Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Bourdain Good Time

I first fell in love with Anthony (Tony) Bourdain when I watched his travel/food show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel several years ago. I can't remember which country he was in during that particular episode, but I was immediately sucked into the show. Tony has an acerbic wit (putting it mildly), and he's not afraid to tell it exactly as he sees it. At the time I began watching, he smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, and generally relished his bad boy persona. He was grumpy in the Dr. House (TV show) sense of things. Something of a misanthrope with a heart of gold. Though I'm tempted to believe that he doesn't hate everyone...just the stupid people.

As a veteran of kitchens and executive chef at Brasserie Las Halles in NYC for a number of years, Tony knows food. Oddly enough, Tony is also fond of a beautiful turn of phrase, and his writing is nothing short of poetic. The guy is educated and well spoken, even if he enjoys skull tattoos and torn jeans.

The first of his books I picked up was the first one he published: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). The book is an exposé of the food industry and what life is actually like in a kitchen. It's snarky and shows off his piss-and-vinegar humor, even if it struck me as a bit immature. It was Tony turned up to 11.

The second book I read of Bourdain's was A Cook's Tour (2001). It was written in conjunction with his first TV show, A Cook's Tour (Food Network), and he visits a number of different countries in search of the "perfect meal." While I loved the attitude in Kitchen Confidential, I relished the details in A Cook's Tour. An example:
While I had visited the awe-inspiring, life-changing mother of all fish markets before, this time I would be going with an expert. The plan was to meet Togawa-san at his restaurant, run over to Tsukiji to do his day's shopping, then return to his restaurant and eat myself silly. I've written about Tsukiji in the past, and used up most of the superlatives I can think of. Just take my word for it: It's the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, the Great Pyramid of seafood. All that unbelievable bounty, spread across acres and acres of concrete, wriggling and spitting from tanks, laid out in brightly colored rows, carefully arranged like dominoes in boxes, skittering and clawing from under piles of crushed ice, jockeyed around on fast-moving carts, the smell of limitless possibilities, countless sensual pleasures--I am inadequate to the task of saying more. There is nowhere else. Believe me.
Ahh, the details made my mouth water at times, and other times I wanted to vomit. The bottom line: Tony can really write!

One of the most anticipated books on my holds list right now is Tony's new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In fact, I just got word that it's waiting for me to pick it up at the library, and I can't get there fast enough.

Just looking over the cover of this one, it seems to have a very different vibe from some of his earlier books. Bourdain is all decked out in a posh suit, fingering a knife, and looking the part of a much swankier badass than he has before. He has changed over the years: remarried, quit smoking, and he's seemingly quite a bit more introspective. I'm curious to know how this book will relate to his earlier books. I expect the writing will be luscious, but it's the attitude I'm really wondering about.

I have a few things to clear out of the way first, but you can bet it won't take me too darn long to dive into this newest foodie book on my stacks. Who knows, maybe it'll be a BookClubSandwich pick in the future!

Addendum: I should also add, because I was mistaken: the book waiting for me at the library is in fact NOT Medium Raw. It's his other book, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones. It was published in 2006 and according to Wikipedia it is, "...37 exotic, provocative, and humorous anecdotes and essays, many of them centered around food, followed by a 30-page fiction piece ('A Chef's Christmas')." Still looking terribly forward to this one, and I'm #6 on the holds for Medium Raw. Will report back later!


  1. My husband loves watching Bourdain, so I bet he'd like all of these books!

  2. Looks like we're both on a Bourdain kick. Remember I told you he reads Kitchen Confidential? Well... I bought it. And it is stellar! I forgot what a totally badass/pot head/misanthrope he is!

    Goodness, I adore him.

    I have Medium Raw the book and the audio on hold with the library and I can't wait to get to one of them!

  3. I know I just said I wasn't much into food books but Kitchen Confidential is one I would actually like to read. My dad was a chef so I think it'd be fun to read something like this. It might remind me of some of the crazy stories my dad used to tell me :)

  4. It's got my vote for a future Book Sandwich pick...I've never read any of his books and I've always wanted too. And I can totally see him as House-like.

  5. Kathy, I'm sure he would! They're really a lot of fun to read and even insightful at times.

    Heatheroo, absolutely! I really need to see if the 'brary has his audiobooks. I don't *think* they do, but I would love to be wrong. And that's the perfect description: badass/pothead/misanthrope!

    Iliana, cool that your dad was a chef! Chuck was a chef for 10 years, and I think he'd like these too. Though, in truth, he might not want to relive some of it! lol

    Jill, good to know! Personally, I think you would love him.

  6. I've never been a foodie, but Bourdain sure does make food fun. :)

  7. I love this guy and have seen his show on the Travel Channel as well as seen him on the Top Chef show where he's been a judge. Sadly, I've never read any of his books. But I like his irreverence so will have to check out one of these reads.

  8. I can't wait to read this. I like his no BS style :)

  9. The Nasty Bits sounds like a pretty good read, too! I hadn't realized Bourdain had a new book out - I will have to put in a request at the library!

  10. Amen, Trisha!

    Kathleen, I've never watched his judging on Top Chef, but I feel certain I would love his smartassiness. Do read one of his books! :)

    Amen, Christa! And thanks for stopping by!

    Belle, so far I've only read the intro to The Nasty Bits, but it's top notch! An odd combination of grossness, smartassiness, and beautiful wordsmithing.

  11. I "heart" Tony Bourdain, too. Love his Travel Channel shows--and his incredibly smart snarkiness when he judges Top Chef.
    Mr. L-S has all of his books (loves them), including the latest. Father's Day has its privileges. If I'm lucky, I might get to read it, too.

  12. I adore Tony and was so excited to hear he had a new book out that I obtained it the day it was released, expecting to tear through it, laughing hysterically. It wasn't quite what I expected. I guess I mostly didn't get the point of it, but maybe my problem was that I didn't know who most of the people he talked about (mostly bashed) were. I guess I'm not a big enough food nerd yet. A lot of it struck me as...not quite depressing...but more introspective (and even borderline, dare I say, whiny) than I thought it would be. There were some laughs and his descriptions of food, as you noted, made my stomach growl. It took me nearly two weeks to finish which surprised me! Maybe, deep down inside, I'm disappointed that he seems to be "growing up" - I prefer the punk rock, snarky, raging alcoholic chain-smoker that we've all come to know and love. Darn it Tony - stop maturing!


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