Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton Speaks at JWU

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton with Arts & Sciences student

“I’m from the fine state of New Jersey,” began Prune chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton, eliciting a large round of applause from the full house at JWU’s Schneider Auditorium.

Hamilton was at JWU to talk about “Blood, Bones, & Butter,” her gritty memoir tracing her lifelong love affair with cooking and writing. She candidly spoke to students about her roundabout journey from chef to travel writer, restaurant owner, and busy mom.

The Reluctant Chef
Food was the one constant in Hamilton’s rough-and-tumble childhood. When her parents abruptly divorced when she was only 13, kitchen jobs became her lifeline: “What else can a teenager do in a tourist town with 100 bad restaurants?”

But she didn’t truly think of cooking as her career — she calls herself a “reluctant chef” — until she decided to become a writer.

From Cooking to Writing — and Back Again
After years in “soulless” high-end catering, she decided to go back to school for her MFA.

It wasn’t quite what she’d hoped. “I loved writing, loved having my brain engaged, but it was too esoteric and not like real life.”

She finished her degree, and “5 minutes later” opened Prune, her thriving French restaurant in Manhattan. “This is when cooking started to really mean something to me — I felt truly committed.”.

The Accidental Writer
Then a funny thing happened: “Within a month of opening Prune I was writing for the New York Times. And that led to other work.”

Fast-forward to 2014: the accidental chef writes nearly full-time, with bylines in Travel + Leisure, Saveur, The New Yorker and GQ, to name a few. “I don’t pitch to magazines — they come to me.”

The lesson? “If something feels right, [your life] ends up making sense,” she said. “I didn’t have to say goodbye to my dream. Stay true to yours.”