Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Kitchen Reader: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

This month's selection for the Kitchen Reader was chosen by yours truly.

I will start by saying that I'm an unabashed Anthony Bourdain fan. I've always been drawn to the blunt, abrasive types (which is why I think I gravitated to the investment banking industry), and the reason why I liked Bourdain from the moment he burst onto the celebrity chef scene 10ish years ago (my how time flies). I like him even more now that he's evolved into what seems to be a fully formed emotional individual, without losing his crass sarcastic sense of humor. However, I'm the first to admit that he's obnoxious, and if you can't get past that, then you're not going to like this book.

Medium Raw is the best example of Bourdain's writing since his breakthrough memoir, Kitchen Confidential. I would even go as far to say that it's better than the first, since he's lost the ignorant cockiness that permeated Kitchen Confidential. In a recent Forbes interview (found here), Bourdain discusses his transformation (though it may be better termed an evolution) and I found his latest book to be full of examples of this change.

The reason why I liked Medium Raw so much is that it felt, well, raw. It seems to be a predictor of the direction his Travel Channel show No Reservations has taken in the current season, where he doesn't shy away from the harsh reality in the countries that he visits. It's the same tone that he took in chapter 5 "So you want to be a chef", where he somewhat cruelly but truthfully points out that age, health and weight can put you at a serious disadvantage in the pursuit of a culinary career. This chapter is reflective of the best parts of the book for me, which consist of the stories that were deeply personal (breakup of his first marriage, desire to become a parent, selling out) or the most opinionated (industrial meat production, Alan Richman, tasting menus). The sections that I found to be the least interesting was his travel descriptions, simply because it felt like a repeat of his TV show. However I did find the descriptive chapter on Justo Thomas, the "fish guy" from Le Bernandin, to be an increadibly beautiful tribute to such a skilled and dedicated employee.

So if you find yourself in the camp of really liking this book, I would highly recommend following both @NoReservations and @OttaviaBourdain on Twitter, if only because their back and forth banter is hysterical but also because it provides another peek into the personal life of such a public figure.


sarah said...

I'm glad you picked it, Aileen; in the end I admit it. :) But there were still aspects of the book I really disliked.

I'm compiling a round-up for the Kitchen Reader blog with links to everyone's reviews of Medium Raw and it will be published tomorrow. Have a look!

Jennifer said...

I didn't get to this one-my apologies.

I haven't watched much of his shows, but I do appreciate his sense of humor! He can be a very funny fellow!

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) said...

I didn't manage to get this one in time, and while I like No Reservations, I've only read The Nasty Bits (it was a little too nasty for me). Your review makes me curious, though, and now I'm reconsidering waiting out the library hold list.

Also, thanks for linking to the Forbes article if for no other reason than to see Forbes use the phrase "Haters gon’ hate." =)

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