Gabrielle Hamilton is the owner and chef at Prune, a 30-seat restaurant in New York City’s East Village. It’s small but mighty — reservations are almost impossible, and Hamilton has no plans to expand or open any other locations. In fact, she is happy to have her tiny kitchen, and even more excited to have written and published her first book. Blood, Bones & Butter is the chef’s memoir, and it details her childhood, her reluctance in becoming a cook and her loveless marriage. What may be one of the most interesting factors, though, is that Hamilton identifies as a lesbian, but then marries a man and has two kids with him, which she details in Blood, Bones & Butter.
If you do a Google search of Gabrielle Hamilton, you will find she is described as a lesbian on several food blogs, magazines and interviews. In her memoir, she writes that while attending her first college she was “a staunch Marxist feminist, a budding lesbian, a black nationalist sympathizer, and a literacy advocate.” The relationships she describes in the beginning of the book are with women, including a girlfriend she met while attending graduate school in Michigan; a girlfriend who relocated to New York with her after graduation; a girlfriend she eventually broke up with for a man she was not interested in. She writes:
The timing of it was rather appealing as well as I was skidding on the rocks with my gold golden girlfriend of goldness. You can’t script these things better than they happen in real life. A year of restaurant intensity had done its destructive best on the relationship finally, as I was chronically scurrying home in the middle of service to strip us of a handful of desperately needed forks or a chair, but otherwise gone from eight in the morning until finally hauling my ass home at two the following morning. … Her resentments were palpable and insurmountable.
So when she met Michele, an Italian doctor, and he attempted to woo her, she was intrigued, but did not seem at all attracted to him. Gabrielle writes that she still loved her girlfriend, but began having an affair with the man. (“Michele was part of the script. Right on time, page 53.”) She writes:
But lesbians are incredible. We take a year to break up when a week would do, and then we like to remain roommates while still toughing it out at couples counseling. It’s so sensible. Improbably, my affair with the Italian, an intensely overachieving M.D./Ph.D., actually breathed new stamina and energy into my relationship with the bartender [girlfriend] because I was now getting some relief, some kindness, and some sexual attention outside of the relationship, which took the heat off the expectation at home. We went off-script and we didn’t break up. That Michele was male was even better, as far as I was concerned, because I thought I knew certainly it would go absolutely nowhere.
But it did go somewhere, as Gabrielle ended her relationship with her girlfriend and accepted Michele’s eventual proposal. They married and went on an awkward honeymoon in Paris. They had two sons, and only lived together for a short time after their second son was born. If you want to know why Gabrielle sacrificed actual romantic or sexual interest to be with the male Italian doctor, you will not find the answer in Blood, Bones & Butter. You will hear only of the unhappy marriage that is brightened only by the annual trip to Michele’s family’s home in Italy, where Gabrielle cooks alongside his aging mother and longs to host one of the huge dinner parties the extended family throws on weekends.
Gabrielle doesn’t write about her sexuality, other than the paragraphs above. Her first mention of becoming a lesbian or having a girlfriend is penned as nonchalantly as any other writer would make mention of a boyfriend or relationship that happened to be part of a larger story. She doesn’t explain anything, and it’s actually refreshing — until you get to the part where she ditches women for Michele with little explanation.
At the end of the memoir, Gabrielle hints that she is enjoying Michele’s family’s home for the last time. The romance of their annual visits is over, and that was the only romance they had in their relationship. Many reviewers have decided that Gabrielle married Michele so that he could obtain his green card, but that doesn’t give any indication as to what would be in it for Gabrielle herself. Perhaps she wanted children, or perhaps she was going against the grain, as she does in so many other ways during her life as a foodie that never wanted to open a restaurant. She wanted to be a writer, despite the pretentious peers she dealt with at U of M, but later felt that her writing career was not only influenced but helped immensely by her time spent in kitchens with mentors, employees with lousy timing and the DIY mentality she has carried with her since being abandoned by her divorced parents while a teenager.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Gabrielle said:
I wrote a book in a way that I would like more people to write books. I’m not afraid of the real truth. There is nothing you can tell me about yourself that is going to make me clutch my pearls.
While that may be true, she is certainly selective. Not explaining some of the “whys” of her personal life leaves readers with questions, and The Times attempted to get one of those answered. When Michele shows up during the interview, with their two sons in tow, the paper inquires about their marriage.
”We’re still married, technically, but we’re going to work that out,” Gabrielle said. In another interview with The Huffington Post, she explains:
My attachment to and dedication to the marriage was not laissez-faire beyond the actual ceremony. The off the cuff, leap into the fire, “Oh, you need to get married? Fine, we’ll get married,” attitude toward the ceremony was like a piece of performance art, but we grew to have a 10-year marriage and two children. The tenacity between us became very fierce and very strong, and we had an incredible devotion to the family we were creating. My relationship to him has always, always, always been troubled and my loneliness never evaporated, so we are finished but not divorced yet. I say at the end of the book, it feels like we’re going to go home and talk about divorce, and that’s exactly what happened.
The Times also notes that Gabrielle once wrote in an article, “Some years ago I came to possess, of all things, a husband. People who know me well are still scratching their heads about this.” And now that her book is on the New York Times’ Best Seller list, it’s likely that thousands of people who don’t know her will be doing the same thing. That’s not to say that Blood, Bones & Butter is lacking, because the mystery of her marriage is only part of what keeps you reading. The rest is because of her confident and delicious prose — and I don’t just mean the food porn aspect, though that’s definitely a plus.
If Gabrielle’s cooking is as good as her writing, she might need to rethink her plan of keeping to only one Prune, with room enough for 30.