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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Department of Book Reports: Medium Raw

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain (Harper, $26.99) Ten years after Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain is back with another brutal culinary tell-all. The sub-title A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook sums it up well. Many of the chefs he talks about fare well, he admires those who work hard and are honest with their audience. Teevee personalities and celebrity chefs are dished and dissected.

In the chapter Go Ask Alice, Tony serves up the back story to Alice Water's now famous crusade to "revolutionize" the White House kitchen and garden and why her hypocrisy was so offensive. He takes her to task for not having voted in 40-some years, but having the nerve to dictate a kitchen & staff she had not bothered to consider. He asks if her ideal world were to be realized, who would be willing to get up at 5am to gather those delicate local vegetables that all might eat organic, regional food in season?
But even by the end of this rant, he concludes that the world is a better place for her bringing attention to the way our food is produced and consumed.

Perhaps the most scathing chapter is Alan Richman is a Douchebag, where he writes of their long standing feud, and how Richman came to write an ugly review of the restaurant Bourdain used to work at 10 years earlier. But that is not what makes Richman a douchebag in his eyes. It is the snarky review of the New Orleans food scene soon after Katrina which draws his hatred. The article isn't available online, but the responses to it sure are.

Bourdain is equally unflinching in self-examination. He realizes how lucky he has been, and that the path through his early addictions surely brought him to this place. He is giddily happy with life now, and the reason for that is his two year old daughter. Parenthood will change all perspectives. He revels in being un-cool while utterly, devotingly doting on this miracle in his life. I recommend his "Black Ops" chapter Lower Education to any parent wishing to counteract the insidious propaganda of McDonald's on young minds.

Anthony Bourdain also has a challenge for all you would be foodies. Answer this question on his website and you might just get picked by him to be published in the paperback edition of Medium Raw:
Medium Raw is available from Jackson Street Books and other fine Independent bookstores.As always, books ordered here will have a freebie publishers Advance Reading Copy included as a thank you to our blogosphere friends.


  1. I’m confused. Why do I care whether the White House chef votes? It’s not a political position. If she has valid things to say about food and nutrition, how is she a hypocrite simply because she’s apolitical? What if she was a lifelong Republican (or worse, a Libertarian)? Would that make her views of food and nutrition less valid? Seems like a remarkably petty criticism.

    And I have a newsflash for Mr. Bourdain: Getting up at 5:00 a.m. isn’t all that unusual. I do it almost every day – not to go buy local produce, but to run. Maybe that makes me an effete elitist like Ms. Waters, but I figure it’s better than dying of a heart attack at 55. If you care about your health, you make sacrifices. It sucks, but that’s life.

  2. By the way, I didn’t mean to criticize your Book Report, Tammy. It may be a great book, but Bourdain’s calling Alice Water a hypocrite for not voting struck me as odd.

  3. I used to like the guy, but then I realized he is the douchebag and he is no liberal.

  4. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough about the Alice chapter, he also points out her firing up a wood fire to cook a single egg for a Leslie Stahl episode, extolling "local" veggies that have actually traveled over 12 driving hours from San Diego to Berkeley, fetishizing the organic foods while telling poor people to cut back on their 3rd pair of Nikes, and as a chef, not knowing the basics of the Heimlich maneuver (which is federally mandated to be posted in every commercial kitchen). The chapter includes several more instances, but still he ends it with an appreciation.

    Jimbo, you could interpret Tony's brash arrogance towards the mucky-mucks as the douchebag, but I've met him twice. I can tell you he is a kind gentleman to those of us who've worked in a restaurant or in retail. And trust me, I've been treated like shit in both those occupations.

  5. I thought Anthony Bourdain was this guy. Not the one who's singing about penises; the one who comes afterward...

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  7. The article is online here:
    Yes, We're Open
    And Alan Richman responds to Bourdain's new book here:
    He Is a Living, Breathing Low Blow

    I think they're both douchebags.

  8. Tony Bourdain is a lot of different personas. I think he would certainly agree that he is not a very nice guy all the time. Alan Richman and a good many of the other "chefs" and "foodies" on cable are DOUCHEBAGS. Give me Pierre Franey, Madeline Kammen, Jacques Pepin, Dame Julia over any of them.

    What I REALLY like about Bourdain is that he doesn't really give a fuck about kissing up to other "celebrity" food people.

    Alice Waters has done some good, she's done some not good. That she has not voted is not a reason to criticize her as a chef, but as a human being who claims to give a fuck about the world.

  9. I wish to God he would take his pen to the term Foodie. I hate it.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.