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Medium Raw

Anthony Bourdain • 2010

I loved Kitchen Confidential ↗. It was fun and interesting and raw and — I know this is a trope amongst my writing at this point — delightful. I think the best nonfiction writing is the kind that feels like you're being let in on a secret, and it crushed that.

This book — hmm, less so. It was a tale of two halves: the first half was meandering, self-aggrandizing, and uninterestingly sordid — Bourdain as a drunk, Bourdain as an icon, Bourdain as a Top Chef judge. The latter half felt more like Kitchen Confidential: stories about restaurants, stories about food, stories about eating and eating well. (As I write this, I realize really what the schism is: the first half is about Bourdain and the second half is about kitchens.)

The highs are high. The essay about a day in the life of a fish prepper in a Michelin star restaurant (capped with said fish cutter eating, for the first time in his life, at the restaurant where he's worked for twenty years) was glorious.

It is hard to write — and read — about Bourdain, especially in a book where he comes off as candid [if not performatively candid] about his ego, personality, and death wish, without also writing about his suicide. The last essay, Still Here, a beautiful paean to mortality and worth, I think bumped up the book a whole notch in of itself.

My final recommendation: read the book but aggressively skip any chapter that feels like it's going to be ugly.

8/17/2021
✭✭✭
Audiobook

Highlights

I often talk about the "Grandma rule" for travellers. You may not like Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry - and her stuffing salty and studded with rubbery pellets of giblets you find unpalatable in the extreme. You may not even like turkey at all. But it is 'Grandma's Turkey'. And you are in Grandma's house. So shut the eff up and eat it. And afterwards say, "Thank you, Grandma, why, yes, yes of course I'd love seconds".
Chang describes himself as unhealthily obsessed with a hockey player, defenseman Rod Langway of the Capitals, because, he says, he was one of the last to play the game without a helmet. There is, perhaps, an important metaphor there for amateur Changologists seeking to sum up the young chef ’s career.
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