Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant is riding high on the hog this year, having written a wildly successful memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, released in March, and being named Best Chef: New York City this year at the James Beard Awards on Monday night. We called her up to learn more about how she celebrated her big win and how gender affects kitchen duties.
First off, congratulations on winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York. How does it feel having won?
Well, it doesn’t suck. It feels nice. It’s complicated, but it feels nice.
How did you celebrate afterward?
We had a private-ish dinner at the restaurant and transformed the prep kitchen into the dining room and we had a big bowl of bollito misto with my dear chef friends and my staff.
And the celebratory drink of choice?
Guy Larmandier rosé champagne and Peyrassol rosé wine.
It’s been quite a banner year for you, with your memoir hitting the bestseller list and now winning the Beard. How is life different at all?
I’m actually looking forward to resuming life. I’ve been on a book tour for what was supposed to be a month to what will actually be a solid two and a half months. It’s a very long time away from the restaurant. Not that I worry about the restaurant because my staff is good, but I miss my personal grounding routines. I look forward to cleaning and prepping. It’s nice to stand at a cutting board and chop parsley. I don’t think life will change that much. I own the restaurant so I can’t abandon the place.
What’s harder — writing a book or running a kitchen?
They are both very difficult. In the end I think it’s harder to write a good book. What you’re trying to conquer and complete is elusive and intangible. The tasks of running a restaurant are accomplishable. Nothing’s impossible. If you are thorough and have drive and give a crap, you can do it. But nailing something on the page — sometimes you just can’t.
So how did you balance work life and writing life?
I did not. They were not balanced at all. It was five years of extreme living. I wrote whenever there was a lull on the line or on a day where I could sit in the office and put the headphones on and work.
Did you read a lot of chef memoirs before writing your own?
Not a one. I mean, it’s not appealing to me. That’s not the kind of stuff I read. I read book books and I deliberately didn’t want to write someone else’s book. People would say to me, “Are you going to write the female Kitchen Confidential?” or “Are you going to be the next Ruth Reichl?” But I didn’t want to do that because these people had already done those books.
Would you want to do a cookbook next?
I have thought about that. Not with total conviction.
Do you get annoyed when people bring up gender and how it relates to cooking?
It does not aggravate me. It rattles my sense of self-esteem, but it doesn’t annoy me. I have never been able to understand the difference between male and female chefs. When people ask me, I wonder: Why are they doing that? What are they trying to say? I get it in sports — we’re not as strong or as tall as male players. I’ve been working in a kitchen for a long time but I’m unclear as to what they mean.
So what’s next for you?
Total re-entry. I’m not leaving until I’m sick of the place and I need a day off.
Check back in tomorrow, when Gabrielle reveals her kitchen personality and tells us what she’ll be doing with her James Beard Award.