark Frisbees hovering in the air, and the scent of lamb basted with olive oil, garlic, lemon and rosemary wafting over the entire congenial event.
“It must have been my mother, the cook, who was in the kitchen with the six burners... But it was from him—with his cool, long sideburns and aviator sunglasses, his packet of unfiltered Camels, and box of watercolor paints (and artist’s paycheck)—from him we learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just my making a little dinner party for a few friends. From him we learned how to make and give luminous parties….
Slowly the meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter—just as my father had imagined—and the lambs on their spits were hoisted off the pit ... Then the sun started to set and we lit the paper bag luminaria, which burned soft glowing amber, punctuating the meadow and the night, an the lamb were crisp-skinned and sticky from slow roasting, and the root beer was frigid and it caught like an emotion in the back of my throat.”
In fact, it is this legendary lamb that Restauarant Eugene made the centerpiece of its supper, sourcing it whole and spring grass-fed from Border Springs, and roasting it beneath a pit right on the terrace of the restaurant proper for about 12 hours straight according to Hamilton’s own recipe! More on that delectable dish below.
The middle of the book recounts a rather wayward Hamilton finding her way: first as a scrappy worker in iffy New York restaurants; then a half-hearted attempt at a masters in English at University of Michigan where she finds herself more entranced by her mentor Misty’s homemade preserves and rustic clafoutis dish than the arid intricacies of Derrida and Lacan. We see Hamilton entering the too-precious catering world of crème brulée blow torches and ring molds and traveling through Europe, where she discovers more authentic foodways both at a simple Breton creperie and at the hands of a hospitable Greek host. The tale culminates when Hamilton both sets up her own self-run restaurant Prune to her own exacting but laid-back hosting and dining standards:
“I wanted a place with a Velvet Underground CD that made you nod your head and feel warm with recognition. I wanted the lettuce and the eggs at room temperature. The waiter to bring you something to eat or dink that you didn’t even ask for when you arrived cool and early and undone by your day in the city….I wanted the butter and sugar sandwiches we ate as kids after school for a snack…The veal marrow my mother made us eat as kids…We would have brown butcher paper on the tables, not linen tablecloths….We would use jelly jars for wine glasses….There would be no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food, just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry.”
The second high point of the book is Hamilton’s ill-fated marriage to a native Italian in need of a green card, who not only gifts her two beautiful sons, but also a sweet and lasting relationship with his eighty-year-old mother Alda and her famous Sunday Lunches at her Roman home and seaside Puglia villa. Their communication are conducted less through language than the actions of cooking, making pastas, and sipping Negronis at sunset. (These totemic Negronis also show up on the Restaurant Eugene menu for the night as well as the braised dandelion greens served in Italy) :
“…I’ve got nothing bad to say about being introduced to Rome by an extremely capable Roman in a good silk tie who wants, for whatever unclear reasons, nothing less than my heart. So while we rode around Rome at night, eating at tiny perfect trattorie high up in the no-cars cobbled streets of Trastevere...,his eighty-year-old mother Alda, stuffed and baked tomatoes, cooked turkey leg with oranges, sent her vegetarian daughter out for the best prosciutto, and laid everything out each day at lunch on the dining room table with linen that had been hand sewn by the convent sisters of the Marcelline order, and with little cruets of her own olive oil from her orchards in Puglia.”
The Restaurant Eugue Blood, Bones & Butter Tribute Menu:
A sold-out crowd assembled at Restaurant Eugene on a beautiful April evening for Italian-themed cocktails, including hand-crafted Negronis, as the whole-lamb hissed on the turning spit on the terrace. Half-way through dinner, author Gabrielle Hamilton regaled the crowd with a brief reading from her book, which was gifted to each dinner patron that night and drew comparisons between Southern and Italian cuisines such as the grits/polenta and hog jow/guanciale parallels. Patrons were invited to participate in spontaneous bursts of clapping throughout the meal, a Prune restaurant custom, which led to much revelry as tables competed to show the most appreciation. Linton’s artful tribute menu referenced everything from the triple-fat mortadella sandwiches that Hamilton enjoyed while her husband was courting her, to a pungent clam broth spiked with smoke paprika that she had tasted while touring in Greece. And, of course, rustic Italian goodness and a fragrant lamb held center court-- Linton brilliantly undercutting the fattiness of the lamb with a refreshing citrus salad of grapefruit and fennel. The earthy braised dandelions, bacon, fried bread and farm egg dish was accompanied by an equally lusty Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba, which many patrons vowed to hunt down at Linton’s H& F Bottle Shop. The meal was capped with a delightfully simple cornmeal pound cake with rosemary syrup and tangerine sorbet.
Negronis and French 75’s
Passed hors d’ouvres
Mortadella, butter, extra virgin olive oil sandwiches
Radishes with butter
Nigl, Gruner Veltliner, Austria 2009
Sapelo Island clams with hominy and smoked paprika
Chateau Guadrelle, “Clos Le Vigneau,” Vouvray, France 2008
Braised dandelions, bacon, fried bread and farm egg
Renato Ratti, Nebbiolo d’Alba, “Ochetti,” Piedmont, 2008
Border Springs lamb on spit, crispy yam, fresh herbs with grapefruit and fennel
Domaine de la Jannasse, Cotes du Rhone, France 2008
Cornmeal pound cake, rosemary syrup and tangerine sorbet
Marchesi di Gresy, Moscato di Asti, Piedmont, 2009
CLICK BELOW FOR A GALLERY WITH MORE IMAGES OF THE RESTAURANT EUGENE DINNER