Q&A with Chef Gabrielle Hamilton at La Cocina's Inaugural Gala

La Cocina
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, owner/operator of the acclaimed restaurant, Prune, in New York City and New York Times best selling author of Blood, Bones and Butter was in San Francisco last Tuesday night volunteering her time as the chef for La Cocina's Inaugural Gala. The event raised more than $100,000 to benefit the small business incubator.

Although Hamilton has received much enthusiastic praise from her peers for her restaurant and writing (with Anthony Bourdain going as far as saying her book is the "Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.") and buzz about a Hollywood movie deal, it doesn't appear to have gone to her head. Hamilton found time to be the chef at the May 14 gala at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco serving a delicious four course meal: Cold sorrel soup with salted whipped cream and marble potatoes; grilled Devil's Gulch quail on seeded toast with warm parsley vinaigrette; rabbit fricasee with morels, peas, and pearl onions; buttered mixed carrots with honeycomb, celery hearts victor; and Breton butter cake with cold candied oranges and Dandelion dark chocolate shards to 250 guests.

Hamilton was accompanied in the kitchen by an all-star line up of some of San Francisco's most famous chefs including Traci des Jardins (who also serves on La Cocina's board), Elizabeth Faulkner, and Jessica Boncutter as well as a team of volunteers from Jardiniere.

At the end of the night, I sat down with Hamilton to find out what inspired her to be part of the event and for any advice she could share with up-and coming chefs and entrepreneurs like myself. Hamilton was laid back and joyful as she graciously answered a few questions before being whisked away by her fellow chefs

Thank you for being the chef at La Cocina's Inaugural Gala! You own a very successful restaurant, are a New York Times best selling author and a busy working mother with a very full schedule. What was it that inspired you to be part of this event?

Gabrielle Hamilton: I have everything I need and I can give back in any way that is possible. It's like: OK we're surviving and now, who needs help? So that is what happened this year.

In your book you write about your annoyance with being described as a "female chef" but you also talked about the reality of being a breastfeeding mother and scheduling when you gave birth to your child around your business' staffing needs. Females are as capable as our male counterparts but if we choose to be mothers and work in the food industry with its immense physical demands and long hours, I believe we have to accept that there will be additional juggling required. As someone who has done this for many years do you have any words of wisdom to share?

GH: I think the mistake that I made was that I did everything at the same time. I had tiny people and a burgeoning business all at the same time and maybe it is better to stagger those things in the future. Maybe you don't have to write books, run a restaurant and have children in the same four year span. But, I'm a freaking idiot and I think: the higher the mountain, then well...that must be the one I have to climb. So really, my advice is: have your babies young, then have your business. Or have your babies old (as long as you still have the technology) but why put it all together at once? Lets let me make your mistakes for you and don't do that. That's my advice.

Traci des Jardins has talked about how she has this network of other chefs that she calls upon. That is something from La Cocina that we are really lucky to have: there are 36 other businesses that we can rely upon to have this kind of social network to support each other. Do you have that? If you do, can you talk about its importance to you? I know you are friends with Traci, what kind of importance does that have to you and how does that play into your life as a business owner?

GH: Here is what I have noticed: the people at the top of their game are willing to hand back. And the people who are still, well they want another star or they need another business, those are the people that don't want to give you anything. So I have been very lucky to find the people at the top of their career who are like, "Hey you want to talk for an hour? Yeah, Let's talk for an hour." You have to find those people who have nothing to protect or lose. You've got to find the people that are at the top of their game and they are often the most generous.

Donna Sky, is the Founder & CEO of the Love & Hummus Co., a San Francisco- based artisan food company that handcrafts organic hummus and Mediterranean foods. Find them locally at Whole Foods, New Leaf, and Andronico's Community Market and available nationally online at www.loveandhummus.com

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