I have long believed that it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able—if called upon to do so—to make them a proper omelet in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both good manners and good for the world. Perhaps omelet skills should be learned at the same time you learn to fuck. Perhaps there should be an unspoken agreement that in the event of loss of virginity, the more experienced of the partners should, afterward, make the other an omelet—passing along the skill at an important and presumably memorable moment.
The above paragraph sums up a lot of my feelings about Anthony Bourdain: often arrogant, sometimes frustrating, often with moments of brilliance. (That paragraph comes from a section of the book that is one of the better ones: musings on the lost art of cooking, skills that every person should be able to perform [but many can’t].)
No matter what your feelings are about the man, though, his books are usually pretty entertaining reading, and Medium Raw is a sort of return to form of the sort found in Kitchen Confidential, that is, a more personal and autobiographic look at the cooking world and the author’s life. It’s much less coherent in some places than its predecessor: Bourdain jumps from topic to topic, always connected to his life and the restaurant industry and genuine love of food, but sometimes without total rhyme or reason. He expounds on the terrifying Sandra Lee (I’ll admit that this entire encounter made me laugh), his depression in the Caribbean and subsequent encounters with Horrible Rich People, the recession’s effect on the dining industry, when you should go to culinary school (you probably shouldn’t, just fyi), fatherhood, and things we should know but have lost over time. Among other things.
Again, as with most of his writing, I end up liking the parts that are less about him and more about food. He’s really got an eye for language that makes food seem as wonderful as it is (if that makes sense?). It’s harder for me to really get absorbed in the rest of the book because the frustrating bits are all personality, and his writing is so bursting with BOURDAIN that it sometimes becomes difficult to ignore. (To clarify: while his writing is very readable, I also tend to imagine this is how it would sound if you sat down and listened to him lecture one night.)
Even if you don’t like him, Medium Raw is worth reading for his abrasive sense of humor and the sheer knowledge that being a world traveler tends to impart (little things peppered in the essays about food preparation in Singapore, etc. are worth it alone). It’s a bit of a mess, this book, but definitely has a place on the shelf if you’re interested in food, the world, or Personalities with a capital P.
Also, he likes Zola. That alone is enough to win my devotion.