three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

A-Medium RawWriter and chef Anthony Bourdain is the author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) and the host of the Travel Channel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

The Topic: Dubbed as a "follow-up" to his best seller Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw follows Bourdain through further adventures in cooking and eating. These include a clandestine gathering of some of the world’s top chefs to share an illegal meal of a rare French bird and an encounter with a man who perfectly cuts and cleans fish for a top New York restaurant but has never eaten there. The book also contains incisive observations from Bourdain’s career as a food critic and a Top Chef judge, as well invectives against celebrity chefs like Alice Waters, Sandra Lee, and Wolfgang Puck. The chef also has choice things to say about himself: a "loud, egotistical, one-note asshole who’s been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long" and "the very picture of the jaded, overprivileged ‘foodie’"--in sum, a man best appreciated, perhaps, by other foodies.
Ecco. 304 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780061718946

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Bourdain’s] new book, Medium Raw, is subtitled ‘A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,’ and much of it reads more like a poison-pen letter than a love note. ...
[T]his is really good writing, not just really good food writing."
Geoff Nicholson

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One of the most moving parts of the book is a chapter on a Dominican, Justo Thomas, who has spent the past six years in a tiny room below the kitchen of Le Bernardin in New York, cleaning 700 pounds of fish a day and cutting it into perfectly uniform portions. Breaking rules of the trade, Mr. Bourdain takes him to lunch in the dining room, where Mr. Thomas for the first time gets to taste the fish he has prepared." Moira Hodgson

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While candidly relishing his celebrity, [Bourdain] does so with a slightly mocking tone, almost a guilty conscience, like an aging ‘60s radical who’s been co-opted by the establishment and suddenly finds himself a mortgage banker. ... Above all, when you read Bourdain, you never quite know what’s going to happen in the next sentence, but you can be sure you’re in for a treat, a shock, a surprise." Michael Dirda

Kansas City Star 3 of 5 Stars
" [A]t times, you have to be a raging food-world maniac (I’m not) to pay close attention to some of Bourdain’s culinary feuds and New York kitchen tales. I mean, really, who cares? But Bourdain at his best captures what’s really right and good about food and restaurants and the hedonistic impulse that drives us to expand our eating horizons ever beyond." Steve Paul

Onion AV Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Even when he was mocking vegetarians, people who don’t eat pork, and Emeril Lagasse in Kitchen Confidential, the book seemed like a labor of love, an intimate portrait of the messed-up community of people who make food. ... [Bourdain has] become a cultural icon, but his new book feels redundant, out of touch, and more than a little sad." Samantha Nelson

Critical Summary

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).