Review: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
I went into reading this book as a fairly committed follower of Bourdain in all his forms. I’ve watched nearly every episode of both his tv series and I’ve swallowed whole each of his previous non-fiction works. He’s opinionated and crankily entertaining, but truly capable of some brilliant insight into the nature of food, society and work. That said, all great artists eventually will begin to run out of steam if they continue with the same old shtick – and Medium Raw definitely feels like a drop-off from his prior works.
There’s an attempt, it seems, to reacquaint readers on the world of food that has passed since Kitchen Confidential was published. Sure, it’s interesting to get his take on fine dining in the wake of the economic collapse, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a cursory glance. Same story for the "food porn" chapter which really just seems like brief synopses of his favorite episodes of the Travel Channel show. You’re better off skipping this chapter entirely and reading A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.
Worst of all is how Bourdain wants to update on us on how he feels about various personalities in the cooking world. He likes Rachel Ray, Emeril and Jamie Oliver now, but has a new dislike for Ducasse and the James Beard house. Oh, but it’s good to know they can get back on his good side just by sending him a fruit basket. Slagging the (at the time) newly christened celebrity chefs might have seemed edgy in Kitchen Confidential, but now just feels like a whiny airing out of his beefs. It’s self-indulgent in the extreme.
What saves it is the chapters on his newfound life with his wife and daughter that are touching and bring out the better qualities of his writing. Best of all, however, is the chapter profiling Justo Thomas, the fish butcher at Le Bernardin. This is where Bourdain really excels – giving us a portrait of a man who is a master of his craft, an example of the hard-working, no-excuses world of cooking that Bourdain seeks to embody. It’s disappointing that the entire book could not have been imbued with the same enthusiasm and quality of storytelling that Bourdain brings here.