In Medium Raw, Bourdain Is the Last Honest Man

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In the end, of course, there is no one in Medium Raw that Bourdain is as unsparing with as himself, and that is the book's redemption, what sets it apart from the mindless cheers-and-jeers cacophony of so much food writing. In a searingly revealing final chapter, the cynical but essentially guileless chef breaks down the reason for his anger: once being a working chef with no health plan, no hopes and a bad marriage. In the present, he is angry at the abuse of food and cooking by TV food stars, those stars' frauds and follies and himself for being part of the circus. He's still mad; that's where his energy and eloquence come from. It's the best part of who he is. Happily, that anger is still white and pure after all these years; it burns away all the impurities of the food-media fog that is now his habitat. Stay angry, Tony: you're the conscience of the culinary world. We need you now more than ever.

And now, a few words with Bourdain:

One of the cool things about the book is how it reflects your moral universe, à la the heroes and villains part. Alice Waters is a well-meaning hypocrite, Sandra Lee a sexual predator, Fergus Henderson and David Chang heroes of gastronomy. Why do you have such a Manichean view of the world?
I admit I have a somewhat apocalyptic worldview. It comes from the years in the kitchen, maybe — where the waiter during the heat of service is either your best friend ever or the worst, most miserable, evil son of a b____ in the history of the world, at least until the shift is over and you have beers together at the bar. I am passionate in my dislikes as well as my likes. I have an acute — maybe overacute — sense of injustice and the absurd. Maybe it goes back to too-early exposure to the works of Stanley Kubrick. Or maybe it's the Nixon re-election. I never got over that. Or maybe it's like a gland thing.

You talk in the book about how you're going to sell out, but for some reason you still haven't. Why not? What are you waiting for?
What did Molière say about writing being like prostitution? "First you do it for fun. Then you do it for a few friends. Finally you do it for money." I've done "product integrations" for the show. In this brave new world of TiVo and DVR, no one watches television as scheduled. They fast-forward through the commercials, they delete them, they download [shows] commercial-free. Advertisers-sponsors aren't stupid. They know that increasingly, the only way to get their product seen is in the body of the show. Once I agreed to do that, for the cause, for the budget, for whatever, I pretty much lost my cherry. As I said in the book, it's vanity that precludes me from doing actual ads. So far. Not integrity. That surely will change. I think it was the Keith Richards ad for Vuitton. I thought, Jesus! If he's not too cool to do it, what's my problem?

What are you doing with Eric Ripert in Paris?
Making an episode of No Reservations. It's pretty amazing what's going on here. The word revolution is not entirely inappropriate. The other day I watched Eric having to actually defend himself for running a great, three-star restaurant. Incredible food from really creative young chefs for cheap. Like, really cheap. And everywhere we go, whatever new chefs we meet, rogue artisan types serving Michelin-quality food in tiny little bistros, they speak the name of He Who They Have All Heard Of — or already know and admire: "Chang ... Chang ... Chang." This should be a pretty amazingly food-centric episode. We're eating some good stuff. And I got to do the little sailboat thing in the fountain at the Tuileries like my father did with me when I was a kid. That was cool.

Now that you are traveling in the U.S. for speaking gigs, are there any chain restaurants you'll eat in?
I do everything I can to avoid eating at chain restaurants. But if it's 5 in the morning in a Midwestern airport and I'm coming off a late-night gig having had nothing to eat and I'm starving or desperate for coffee and some filler, I have been known to slink, shamefacedly, into a Chili's or Mickey D's. I've gotten pretty good at familiarizing myself with decent airport food around the world and planning around it. On the other hand, when in L.A., I always, always load up with In-N-Out Burger on the way from LAX to the hotel. Love that stuff.

Josh Ozersky is a James Beard Award—winning food writer and the author of The Hamburger: A History. His food video site, Ozersky.TV, is updated daily. He is currently at work on a biography of Colonel Sanders.

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