It has been 10 years since Anthony Bourdain’s breakout book, Kitchen Confidential, lured us from our comfortable restaurant chairs and banquettes in the front of the house back through the swinging doors into his mad, mad world—the kitchen—with lurid tales of life back there recounted in a profane and acerbically hilarious manner that confirmed our worst fears.
In Medium Raw, Bourdain is back with more intriguing food fights, moving further from the kitchen into the eating industry. If he and his recipes have changed, so have we. The Food Channel has made us all reality cooks, if not chefs, and we know Emeril, Bobby and Rachael by their first names. Bourdain has himself become a TV star, a world traveler in search of rare food; yet he went through his own personal downs and ups, and is now in a second marriage with a three-year-old daughter.
His dissections of the dumbing down of food TV, the sellouts by big-name chefs who will endorse anything, and his reduction of Alice Waters from an icon to a clueless and naïve crusader for locally produced, organically grown lunches for inner-city kids are still as hilarious, as scatological and as spot-on as ever. But while Bourdain is still the indicter, he is no longer the executioner. He understands ratings are ratings, that successful chefs have huge retinues and dozens of partners who get paid by endorsements, and that Waters means well and has inspired many. Moreover, he realizes now that he is human too, vulnerable to selling out, and no longer a chef or even a cook—just another food personality.
Yet Medium Raw is hardly buffalo wings for the masses. While Bourdain may have toned down the hot chili peppers and reduced the acidity, his fare—and his prose—is still quite spicy.