on June 9, 2010
The year's may have passed and he's turned into a TV personality since Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.), which revealed the behind-the-scenes world of a chef in the NY city restaurant scene, but Tony despite his own self-analysis in this one hasn't changed all that much.
He's still as potty mouthed, contrarian, anti-establishment and provocative as ever. He's also as much or more of a clever, creative good writer with an unquestionable passion for food and the restauraunt biz that entertains and fascinates even someone like me who only eats at restaurants.
Like the first book, the chapters each act as more of an essay than as a story - covering the evolution of the restaurant/food industry and what's happened to him since his first book.
There's a lot of angry diabtribes interlaced with his dry humor. The topics include the inability to find a good decent hamburger, overpretentious/priced restaurant habits, the evils of the James Beard foundation, Alice Waters and sustainability, vegetarianism, the CIA and the Food Network. Some of these are better executed than others. During the hamburger one, in particular - I was ready for him to get off his soapbox long before he actually did.
Still, Tony doesn't shy away from naming names and dishing dirt that anyone who watches those "evil" food shows like Iron Chef, Top Chef, and Rachel Ray will recognize and find entertaining. In fact, a whole chapter is dedicated to who he believes are the heroes and villians of the restaurant biz today, and why. (Basically, non-restaurant "warriors" and anything that mildly reeks of establishment isn't going to hit the heroes list.)
Where the book, for me, truly shined was when it became about the food he loves and people he admires. A food porn chapter in which he highlights many of his best foodie experiences was a delight. He and his wife's attempts to convince their daughter that Ronald McDonald is an evil guy w/ cooties left me in stitches. And, a chapter about a man who just cleans and cuts fish everyday for a fine dining restaurant and his incredible mastery of it moved me.
Finally, there's a chapter that serves up an update to what's happened to the people he featured in Kitchen Confidential, that anyone who read that one won't want to miss.
BOTTOM LINE: If you've read Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed it, you'll enjoy this one - written by a slightly older and wiser man who hasn't lost any of his edge, writing ability or passion for food.
Anthony Bourdain's previous collection "Nasty Bits" felt like a watered-down overcooked rehash of his original shtick. His new one, "Medium Raw," is a true revival. Bourdain has shaken off the cashmere of complacency to don a Viking bear-shirt of rage, and even though he takes stabs at familiar targets--TV, the corporations and the rich--he has come up with bloody fresh reasons to hate them (which is something.) His jokes are disturbing, his horrors hilarious, his meals orgasmic: his food descriptions are as far beyond crass culinary porn as Caravaggio and Boticelli are beyond "Jugs." Schlosser and Pollan may better connect food to economics and politics; Bourdain is supreme at plugging it to the gonads and guts. No one better demonstrates that food is part of life. This book makes both more interesting.
on June 15, 2010
Tony does not, for the most part, pull any punches. For the record, Sandra Lee terrifies me too. He doesn't divulge Bigfoot's identity, but for the most part, does name names. I especially liked the chapter on heros and villains. His takedown of Alan Richman is priceless.
The bottom line with Mr. Bourdain is that he really cares about food and the people who prepare it, whether it's the guy in the Czech Republic who stuffs sausages with his bare hands, or the man who cuts the fish at Le Bernardin.
Food is too important to leave to the Rachael Rays and Sandra Lees of the world. We need fewer people clamoring about EVOO and more people cooking and eating a well-executed omelet or a good simple tomato sauce.
Start reading this on a Friday. It will last most of the weekend, and when you're finished, you'll be eager for the next course. I don't know how many more of these Tony has in him, but I'm waiting for the next one.
on June 20, 2010
I loved Kitchen Confidential, and I enjoyed Nasty Bits. I find this book to be more of a sequel to Nasty Bits, in that it is a collection of essays that do not necessarily have to be read in order. Yes, some of them are autobiographical, but some of it is "random thoughts" on topics like the hamburger and various food personalities. It is interesting to learn that Bourdain was still fighting many demons even after writing Kitchen Confidential, and also good to read how he is enjoying fatherhood. An enjoyable and worthwhile read, but not quite the same kick as the first bio.
on June 27, 2010
"When I sat down at my desk every morning to write Kitchen Confidential and began clacking away at they keyboard, I was gloriously free of hope that it would be read outside a small subculture of restaurant people in New York City," writes Anthony Bourdain in his newest book, and third since Kitchen Confidential, called Medium Raw.
When Kitchen Confidential was published, it became an almost overnight success. As it pushed higher and higher on the NY Times Bestseller List, so to did the stardom of Anthony Bourdain.
Kitchen Confidential was perhaps so popular, because for the less initiated, it unveiled in a terribly entertaining way, the obscured and raw "culinary underbelly" of the restaurant industry. It was precisely because it was written for a "subculture" of insiders that Kitchen Confidential was adopted by the masses. Its authenticity proved irresistible.
