It's funny, irreverent, thoughtful and utterly fascinating. And it "does not suck." Behind-the-scenes views of the chef scene and the cooking world are rendered with a snarky and vivid light. He addresses his career, food purity, addiction and recovery, his disgust with the Food Network and his admiration for his culinary heroes with gut-wrenching honesty and passion. If this is medium raw, I wonder how raw "really raw" could be.
As a dedicated foodie, I'm thrilled at the glimpses I get into Top Chef, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, the Food Network folks, and into some of the most exalted kitchens in America and Europe. I'm both jealous of his access and glad he's taken me there, to see and smell and taste in places I could never go.
Perhaps my favorite chapter is "Lower Education," in which he shamelessly wages psychological warfare to inoculate his daughter against fast food. I can barely contain my giggles as he and his wife whisper outside the little girl's door:
We're talking about Ronald McDonald again. Bringing up the possibility of his being implicated in the disappearance of yet another small child.
"Not another one?!" gasps my wife with feigned incredulity.
"I'm afraid so," I say with concern. "Stepped inside to get some fries and a Happy Meal and hasn't been seen since..."
"Meat" was another excellent chapter, where he addresses the great American hamburger and his outright fury at the fact that our food supply has been tainted by slaughter houses that "process fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria." Ammonia? Now granted I sort-of knew this stuff but...its the kind of thing that makes me shudder and shut my ears until I can locate a local free-range ranch to buy my meat from.
"My Aim Is True" introduces the reader to a man who scales and cleans and fillets the fish for one of the top restaurant's in the country, but can't afford to eat at the place he works. Justo is inspiring, an ode to dedication and work ethic. I am humbled both by his seemingly magical power of organization and by the simple joy he takes in doing his job to perfection; without much money, without much recognition outside of his own restaurant except the knowledge that he's making his chefs look good.
And the food...oh gods can Bourdain talk about food! You can taste the sweet flavor of sizzling buttery fat, feel the heat of chiles and spice, smell the sharpness of lemongrass and salty sea brine, feel the crunch of gristle and bones as they emanate from his writing.
Fans of No Reservations will be gladdened (and enthralled) to know that Anthony Bourdain writes much like he speaks. His voice is lilting and expressive. The gravely strains of tobacco and vodka mixed with the soft tones of buerre blanc. A voice that is poetic, stopping just on the good side of singsong. Cynical and hopeful. Seamy and transcendent.
Medium Raw is a tasty read and I'm hungry for Bourdain's next book.