Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain (New York: Harper Collins Books, 2010. 281 pp)

Anthony Bourdain, born in 1956, attended Vassar College and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He has worked as a cook and chef in many institutions strewn across the New York City map. Bourdain contributes articles to the Times, New York Times, Observer, the Face, Scotland on Sunday, and Food Arts Magazine. An addition to Kitchen Confidential, he has written two crime novels – Gone Bamboo and Bone in the Throat. Bourdain was the executive chef at Brassiere Les Halles and is currently the host of the Travel Channel program: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Bourdain resides in New York City.

Honesty is the Best Policy

The last time the literary world saw Anthony Bourdain was in his memoir, Kitchen Confidential. It was filled with stories of him at his most crass, whilst revealing the shady world of the culinary underbelly. However, with Medium Raw, Bourdain becomes more vulnerable and honestly explores his own sordid past as well as his recent acclaim in this hilarious autobiographical work.

Much like his previous book, Bourdain discusses the ins and outs of the culinary world. But, what made this book stand out isn’t that he talked about food — which is the reason I picked it up — it’s that he discusses his own life. He is incredibly honest, and the tale behind his rise to fame, as well as the extreme obstacles on the way make Medium Raw a compelling read.

Bourdain, simply put, possesses a magnetic personality. If you’ve ever watched his television show, No Reservations, you know exactly how this book reads — with hilarious and intricate verbiage.

The Present

Bourdain was once plagued with serious life problems. Recognizing this fact, he tells the tale of his past juxtaposed with his present in Medium Raw. He opens the book by describing a private sit-down with the most respected chefs in America during which they eat a bird that is illegal in America — Ortolan. He concludes this first chapter, and begins the rest of the book, by reflecting in the shock of his current position,

“What could my memoir of an undistinguished — even disgraceful — career have said to people of such achievements? And who are these people, anyway?” (xviii).

Bourdain then proceeds to admit his naïveté about much of the culinary industry when he wrote Kitchen Confidential, and even apologizes to some of the many friends he has come to know since writing the novel.

The Past

Bourdain also takes time to lament on his sordid past.

“I was holed up in the Caribbean about midway through a really bad time…my daily routine began with me waking up around ten, smoking a joint, and going to the beach — where I’d drink myself stupid on beer, smoke a few more joints, and pass out until mid-afternoon. This to be followed by an early-evening rise, another joint, and then off to the bars, followed by the brothels. By then, usually very late at night, I’d invariably find myself staggeringly drunk — the kind of drunk where you’ve got to put a hand over one eye to see straight” (25).

This kind of amazingly non-narcissistic and honest tale, the kind I wouldn’t expect from Bourdain, is thought provoking and moving. He meanders between past and present, offering new tales and new critiques, as well as new praises.

This book is far superior to Kitchen Confidential, a book I particularly enjoyed. This autobiographical work is compelling, honest, and raw (thus, the title). Though he talks about a myriad of topics, they all center around what he has experienced as an individual. If you enjoy humor, honest stories about a life, or just food, I suggest you start reading Medium Raw now.

Verdict:  4 out of 5

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  • Donovan Richards

    I really enjoyed Kitchen Confidential, Andrew. But I worry that Medium Raw is in certain ways less genuine since Bourdain is no longer a New York culinary mainstay. Since he's been out of the business for a decade, did you find Bourdain's fame influencing this book in any way? Or stated differently, do you think Bourdain would have written then same book if he was still a chef?

  • Andrew Jacobson

    Touche- I think there is some danger in that for sure, but reading it I looked at it differently. He's been out of the business for a decade, but he's still been in the margins. Also, it's been a decade – and that's a good thing! He's older now, wiser, and less naïve; he's mellowed out – like a good wine. So, I think this book is more accurate than the last, if anything.

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