Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recent Reads: The Latest Bourdain

Medium Raw, published earlier this year, is Anthony Bourdain's fourth work of nonfiction (not including his cook book), and probably his best book since his breakout Kitchen Confidential.

The book reads much like Kitchen Confidential, a series of disconnected pieces, more a collection of essays than continuous chapters. Bourdain retains his straightforward and snarky writing style, though his editor needs to give him a banned list which should include "maw," "clusterfuck" and question marks, which he inevitably misuses. (It seems like you shouldn't be able to misuse question marks, but somehow, Bourdain does?)

There's plenty of red meat here for Bourdain's fans, including slaps at the classic easy targets like Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee. Wielding his pen like a slasher movie villain wields a chef's knife is what we've come to expect from Bourdain, and he doesn't disappoint. I love the snark as much as the next sarcastic blogger, but I feel like it's become part of a schtick for Bourdain.

More thoughtful than his usual snark is a chapter-long take down of Alice Waters. The full-on attack raises issues of class and challenges the Waters world view in a manner that is influenced by Bourdain's first hand experiences of some of the world's harder places to live.

Despite all the classic Bourdain venom, I was much more interested in the chapter about Justo Thomas, the guy who breaks down all the fish, every day, at Le Bernardin. Bourdain lyrically describes the work, somewhere between art and drudgery, of a lone fish-butcher, trapped in the basement of New York's seafood temple, cutting fish to perfection. It's the story of a man and his craft, and it even has a surprise happy ending.

The last chapter is a sort of "where are they now" of the characters from Kitchen Confidential. It would have been interesting as an updated epilogue in a new version of that book, but here, it's a lot to expect that we remember the ins and outs of each character that made a chapter appearance in his book from nearly ten years ago.

Overall, the book is a good mix of the old snarky Bourdain and the newer, more reflective writer. It's an easy read and one that's worthwhile.

Medium Raw
Anthony Bourdain
Ecco/Harper Collins 2010 ($27)

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