Thursday, May 19, 2011
Foodie Reading: Medium Raw
Several months ago I happily blogged about attending Anthony Bourdain's life show/talk/Q&A at the Cobb Performing Arts Center. While there, I learned Bourdain had recently published a new book entitled Medium Raw, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.
My first disappointment won't come as a surprise to some of you - Bourdain regaled his live audience at the Center with many of the stories contained in the book. If you've ever seen a famous comedian perform live in a comedy club and then went out to buy his book, only to discover you've heard all the material already, you're familiar with this experience. Anthony Bourdain is a very talented writer, but the written word can't compare to his enchanting live delivery. I'm sure he had the same routine going at all his tour's stops; if you've attended one of his shows, you may not want to bother with purchasing a copy of Medium Raw. Hair-raising confrontation with creepy Sandra Lee? Check. Advice to travelers? Check. Efforts to turn his daughter against the evil Ronald McDonald? Check.
The most disappointing things about Medium Raw are its disjointed content and its style in certain chapters - sounding very un-Bourdain like, forced and nearly insincere. I loved both Kitchen Confidential, the book that made Bourdain famous, and A Cook's Tour, written in conjunction with a show he used to star in on the Cooking Network (back before he understandably came to loathe it). I read them both with relish, and will happily reread them during the next couple of years. Medium Raw just wasn't up to the standard I've come to expect from Bourdain. The chapter layout has no flow, almost no relation to each other. There is almost no natural progression - instead it's a bumpy ride. The final chapter revisits some of the well-loved or much despised characters from Kitchen Confidential, which is good, but it feels like it was slapped on as an afterthought following Bourdain's completion of the number of pages required by his editor/publisher.
I realize this makes it sound like I disliked the book. I really didn't.
What did I like? His chapter on Alice Waters, the self-proclaimed mother of the slow food movement, co-founder of Chez Panisse and general kook, is hilarious and his its target smack in the center. His no-holds-barred attack on the GQ writer entitled "Alan Richman Is a Douchebag" is stupendous. His in depth look at chef and mega restaurant owner David Change is well-rounded and thought provoking. Chapter 3 chronicles his hellish experience with a coke-addicted heiress in the Caribbean, and every sentence is a gem.
Bourdain is, of course, at his best when he's writing about food (as opposed to eviscerating/praising other chefs, crowing his love for his toddler daughter, or doling out advice to prospective cooks). While Bourdain can make any of the other aforementioned subjects interesting, his food writing (he calls it food porn) is absolutely fascinating. You'll get some of that in Medium Raw - enough to make the book worth purchasing. If the paragraph on page 83 (of the hardback) about eating pho in Hanoi doesn't make your mouth water, you're not a foodie.
Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Anthony Bourdain - he's probably my biggest foodie hero. He's witty, forthright, and bases his love for a dish on its flavor, creativity, texture, presentation, aroma - all the important factors, not its price. It pains me to say that I dislike a single word he's written. Maybe the best way to sum up how I feel about this book is to say that I'm happy I read it . . . but unlike his previous nonfiction books, I probably wouldn't read it again.