If we’ve been a little quiet today, it’s because a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s new tome, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, has hit our desk ahead of its June 8 publication date. Like Kitchen Confidential before it, it’s a compulsively readable collection of short essays, but rather than narrowly focusing on the restaurant industry, it touches on topics as diverse as the evil of McDonald’s, the oxymoron of being a “cool dad,” and even the fallout from his first marriage (without getting too much into it, Tone confesses to visiting brothels, drunk driving, and contemplating suicide in the Caribbean). But the real question is: Who made Bourdain’s shit list this time around?
Bourdain is, as you’d expect, noticeably softer on Emeril and his ilk, but he devotes an entire chapter to one Alan Richman. In fact, the name of the chapter is “Alan Richman Is a Douchebag.” Back when Richman slammed Les Halles, Bourdain told Grub Street, “It was like being mauled by Gumby. Afterwards, you’re not sure it even happened.” But he’s much more vociferous here, reprimanding Richman for failing to mention “the most cogent point” that, weeks before the review, Bourdain had nominated him for “Douchebag of the Year” at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (before that, Richman had put down the New Orleans restaurant scene in GQ).
After blowing three pages slamming Richman for the New Orleans put-down, Bourdain then goes on to criticize one of Richman’s “restaurant commandments” against absentee chefs: “Richman’s Commandment #19 is a fucking insult to the very people who’ve been cooking and creating dishes for him for years. What’s worse is that, once again, this uniquely gas-engorged douche knows better. But rest assured that while he has no problem giving the stiff middle finger to the people who actually prepare his food, he will be sure to remain in good odor with the ‘celebrity’ chefs he claims — on our behalf, no doubt — to be outraged by.” He admits that Richman has a “discerning palate,” but returning to the subject of his Les Halles slam, decides, “So, maybe I got it wrong. Alan Richman is not a douchebag. He’s a cunt.”
That settles that! There’s also plenty of fence-mending (Bourdain calls onetime foe Jamie Oliver a “hero” for his work with school lunches), and tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at what might be the book’s most compelling chapter (in which he tries to get into the mind of David Chang), but in the meantime, let’s see who else get short shrift in Medium Raw.
With every critical outrage — the humiliating, painful-to-watch Food Network Awards, the clumsily rigged-looking Next Food Network Star, the cheesily cheap-jack production values of Next Iron Chef America — every obviously, half-assed knock-off they slapped on the air would go on to ring up sky-high ratings and an ever-larger audience of cherished males twenty-two to thirty-six (or whatever that prime car-buying demographic is).
Rich international douchebags and those who love them will happily pay those kinds of prices simply to be jammed into tiny, dollhouse-size banquettes, cheek by Botoxed jowl at Nello — or to poke at faux Chinese food in graveyards of the uber-rich, like Mr. Chow and Philippe. Add to the mix some curiously available Eastern European women who find low-riding ball-sacks distinctly fascinating? You’ve got yourself a recipe for success.
I am frequently asked by aspiring chefs, dreamers young and old, attracted by the lure of slowly melting shallots and caramelizing pork belly, or delusions of Food Network stardom, if they should go to culinary school. I usually give a long, thoughtful and qualified answer. But the short answer is ‘no.’”
This Cargill outfit is the largest private company in America. A hundred and sixteen billion dollars in revenue a year. And they feel the need to save a few cents on their low-end burgers by buying shit processed in ammonia? Scraps have to be whipped or extracted or winnowed out or rendered before they can put them into a patty mix? Mystery meat assembled from all over the world and put through one grinder—like one big, group grope in moist, body-temperature sheets—with strangers?
In the same way, having Alice Waters on your side of the argument is like having Alec Baldwin or Barbara Streisand endorse your candidate (a feeling I know all too well). You may agree with everything they say, but you wish they’d just shut the fuck up …
Then she chose to cook Leslie [Stahl, on 60 Minutes] a single egg over a roaring wood fire in her Berkeley home. I don’t know about you, but burning up a couple of cords of firewood for a single fucking egg doesn’t exactly send a message of sustainability …
I, for one, after reading all the accounts, official and unofficial, of Alice’s career and the history of Chez Pannise, can’t find a single supporting source to verify she was ever a chef. And yet, year after year, she is described adoringly as such by people who know her.
Gael joins the ranks of the damned because she moderated a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y in New York City a while back — and she was lucky enough to have Fergus Henderson on her panel and she barely acknowledged him. She kept getting his name wrong. She blathered on and on about her favorite subject (herself) while ignoring the most influential chef of the last ten years sitting a few feet away.
Alain Ducasse, on the other hand, is a villain. Because he almost single-handedly brought down fine dining in America with his absurdly pretentious restaurant Alain Ducasse New York (ADNY, as it was known) … To use an egregiously overused expression, ADNY was where fine dining jumped the shark.
The James Beard House
Speaking of old fuckers: The James Beard House goes on the villains list — because it harbors and gives safe haven to villains. It gives them somewhere to go. It provides comfort and succor and the illusion of importance to a bunch of supremely irrelevant old fucks who have nothing to do and nothing to say of any significance to the restaurant business they claim to support and love.
Take John Mariani, the professional junketeer over at Esquire, whose “likes and dislikes” (shower cap in his comped hotel, attractive waitresses, car service) are communicated, as if telepathically, to chefs before his arrival. (Motherfucker hands out pre-printed recipe cards on arrival, with instructions on how to prepare his cocktail of choice — a daiquiri.) This guy has been a one-man schnorrer for decades. He’s been caught red-handed on numerous occasions — but his employers continue to dissemble on his behalf.
My meal there was one of the longest, least pleasurable meals of my life. Twenty minutes in, and I was looking at the little menu card, counting the (many) dishes to come, ticking off the hours, minutes, and seconds I’d have to remain before earning my freedom. I thought it lethally self-serious, usually pointless, silly, annoying, and generally joyless. It was, for me, a misery from beginning to end.
[Elsewhere in the book, Bourdain praises Grant Achatz as a “hero” for being committed to his craft.]
I don’t care what you do in your home, but the idea of a vegetarian traveler in comfortable shoes waving away the hospitality — the distillation of a lifetime of training and experience — of, say, a Vietnamese pho vendor (or Italian mother-in-law, for that matter) fills me with sputtering indignation.
I don’t dislike Guy Fieri, I realized, after many viewings of his cooking shows, much soul-searching at my personal ashram and many doses of prescription hypnotics. I just dislike — really dislike — the idea that somebody would put Texas-style barbecue inside a fucking nori roll.
The eye-searing “Kwanzaa Cake” clip on YouTube, of Sandra Lee doing things with store-bought angel food cake, canned frosting, and corn nuts, instead of being simply the unintentionally hilarious viral video it should be, makes me mad for all humanity. I. Just. Can’t. Help. It.