If You Like Anthony Bourdain, Don’t Read His Latest Book

0 Posted by - June 10, 2010 - Life

book review, anthony bourdain, medium raw, online travel blog

I just finished reading Medium Raw, and I’m annoyed.

I don’t know if it’s uber uncool to admit this, but I was a big fan of Anthony Bourdain.  I liked his scathingly honest and drug filled portrayal of working as a NYC chef in the 80′s and 90′s, otherwise known as Kitchen Confidential.  I really liked his travel show, No Reservations.  He was traveling internationally — and not just to the Caribbean either.  He was eating local food in random, definitely-not-vacation spots — like the middle of Mongolia — and inevitably getting sauced with his guide or sucked into some strange encounter like karaoke ice fishing.  His bullshit meter was always on but he also followed the golden rule of travel: be a good guest.  There was nothing glossy about how he traveled — in fact he seemed more likely to enjoy a chat about local politics over street food, than to don a suit for some overpriced white-gloved dinner.  I liked him.

His latest book?  It’s so bad, that it makes me angry.

It begins well.  In fact, if you’re really curious I think you can get away with reading the first 75 pages and still like the guy.  He tells a story about a clandestine meeting with the crème de la crème of the culinary world to eat an illicit meal.  At this point, I was really excited.  This was going to be good…. I poured myself a glass of wine and curled up.

The problem is, he stops telling stories and begins editorializing.  He defends himself against years-old critiques of his work and adversaries you’re never even hear of.  Is he a great chef?  He never said he was.  Is he a sell out?  If you work, you’re selling out so get over it.  Is he angry?  He was, but that was then.  Does he really hate Emeril?  No, not so much.

Who cares, Tony?

I turned to my husband and said, “Uh oh, this book just took a turn for the boring.”

He has an entire chapter dedicated to eviscerating a certain food writer.  Another chapter listing the people he likes and doesn’t like among the chefs and food industry people he knows.  Who are these people?  Would 90% of the massive audience Bourdain draws even know who Gael Greene is (she’s a food writer) and if you do, do you particularly care why Bourdain dislikes her? (she was on a panel and failed to acknowledge a chef that Bourdain admires)

Yawn.

There is some good writing in there, but it’s too sparse between the apologies for old Tony, the navel gazing, the spent anger, the celebrity name dropping, the unfocused narrative and the plain fact that it’s not what you want from a Bourdain book.  I wanted stories — crazy, whacked out stories about traveling around the world for ten years.  I wanted him to describe his ascent to celebrity and the surrealism of it.  Or to tell us what he learned from so much travel.  Or to just talk about getting mind-numbingly stoned with his production crew.  I wouldn’t have cared what he chose, as long as it wasn’t this lame apology of a book, that seems more like a drawn out epilogue from Kitchen Confidential than anything fresh or new.

In short, it made me like him less.  I wanted the insecure, messed up Bourdain to get over himself, but it seems like he’s haunted by his own success.  He’s so consumed by his own public profile, he’s made the mistake of thinking we actually care what real Bourdain thinks about celebrity Bourdain or that we’re willing to plunk down $26 to hear his thoughts on his own anger issues.  We want his insight, sure, but an entire book dedicated to the stuff that bothers him?  We get it, Tony, you don’t think you deserve your life.  He always said he wrote Kitchen Confidential for the waiters and chefs in the tri-state area.  I think he wrote Medium Raw for himself.

Feel better, Tony?  Good, now get back to work.  We’ll just agree it never happened and we can continue to like your show and writing even if that means you secretly hate yourself.

__

Free Book Friday: last week’s winner of a $15 barnes and noble gift certificate is… comment #2 (picked by random.org) Emily.

This week I giving a choice… I’ll send the winner a copy of Medium Raw or a $20 gift certificate to BN.  I know that despite my negative review, some folks will actually read it because I’ve piqued their curiosity.  That’s cool.  In fact, anyone who has read the book should post their mini-review below, I’m curious to hear what other people think.

