Hold the Celebrity 

Too Much Celebrity, Not Enough Chef in Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw


ANTHONY BOURDAIN wrote the phenomenally popular Kitchen Confidential for anyone who'd ever gotten fucked up before, during, or after a shift at a shitty restaurant job. During his subsequent vault to fame, Bourdain retained a certain outsider's appeal, thanks in large part to a willingness to trash talk people like Paula Deen and Rachel Ray.

It'd be a stretch to characterize the Bourdain of Medium Raw as either kinder or gentler than previous iterations, but he does temper a few of his more provocative past statements. (He admits, for example, that referring to Alice Waters as "Pol Pot in a muumuu" may have been a bit extreme.) The problem, though, is that Bourdain's been a bona fide celebrity chef for over a decade now, and relating to his perspective has become accordingly difficult.

Bourdain still likes to complain—only these days, his grievances stem from an incredibly rarified existence. I can't imagine most readers finding much of interest in an explication of tasting menus; a rant about restaurant critic Alan Richman's douchebaggery is of limited interest to those not overly concerned with Michelin stars.

The best moments in Medium Raw come when Bourdain returns to the place his appeal ultimately rests: the kitchen. When he's profiling a cook at Le Bernardin or a failed contestant on Top Chef, his prose provides an enthusiastic backstage look at something most of us only see from the front.

The book's tagline, though, could well be that it's half memoir, half LiveJournal rant, and almost entirely disconnected from why we liked Bourdain in the first place.

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