The complaint that celebrity chefs don’t really cook is such a common one that as an insult these days it lacks teeth. Gabrielle Hamilton, owner-chef of NYC’s Prune and the author of new memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, gives the old hue and cry some substance in Food & Wine with her mouthy account of real life behind the swinging doors:
“It sounds so romantic when the real chefs talk about using only locally grown produce, but I don’t know how to do that where I live. I accept the need to order ingredients from Israel and South America and Holland and New Zealand. If I relied on my forager, the ex-stockbroker, we’d be eating rutabagas eight months of the year. You love your seasons, but they really try you,” she writes. “That said, the one season I can count on is winter. Like a U.S. Treasury bond, it hangs on a long time and has a low yield. Going to my greenmarket any time between late October and early June is like passing through some Soviet Gulag. Nothing is available but cabbage and potatoes and softening apples. A few die-hard farmers cheerfully sell wreaths and bathroom potpourri they have fashioned out of dead flowers and fruits; I have to avert my eyes. In winter, the only market I go to daily is my local Key Food supermarket.”
What, not a fan of winter squash 17 months in a row? Turnip mash? Collards with chopped collards and collard sauce? Hamilton goes on to elucidate other sins of her kitchen:
“Actually, I’m a fan of supermarkets. They’ve become so good over the years that the average home cook could recreate anything I make in my restaurant with supermarket ingredients. Hellman’s mayonnaise. Goya cooked chickpeas. Bird’s Eye frozen Fordhook lima beans. We use them all at Prune. Goya cooked chickpeas are constant, standardized, reliable. To pick through a bag of dried chickpeas, sort them by size, get rid of the twigs and pebbles, train my staff to cook them the same way every day (perfectly tender, correctly seasoned) and to dedicate two hours’ worth of burner space in my tiny and already burdened kitchen would be a bad business decision. I will continue to let Goya make the chickpeas, just as I let Lafite make the wine; I don’t feel the need to crush my own grapes.”
Oh, man! I’m with you, Gabrielle! I am with you! There are certain things I just refuse to make myself: yogurt (Fage does it better), Indian and Mexican food (anything where you have to toast and grind separate ingredients, forget it), hot sauce (Huy Fong has me covered). I’m adding Goya canned chickpeas to my shopping list right now!