I just finished reading Medium Raw, and I’m annoyed.
I don’t know if it’s uber uncool to admit this, but I was a big fan of Anthony Bourdain. I liked his scathingly honest and drug filled portrayal of working as a NYC chef in the 80’s and 90’s, otherwise known as Kitchen Confidential. I really liked his travel show, No Reservations. He was traveling internationally — and not just to the Caribbean either. He was eating local food in random, definitely-not-vacation spots — like the middle of Mongolia — and inevitably getting sauced with his guide or sucked into some strange encounter like karaoke ice fishing. His bullshit meter was always on but he also followed the golden rule of travel: be a good guest. There was nothing glossy about how he traveled — in fact he seemed more likely to enjoy a chat about local politics over street food, than to don a suit for some overpriced white-gloved dinner. I liked him.
His latest book? It’s so bad, that it makes me angry.
It begins well. In fact, if you’re really curious I think you can get away with reading the first 75 pages and still like the guy. He tells a story about a clandestine meeting with the crème de la crème of the culinary world to eat an illicit meal. At this point, I was really excited. This was going to be good…. I poured myself a glass of wine and curled up.
The problem is, he stops telling stories and begins editorializing. He defends himself against years-old critiques of his work and adversaries you’re never even hear of. Is he a great chef? He never said he was. Is he a sell out? If you work, you’re selling out so get over it. Is he angry? He was, but that was then. Does he really hate Emeril? No, not so much.
Who cares, Tony?
I turned to my husband and said, “Uh oh, this book just took a turn for the boring.”
He has an entire chapter dedicated to eviscerating a certain food writer. Another chapter listing the people he likes and doesn’t like among the chefs and food industry people he knows. Who are these people? Would 90% of the massive audience Bourdain draws even know who Gael Greene is (she’s a food writer) and if you do, do you particularly care why Bourdain dislikes her? (she was on a panel and failed to acknowledge a chef that Bourdain admires)
There is some good writing in there, but it’s too sparse between the apologies for old Tony, the navel gazing, the spent anger, the celebrity name dropping, the unfocused narrative and the plain fact that it’s not what you want from a Bourdain book. I wanted stories — crazy, whacked out stories about traveling around the world for ten years. I wanted him to describe his ascent to celebrity and the surrealism of it. Or to tell us what he learned from so much travel. Or to just talk about getting mind-numbingly stoned with his production crew. I wouldn’t have cared what he chose, as long as it wasn’t this lame apology of a book, that seems more like a drawn out epilogue from Kitchen Confidential than anything fresh or new.
In short, it made me like him less. I wanted the insecure, messed up Bourdain to get over himself, but it seems like he’s haunted by his own success. He’s so consumed by his own public profile, he’s made the mistake of thinking we actually care what real Bourdain thinks about celebrity Bourdain or that we’re willing to plunk down $26 to hear his thoughts on his own anger issues. We want his insight, sure, but an entire book dedicated to the stuff that bothers him? We get it, Tony, you don’t think you deserve your life. He always said he wrote Kitchen Confidential for the waiters and chefs in the tri-state area. I think he wrote Medium Raw for himself.
Feel better, Tony? Good, now get back to work. We’ll just agree it never happened and we can continue to like your show and writing even if that means you secretly hate yourself.
Free Book Friday: last week’s winner of a $15 barnes and noble gift certificate is… comment #2 (picked by random.org) Emily.
This week I giving a choice… I’ll send the winner a copy of Medium Raw or a $20 gift certificate to BN. I know that despite my negative review, some folks will actually read it because I’ve piqued their curiosity. That’s cool. In fact, anyone who has read the book should post their mini-review below, I’m curious to hear what other people think.
To enter for this week’s Free Book Friday, just leave a comment below…
What are your thoughts? Bourdain: mad genius or overrated?