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Magwood on Books

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Reviewed: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain, Bloomsbury

Medium RawChef Anthony Bourdain slammed open the swing doors of professional kitchens to give us a view of what really goes on in restaurants. It was irresistible, written with knife-swinging gonzo panache, a birds-eye view of the deranged working conditions and the people who toiled in them: “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,” as he memorably described his fellow chefs. We learned to never order fish on a Monday and stay away from bacteria-infested buffets.

The book catapulted Bourdain to celebrity and he has written other books since then and starred in a number of TV shows. Now he’s brought out a follow-up to Confidential called Medium Raw – a Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. The drugs are over, the gypsy earring’s gone and so is much of the glorious hair, but Bourdain is still as acerbic as ever, venting his wrath on any number of things that piss him off.

He takes the glib old hippie Alice Waters to task, calling her “Pol Pot in a muumuu”; he tears into celebrity chefs who can’t cook, eviscerates the idiocy of the Food Network and its star chef Sandra Lee “the hellspawn of Betty Crocker and Charles Manson”; smacks vegans around, but also cheap meat factories; and reserves some of his most lethal vitriol for “douchebag” restaurant critics.

But there are plenty of heroes in here too, and their extraordinary food. Korean-American chef David Chang, for instance, the Italian restaurant mogul Mario Batali and the British chef Fergus Henderson. And Bourdain writes of extraordinary meals in Hanoi and Borneo, a perfect prawn on a beach in Spain, a pain raisin in a tiny boulangerie in Paris. He’s still utterly irresistible.

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