by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 2, 2005
Since Prune opened in 1999, both chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton and the restaurant have grown up a lot. From the initial days of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, Gabrielle now, six years later, has the routine down. Her system allows both her staff and her to not have to work harder than necessary. While some customers complain that Prune has lost the crazy energy it had when it first opened, what the restaurant has really evolved into is a much more mature place. This is a compliment by all means, in the sense that the restaurant has its distinct character and philosophy and is run so effectively that you know you’ll be having the ultimate Prune experience when you make your reservation.
It’s ironic that four years before she opened Prune, Gabrielle had left New York City and the restaurant life to pursue her Master’s in non-fiction writing at the University of Michigan. It was during her time there that she found true inspiration in cooking — cooking for pleasure and cooking the type of food she wants to eat at home — through the help of a mentor. With this newfound passion and focus, she returned to New York to open Prune.
Though the restaurant has been a huge success, Gabrielle has not let down her guard. She just loves to cook, and even now with a son and husband to consider she works ten-hour days, which is almost half of what her schedule used to be. She has also started writing again and contributes to publications such as The New York Times and Food & Wine. There are endless stories to tell about jealousy, rage, and greed, and the majority of these she picks up on a daily basis in the kitchen and restaurant. And though her cooking nourishes her writing, the writing is also an antidote to running a restaurant, providing her with an alternative means to share something exciting with the public.
These days Gabrielle tries to find balance in her life as her plate is beyond full. It’s not that easy with Prune, a family, her writing, and plans to open another storefront. This new shop that she is envisioning is telling of her current mind-set. It will be a prep shop that sells all the ingredients for a meal pre-washed, cleaned, blanched, and ready to go — just need to go home, cook it, and relish it. The store will also provide recipes to follow. I love the idea as all the legwork is taken care of. At the end of a long day, with all the time that goes into prep work, I just don’t feel like cooking. No wonder I end up eating out a lot!
Ironically, while she would like to have all the prep work taken care of by someone else and is planning to provide this service, Gabrielle’s heart is pulled in the other direction. She wants to cook less mechanically. She wants to throw out the Kitchenaid and Cuisinart tools. She wants to go back to basics. And she has a new source for these cooking essentials: an Italian mother-in-law from whom she has been gleaning the deepest secrets of the kitchen.
To me, Gabrielle seems to have it all. But, she warns me, “Be careful wishing for what you want. It’s terrible to get what you want.” I understand what she means but don’t take it too literally because I know, despite how hard she has to work to balance her life and to continue to excel on all fronts, I doubt she would trade it for all the world.
Click here to read our feature cravings at Prune.