“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 each weighed only about forty pounds over an open fire and invited more than a hundred.”
AS you infer from the opening sentences, Gabrielle was sort of born to cook. She went on to open her own restaurant, Prune, in New York, an achievement that too few of us aspire or achieve in the face of the chain high street. Next month will see what is the second part of this work, the recipe collection from Prune itself which includes such eye catching recipes as Tongue and Octopus with salsa verde and eggs Mimosa. That is one dish, not four.Gabrielle is not a girl inclined to stick to smoked salmon on brown bread. She is more steak tartar than Victoria sponge.
This is the book that Patti Smith should have written and did not (“Ohhh, Robert”), a punk eulogy to New York, kitchens as rock’n’roll, back street culture, below stairs lime lighters.
I read this autobiography before I started this blog and it has often been a benchmark, a raw, guts and grit saga of girl makes good (and bad) in the big city. For me, she is a writer first who threw herself into cooking as the subhead says by way of an “inadvertent education of a reluctant chef”. She is no fly on anyone’s wall and there is not much inadvertent nor reluctant here, rather a real life exposition that exposes the TV chef as pretty fey.
Her mother was French. “She took me to the farm to get our milk. As only a Frenchwoman can – in a heel, a silk scarf, and a cashmere skirt…” And she taught her to eat. “I still very much like the smell of manure. I like it in my food and in my wine and in a certain body door.” But then aged 12, the parents split up and Gabrielle sets off on a truant’s odyssey of back street kitchens, cleaning, waiting tables, snorting cocaine, fiddling tips and signing up to the camraderie of the cooks.
She has an uncanny memory of her teenage years; many of these episodes will have been told more than a few times before they arrive in these pages, one suspects. She shares another trait with New York. High energy but also an unsure, self deprecation. Basking in the first few weeks of adulation after finally opening Prune, a woman walks up to her and she is expecting another compliment but the woman just wipes her hands on her clean jacket. Such is catering.
Is designing a kitchen to create great cooking so different from constructing the pages of a novel? I wonder. Discuss.