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Aug 25, 2010
Chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain would be the first to tell you his career path is not one to follow. Heroin addiction, an epic coke habit, throwing away opportunities... But it made for a fascinating, profane peek behind the culinary curtain into the world of restaurant kitchens. His best-selling Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is now 10 years old and still flying off bookstore shelves. Not bad for a book he thought would only be read by "a small subculture of restaurant people in New York City."
It also completely changed his life. Bourdain has not cooked professionally since its publication. Still, he remains passionately connected to the world of food as a whole and to chefs and the restaurant business specifically. I recently saw him speak in Chicago during a tour for his new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. It's an entertaining update of many of the themes he visited with Kitchen Confidential, but one now told with a kind of insider's outsider view.
He hasn't exactly mellowed in the past ten years--Medium Raw is just as sprinkled with F-bombs and outrageous stories as his previous works. And he's still ready to call out even the most sacred of cows when he thinks they're wrong--in the chapter Heroes and Villains, he is at his snarky best, outlining why certain food luminaries made his villains list. And he devotes entire chapters to dismantling Alice Waters, the "Mother of Slow Food," and food critic Alan Richman.
But throughout Medium Raw, Bourdain's love for the restaurant kitchen and admiration for those who toil long hours in it--not just the rock star chefs, but sous chefs, line cooks and dishwashers--remains as strong as ever. Yes, there's a chapter on the successful, talented, conflicted chef David Chang. But there's also an eloquent chapter on Justo Thomas, who every day meticulously scales, guts, cleans and portions 700 to 1,000 pounds of fish for Le Bernardin, America's most celebrated seafood restaurant.
When discussing his own life, the Character Approved Bourdain is resolutely self-deprecating. He counts America's best chefs among his friends, but says not one would hire him for their kitchens. And when asked about his writing process at the Medium Raw reading, he said simply, "I learned everything I needed to know as a dishwasher: Show up on time and do the best you can."
[Images: Melanie Dunea/CPi]