Anthony Bourdain found unexpected attention ten years ago with his memoir Kitchen Confidential exposing New York City kitchen/restaurant culture. With the success of Kitchen Confidential Bourdain found himself fame as the Travel Channel’s resident international foodie bad boy.
With the release of his new memoir Medium Raw some like me may wonder, “What does Bourdain have to say of interest or conviction now that he is famous and no longer cooks? Has success made him lose his edge?” After approaching Medium Raw with some hesitancy, I found that that’s exactly what he writes about. Medium Raw is the memoir of an over the hill, ex-chef, TV traveler and his experience with television, fame, selling out, and losing his edge. Oh, and of course he writes a lot about food. Be prepared during the chapter about food around the world to drop everything to go to your favorite pho restaurant.
Right off the bat, Bourdain addresses selling out; how much is inevitable in life, especially when in show business and where he draws the line. He discusses the struggle between compromising his image or integrity and providing for his family. Speaking of his family, the most telling chapter in Medium Raw was intitled “I’m Dancin,” in which he gushes about his young daughter and how her arrival in his life changed everything. He admits that having a daughter helped him relinquish his grip on any bit of “coolness” he had left. That it was her presence that “softened him,” driving him to quit smoking, excessive drinking and his earring.
Bourdain would be the first to admit that he has lost some of his edge in the last decade but there is no doubt that he has not lost any of his conviction, rage and insight into the culinary world. Much of Medium raw was dedicated to exposing and critiquing people and institutions in the food world. In the chapter “Heros/Villians” his mission to rid the world of bullshit one douchebag chef or TV personality at a time is the central theme. As is his praise of chefs that have “got it right.” To non-foodies this may be where Bourdain loses you. Though never esoteric, to someone with no knowledge of the foodworld, some of these critics will go over their head. His unprecedented rants and ravings will however, keep your attention.
The real merit of Medium Raw is Bourdain’s awareness of himself and others in the respective worlds of TV, food, and fame. Most celebrities seem blissfully oblivious to their place in the world and to other people in general. Bourdain’s best asset, which was strengthened by his international (and national) travels, is his ability to precisely and intuitively perceive people and situations. For instance, he has incredible insight into the push for organic and sustainable food. He also doesn’t take himself too seriously which adds to his genuine depiction of himself and the integrity of the book.
Medium Raw is a great summer book. Bourdain’s wit and sass remains untainted by success and fame. His insight and candor and entertaining and enlightening, not to mention hilarious.