NEW YORK, N.Y. - "I can't believe I have to say this," Gabrielle Hamilton admonishes us in an asparagus recipe, "but please arrange with all the tips facing the same direction. Not in a chaotic jumble."
And when you're making her sable butter, "let's not food poison anyone, please." Oh, and when preparing that pork butt? "Remove the butcher's string before slicing, people!!(asterisk)"
If these handwritten instructions, peppering Hamilton's new cookbook, sound a bit harsh, you should know that the celebrated chef-restaurateur-writer is actually using real notes addressed to her own line cooks. "They're here, in these binders," she says, pointing to a shelf in her underground prep kitchen at Prune, her tiny restaurant in Manhattan's East Village.
There are at least two reasons why "Prune" the cookbook is hotly anticipated. For starters, it's the first from Hamilton, who opened her eatery 15 years ago to immediate acclaim and influence, and still draws lines down the street for weekend brunch — no reservations, no exceptions.
Second, Hamilton's literary debut two years ago, the vivid, almost criminally entertaining memoir "Blood, Bones, & Butter," was a huge hit — just as her braised rabbit legs, pigeon with parsley vinaigrette, grilled branzino or monkfish liver might be at Prune.
And so, the pressure was on. During a recent Sunday brunch service, she sat down to talk about the book, and her multiple careers. The interview has been edited for length — and cheerful expletives deleted, quite useful in getting us down to our word limit.
AP: It's taken you a while to write a cookbook.
HAMILTON: I was offered one practically 10 minutes after we opened. It was too soon. I hadn't done anything yet! Now, I have a body of material to offer. Plus, I was afraid of writing a second book after the big success of the first one. You know how everyone's poised to take you down with number two. So I thought, how hard can it be to put some recipes together, get some pretty pictures ... just sneak out that second book, then move on to the third.
AP: How'd that work out?
HAMILTON (laughing): I'm not that kind of person. I'm hyper-attentive to details, and I don't like sloppy anything. It took me way too long. It was a false attempt at doing something easy and quick.
AP: Like a rebound book?
HAMILTON: Yes, like a one-night stand. But it turned out to be another relationship.
AP: Who's the book for?
HAMILTON: Well, you have the novice home cook. They're gonna look and say, "I can do that." Then you have the advanced home cook, who'll say, "I can do this better than SHE can." And they can — they don't have to deal with the health department walking in, or the toilet breaking during the middle of a shift. It's for all of them.
AP: How does the concept of "celebrity chef" strike you?
HAMILTON: Recognition of merit makes a lot of sense to me. But empty celebrity does not, or people who set out to be what I call "food performers" — they're not really chefs, they're in a different game. Listen, I have a lot of respect for the gal who can chop and talk and look good and draw 360 million viewers — you try that! I wouldn't call that person a chef, but they're a celebrity television personality in the food world.
It would be so nice to see cooks (portrayed) while they're actually working. My favourite photos in photojournalism are where it's not Martin Luther King on the balcony giving the speech, it's him in the hotel room in his shirt sleeves, papers lying on the bedspread. To see Chef Whoever powdered up with lipstick — you're doing the PR of your job, not the JOB of your job.
AP: You've been asked a lot how it feels to be a woman in this male-dominated industry.
HAMILTON: Cooking isn't like Major League football or sumo wrestling — things I could never do. In cooking we all do the same things. I did an event last night and somebody said I was the first female chef to do it. And I said, "Well, it's a good thing I brought the female food!"
But I did have an illuminating experience. Out of 108 plates (of pigeon), I (messed) up 14 and had to scramble to recover them. We caught it, and the customer didn't feel a thing. But all I could do was fixate on the 14 covers that I didn't nail. And I'm partnered with a male chef and he made a pretty giant mistake too, and he didn't sweat it for a second!
AP: Has it gotten better for women?
HAMILTON: I don't know. I'm cocooned here in my own little universe of my own creation. And it's the utopia of all time as far as I'm concerned. I'm surrounded by women. Surrounded by your gender, you can just get on with what you're doing.