A decade ago, Anthony Bourdain burst onto the food book scene with Kitchen Confidential. Since then, he’s written several books, been on TV, become rich and famous. Now, he’s back with Medium Raw which is a sort of sequel to Kitchen Confidential.
This Tony Bourdain is older, wiser and more mature. He’s a lot wealthier. He’s happily married, a father, no longer does drugs and has quit smoking. He seems much nicer. I’d rather get to know this Tony Bourdain than the old one, and, if I owned a restaurant, I’d certainly want the Medium Raw version of Tony Bourdain to review it, rather than the Kitchen Confidential version. But the book, though good, is less fun.
The good part of Medium Raw is that Tony Bourdain can still write, he still knows a lot about food, and he’s still opinionated. But what made Kitchen Confidential so revolutionary was its totally no-holds-barred look at the underbelly of restaurant cooking. To be sure, there’s some of that in Medium Raw. His opinions of mass-produced hamburger and the people who produce it are every bit as strong as anything in the earlier book. But, for instance, there’s a chapter in Medium Raw about Alice Waters. For the first three-quarters of the chapter, Bourdain brutally takes apart the whole image and reality of Waters. He makes her movement look rather silly and naive. And then … he sort of takes it back. OK, this is a fairer appraisal than the old Tony would have made. But … it’s less fun.
Medium Raw has 19 chapters, plus an afterword. Each chapter really stands on its own; in fact, this is more a collection of essays than a single book. In one chapter, he gives advice to would-be chefs (mostly, the advice is cautions about how hard a life it is). There’s a chapter called “Lust” about amazing food. A chapter called “Heroes and villains” marks some of Bourdain’s heroes and villains, then there’s a special chapter devoted to Alan Richman, and called “Alan Richman is a douchebag”. The basic reason for this opinion is that Richman wrote a very negative review of New Orleans and its restaurants, in the aftermath of Katrina. There’s a chapter about Top Chef, and one about the Food Network, and, as mentioned above, one about Alice Waters.
Overall, if you like food and restaurants, you’ll like this book. But it’s not the eye-opener that Kitchen Confidential was.