About: In the ten years since his classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, from Monday fish to the breadbasket conspiracy, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business-and for Anthony Bourdain. Medium Raw explores these changes, moving back and forth from the author’s bad old days to the present. Tracking his own strange and unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to fatherhood, Bourdain takes no prisoners as he dissects what he’s seen, pausing along the way for a series of confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food. Beginning with a secret and highly illegal after-hours gathering of powerful chefs that he compares to a mafia summit, Bourdain pulls back the curtain-but never pulls his punches-on the modern gastronomical revolution, as only he can.
My thoughts: I didn’t like Bourdain very much after reading Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour back in 2007. I found his language crass, his swagger overly macho, and his attitude offputting. I eventually warmed up to him after catching a few episodes of No Reservations. I really liked the respectful manner in which he conducted himself while filming and feasting abroad. He represented Americans well, and it didn’t hurt that he looked good while doing it.
In the three years since I was first introduced to Bourdain, the man has truly grown on me. And after reading Medium Raw, I am downright smitten. Compared to his previous works, I found this one to be more honest and less venomous. His language is still atrocious, but Bourdain’s tremendous sense of self and sharp writing are more than enough to make up for it. I don’t know if it’s the result of him aging, his perspectives shifting, or a combination of both, but the voice that fills these pages is leaps and bounds more likable than before. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for thinking so.
Nearly every chapter contained a quotable gem or two, but my two favorites were “Heroes and Villains” and “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” In the former, Bourdain makes a somewhat random list of food personalities and humorously anoints them “hero” or “villain.” Jonathan Gold is a hero, as are Ariane Daguin, Grant Achatz, and Jamie Oliver. Villains include Gael Greene, Wolfgang Puck, and the James Beard House. You’ll have to read the book for his witty rationalizations.
The chapter that got me thinking was “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” where he discusses his falling out with fine dining and tasting menus. Bourdain asserts that multi-course meals should be judged based on how one feels afterward. I still find pleasure in gut-busting feasts, so I’m on the fence about whether or not that’s fair, but I expect my perspective will change with time, just as Bourdain’s did. In support of his argument, he brings up unladylike topics like suppressed farts and pooping truffles. Get the book for the gritty details.
This book is a superb read for anyone who loves restaurants, chefs, and the business of food. It’s been over a year since I’ve read a food book worthy of mentioning on the site, so the fact that Medium Raw made the cut speaks volumes.