To enter for this week’s Free Book Friday, just leave a comment below…

What are your thoughts?  Bourdain: mad genius or overrated?

pic: palomabaytelman

  • Leah Olson

    Wow! I’m really surprised (and sad) to hear you didn’t like it. I was looking forward to reading it, but might just save my $26 and wait until Medium Raw hits the public library. I agree with you, I would have expected this book to be packed with crazy stories, tales of epic meals and wild travel adventures. Sad to hear it didn’t live up to expectations. Thanks for the review!

  • http://everything-everywhere.com Gary Arndt

    I actually purchased it as my first book on my iPad.

    I agree it isn’t that great. The one thing I got out of it is that he really is a food guy at heart, not a travel guy. Travel is incidental to the food for him. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is what he is about.
    .-= Gary Arndt´s last blog ..Daily Travel Photo – Padua, Italy =-.

  • http://www.wired2theworld.com Kristina

    As a former chef and avid traveler, I have a soft spot (and ok a bit of a crush) on Anthony Bourdain. I really enjoyed Kitchen Confidential and have seen almost every episode of No Reservations.
    I have the book already bought on Audible so I can listen to it on my commute. I’ll let you know if I feel the same when I’m done with it.
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..Favorite Photo Friday- Brantomé France =-.

  • http://www.One-Giant-Step.com Gillian

    Oh no…that’s too bad. I like him, and his writing…but I think lately he has admitted to just pushing out material to appease the publisher. I wonder if he is disappointed too.

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    Kristina,

    Definitely report back! Take note of the chapter called: Lust. It’s written entirely in the second person. That’s right, not the first or third, the SECOND. It’s trying entirely too hard.

  • Melissa

    Oh man, that sucks.

    I used to love him, I own all of his books. Then I noticed lately every interview I saw he was defending himself. Saying how he doesn’t actually hate Racheal Ray.

    So what you say about the book makes sense from what I’ve seen from him lately. It’s really too bad. I don’t like him as much anymore at all. He’s just a big apology. Not what we all loved from him.

  • http://www.girlventures.net Maggie

    Oh, that’s a shame! I interviewed Bourdain about a year ago for a newspaper article, and I liked him immensely. We had a funny exchange because I’m a vegan and he’s (obviously) not, but we see eye to eye on many things. I admire his sense of adventure and passion for food, and I also feel a homecooked meal is an important way to learn about a culture.

    He’s a fantastic conversational writer, but I’m with you — I could care less about his opinion of Gael Greene or his issues with being a celeb.

    Thanks for saving me $25!

  • http://www.thejetpacker.com The Jetpacker

    I’ve always dug Bourdain despite his “too cool for school” attitude that can sometimes grow tiresome. I especially love No Reservations, which is how I discovered him.

    And although he’s a fantastic writer, I don’t find his stories particularly interesting. I’m SLOWLY making my way through The Nasty Bits, but it’s all food or food business critique instead of travel commentary. No interesting stories.

    If I can’t get through this book, I don’t think I’ll give his latest a try.
    .-= The Jetpacker´s last blog ..Grindhouse Films At The New Beverly Cinema =-.

  • http://cheeseweb.eu Alison

    Oh this is so disappointing! I love Tony and have read all of his other books. I watch No Reservation religiously. I’ve even considered petitioning him to come to Belgium. Let’s hope now that it’s all out of his system he’ll move on and go back to writing about food and travel!
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Six Things About Me =-.

  • http://www.gobackpacking.com/Blog Dave

    Thanks for this review – I was bummed to hear the book sucks, but you just saved me some money (and book lusting).

    I give Bourdain a lot of credit for how open I’ve become to trying new (exotic) foods, and inspiring me to cook. Kitchen Confidential was awesome, and so was A Cook’s Tour (both book and TV show).

