Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., July 23, 2010
by Anthony Bourdain (Ecco, 304 pp., $26.99)
Ten years ago Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential shattered the culinary book scene with its funny and irreverently revealing look behind the scenes into the underbelly of New York's restaurant kitchens. With this sequel, Bourdain updates the current food scene, issues a few mea culpas for past transgressions, reveals absorbing vignettes of culinary adventures around the world, and explores some of food's most fascinating figures, all in his signature unflinching, focused, acerbic style.
Bourdain takes his best shots at noted culinary critic Alan Richman, whom he rips into for trashing a restaurant he used to work at simply to get back at Bourdain. He praises the focus of independent bloggers while vivisecting critics who accept freebies from those they write about. He attacks the Food Network for firing all of the chefs and replacing them with talking-head wonks with no professional background. His unique position as ex-chef, foodie TV travel adventurer, and culinary insider gains Bourdain access to food's inner circle that few can claim, and once there, he does not hesitate to lambast his hapless victims with abandon or exalt his heroes with hilarious effusion.
Bourdain can turn a phrase like no other. If you want to read some excellent and highly descriptive food porn, you have only to digest his delicious narrative of eating the outlawed ortolan in the book's introduction. Read the chapter devoted to the knife skills of Le Bernardin's Justo Thomas, elite master of piscatory prep work, to discern Bourdain's powers of depiction.
With Medium Raw, the wit is dry, the humor is laugh-out-loud, the attacks sharp and well-honed, and you're guaranteed to learn something about restaurant kitchens that you never knew. Ultimately, the book is entertaining, and like a foodie friend cautioned after she finished it: "I had to finish it in one sitting, and I'm still laughing out loud a day later."