Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
by Anthony Bourdain
Ecco, June 2010
Hardcover 304 pp., ISBN: 978-0061718946
Do you want the dish on celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Alice Waters, and David Chang? Do you want to know in exacting detail why a Kobe burger is the “cream of big-city douchedom”? Do you care that Rachel Ray sent the author a fruit basket? Do you want to read a book where the author’s default word of choice is “douche”?
Of course you do! Last Sunday I spread my blanket, soaked up the final rays of Indian summer, and tore through Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the Word of Food and People Who Cook. As Bourdain would put it, “Who doesn’t like a good wank now and then?”
Medium Raw is the follow-up to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, the best-selling memoir that launched Bourdain’s television career. Times have changed. No longer down and out in New York, the author has traded in his Keith Richards earring for a James Bond suit. He can’t hang his memoir on the time-honored tradition of suffering, so he delivers the scoop, regaling the reader with debauched travelogues, profiles of food celebrities, and a hefty dose of food porn as he slurps, spanks, gulps, sucks, and licks his way through an international buffet.
Medium Raw doesn’t have the connective tissue of Kitchen Confidential. The looser structure reflects Bourdain’s transition from chef working a station twelve hours a day to international food whore. The “plot” of Medium Raw works loosely around the story of Anthony Bourdain’s transformation from potty-mouthed chef to potty-mouthed celebrity chef, but this never really gels. Kitchen Confidential was a mission. Medium Raw consists of episodic missives.
If Bourdain is going to travel the world, cavort with supermodels, and guzzle libations we will only ever read about, he does, at least, have the decency to feel (kinda) bad about it. He recognizes port as a vicarious, empty experience that can only be a poor substitute for the real thing. And he can own up to being a "loud, egotistical, one-note asshole who's been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long and who should just shut the fuck up.”
It’s Bourdain’s willingness to expose—both himself and others—that keeps Medium Raw from devolving into a pointless rant (as opposed to a focused, entertaining rant). He might call Jamie Oliver out on his “matey, mockney bullshit,” but deems him a hero for embarrassing the British government into serving schoolchildren real food. In a softer moment, Bourdain profiles Justo Thomas, the man who prepares all seafood for the renowned Le Bernardin. I was awed by the professionalism and skill Thomas brings to his work, and a reader can’t help but notice how he stands in stark relief against those who gush “Yum-O!” for the camera.
Bourdain uses his celebrity status to lance the blowhards and champion the deserving. His days behind the line might be over, but they are not forgotten, which (as a fellow twenty-year industry veteran) makes me gaze upon that craggy, coke-worn, bloated, self-aggrandizing, world-weary mug on the cover with affection.December 5, 2010