Cannonball Read V: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
With Anthony Bourdain’s writing, I always hear his voice in my head reading aloud with me. As a writer and a public figure, he has such a clear identifying voice which comes through, even when reading his words on a page. Bourdain writes like he talks - forcefully, descriptively and without pretension. If you have enjoyed his TV shows, appearances on “Top Chef” or his previous written work, you’ll feel the same way about Medium Raw. I loved it. But if you don’t like what you’ve seen before - as many cannonballers have previously said with comedians’ books - this one isn’t for you.
That being said, I find Bourdain’s no-bullshit approach refreshing. It’s sometime a little brutal, but he’s clearly not afraid to go out on a limb for anyone he supports. He’s like the friend that you absolutely want on your side when shit hits the fan, but if he’s not on your side, you should probably duck for cover.
I’ve previously read several books by Bourdain, and Medium Raw’s approach doesn’t stray too far from his other books. Several chapters, which each read like a separate vignette, are dedicated to apologizing for past missteps, correcting misinformation, and knocking himself down a few pegs in the public eye.
As good as Bourdain is when he writes in self-deprecation mode, and he has a lot of stories that put him in an unflattering light, his writing is strongest when Bourdain writes about someone he admires. Two chapters in particular stood out to me - one about David Chang, Bourdain’s workaholic friend and the creator of Momofuku in New York, and the chapter about Justo Thomas, the resident fish guy at Le Bernardin in New York. Bourdain admires determination, dedication, hard work, and excellent results and reading these elegies to great chefs makes me want to make better food, be a better person - Bourdain makes these people on the page truly come alive, and his enthusiasm and admiration for such people literally pour out of the page.
In another few chapters, Bourdain also takes time for introspection, and examines his evolution from a drug addicted, self-proclaimed mediocre chef to a TV star with appearances on “Top Chef,” hanging out with chefs and industry people he respects and admires, and being well paid to travel the globe. Even when he comes off as mischievous, Bourdain makes it clear that he does not take his new lifestyle for granted and that he sees both great responsibility and the privileges that come along with this type of fame. Bourdain takes his food seriously, and expects his readers to do so - but he makes sure there’s always a hefty dose of humor and humility along with the serious bits.
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