It’s been over a year since we heard Anthony Bourdain was writing a sequel to Kitchen Confidential. One very publicized scuffle with Alice Waters and a veritable sampler of badinage hurled at the entire Food Network roster later, the follow-up’s title changed from the laconic Cooks to Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. The just-released cover art features the amused Bourdain presiding over a tabletop of cutlery and a half-full glass of red wine (or is it half-empty?), boning knife at the ready.
What’s in store: The book revisits some of the original Kitchen Confidential crew, for starters. Other topics for discussion include Bourdain-favorite Alice Waters (of course), the current sorry state of the restaurant industry, and a chapter called "The Friends of David Chang," that promises to be "an incredibly undiplomatic discussion with (and peek into the mind of) the hottest, most influential chef in America." Early word was that Bourdain — who’s currently in Vietnam — had toned down some of his normal pith in favor of something more diplomatic. It seemed hard to believe. Ever the gentleman, Bourdain answered a few of our questions via email last night.
What can we expect from this Medium Raw chapter about David Chang?
I don’t want to talk much about the Chang chapter because I’m still putting the finishing touches on it. As one of his friends said, "Everybody wants to get inside Dave’s head." I don’t know if I’ve done that — but I guess you could call it "further investigations." Maybe reflections on golf and God would describe it.
And your next book is going to be a crime novel?
The fiction thing was started some time ago — I’m well along with it. But I put it on the shelf while I worked on Medium Raw. It’s another Caribbean (and partly Asian) based crime novel. Disgraced ex-pats and refugees — among them a plagiarist and a failed reality-show chef — doing bad things to each other among the palm trees.
Word on the street is that the chapters about chefs like Alice Waters are meant to be less vituperative, and more to start a larger dialogue about food. You seem to be working more toward figuring out these core issues of food politics with this kind of diplomacy. Are you comfortable with the title "Anthony Bourdain, Elder Statesman of Food"?
I guess I’m less interested in being cruel or malicious just for the sake of a laugh. I mean … Sandra Lee is pretty low hanging fruit. On the other hand, one of the reasons I’ve been so unpleasant on the subject of Alice Waters is that I suspect she’s right about most things — in principle, anyway. The disconnect between message and messenger seems to be what drives me batty.
Elder statesman? I don’t know. That makes me sound a hell of a lot more distinguished than I’ll ever be. There’s the fact that I’m a dad now, and the fact that I’ve been on TV for like, eight years — there’s some natural empathy for my fellow media tarts, even when they’re as silly as Guy Fieri. I look at that and think what a lot of people think: ridiculous and painful — even insulting. But I also think, That’s one hard-working man, glad I don’t have to work that hard.
So, no cheap shots?
There are less cheap shots at the usual suspects, I hope. But I did manage to write the most vicious, hateful, and angry single chapter of my life [called "Heroes and Villians"]. It’s like riding a bike. You never forget.
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook [Ecco Books/Facebook]