    No Reservations was good the first few seasons too, but I think Bourdain is overexposed now. He peaked, in my mind, a few years ago.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Photo Essay: Soccer Around the World =-.

  • http://inspiringtravellers.com Andrea

    Oh no! I love him (uncool or not)…I’m also in Australia so we get everything later than the rest of the world, I think…I’m probably watching old episodes. What a shame!

  • http://www.definingsomeday.com Danielle

    Sounds like someone forgot to tell him that a book is supposed to be written for readers, not the author’s ego!
    Thanks for the review, it was so honest.

  • http://www.stephandtonyinvestigate.com Steph

    I’m one of those people who has never really liked Bourdain, so the fact that he comes off annoying in this book probably wouldn’t bother me more than he generally does! I admit I do like watching No Reservations in order to vicariously travel, but I often think I’d like it so much more if not for Bourdain!

  • http://www.bohemiantraveler.com Stephen

    Thanks for the review. Also gonna wait til this one gets to the public library. Too bad to read the unfavorable review…I like Bourdain too.

  • Julia

    That’s too bad. I hate when something I am looking forward to disappoints me. Guess I’ll be steering clear of this one.

  • http://myfolieadeux.com/ Jen Laceda

    I like Bourdain, because he is a chain-smoking, sex-drugs-rock-and-roll kinda guy / writer. I feel like I can relate to him.

    I recently read a book, “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?” by T. Kohnstamm. In a weird way, I enjoyed it because I could relate to him on so many levels. But the truth is, aside from his Lonely Planet whistle-blowing antics, there’s really not much else except…

    Self-indulgence. Whether it’s a good way to write or not, I don’t know. But I think Bourdain (by the way you described his book) may have fallen into this trap. Let him have this one; but next time, I don’t think his fans (or publisher) will be so forgiving!
    .-= Jen Laceda´s last blog ..Memories of Athens: Mythology, Blue Skies, and Raucous Tavernas =-.

  • Steve

    What if I can’t stand him? Should I read it then?

  • http://natalietaylor.ca Natalie T.

    I’m glad you wrote this because I asked for your reasons on not liking the book. You have piqued my curiousity and I will pick up the book in time and let you know how I felt about the book after reading it. Its disappointing to hear that Tony has become even more self-absorbed than he is. He’s my celebrity crush, after all. Boo-Urns.

  • Alouise

    I love watching No Reservations but I’ve never actually read any of Anthony Bourdain’s books. Although I wanted to Medium Raw this review makes me think I should start with Kitchen Confidential instead.
    .-= Alouise´s last blog ..Musings From A Road Trip To Calgary =-.

  • http://www.beersandbeans.com bethany

    Hmmm. I must be uncool as well because I love watching Bourdain on the travel channel. It is the best travel show to watch.

    However I was just thinking the other day when he made another stab at Rachel Ray (I mean why does he care, they are in 2 different leagues) that he really needs to get over himself.

    I often wonder if meeting him would be cool or a total disaster. Would he be down to earth and get tanked with me or would he just continue on his diatribe of who sucks and how much he doesn’t suck.

    I’ve never read a book of his but I do have a travel book of short stories that he put together and edited. The first story – AMAZING… well then like you said, it took a turn for the boring. They’re short stories and I never even finished the book because the tales got so dull.

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    One heck of a book review. I love the irony, the questions, the pauses, the forgiveness….all of it. Oh and I have no clue who this guy is or what his book is ;)! Just love your writing!

  • http://migrationology.com Migration Mark

    I’m a huge fan of Bourdain’s No Reservations tv show because of the awesome stories, weird scenarios, and witty thoughts. However, the only part I don’t care for is when he does start dissing others, which doesn’t really matter to me.

    Sad to hear that this book turns for the worst. Hopefully this book was written for himself to release his frustration and he will return with his killer tv series!
    .-= Migration Mark´s last blog ..Climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia =-.

