by Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Harper Collins
Anthony Bourdain is – or at least, was – a crazy motherfucker. The junkie chef-turned-television travel guru’s bestselling rant, Kitchen Confidential, made this more than abundantly clear to those of us who read it, and his borderline suicidal international eating habits as the host of “No Reservations” convinced the rest. But even the crazies among us accrue perspective with age; in Bourdain’s case, a little time yields a rueful, wiser, more forgiving and yet by no means any less entertaining or foul-mouthed account of life, love and incredible food.
Bourdain’s new book, Medium Raw, is exactly what the subtitle suggests: “a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook.” It is also a highly unusual essay volume, not so much by virtue of the non-sequitur subjects upon which it is built but because, even when the colorful, incongruous ideas set forth finally come together, the result is not a completed whole so much as it is a guileless mélange that at once proves Bourdain’s self-asserted ineptitude as a professional “writer” and his absolute knack for refreshingly unselfconscious storytelling.
These stories – wild, bizarre, delicious, angry, awestruck and occasionally, disarmingly, downright heartwarming – are all true, told with a blend of reflection and determination that, I’d like to think, evoke the essence of what a conversation with Bourdain might be like. Our authorial host meanders, certainly, but he does so with a purpose. Unlike the self-important ramblings of some memoirists, Bourdain doesn’t bore us with myopic details and opinions. He talks about himself plenty, but whether sharing nuggets of wisdom derived from drug-laced misadventures of his youth or more recent revelations born of a late but nonetheless magical career as a father, or even when mouthing off in praise or vitriolic censure of the food world’s latest, greatest, most iconic and most elusive personalities, Bourdain writes with driven prose. Even his asides, tangential though they may seem, fit the bill. It’s as if he made a bucket list of sorts, a “things I want to express about myself, my life, food, cooking and the world before I die,” exhausted that list on paper and then found a publisher.
This might come across as a self-indulgent or off-putting project. And yet, if you’ve read or listened to Bourdain’s other work, either in print or on TV, you’ll have a good sense of how simultaneously reflective and funny, broad and deep, specific and diverse such a thing might be in his fearless food-handler’s hands. If, on the other hand, you haven’t read (or re-read) Kitchen Confidential, if you’ve yet to devour countless hours of “No Reservations” while nibbling on exotic snacks and planning elaborate vacations in your head (all behaviors of which this reviewer is very guilty indeed), I encourage you to suspend your disbelief. Anthony Bourdain is a foodie for the masses, an unapologetic meat lover, intrepid flavor explorer and opinionated writer (yes, writer; despite anything he may say to the contrary, this guy is marvelous with words); and Medium Raw is a rare book, packed full of life lessons in the guise of, well, glorious ranting. If you’ve ever found vegetarians annoying, knives mystifying or Michelin stars confounding in the extreme, trust Bourdain to guide you through the modern food world on a profanity-peppered odyssey you won’t easily forget.
by Lauren Westerfield