Saturday, October 16, 2010

Medium Raw

It was never my intent to read this book. I had read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed that one. That book talks about Bourdain's early days as a cook and the harsh life that it is for the majority of cooks and the other folk in their kitchens. It was interesting and eye-opening and helped launch Bourdain onto the path he now walks; that of glamour travelogue/guest judge/fancy schmancy pants cook. Instead of hanging in the low-end kitchens of his younger days, he now is part of the posh three-star Michelin restaurant kitchens (as an eater, not a cook), festival attending, being on television folks. Well, really it's just one folk, him. Bourdain has crafted a unique place for himself in the food chain (pun intended).

The subtitle of Medium Raw, "A bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook" wasn't really appealing either. It seemed as if the book might be a "bite the hand who feeds you" type of approach. I do like Bourdain but I didn't believe that I would get much out of reading this book. I'm not going to be eating at the same restaurants or traveling to the same countries or sharing a table with people he does. He's entertaining to watch and listen to (and, in Kitchen Confidential, to read) but that didn't inspire me to want to read Medium Raw.

Michael Ruhlman did, though. The author of two great books on cooking that I have read, Ratio and Making of a Chef, posted this review on his website. Ruhlman's anticipatory take was similar to mine:

"...I thought great, fine. (Another rehash of travel stories and opinion on foie gras and chefs, detritus sloughed off during too-long plane rides and passing time in airports. Repurposing material because he’d taken a chunk of cash from his publisher and had to deliver something.)"

Ruhlman then goes on to state how wrong he is and how admirable he finds Bourdain's writing skills and the book he produced.

So I read it. And didn't like it. The chapters have a feel of essays and don't move well from one to another. There's no middle ground with Bourdain, either, in his viewpoint of things. He either likes it or hates it. Given the role he plays in the food world, this makes sense. Like so much of our media today, it's not enough to report on something, you have to take a side to keep talking. I hate that. Nothing is ever clear cut and the fact that something can be controversial indicates that there is more than one side. I like to see that side, too. You don't get both sides from Bourdain very often.

I also think it's a shame that someone who writes as well as Bourdain (and shame on Ruhlman, too, in his blog post) that he feels the need to utilize profanities with the incredible frequency that he does. It feels like he overuses profanities in order to remind readers (and maybe himself) that he isn't all high-falutin', that he came up on the other side of the tracks, and that while he may dine with people worth millions, deep down he's still the heavy-drinking, chain-smoking blue-collar guy he once was.

Bourdain does talk about his past a good bit in the book and the final chapter is an update on the people he wrote about in Kitchen Confidential. But in the end, I never feel like there is any point to this book. It does feel like it was about taking a chunk of change from the publisher. Perhaps if you are a die-hard food person and eat at David Chang's restaurants and care about the James Beard awards and the foie gras controversy, then sure, this might be a good book. To the average person, I can't recommend it.

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