Fast forward ten years: Bourdain has become a celebrity. He is the writer and personality of an Emmy award-winning television show: No Reservations. He is employed by the very network he has so long railed against: The Food Network. He is a married family man, who resides with his young daughter and wife within the yuppy confines of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The thing is- these contradictions are certainly not lost on the self-deprecating Bourdain. They do, however, rob Bourdain's newest effort, Medium Raw, of any hope at the authenticity and refreshing originality of Kitchen Confidential, and even of No Reservations.
In Medium Raw, Bourdain does not fail to offer healthy servings of his unique, vitriolic, acerbic, laser-sharp, and hilarious wit, which his fans have come to expect of him.
In the chapter, "Lower Education", Bourdain shares the creative ways he has devised to protect his daughter from the subversive and manipulative marketing tactics of McDonald's and other fast food chains, "Where you take the Clown and the King and the Colonel is in the streets- or more accurately, in the same impressionable young minds they have so successfully f'ed with for so long. `Ronald has cooties,' I say [to my daughter]- every time he shows up on television."
Less successful than his use of humor, however, is the way in Medium Raw, that Bourdain shells his rage-against-the-machine attacks on food celebrity "villains" and other pillars of the industry. Nearly all of Bourdain's targets will be familiar to fans of his show. In his book, Bourdain's rants teeter dangerously on the edge of a played out stand-up routine.
Even some of the praise Bourdain showers in Medium Raw, on David Chang for example, comes across as shameless pandering to the hordes of foodies and Food Bloggers.
More authentic, and reminiscent of the pre-fame Bourdain, is the author's portrait of Erik Hopfinger, a failed Top Chef contestant, who works in a, compared to Chang's Momofuku, far more pedestrian restaurant.
The distance with which Bourdain both appreciates and understands Hopfinger only reinforces how Bourdain, at least a little bit, has become part of what he has slung arrows at for so long.
Medium Raw will entertain, and at times inform. It will fail, though, to inspire, as Kitchen Confidential did for so many. Bourdain attacking, complaining, grumbling from his perch of fame lacks the panache and verve the same voice did when he was a debt-laden, aspirin-popping, over-worked, and sleep-deprived average Chef. One, at times, when reading Medium Raw, will even find themselves wishing for the exulting, humble voice in which Bourdain feels most comfortable writing for on his show No Reservations.
on October 9, 2010
Anthony Bourdain needs an editor. Anyone who likes the rants and rages of Bourdain will surely like this book for its pure entertainment value, but his overworked sentences on steroids are tiresome. I was so distracted by the incessant rambling of descriptive adjectives and overused "ly" words that I often missed the point. For the most part, his off-handed undermining of the profession and industry that keeps him on the Upper East Side or traveling the world, is... boring.
One could get at the raw meat of this book by trimming about 100 pages of fat.
But Bourdain is funny and tempestuous. He makes plenty of righteous, good points, especially about the fast food nation. His chapter on heroes and villans is poignant and he once again establishes himself as the King Heckler of the industry. If you think he has mellowed with fatherhood and age, he hasn't. He's still carrying around some serious self-loathing and proving to us all that he can take as much as he can dish out.
I loved Kitchen Confidential, and even the Nasty Bits. I work in the same industry including a stint at the "Harvard" of cooking schools. I know this world and the world of Chefs. But this book disappoints. Reading page after page of Bourdain going at it with both barrels grows weary. It's old.
Doesn't he have anything nice to say? Moreover, doesn't he have anything ELSE to say?
I was pretty psyched to hear about this book coming out, so on release day I plonked down my money at the local Border's bookstore (Albeit with a nice 40% coupon!) and grabbed my copy.
I am a career restaurant and wine guy, so of course I love reading Bourdain's books which expose the side of restaurants that diners rarely see. What is nice about this book is that unlike Kitchen Confidential, this is more of a collection of stories and essays than a chronological recounting of a checkered restaurant career. I enjoyed this book more than Kitchen Confidential because it is better written and Bourdain includes lots of heartfelt and positive stories.
Kitchen Confidential seemed to be a sort of autobiography, Medium Raw gives a lot of nods to others in the industry, people Bourdain has met and traveled with, and even his family. It seems that he has grown up.
What I also like is that he is not preachy like Alice Waters or Micheal Pollan (though I love Pollan's books). Bourdain has always had at least one foot firmly planted in the real world. When he discusses the vexing problem of sub-par elementary school lunches, he also points out that funding is needed in other areas as well, including literature and mathematics programs.
