Anthony Bourdain used to be a chef and a drug addict, but he caught his big break with his third book, Kitchen Confidential,and hasn’t looked back. Since the book came out, Bourdain has written and eaten his way around the world, working on his TV show No Reservations and a number of other works besides. Just recently he came out with the long-awaited follow-up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw, and I had the chance to interview Anthony Bourdain about this book.
No I didn’t. No way. Not on that level. I did see Bourdain in person though, in Waukegan, IL. He got up in front of a big audience with nothing more than a sheet of notes and then he wandered around the stage for the next hour and a half, touching on topics he covered in the book and fielding questions from the audience like a real pro. The book itself is really good. As Bourdain would tell you himself, he is a much different person writing Medium Raw than he was when he wrote Kitchen Confidential and the books show this.
In this memoir-sequel, he talks about eating rare and illegal delicacies and rubbing elbows with the stars of the culinary world. He still has that bite, that sting in his words. He is a misanthrope still, but now he is a well-fed, happily-married, family man misanthrope. He has to work a little harder to find the bitterness. One of the best sections of the book is where he lists the heroes and villains of the food world, another bold chapter is titled, “Alan Richman is a Douchebag.” That pretty much covers that chapter. But the best part of the book is the transporting chapter about Food Porn where he takes you around the world, from Mexico to Vietnam, describing meals and their scenery so vividly you can taste them, feel them, see them. That chapter more than any other feels like fiction, it’s so beautiful and so persuasive.
I think Medium Raw could have been reorganized to make it flow better, or maybe it could have been even further detached from Kitchen Confidential. Late in the book, Bourdain spends a long chapter picking up thoughts he began ten years earlier and then justifying his beliefs then, his change in attitude now. It loses a lot of the fun and energy he had earlier in the book because the writing late in the book belies the idea that Bourdain felt an obligation to justify the past or who he is in the present.
All in all, Bourdain is one of the best travel and food writers out there, he is definitely the best that’s also on TV. He has a clear sense of style and an uncompromising identity. He also lives a wholly enviable life. Any few pages from Medium Raw is enough to show that.