July 21, 2010
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Medium Raw

by Anthony Bourdain

A collection of essays by a chef who, old and broke, found himself launched by an angry and unexpectedly-successful book into the world of celebrity. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain adopts a frankly misogynistic, homophobic tone that plausibly reflects the hard-working men who populated his kitchens. In these essays, where we are often writing about the pleasures of Hanoi cuisine, St. Barts parties, or Per Se, the same tone becomes schtick. Bourdain’s topic in many of these essays seems to be Bad Lifestyles, but since he take great pains to deny any claim to wisdom, their point is not entirely clear. An essay that deplores tasting menus, especially Alinea’s, because they're too elaborate and attention-grabbing is in terrible taste, for Bourdain is here projecting the esoteric afflictions of the food celebrity (oh no! Not another rich delicacy!) onto his readers.

But there’s a terrific look at true skill in “My Aim Is True,” a New Yorker-style profile of the guy who cuts up fish at Le Bernardin. This is classic Bourdain territory, showing us art where we never thought to look. And the closing chapter, recounting what has happened to everyone else in Kitchen Confidential, redeems the whole volume with gentle and generous spirit.