Also, Bourdain doesn't hold back any punches. He also doesn't just bash anybody or any particular restaurant that is undeserving. He does bash McDonald's (rightly so!), the James Beard Foundation, Alain Ducasse, and several two-faced restaurant critics. He also advocates chefs' creativity and applauds some of the little known and well respected (by their peers) chefs taking chances and producing amazing dishes from the best ingredients and not charging $400 per plate in what can be best described as a dining museum.
He talks about travel, other cultures and their cuisine, and just about every other subject a foodie would possibly be interested in.
After reading Kitchen Confidential, I felt kind of 'dirty' being a career restaurant guy, but after reading Medium Raw I discovered that there is a bright spot on the horizon of culinary creativity.
on July 27, 2010
Overall, a fun and very fast read. Bourdain is reminiscent of Dennis Miller, and this book is a compilation of his "rants." He takes on various topics in no specific order, and offers up his opinion of them. Period. Peppered with lots of F-bombs and written without regard for perfect sentence structure, the reader gets the sense of his wry humor, cynycism, and especially passion about food, the people who create it, and the overall industry. I appreciated his frankness about his own shortcomings and "past mistakes", and the fact that he doesn't sugar coat anything or blame anyone but himself for his actions. How refreshing to finally encounter an individual who says he had a great childhood, loving, stable parents, does not consider his alcoholism to be a "disease", and acknowledges that he and he alone selected the path of self-ruin. One of my favorite chapters in the book is "I'm dancing", where he discusses how fatherhood has changed him and the aspirations he has for his daughter. Some things are no longer cool once you procreate, he notes. He seems to take this new responsibility seriously.
He pulls no punches when discussing individuals for whom he has absolute disdain, such as Alan Richman, but even these individuals get their props when and where he feels they are due. It almost feels like a small crutch he can lean on, so as to not be accused of absolute obliteration. He has truly reached the enviable position of, as he claims, "not having a restaurant or reputation he needs to protect" and the freedom to call it as he sees it.
I read Kitchen Confidential years ago and loved it. This book made me want to go back and read it again and compare the younger, angrier Bourdain with the older, perhaps wiser and slightly more refined individual he has become. I look forward to more from him.
on March 25, 2015
I regret buying this new. I like Anthony Bourdain & his show No Reservations even though he often rubs me the wrong way. He seems to relish hating Vegans (I'm not even vegetarian, but this dislike or distaste he has seems irrational). He'll often rave about a country's fresh food, yet mock farmer's markets here in the US. This book starts with a get together with a who's who of Chef's and proceeds to describe a meal which includes an endangered bird which suffered considerably Being illegal or forbbiden shouldn't be what makes a dish wonderful. All of this comes across as bragging. Very disappointing. Anthony Bourdain comes across as humble on his Top Chef guest judge appearances, so this was unexpected.
I am a sucker for anything Anthony Bourdain. I love his show. I love his passion for cooking and food. I love his attitude. I love his blog. I loved his first book. I do not like this second book too much.
If it's one thing I hate more than anything, it's someone who apologizes for and rationalizes their past behavior and attitude. And this is what much of the book is about. Tony almost immediately in this book starts apologizing for becoming famous, for not cooking anymore, for his (apparently past) bad attitude towards celebrity chefs. This drives me nuts. Tony was, back then, as he is now, himself. His point of view and every blessed word of his first book was unequivocally correct. That's who he was at the time. One shouldn't feel the need to apologize for it. We ALL learn and grow as we get older and change as people. It's human nature. But here, Tony panders to us saying how dumb he was back then, and how, now, he has a kid so golly-gosh he's changed to a nice guy - like us! Yech. The first 50 pages of this pretty much killed the first book for me. It's like that first book is no longer valid.
This isn't a good book, because it's not much of a book. It's just some random collection of stories Tony felt might make him a few bucks. It absolutely feels like his publisher threw him some cash to write a "sequel", so Tony felt compelled to put together this drivel. In one chapter, he tries to tell us, as American Men, what we should be able to cook. No direction - just "you should know how to roast a chicken." Gee, thanks. In another, he talks about how he is trying to turn his daughter off of McDonalds. I understand why, but making your kid ostracized at friends' houses or birthday parties is NOT a good idea. I can see it now - his kid is at a friend's house when the mom says "Want to go to McDonalds for lunch?" and Tony's kid freaks out. I bet you his daughter already has a tattoo. This "book" is only mildly entertaining.
I only sort of enjoy this book. It's just a mish-mosh of garbage Tony threw together in-between tapings of No Reservations. You can practically FEEL him typing up some of these stories while in some hotel room on Taiwain or Prague or wherever he was that week.
I also just hate that Tony feels the need to say he's sorry for picking on celebrity chefs and for having been a cokehead and for having been so angry all the time. It's what made you who you are - you should NEVER have to apologize for it.