Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Book Review - Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Medium raw : a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook by Anthony Bourdain

New York : Ecco, 2010                                                                ISBN 9780061718953

A little while ago I read and immensly enjoyed Kitchen confidential, which I reviewed here. Since then I've seen a few episodes of Bourdain's No Reservations TV show, which was enjoyable enough to watch if I stumbled on to it while surfing, but not enjoyable enough to actively hunt out. Bourdain has developed his schtick of noir / gonzo food expert into a successful career, and good on him. Medium raw continues in that vein.

Whereas Kitchen confidential was a kind of autobiography with other bits thrown in, Medium raw is more of the other bits, which occasionally reflect Bourdain's life post confidential (which became a huge bestseller). The opening section introduces this new life, where he's invited along with New York's food glitterati to eat a forbidden fruit (Ortalan). This, along with a hilarious chapter that includes a Caribbean island, a psychotic girlfriend and the Gaddafi family, are the high gonzo parts of this book.

A fair portion of the book discusses the food scene in the US, from chef whizkids to the Food Channel. While I don't know any of the names Bourdain is dropping, his rants about good versus bad food, militant veganism, and the inanities of food porn on the TV are all entertaining. Bourdain is at his best when he's pointing out the BS that is spouted about food - he has a fine chapter on organic/local/"good" food, noting that a lot of people in the US can't actually afford to go down that path when looking at the dollars available vs. the cost of food equation.

He also is justifiably horrified at the state of the US food industry - his chapter on hamburgers is part horror story of feedlot meat treated with ammonia before sale, and part disgust at wagyu beef being placed in a bun. His skilled "knifework" on Alan Richman, food critic of the New York Times, is a delight, and could be the opening shots in a long-running war.

The final section of the book takes us back to Kitchen confidential, with a "where are they now" flavour. Bourdain returns in this final section to a recurring theme that pops up throughout the book, which is how he hit the jackpot quite unexpectedly, how he thought his life as a chef would keep trucking along until (a probably early) death, but for the (to Bourdain) inexplicable success of his (not actually) first book.

Not quite as good as Kitchen confidential, Medium raw is still a good way to pass a weekend - you'll laugh out loud in places.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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