Anthony Bourdain’s ‘raw’ passion comes through

Kate Ergenbright

Audiences can’t seem to get enough of Anthony Bourdain, who has built his career as a food critic around being angry, jaded and brutally honest. His Travel Channel series “No Reservations” is set to air its 100th episode this season, and his career-launching best-seller, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” is now an iconic exploration of the culinary industry. Bourdain’s latest and much-anticipated literary venture, “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and People Who Cook,” is his sixth nonfiction book.

“Medium Raw” is a series of essays with no real linking element. Most chapters describe experiences from Bourdain’s life, but some are merely the haphazard musings of a jaded chef and world traveler. “Medium Raw” begins on a high note as Bourdain provides a vivid description of a group of famous chefs clandestinely indulging in an illegal French delicacy: the Ortolan, a small, finch-like bird. This vignette is followed by an essay that can best be described as a page-six column on the food industry, appealing to anyone who watches Food Network on a regular basis.

Also littered throughout the book are sections of “food porn,” as Bourdain lovingly calls them. These chapters simply contain paragraph after paragraph of vibrant descriptions of meals that Bourdain has had the privilege to enjoy during his lifetime.

The strongest moments in “Medium Raw” occur when Bourdain shares stories from his personal life and traveling experiences. The most amusing chapter describes Bourdain’s and his wife’s attempts to stop their young daughter from falling into the clutches of Ronald McDonald and the fast-food industry by any means necessary, including spreading fictional rumors about all the terrible things that can happen to little girls when they eat Chicken McNuggets.

One of the best aspects of Bourdain’s writing style, and personality for that matter, is his no-holds-barred honesty and liberal use of insults and profanity. Unfortunately, Bourdain takes this to an extreme by spending an entire chapter describing his personal views of various chefs and food writers and whether each, in his opinion, is a hero or a villain. At first, this is amusing, but Bourdain takes it a step too far, as the constant praise or vilification of food-industry icons gets old pretty fast.

But, this is all forgivable. Because here’s the thing about Anthony Bourdain: He’s a terrific writer. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a good chef, a label which Bourdain himself admits is a stretch, at best; the man can write. Bourdain will never again be able to write anything as monumental as “Kitchen Confidential.” How could he? Books like that only come once in a career, and Bourdain cannot and will not ever be in the same place he was in when he wrote “Kitchen Confidential.” As a result, it’s unfair to compare any of his later and future books to his first. “Medium Raw” may not technically be a great book, but for foodies and Bourdain fans, it’s still an entertaining read.