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In the Kitchen with Ashley Merriman ’98, Chef at Prune


It can be hard enough to get a table at New York City’s Prune Restaurant during the dinner rush or for weekend brunch, much less midday on Wednesday, when it isn’t even open. A popular East Village spot, the cozily cramped restaurant seats just 30 people.

So it was especially luxurious for the New York City program to have the restaurant to themselves, for a lunch with chef Ashley Merriman ’98 on April 26. Merriman and her wife, Gabrielle Hamilton, are co-chefs at Prune, which Hamilton opened in 1999.

Merriman credits her wife Hamilton with “inventing” brunch, for which New Yorkers line up and down the block on the weekends. As Merriman and Hamilton put it, Prune specializes in good, real food, finely prepared. The restaurant is a favorite with those in the restaurant industry when they finish their own shifts. 

After a semester of reading “behind the scenes” accounts of restaurant life, students got the chance to really go behind the scenes, taking in Prune’s downstairs kitchen and even stepping into the walk-in freezer.

Over salmon, vegetable soup, prosciutto and radishes with butter and salt (a favorite of Gabrielle Hamilton’s), Merriman talked the students through her culinary background, what drew her to the industry, and her time at Hamilton College.

“Prune was one of my favorite outings this semester. I really enjoyed learning how the restaurant works behind the scenes, and listening to Ashley talk about her own story was really interesting,” said Isabel Taswell ’19.  “The food was also incredible--everything was simple, the kind of food that brought me home and reminded me of my mother's cooking--but somehow Ashley pulled layer after layer of flavor out of everything from the roasted salmon with dill and lemon to the verde soup with green beans, chard and artichoke.”           

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