In some cases, the tone of food writing simulates the experience of dining at an elegant restaurant. Each sentence is carefully chosen, arranged and brought forth on a platter. The word choice is subtle, refined — is that a hint of French influence? — and every phrase is to be savored. You can hear the classical music being piped in through the prose.
Anthony Bourdain’s writing style, by contrast, simulates the experience of being in the back of the house in a restaurant’s chaotic kitchen — one of those kitchens where everything’s running behind, the head chef is cursing and dishes are breaking. There’s a grease fire, a burned hand and a severed finger, and the city’s top food critic has just been spotted in the lobby.
I mean that in the best possible way. Bourdain’s writing is profane, energetic and a bit messy. He’ll splatter the pages of what should be a dry discussion on food trends with profanity, sex and bodily fluids. His vocabulary is an odd mixture of Gourmet magazine and bathroom stall, a bubbling cauldron of feces, foie gras and fellatio.
Medium Raw is Bourdain’s follow-up to Kitchen Confidential, his exposé about the insane things that went on at the restaurant he used to cook for. Like many follow-ups, the focus isn’t quite as narrow.
Each chapter is a separate essay, with the genres ranging wide from memoir to food review to state-of-the-scene assessment to rant. (Well, to be fair, rants course through a large majority of his essays.)
He speaks about everything from his former cocaine use to the scourge of “tasting menus,” from the heroes and villains of the food world to how restaurants attempt to seduce food critics. He writes an entire chapter called “Alan Richman Is a Douchebag,” which consists mainly of (you guessed it) calling food critic Alan Richman a douchebag.
Praising a fellow food writer, Bourdain writes, “She rarely if ever commits the first and most common sin of food writing — being boring.”
And that’s Bourdain’s writing philosophy: He can range among arrogant, self-loathing, bitter, artificially incensed, and gleefully passionate. But he’s never boring.