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Catching Up With Gabrielle Hamilton

  • By The Taste
Question: How did you end up as a Guest Mentor on The Taste?

Answer: Anthony asked me to do it and whatever Tony asks me to do, I'll do gladly. I've been asked to do many of the competitive cooking shows in the past and have turned them down because I'm not too enthusiastic about the introduction of competition into our industry. But the format of this show--completely anonymous, and simply about the taste of the plate and none of the personality crap--made it feel acceptable to participate as a guest mentor.

Question: What's your relationship like with eact of the Mentors?  Anthony Bourdain famously praised your memior "Blood, Bones & Butter," but did you know him or any of the Mentors prior to your participation?

Answer: I have a fierce "big brother' crush on Anthony. I know most women
want to sleep with Tony, but me, I want to have him as my cool older brother who looks out for me in the schoolyard. Which is kind of what he's been like for me throughout my career, unbelievably. Like the best older brother you could ever hope for - with occasional raucous drinking binges, of course!

I once invited Nigella for a drink when I was in London and then, like an idiot, I stood her up. I totally misjudged how far away I was from the hotel bar where we'd arranged to meet and I left the poor woman waiting for so long as I tried to get through traffic from one end of the city to the other that she finally had to leave. When I arrived, out of breath, there was just her empty chair. I was cringing at my own rudeness. But just to show you how gracious she is--she didn't cross me off forever--she actually rescheduled and we ended up having a breakfast together. Even at 8 o'clock in the morning, she is whip smart, quick-
witted, deeply humane and more beautifully groomed than I could ever
be even after a spa appointment!

Question: Each contestant was given the theme of comfort food when creating their dishes.  What foods do you find the most comforting?

Answer: I never use food for comfort, or as a replacement for anything emotional; I just eat when I am hungry and I eat what I am hungry for. That is the best comfort of all--when you are able to perfectly and precisely satisfy
your appetite.

Question:  How do these ideas of comfort in food inpsire your cooking and your ever-changing menu at Prune?

I am inspired to cook food that nourishes and satisfies rather than entertains or explodes or calls attention to it. But the food I cook is not conventionally "comforting" in the American sense of the word, which usually means laden with sugar or cheese or fat. It would be a stretch to call the food at Prune--which includes monkfish liver, marrowbones and fried sweetbreads---"comfort food." But we bring comfort to the diner more through the service and the ambience at the restaurant; we try to keep the staff as knowledgeable and expert as possible, which relaxes a guest when they immediately sense that they are in competent hands. We also aim to keep the food and the cocktails recognizable. If we roast a chicken, it looks like a roasted chicken---which is comforting!

Question: Given the time contraints and the structure of the show was it challenging to mentor the contestants?

I was thrown off-guard at first trying to get used to the fact that the contestants were not necessarily professional cooks with "restaurant kitchen experience," so I may have misspent a few minutes of precious time trying to offer advice for just good standard kitchen practice, like how to secure your cutting board, and use a knife, and to start over quickly if you have burnt something rather than just wishfully forging ahead with the burnt ingredient hoping for the best. But once we got going, it was fun--the contestants were having fun and that was
infectious. Other than reminding them to taste their food along the way so they could be confident that what the judges tasted is what they intended, they hardly needed mentoring or advice. They were all rolling along!

Question: In a past interview you did with the Times you talked about challenging the cooks in your kitchen “to find food that’s exciting and interesting as opposed to just delicious.”  How would you advise the contestants on this show to go about doing this in the future?

Answer: Generally, I am always interested in the classics; they endure through all of time, and survive all trends, and are obviously delicious. But what makes them most interesting and exciting is when they reveal the particular thumbprint of their creator, and when they show some defining signature or eccentricity of the cook.
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