  • http://budgettravelerssandbox.com Nancie (Ladyexpat)

    I like some of Bourdain, but a little goes a long way. I’ve enjoyed No Reservations when I’ve had the opportunity to watch it, but sometimes just want to say “enough already”.

    I probably wouldn’t have bought his book and now I know I won’t. You saved me some money :)

  • http://www.backpackingmatt.com Matt

    Thanks for the review. I was excited to read it, now I’m not so sure! You’ve peaked my interest – but I don’t really want to waste my time!
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..Friday Travel Photo: Highland Cow in Scotland =-.

  • Chris Rothbauer

    I think you completely missed the point of the book. You said the entire book feels like an epilogue from “Kitchen Confidential?” Well…it is… “Medium Raw” was advertised and hyped everywhere as his follow-up to “Kitchen Confidential.” We all know the Tony of “Kitchen Confidential” has changed: he’s become a major personality, no longer cooks in his old restaurant, and hosted two television shows. He has, as he said, “sold out.” It’s NOT about the travelling he did while on “A Cook’s Tour” or “No Reservations.” Where you got the idea it should be about this, I have no idea.

    You accuse the book of sounding egoistic…well it is. I mean, it IS a memoir. Some would argue that memoirs, by definition, are egoistic. He’s talking about himself and his own opinions the entire book. If you bought it thinking it would be some kind of self-help book for travel and food, you were a bit deluded.

    In short, I don’t know how you can claim to like “Kitchen Confidential” but not “Medium Raw.” They’re the exact style. It seems that your gripe is you wanted it to be a travelogue. It’s not. Get over it. It’s the story of a man who achieved unlikely success and now gives us the inside scoop on the food industry the same as he once gave the inside scoop of the restaurant business. If you don’t like that sort of book, fine. However, don’t slam the book just because it wasn’t what you wanted him to write. It’s like saying you refuse to read Shakespeare because he didn’t write more plays like “Romeo & Juliet” (thank God he didn’t).

    • http://powderate.blogspot.com Lee Ann Foster

      Wow. You said it. This is the point of the book. The inside story, for those of us who are interested. It has been a good read for me so far … I like memoir and this delivers some essence of his life and it is rich (controlled) material. I liked it.

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    Nope, I don’t mind it being a followup, I mind him not telling stories. In Kitchen Confidential there was a single narrative weaved through out all of his rantings. Can you say that about Medium Raw? Is it even linear? No. I didn’t need it to be a travelogue — just coherent.

    Obviously I hit a nerve! Glad you liked the book.

  • http://maiden-voyage-travel.com Emily

    What a bummer. I’m crazy about his TV show, but I definitely wouldn’t want to read a book that rambles on bashing food critics I’ve never heard of!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Approach Guides Offer Cultural Travel Insight =-.

  • http://expatheather.com Heather

    I really enjoy his show No Reservations. It’s one of the only things I’ll watch, but I don’t think I’d be too excited about reading a book that is mostly about food critics and chefs.

    I thought his recent interview on Slate was well-written and insightful though:
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/thewrongstuff/archive/2010/05/31/eat-your-words-anthony-bourdain-on-being-wrong.aspx
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..How to Beat the Heat in Lahore, Pakistan =-.

  • http://www.travelmuse.com Jessica Skelton

    Oh man, bummed to hear it isn’t so great. I don’t care if it is “uncool;” I love pretty much everything about the man. And I seriously agree with you: everyone is a sellout at one point or another. I’ve worked in many writing jobs under the cultural umbrella and it doesn’t matter what you do: if you work you will be considered a sell out.

    Thanks for saving me some dough! I can wait until the library or I find someone who shelled out for it.

