MEDIUM RAW by Anthony Bourdain [Review]

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain carries the subtitle “A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,” and it truly acts like a valentine. It expresses Bourdain’s honest sentiments about the food world, and, like a true bloody valentine, it will also leave some hurt and heart broken. The book covers a variety of topics like Bourdain’s early life, his addiction to drugs, why he will never go back to St. Barths, and why the fish at Le Bernardin is always good. He does address some of the grief he’s given to some celebrity chefs (Bobby Flay, Mario Batali) and reinforces why he hates certain others (Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Paula Deen). Last, but not least, there’s a great epilogue-type chapter where Bourdain revisits some of the people he wrote about in Kitchen Confidential and how they have changed (or not) in the past years.

Many people are familiar with Anthony Bourdain’s work, whether they ate at Les Halles when he was the chef there, or they watch his popular TV show No Reservations on The Travel Channel, or they read his nonfiction best seller Kitchen Confidential. One of the best assets of Medium Raw is that Bourdain writes it the same way he speaks on his TV show or other appearances: raw, with feeling, without pulling any punches, without unnecessary flowery language. This is best on display in two chapters of the book (with wildly different aims): “Heroes and Villains”, where Bourdain discusses who he sees as villains or heroes in the food world (sometimes for interesting reasons), and “Lust” where he describes his favorite food memories from his travels (which he describes as food and travel porn). “Lust” is my favorite chapter of the book, the imagery and language used force you to enter Bourdain’s world and make you wish you could be at the same taco stand in Puebla or having a hot pot in Chengdu.

Bourdain’s writing also gives you a great feeling of a conversation going on between the author, the subject of the chapter, and the reader, and it draws you into the narrative very easily. This is best shown in the chapter “The Fury” about David Chang (the brains behind New York hotspots Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssam, Ko, and Milk Bar) where Bourdain spins the tale of Chang’s background while bringing you the conversation they shared over chicken skewers. At the end of the chapter, you understand more about the brilliance behind Chang, as Bourdain provides some perspective during the narrative to help the reader understand how important he is to cooking, but also why he is the person he is today. It’s very powerful stuff to read and opens up the reader’s appreciation to intensity of the cooking world.

Medium Raw is a great book for fans of Anthony Bourdain or those who enjoy learning more about the food world (as well as foodies!). It’s only age appropriate for adults, as the language and situations described are too mature for younger readers. If you’re still not sure about Medium Raw, I recommend watching an episode of No Reservations, it will give you a good idea of the tone and style of the book while providing you insight into Anthony Bourdain.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Medium Raw:

If a gas leak blew up this building? Fine dining as we know it would be nearly wiped out in one stroke. Ming Tsai would be the guest judge on every episode of Top Chef, and Bobby Flay and Mario Batali would be left to carve up Vegas between themselves.
– Bourdain on the guest list at a special dinner he attended

“You’ve been a bad boy,” Sandra was saying, perhaps referring to casual comments I may or may not have made, in which I may have suggested she was the “hellspawn of Betty Crocker and Charles Manson.” The words “pure evil” might have come up as well. It is alleged that the words “war crime” might also have been used by me- in reference to some of Sandra’s more notorious offerings, like her “Kwanzaa Cake.” Right now, I have no contemporaneous recollection of these comments.
– Bourdain on an encounter with Sandra Lee at a premiere after-party

We spent a somewhat less than romantic New Year’s Eve at a party hosted by the Gaddafis. That should tell you something. Enrique Iglesias provided the entertainment. A detail that lingers in the memory like the birthmark on one’s torturer’s cheek.
– Bourdain on a bad trip to St. Barths

John F. Kennedy said something truly terrifying—guaranteed to make every parent’s blood run cold: “To have a child is to give fate a hostage.”
– Bourdain on becoming a father

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Ecco | Pages: 304 | Source: Purchased | Buy on Amazon

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