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Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook Hardcover – June 8, 2010
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No one really expected Bourdain to top his wildly popular Kitchen Confidential, even Bourdain himself: several critics wrote that he seems alternately awed and appalled by his own celebrity. Those parts of Medium Raw--more of a collection of essays than a streamlined narrative--that seemed to grow out of that celebrity, such as Bourdain's feuds with food critics and celebrity chefs, impressed reviewers the least. But they still found much to savor, particularly Bourdain's biting personality, his own humorous self-deprecation, his ability to bring out the unknown elements of the restaurant industry, particularly the kitchen and service staff who might otherwise be ignored, and, not least of all, the well-written (if often vulgar) and compelling stories. In the end, though Medium Raw will best be appreciated by foodies, it is "generally an entertaining read, compelling more for [Bourdain's] passion than his mean streak" (Kansas City Star).
Bourdain, who broke into the collective food consciousness with Kitchen Confidential (2000) and has since cemented his place as one of our foremost food commentators, offers the kind of book you can write only if you’ve achieved the level of fame at which you can assume that people care about about whatever you have to say (which they do, and should): a loose, sometimes repetitive, always entertaining, and even at times enlightening collection of food-related ramblings and name-naming hit-pieces. The result is more or less the book equivalent of finding yourself sharing plates at a communal table with a chatty, witty, unapologetically profane, knowledgeable and well-connected member-observer of the restaurant big leagues. If, like him, you see the world’s greatest chefs as somewhere between rock and porn stars, there’s no way you wouldn’t spend hours listening to him chew your ear off with stories of that coke-fueled weekend (or was it a month?) trapped on an island with the world’s most insufferably wealthy food posers and with diatribes on how annoying Alice Waters is and how critic Alan Richman is a “douchebag” (the nicer of the two things Bourdain calls him) for trashing the New Orleans food scene with the city still reeling from Katrina—and then turn on a dime to deliver an impassioned ode to Vietnamese pho and an admiring portrait of perhaps the world’s finest fish-portioner at Le Bernardin. It might have been a narcissistic, condescending, and overly insiderish collection if it weren’t for Bourdain’s consistently disarming self-awareness that he’s “the very picture of the jaded, overprivileged ‘foodie’ (in the worst sense of that word) that he used to despise.” On seeing himself through the eyes of a hungry young chef who still has to actually cook just to barely survive, he says, “Look at me and my nice fucking jacket, standing there all famous and shit.” Sure, others may cook better than he does, but no one can dish like he can. --Ian Chipman
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Top Customer Reviews
Bourdain speaks from his heart and speaks about what he knows, and he knows chefs. He knows what good food is and what good food isn't. He's a rogue, a "devil may care" romantic with a clear disdain for application of doing anything in life without passion.
He pulls no punches when expressing his opinion about any dining experience whether friend or foe and in doing so likely upset a lot of people in the industry. With a brute force he manages to shine an amiable light on his perceived villains in a manner that still displays a redeeming respect.
I could go on and on about the many virtues of this book and Anthony Bourdain himself but if you got this far into my review chances are you are already familiar. A great 5 hour read with many whimsical trappings.
This book had some very interesting parts, but it doesn't follow a storyline. Once you read the book you realize how accurate the title is. It really is just a series of chapters of Tony's opinions things/people he loves and hates in the food industry.
I'm glad I read the book and wouldn't necessarily discourage anyone from reading the book so long as you know what it is going in. His style of writing still shines.
I find his books to be very honest and open, and his tv shows in general are excellent, but don't always have the same opportunity to present how he really feels. Which in my mind is fine - tv is a different medium and he likely has much different expectations put on him by the network.
Personally, I don't think he really tries to cultivate any particular image and I think he brings a tremendous amount of insight, sensitivity, empathy and eagerness to explore and understand other cultures in a genuine way, not just what will look good for the cameras (or to the reader, as it were).
I think he's an excellent writer, as well. He's not afraid to wax poetic, go into lyrical prose to describe something of beauty, or to call himself on his own BS.
This book is the spiritual successor to Kitchen Confidential (one of my favorite books of all time). It is a series of semi-unrelated essays on various topics - one of which is the best description/justification/explanation of "selling out" I've ever seen. (He says he arrived at this conclusion after discussing the topic with Emeril - one of his former targets of scorn). You get insights into the food industry, great meals he's had, life at The Food Network (where his original "A Cook's Tour" was shown), cooking as a profession, food writers, and fine dining in general, among other things.
If you don't like Bourdain, this won't change your mind about anything, most likely. If you already like him, then this is just more of his view on things, and you'll probably enjoy it.
He's crass and profane, so be aware that this is him, uncensored. (Just in case you haven't read his books before). To me this is a better book than The Nasty Bits, which I liked just fine, but it felt more disjointed, being a collection of previously published essays - at least I think they were all previously published.
As I said, I really enjoy AB's writing. Though he can be vulgur, sure, he is also capable of elegant descriptive prose and he's particularly good at delving into topics beyond surface expectations or preconceptions. What I also like about this book is that AB reassesses his past, his prior views on various things, Kitchen Confidential, his career and his previously-stated views on others. He's not trying to live up to an image at this point and has come to realize that there are more important things in life. He also repeatedly states how lucky he is and how blessed his life has been, considering the dark corners he'd previously inhabited.
Recommended highly. I can't wait for the next one.