  • Alisha

    Aww that’s a bummer to hear. I went to his book signing of Medium Raw in NYC and fell even more in love with him in person. Despite him being away from the kitchen for so long, he’s still a chef to me and I like that he admits his faults, he admits not cooking in 10years, he admits not being a great person, etc. I really love the book, I’m a few chapters in and already have some favorite quotes marked down. Perhaps too much Tony isn’t a good thing to some people? For me, I love it. See: fuckyestonybourdain.tumblr.com

  • http://www.almostfearless.com Christine

    Alisha–

    Check back in when you finish… somewhere around page 75 it all goes to hell… but not in a good way. I still love him, I’m just pretending like Medium Raw never happened. :)

  • http://comeforthewine.blogspot.com/ Marcy Gordon

    I’m not surprised by your assessment of Medium Raw. Kitchen Confidential was a hit because it really was raw and uncensored and it had not all been heard before. His second book Cooks Tour seemed slapped together to capitalize on Kitchen Confidential success. The No Reservation book was rehash of the TV shows. It’s tough to follow such an out of the gate hit like “Confidential”and be consistent.

    Ever read his fiction like Bone in the Throat or Gone Bamboo? He does display his trademark attitude in his mystery/thrillers but not enough to make the books big hits.

    His TV show suits him better since it is just blocks of narrative not a whole book worth. But this last season he seems completely bored with it all and merely going through the motions. It’s sill a great show, but at this point in his career he is a much a “personality” as the folks he goes after in Medium Raw.

    Bourdain is at his best as ranter, not a writer, and that’s what the peeps seem to want.
    .-= Marcy Gordon´s last blog ..Local Flavors =-.

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  • http://belalumo.wordpress.com/ Amy

    I love him, but lately all his interviews have been SO boring and probably much like his latest book. I haven’t read it yet, and probably won’t since I haven’t read any good reviews of it. Kitchen Confidential and No Reservations still remain 2 of my favorites though, and I will always have a bit of a crush. :)

    @Alison I would definitely sign that petition. Belgium is great for food-lovers and we could be his welcoming committee.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Father and son | Bradenton, Florida =-.

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  • Tami G.

    It was interesting to read your opinion on this book. I like Bourdain’s approach to food and his willingness to try every possible dish around the world. Watching his shows gives me an opportunity to travel and discover cultures and their food in the comfort of my home. But, sincerely, I’d rather be in those places then watching Bourdain doing it.
    I am in the middle of reading his new book. I am a fan when he is describing/writing about food and his experiences, but less of a fan when he starts criticizing R.Ray/S.Lee (criticism won’t win you fans and I don’t know what they ever did to him). I like him for what he is as a chef and what he seems to be as a person (as much as I can tell from watching his shows, interviews and reading his books).
    I have been a fan since his show Cook’s Tour.

    Cheers!

  • MorgaLF

    There are some belly laughs and some really good name calling. There are some lets call them “transitional” passages (read boring). It’s not KC but there are some revelatory moments. All in all a decent read.

  • http://www.zippyreviews.com/travel_blog Zippy Pam

    Isn’t the lagging question: does Tony write his own stuff – his books and his scripts? If the new book is unTonyish, maybe he did or didn’t write it. Or maybe giving up his smokes has finally made him really sullen.

    I dislike RR also so feel a certain camaraderie with The Tone. His opinions work for me.

  • Lisa Lubin

    Well, now I am really curious to check it out. Always loved him and his raw, no BS attitude. But after many seasons of NR, I can see it getting naturally a little stale even if still well-produced and written.

    I so want to like it, but am at least still waiting for paperback.

    Hope to see you this weekend at TBEX!
    LL

  • http://MonkeyBrewster.com Cornelius Aesop

    Aww Bourdaine why? Hmmm I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his books and was all excited if I should go out and buy one, hmmm maybe not. Oh well there are always a million and one books I want to read.
    .-= Cornelius Aesop´s last blog ..New Brew Tuesday- Pilsner Urquell =-.

  • http://grantourismotravels.com/ lara dunston

    Like you, loved the first books, and was tempted to buy this one. I won’t now, so thanks.

    However, I was already turning off Bourdain after watching his recent television work.

    I’m sick of seeing him simply eat his way around the world. I’d love to see him cook.

