Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef as beloved for her literary tendencies as she is for her cooking at her 30-seat, French-inspired restaurant Prune in New York City’s East Village. (Prune, by the way, was Hamilton’s childhood nickname.) She opened the unpretentious neighborhood spot with its classic cocktails and laid-back tunes on the sound system in 1999, with a menu full of dishes such as spatchcocked pigeon, roasted marrow bone, and seared duck breast. Fifteen years later, Hamilton hasn’t changed course from where she started.

“I’d always wished that I could go to this restaurant that I wanted to be in existence,” she told the New York Times, “so I just made one. It’s not like I invented anything. There’s already an omelet. The love song was already written, man. I’m just singing it.”

Hamilton, who graduated from Hampshire College (in Massachusetts) and, later, the University of Michigan with a Master’s of Fine Arts in fiction writing, sang the song of her life in her 2011 memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Adventures of a Reluctant Chef. The stories she spun about growing up in a fractured family in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and of traveling without a dime to her name, of starting out in restaurants as a kid washing dishes, of catering and working with chef Misty Callies at Ann Arbor’s Zanzibar while she was still working on her Master’s—all came together in a work of humor, honesty, and lyricism. And it won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Writing and Literature in 2012. As The New York Times wrote, “On the page and in the kitchen, Ms. Hamilton can be charming, tempestuous, persnickety, vulgar, poetic, provocative and mothering, sometimes all in the course of a single flurry of sentences.” At press time, a film of the book is in the works, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Hamilton has also battled chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America (and won), and is a contributor to publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Food & Wine. She’s an essayist whose work has appeared in collections such as Don’t Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World’s Greatest Chefs. Her work has been anthologized in Best Food Writing every year between 2001 and 2006. Hamilton was nominated for Best Chef/New York City by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010, and won, at last, in 2011.