Ambitious Summer Reading List: Medium Raw By Anthony Bourdain (2010)

Seeing as how it’s now September and I have five more books to read from the original Ambitious Summer Reading List, it’s clear that I need to change it to just an “Ambitious Reading List.” I didn’t really think I’d read a dozen books in three months, but it was a good motivator. I also think that narrowing down the huge pile of books I have in my “to-read” pile to an even 12 really helped me pick out what to read next. Sometimes I spend so much time trying to figure out what I’ll read that I wind up wasting time that could have been used actually reading. I’m hoping to knock out another book or two while on vacation next week, but we’ll see. I’ll do my best. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve got 11 out of 12 books picked out for the next one.

Okay, now on to Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, the follow up to Kitchen Confidential, the book that rocketed an aging chef to international traveler and superstar. I read Kitchen Confidentialjust about a year ago and really enjoyed it. While I’m not as deeply entrenched in all things Bourdain as I was — mostly because I think I’ve seen most of the episodes of No Reservations and have taken a bit of a break, though I’m very excited to read his graphic novel Get Jiro and check out his upcoming CNN show whenever that starts.

Anyway, Medium Raw, like Kitchen Confidential is a collection of stories and tales from the man who keeps a keen eye on his culinary bullshit-o-meter and calls people on it when appropriate. While the first book came off as young and a lot more fueled by anger and — as he admits in this book — despair/fear, this one sounds like the well reasoned arguments of someone who’s seen the crap and wants to not only point it out to everyone who will listen but also stop it…within reason. While Confidential told sordid tales of in-kitchen sexual escapades, Raw talks about how gross factory-made ground beef can be and what he’s personally done to become what sounds like a very good father. Those were the chapters that I liked the most, the ones that hit me the hardest and made me think the most.

But there’s also the signature Bourdain sections where he talks poop about people. That stuff’s alright, but I like when he talks about and to people he likes. There’s a whole chapter where he talks about superstar chef David Chang and another where he spends the day with the man who carves up all the fish at La Bernardin (a hugely successful and popular seafood restaurant in NYC) and then takes him to dinner at the same restaurant, something he’s never done before. These are the most interesting bits to me, how the real cooking world works. Bourdain, like he did in KC and does on No Reservations, pulls the curtain back and shows people what this world is really like. The celeb chef who drew you to a restaurant probably isn’t there and definitely not cooking, but that doesn’t mean the guys there doing all the hard work are not up to the task. They are, they do the work and most people will never know.

Up next for the ARL, I’m taking The Strain and Born Standing Up on vacation with me next week. Before leaving, I’m going to try and get a little further into The Devil In The White City a book that I’m sure I will enjoy, but might be a little dense for me at the moment. I’ll keep you posted.

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