    He’s also not connecting with either the food or the places, and especially the people, enough – not in the way that say, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver do. Would love to see him interact more and actually get his hands dirty.

    Watched some old episodes of Floyd recently – now *that’s* brilliant food and travel content!
    .-= lara dunston´s last blog ..Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition- July =-.

  • http://slinkingtowardretirement.com Jeff Pruett

    I think you have to realize from the start that he’s got a huge ego. Even in Kitchen Confidential, you realized it. Now that he’s “famous”, it’s grown even more. sorry to hear about this book, though. I do love his show. The one he did from Singapore almost made pack a cayy on and head to the airport!

  • MkUltra

    To the reviewer, Chris Rothbauer seems to have summed up exactly why this book was not for you, yet you dismiss all his valid reasons, I myself thought it was a good but not perfect follow up to Kitchen Confidential. Now when it comes to the people who admit to never reading anything he has written, and chose to jump in in the bashing of him based on his TV show, maybe you should read the book (Kitchen Confidential) that made any and all fame he has gained possible first so you have an idea where he is coming from.

  • Hilsner

    This review articulated my feelings toward Medium Raw very well. First chapter, I’m hooked. Second chapter, worried. The rest is a blur that only left me feeling empty, spiritually disheveled, and questioning of my decision to give any weight to Bourdain’s opinions in the first place.

    My relationship with food changed for the better after Kitchen Confidential and watching No Reservations, but this? This was like…I can’t even describe it. A piece of me died after finishing Medium Raw, namely my “new car smell” appreciation for food.

    Then again maybe this was just the final nail in the coffin. Two words, Chase Sapphire…I mean seriously what the fuck is that about?

    Sure I shouldn’t look to someone to tell me to like food for whatever reason. If I like it, I like it and that’s that, but still…when someone changes your view for the better about anything and then you see them almost back track right over themselves it’s disheartening.

    This book, as a whole, was really underwhelming

  • Joy

    Hmm. I don’t even know you; I stumbled upon your page. And I believe you. You sure are a good writer. What a review!

    I feel the same way about the hip, funny, smokin’, goofy, outrageous Anthony Bordain on “No Resevations”. I love the way he travels everywhere and he’s honest about what he likes and just thinks is so-so (when that happens, he focuses on other cool things; but you can tell). I like his honesty.

    Too bad he wrote this book and apparently, got a little too honest about where he’s coming from. Hilarious…

  • http://deconstructinganthonybourdain.wordpress.com/ Lucey Bowen

    To swirl the controversy further, I’ve started http://deconstructinganthonybourdain.wordpress.com/
    And so far discussed the questions like French or American? Un-trustworthy narrator or “Reality” host?
    The future includes Cold War Orientalist or Terroirist? Author or Actor? Swaggering lout or insecure self-deprecator? Enlightened traveler or exploitative tour director? City boy or back-to-the-land? Hero or victim? Marked “other” or unmarked white male? Producer or Consumer? Addict or sober? Middle or Working class? Europhile or Asiaphile? Sentimentalist or realist? Intellectual or proletariat?
    If you have opinions about Tony, check out my blog and post your comments on all and any of these and I’ll include them in the discussion!

  • Estrempler

    I loved Medium Raw. I don’t understand why it’s a bad thing that he’s being transparent about changing his opinion and so on. It would be far worse if he pretended to be the same person he was when the show started.

  • http://elizabeth.liddicoet@my.tccd.edu elizzle85

    I am listening to the book now. I like it mostly because of his beautiful writing style. I am less interested in what he is talking about and more interested in his imagery. I enjoyed the story of the crazy debutant, struggling with suicidal thoughts, and finally finding peace. I loved his fast food sabotage. ( I hate the death grip that clown has on my six year old) I do not know or care about the people he is writing about but I enjoy the conviction. I respect everyone’s views and I’m glad I started with medium raw because I have kitchen confidential to look forward to. Thanks.

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