MEDIUM RAW by Anthony Bourdain is sub-titled “a Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook” – I’m pretty sure if the Publishers felt they might get away with it the sub-title would have read “A F—-ing Valentine etc” because the F-word is Bourdain’s favourite word, he uses it in almost every paragraph, he uses it adverbially, he uses it adjectivally, he uses it as a verb. He has even invented a collective noun ‘clusterf…’ to describe gatherings of hungry journos and industry peeps. This is not a book to tuck into your maiden aunt’s Christmas stocking. But if you love food, cooking and eating then open the book and prepare to be entertained, astonished and illuminated.
Anthony Bourdain was the Bad Boy of New York chefdom, some years ago, and hit the headlines with his first culinary exposé “Kitchen Confidential”, which was a riveting account of cheffing, boozing, drugging, oh – and cooking. Some twelve years later he’s calmed down quite a bit (he recently married and now has a baby daughter with whom he is besotted); he wrote more books, got onto TV as a hit show host (No Reservations – Around the world on an empty Stomach) and he writes foodie columns for top-end magazines & newspapers in the US.
Now he’s laying into the food industry with his customary verve – he must have as many – if not more – enemies than friends. There’s a chapter in Medium Raw titled ‘Heroes & Villains’ in which he names names and plunges in with gusto. He’s opinionated, outrageous, opinionated, funny, opinionated, philosophical, opinionated and passionate and loves nothing more than a good rant. You should read his indictment of the beef industry in the US and what goes into a hamburger. You will never eat another hamburger that you have not personally prepared, this I promise you.
For all his fearless bravado, it has to be said that when it comes to food, the man writes like a dream. There’s a chapter appropriately titled ‘Lust’ where he describes dishes he’s eaten all over the world – Borneo, Singapore, Italy – never mind the location; when I’d finished reading that chapter the pagers were covered in drool …. he describes this type of writing as ‘food porn’. He’s not wrong – I nearly had an orgasm.
I’m a great Bourdain fan, but I’m glad he’s not mine. He may be long, lean and devilishly good-looking, but Mrs B is welcome to him. I reckon she’s got her hands full!
ALONE IN THE KITCHEN WITH AN EGGPLANT edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler; sub-titled Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone.
Somebody had the bright idea of asking the great and the good to write short essays on this theme, so contributors include the late Nora Ephron (who liked nothing better than to prepare herself mashed potatoes). Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, who cooked spaghetti for a year in 1971, and equates it with loneliness. Holly Hughes sets out to makes Eggs Florentine a la Mom, but lands up making good ol’ scrambled eggs. Phoebe Nobles binges on asparagus while the season lasts and cooks it every which way for six weeks. Other writers recreate artisanal dishes they first encountered in Europe; somebody else talks about instant noodles. There are a few frantically fiddly recipes, a few dead easy recipes, plus some meditations about cooking, food, travelling, past loves dining alone, student years, youth, cooking debacles and disasters.
I bought the book intrigued by its stylish deep purple jacket, with a pic of artistically sliced eggplant piled into a tower. In my childhood the vegetable was always called a Brinjal; later in life I discovered the name Aubergine and now it’s usually referred to by its simple name: eggplant. Personally, I enjoy Brinjal curry, but not fried Brinjal – way too oily.
I keep the book in the dusty piles on my bedside table, and take an occasional dip into its treasures every time I need a short entertaining read. It could be described as snack reading. I recommend it to you.