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Some may prefer well-done, but Bourdain serves it raw

In the year 2000, a young chef named Anthony Bourdain wrote a two-installment piece for The New Yorker about restaurant dining.

It was terrific -- brash, mean, and remarkably accurate. This author could sling words as well as hash: Brunch is for culinary idiots because it's where the previous week's leftovers are offered; those in the know don't eat fish at a seafood place on a Monday; diners who order their beef well-done don't get the best quality. Etc., etc.

Lo and behold -- a shtick was born.

A very successful shtick, actually. That duet of stories unleashed an amazing career. First a hardcover book, "Kitchen Confidential," followed by many others, then a travel/food television show "No Reservations and the inevitable book following it, a gig as a judge on TV's "Top Chef."

All based on personality -- profane, testosterone-fueled, edgy, edgy, edgy. No wonder guys of a ...er, certain age adore him. But it must take a lot of energy to play the role. Doesn't the man ever get tired?

Maybe.

That might explain "Medium Raw" (great title by the way). He calls it a "valentine," and here Bourdain is a little softer than he once was -- that's what he says any way and he thinks that restaurants are better now than they used to be and he doesn't even hate Emeril as much as he used to. He's a father now (a fierce father, what else?) and he's taking it a little easier on the guys in the business who make it big and even the guys who don't.

But he still has his "heroes" and his "villains." He does a real job on culinary divinity Alice Waters, although he claims to respect her. (To put it nicely, Bourdain thinks Waters is a little out of touch with the mainstream.)

Mario Batali is a "hero" (because he gives money to charity); Jamie Oliver is a "hero" (genuine concern about school lunches). Why -- you are thinking -- this guy Bourdain is a puppy dog after all.

Oh no he isn't. Bourdain is still serving up big portions of spleen. Food Network star Sandra Lee, our future New York State first lady (or something, perhaps?), made a pass at him. Bourdain thinks well-established critic Alan Richman of GQ is a villain (actually worse) because, among other things, he attacked Bourdain's restaurant Les Halles in New York City; he hates Gael Greene because she had the nerve to ignore one of Bourdain's gods, Fergus Henderson, at a panel discussion.

Tell the truth, he's not too fond of restaurant critics in general.

Now there's a surprise ...

The question is: should we really care about all this junior high school stuff? Should the villains themselves care? Like day-old fish, it is getting old.

But Bourdain's writing isn't getting old and that's what's important. He's funny and incredibly readable and oddly humble, often intelligent and sometimes poetic (as when he discusses the food of Vietnam). He gives sound advice to wannabe chefs.

So if you are a "foodie" -- heaven only knows what Bourdain would think of that word -- and you don't mind someone trying to shock you (sounding, page after page, like a 5-year-old who learned some new words on the school bus and can't wait to use them), you're going to love it. I think.

But take this meal in small doses, please. By the teaspoonful or even the quarter-teaspoonful.

Otherwise, I warn you, agita lies ahead.

Janice Okun is the News' restaurant critic.

***

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

By Anthony Bourdain

Ecco

281 pages, $26.99

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