Anthony Bourdain's new book Medium Raw has been out for over a week now, and the reviews are in. The verdicts are mixed, running from The A. V. Club's harsh C- to a glowing review in The Washington Post. Whether arguing that Bourdain's anger is hollow now that he's living the good life or arguing that the old man's still got it, the reviews all have one thing in common: everyone's got plenty to say about the man who became famous for refusing to shut his mouth.
Despite all his rock ’n’ roll trappings, his trademark expletives and po-mo hand-wringing over whether he has now joined the ranks of the hypocrites, Bourdain’s book is really an old-fashioned morality play, where the protagonist meets personifications of various moral attributes along the way.
Gael Greene, Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck and many more come in for varying degrees of evisceration. This, of course, is all great fun, even if some of it's the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel variety. But just in case you're wondering whether Bourdain can take it as well as he can dish it out, he turns his verbal knife skills on himself. "A loud, egotistical, one-note -hole who's been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long," "the angry, cynical, snarky guy who says mean things on 'Top Chef,'" "the very picture of the jaded, overprivileged 'foodie.' " Well, he makes some good points.
Ten years ago, Bourdain was a proud member of a strange, somewhat criminal outcast culture, and he produced a work that really didn’t need a follow-up. In the interim, he’s become a cultural icon, but his new book feels redundant, out of touch, and more than a little sad.
Despite the author’s crass, colorful prose, many of these episodes read like leftovers... Perhaps Bourdain’s anger is so dusty because, let’s face it, life’s been good to him. How much longer will he be able to run on toxicity?
Though Bourdain shows that he is capable of writing breathtaking culinary travel pieces (see his rapid-fire descriptions of global delicacies) and can rip someone a new asshole in a much funnier way than most, the lazily constructed Medium Raw comes across like puke on a page. He’s no longer the marginalized character from Kitchen Confidential. So what’s he still so pissed about?
There is no more honest man in the media than Tony Bourdain. And that makes all the difference between him and the food-media complex that he helped create... In the present, he is angry at the abuse of food and cooking by TV food stars, those stars' frauds and follies and himself for being part of the circus. He's still mad; that's where his energy and eloquence come from. It's the best part of who he is. Happily, that anger is still white and pure after all these years; it burns away all the impurities of the food-media fog that is now his habitat.
Bourdain is a vivid, bawdy and often foul-mouthed writer. He thrills in the attack, but he is also an enthusiast who writes well about things he holds dear...
If anything, he's probably more unrestrained now, knowing that he can get away with pretty much anything. Even the snarkiest blogger could learn from Bourdain's effortless mastery of vulgarity, profane and obscene language, and acrobatic sexual imagery... Once we read Anthony Bourdain because of what he told us about restaurants and chefs, but now we read him simply because it's Anthony Bourdain.
"Medium Raw" is one of the angriest, oddest, most disjointed, self-indulgent, self-righteous, bitter, vicious books I've ever read.
Which brings up the point that, at times, you have to be a raging food-world maniac (I’m not) to pay close attention to some of Bourdain’s culinary feuds and New York kitchen tales. I mean, really, who cares?