“By the time the intercom buzzes, I am assembling the greatest grilled cheese sandwiches of all time and the fridge is filled with seriously good Champagne, so packed that the bottles that can’t stand up on the top shelf lie on their sides like stockpiled ammo down below. This is not the day I want to be drinking any of that chardonnay-sweet or over-yeasted bread-dough shit. I want tight effervescence, chalk on my tongue and the roof of my mouth, sugar turned to cold glass.”
That passage comes from one of the best pieces of food writing I’ve encountered in recent memory, Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay “Christmas Eve” which appears in the new Canal House Cookbook, Volume No. 5.
As many of you know, Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef at one of my favorite New York City restaurants, Prune. I love Prune for its homey eclecticism; yes, that’s monkfish liver there on your plate, but it’s made with so much love there’s nothing forbidding about it.
The big surprise is that Gabrielle Hamilton is every bit as good of a writer as she is a chef. So much food writing is precious and obnoxiously lyrical; Gabrielle Hamilton’s is the opposite. It’s biting, it’s emotional, it’s very funny. Take, for example, this essay that she wrote in a recent issue of Saveur: “Open House.”
The essay’s about her Italian husband, Michele, his mother, Alda, the Sunday lunch that Alda hosts at her home in Italy and Gabrielle’s efforts to recreate it in New York. She invites all of her friends and then this happens:
“…Somehow my husband and I fell into one of those massive, lacerating, deep and dark marital blowouts that you never forget for as long as you live. On Sunday morning I came downstairs and started to boil water for my coffee. I was looking in the cupboard for a filter but landed on a brand-new box of instant mashed potatoes.
‘Whoa,’ I exclaimed.”
The comic timing of the next few paragraphs shouldn’t be spoiled, but suffice it to say the kicker line stands by itself and you’ll know it when you see it. This is food writing at its best.
Lucky for those of us who love her writing, Chef Hamilton has a book coming out in March called “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.” To say that I’m excited to read it would be a profound understatement.
The other piece of food writing that I wanted to point out to you is in that same issue of Saveur; it’s Marc Maron’s essay, “The Angry Chef.”
My appreciation of this essay probably has a lot to do with how much I related to it: Marc Maron’s mother lives in Florida, so does mine. His mother, like my grandmother, “taught me from a young age to be afraid of food. Not all food, but certainly all foods with sugar and fat in them.” His culinary education began when a gay college professor invited him to a dinner party; that happened to me too! I still remember the dinner: there was risotto and swordfish.
But the line that really sealed the deal and made Craig laugh out loud with recognition when I read this to him last night was this one about cooking: “The idea that I could do something giving and seemingly selfless and still be the center of attention seemed magical.”
Marc Maron has my number.