Sunday, July 11, 2010

Anthony Bourdain

While it’s pretty much common knowledge that I don’t spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen unless it’s to “supervise” Rodney when he is making another amazing meal, I am surrounded by people who are engrossed in the food business. In addition to my boyfriend being a fabulous cook at home, my best friend is the Pastry Chef at one of Denver’s best restaurants and her boyfriend is the Executive Sous Chef at the most prestigious hotel in Denver. Additionally, one of my good friends owns a successful bar/restaurant that will be celebrating its 39th anniversary next month.

As a result, I have found myself being exposed to more food industry stuff than ever before like eating at many of Denver’s best restaurants, watching shows like Kitchen Nightmares, No Reservations and Bizarre Foods and even going to see Anthony Bourdain speak. Bourdain is a favorite of both Rod and Carly so there have been a lot of discussions about him and I’ve definitely contributed to his brand. For Christmas I bought Rodney a copy of Bourdain’s book A Cook’s Tour and for Rod’s birthday I bought him a copy of Bourdain’s Medium Raw.

I read a few chapters of A Cook’s Tour a few months ago but didn’t really get too much into it. Since I’m a very picky eater I don’t enjoy the delicacies that most foodies like. You won’t see me ordering lamb, duck or rabbit off the menu and I would much rather have simple foods than rich foods. Of course this means I’m missing out on a lot but that’s ok. I’m happy eating my, as Carly would say, “boring foods.” Therefore, reading a book about eating amazing foods in foreign places wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as it was to Rod.

That being said, I cannot put Medium Raw down. I had to put it down to take my dog running and write this blog post but since yesterday I have literally been glued to the book. First of all, Bourdain writes like he talks so watching his show and going to see him speak were good introductions for someone like me. I’m glad I saw him “live” before reading his book.

In Medium Raw (I must admit that title grosses me out a little bit) Bourdain does talk about food and places he’s been but he also examines how the food industry fits into pop culture and how it’s changed. He’s not afraid to call people out in his book and he is definitely not afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks. His writing is also very autobiographical in the sense that he talks about his past (drugs, a failed marriage, crazy women, spending too much time in bars, etc.) and also talks about how he’s changed. Although his whole “bad boy” persona wears a little thin (sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to star in a written version of Behind the Music) he is not afraid to admit where he went wrong and how many mistakes he has made. He recognizes that it’s time to “take off the leather jacket” and “take out the earring” now that he is a father. He also can’t say enough about how much he loves his daughter and how he is going to do everything in his power to make sure she is a confident, smart and well-rounded kid.

From what I’ve read so far I can’t help but think of the food industry like the music industry. It has its stars who make the big bucks (i.e. Mario Batali and Bobby Flay), its sellouts who also make the big bucks (i.e. Rachael Ray), trends that come and go (i.e. Kobe beef/designer burgers) and has been seriously affected by the economy. Just from reading this book I’ve learned how complex the food business is and how, like the record industry, it is no place for softies. There is even a chapter dedicated to those who think they want to be a chef in which Bourdain explains how unless you went to a top culinary school (i.e. Johnson and Wales), are young, in shape (he says fat cooks won’t be able to hack it) and are willing to work for pennies for the first few years, stay away from being a chef.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book and continuing my “education” in a field that never really interested me but is very important to the people who are most important to me. Who knows, maybe someday raw meat won’t make me want to gag.


  1. Justin's mother gave us "Medium Raw" when we were in GA, and I read a little on the plane. It has the same tone as his bestseller "Kitchen Confidential"...the book that made him both a pop culture star and a culinary "sellout." Both braid cautionary tales and awesomely crude personal anecdotes with warnings to those who dare test the waters of the precarious deep end that is the restaurant biz.
    It makes me laugh because everything he says about the food industry is so incredibly true from seriously reconsidering the mid-thirties career change to keeping your fat ass off the line. Although he does remark that the physically fit may consider becoming pastry chefs, and I have seen WAY more chunky savory chefs than us sugar cooks!!
    I love what he says about choosing the hotel chef route: "But that sector of the trade is like joining the mafia. Once you enter the warm fold of their institutional embrace, it's unlikely you'll ever leave. Once in-rarely out." Very true. Justin and I are hotel chefs for life. It's just too much fun to play with other people's money.
    You're right, it is very easy to draw parallels between cooking and music. Both are completely subjective artforms where success rests solely on the ears and mouths of thousands of people you've never met.
    I would say one major difference is that the musician's emotions and personal experiences, good or bad, are the required "writing implement" of choice.
    For a chef, letting your emotions steer your art usually leaves a sour taste behind. If you're an unshaven sloppy coke addict with a masochistic ex-girlfriend there better not be one crumb or drop of sauce out of place and it needs to taste like sheer joy. Happy reading!

  2. p.s. I meant "physically UNfit" in my response.