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OP: Prune (signed)

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by Gabrielle Hamilton

Established in 1999 in New York City’s East Village, Prune made its mark on the New York dining scene for over twenty years. It was a neighborhood spot that fostered a sense of conviviality where a solo diner at the bar felt just as much at home as the celebrity dining with an entourage in the small, cramped dining room. The menu could be just as contradictory, ranging from the simplicity of just-tender beets with aioli to the complexity of roasted suckling pig with black-eyed peas and pickled tomatoes. Co-chef and owner Gabrielle Hamilton (1966– ) has the confidence and charisma to get away with doing exactly what she wants and making it look exactly right.

Her approach to the Prune cookbook (2014) was no different. For those who became familiar with and enamored of Hamilton’s writing through her eloquent and stirring contributions to the New York Times and her memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter (2011), the style of the cookbook may come as a surprise. The pages are faux-stained and covered in handwritten notes and corrections, like the battered (pun intended) Moleskin notebooks every chef and line cook has tucked in a back pocket or knife roll while working the line. (Aside: some unsuspecting Kitchen Arts & Letters customers have brought copies of Prune to our attention as “used” and full of stains and handwriting, not realizing it is part of the book’s design.)

Restaurant chefs and cooks will immediately recognize the style and find it comfortable. Here is Hamilton telling you what to do and how to do it correctly and consistently as you execute these dishes over and over again in a restaurant kitchen. You can almost hear the echoing mumbles of, “Oui, chef!” and, “Heard!” on every page’s addendums such as, “Be careful not to leave your fingerprints in the powdered sugar when plating,” and, “Plan your prep day accordingly or you will be seriously weeded.” To pro-cooks, this will almost read as kitchen literature—a voice so familiar it lives in the bones of anyone who has worked their way through the ranks of fine dining establishments.

Though yields have more-or-less been reduced to lower quantities for home cooking, this is still a book written with restaurant cooks in mind, often with notes for 3x, 8x, 12x batches that would be more reasonable for high-volume production. Recipe procedures are peppered with kitchen vernacular—”flash under the sally”—and restaurant habits—”weight down with an unopened box of salt.” However, cooks of all skill levels will find inspiration at the salivating dishes within, such as the grated radish with trout roe and brown butter; smoky eggplant, parsley-sesame flatbread, grilled lemons; farmhouse chicken braised in hard cider; or fried mascarpone with fennel sugar. 

The restaurant sadly did not survive COVID, but Prune will certainly remain an essential, classic cookbook, both for its association with a particular time and place in NYC dining and for its unique voice and design. Much of the content, though quite literal, cannot help but be read as apt metaphor, too: “But do the best you can with what we’ve got—the succulence that we manage to eke out of these birds, under these ridiculous circumstances, is not insignificant.”

 We are offering here a signed first printing in Very Good Plus condition.

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