Monday, March 21, 2011

Anthony Bourdain- Hero? Wordsmith? Luckiest SOB on Earth??

Original Printing

On my recent trip to NYC,  I took along a copy of Tony Bourdain's book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. I had seen Tony- Yes, Tony- we're buds. Parasocial relationship. Its a real thing. Look it up.
Newly released version

... I had seen Tony in several episodes of No Reservations on the Travel Channel. I was always impressed with the narration- he was descriptive in a way that bordered on poetic. So of course I was expecting similar wordplay in his non-fiction work.

I was not disappointed. I feel I must warn you, this is not a book for the faint of heart. The language is the least of your worries. The author describes a debauched, drug-filled, madcap lifestyle- that is apparently very commonplace among kitchen workers nationwide. Strike that, world-wide. Heroin, LSD, 'shrooms, and lots and lots of coke. Consider this passage:

"We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to     'conceptualize.' Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get."

This man had some serious problems. As you read, it's sometimes hard to understand how he possibly a)survived and b)picked himself up off the floor after doing these massive amounts of drugs and drinking these copious amounts of liquor.

And he's not alone. My buddy Tony talks about dozens of fellow warriors, working long shifts in steaming kitchens, burned and bleeding.... and high and drunk. Constantly.   

The book is a stream of consciousness. When he wants to tell a story, he tells it. It's difficult to decipher any kind of time line. One chapter, he is working at the Supper Club and telling stories about the staff and owners. The next chapter, he has gone back to another time and place, before the Supper Club- with no discernable segue or logic. Although considering his state a majority of the time, that may be how he sees it.

Throughout the book, what does have is a multitude of ups and downs- opportunities and disappointments. The whole time, he's tellin' it like it is. Cooking is hard. The life is hard. If you didn't know it before, you will when you are done with this book. 

But when it comes to being a chef, Tony readily admits he just wasn't that great. He was good, but not as good as his contemporaries. So what makes this man so popular? He writes that, after the book came out, Eric Ripert was calling and he was invited to ski with And Soltner. I don't think he even understands why. He talks dirty about the business and almost everyone in it. And they love him for it.

I personally couldn't care less about the politics- I couldn't put the book down. I was amazed and shocked by pretty much everything he had to say- and he was just telling stories. Stories about the life he lived. 
So of course it follows that I needed more.

I bought Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook a few days ago and where before, I would have called Anthony a brilliant wordsmith, now I call him the luckiest SOB on Earth. Here's a guy who has probably ingested every drug known to man, pissed off a ton of people in the restaurant business, and written what was supposed to be a shocking expos é about the culinary world... and now probably has the best job on TV. With the exception of that other wench on the Travel Channel who goes everywhere fabulous and gets spa treatments and other such nonsense. Wench.

Let me tell you about Medium Raw thus far:

Chapter 1- a super secret meal with 12 of the top names in American cuisine consisting of (mostly illegal) delicacies that are apparently sublime. Why is he there? Who knows.

Chapter 8, simply titled "Lust"- Mr. Bourdain talks about how wrong it is to write about "orgiastic" food experiences that are meant to only invoke envy in others... then spends the entire chapter recounting experience after lust-inducing experience. By the end, I was jealous. And angry. And not just a little jealous- I was covetous, resentful, and whatever else really, really jealous people are.

I haven't finished the book yet. But I'm sure by the end I will love, loathe, respect, abhor, and admire this man. Oh, Tony- you are a cruel, cruel mistress. 



1 comment:

  1. I have been interested in reading his books but haven't gotten the chance...guess that's my next book! :)