Sunday, August 08, 2010

“Medium Raw” by Anthony Bourdain – Book Review

I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, Medium Raw:  A Bloody Valentine To The World Of Food And The People Who Cook.  Read it in a week – must be a new record for an Evelyn Wood dropout like me (AND I bought it in hardcover – apparently I’m a fan … ).

It has been a decade since Bourdain achieved notoriety since his hit, Kitchen Confidential – a book that changed his life (for better or for worse) forever.  During that time period, much as changed in his life, above and beyond merely getting 10 years older; this book is about what has happened since then and provides something of a retrospective on not only his resulting celebrity, but also, an opportunity to revisit the people, places and observations he documented back then to see if he feels the same way about everything. 

In paging through the Table Of Contents, almost any admirer of Bourdain’s writing could get a reasonably good idea of what was to come.  Among the 19 chapters – plus a fascinating prolog called, “The Sit Down” and an almost elegiac epilog titled “Still Here” – I found the most interesting titles to be “I Drink Alone”, “Heroes & Villains”, “The Fish-On-Monday Thing” (a must for anyone who read Kitchen Confidential ) and my personal favorite, “Alan Richman Is A Douchebag” (which, in the final sentence, he rescinds the title and calls Alan Richman a cunt). 

Foodies of the world – or, at least, the New York world which (let’s face it) is all that Bourdain really cares about – will particularly enjoy the chapters where he writes love letters to the chefs he respects, appreciates and admires.  In that regard, at least, the book remains something of a literary blowjob.  What is more fascinating – to me, anyway – are the more personal chapters where he writes about his life during and since Kitchen Confidential, where he documents his dislike for such things as The Food Network, the superficiality of the famous and wealthy, and disdain for vegetarians and vegans (sound familiar?).  In the time since his breakthrough book, Bourdain has divorced, remarried, became the father of a daughter, and achieved a level of both celebrity and wealth beyond which he never imagined, given his humble past as a simple cook deep in debt and strung out on heroin.  Particularly interesting are his views on “selling out” now that he has become a father; while he used to proudly maintain a haughty contempt for those who sold out, he finally now realizes that there were reasonable justifications for doing so – and that these days, he would join them in a heartbeat. 

While some of the chapters definitely flow and segue from one to the other (“Heroes & Villains” and “Alan Richman Is A Douchebag” being a good example), he does not always go for the jugular in his criticisms as much as I would’ve liked and expected.  Specifically, in the “Heroes & Villains” chapter, even his Villains get off lightly (i.e., he states their “admirable” qualities rather than just lowering the boom on them, which you know is all he really wanted to do in the first place). 

If you are new to Bourdain’s writings, then I would strongly recommend – at the very least – both Kitchen Confidential and Cook’s Tour before reading this one; however, if you have already read those pre-requisite tomes, then you should be able to better appreciate Medium Raw .