Tag Archive: Biography

Neat Observations

Easily the most bizarre book in the gastronomy world I’ve ever read. I’m of two minds (at least) about Observations from the Kitchen by Richard Neat. Let’s start with the style. It’s written in a weird third-person with all the personae titled rather than named, “The Cook”, “The Banker”, etc. It’s strange enough when someone writes about themselves in the third person, but third person abstract is a step way beyond. The book is written with the intermingled threads of a chess game, a series of recipe procedures, and personal interactions. The chess game is meant to be, according to the author, a metaphor for the way things unfold in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the metaphor is lost in translation – here and there it seems to apply to the rest of the narrative, but mostly, not. One reviewer of the book assumed that he himself was lost because of not being a chess player. No, I play chess and the narrative that’s lost.

The text is desperately in need of a good old-fashioned proofread. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes abound. Homonym interchanges take place with maddening regularity, seemingly several times in each chapter, as the author doesn’t seem to either have understood, or, perhaps, just let some sort of auto-correct feature take place, between pairs like break and brake, your and you’re, bare and bear, etc.

The book is, apparently, intended as an odd auto-biography, tracing the author’s/chef’s journey through his career in various locales and kitchens. There’s no question he’s a brilliant and well-known chef. I’ve used some of his recipe elements myself and they’re without peer (not pier). The food and the recipe procedurals are without a doubt the highlight of the book. And there’s no question he illustrates how much effort and thought go into his dishes.

“The Cook”, perhaps self-aware, or perhaps oblivious, presents himself proudly as an overbearing, histrionic and petulant tyrant and points to this as “the only” recipe for a successful restaurant venture and the training of cooks. I certainly don’t agree… the best restaurants I’ve worked in have never been those with “difficult” chefs.

Worth a read for the food, and perhaps just a glimpse at that infamous line between genius and madness.

———

Moderately interesting, not quite as “outre” as the excessively long title Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodgyear might lead one to believe. The author is a bit too infatuated with restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who makes anywhere from a cameo to a full blown participant in almost every chapter. The book is very Los Angeles-centric – pretty much nothing happens unless it’s there, as if that city is the epicenter of the cutting edge food movement – nothing against L.A., but, really, it’s not. Of course I found the chapter about underground restaurants intriguing until discovering that it’s basically 100% dedicated to Wolvesden, again, nothing against them, but they weren’t the first, they didn’t invent the concept, nor did the concept start in Los Angeles, not by a long stretch.

The book is a bit too self-centered – not in a pretentious sense, and I understand that she’s writing from her personal experiences – but she seems a bit too sure that she’s the one that has discovered, for the first time in history, all the things that she’s writing about, even while acknowledging that she heard about each and every thing she experiences from someone else. In the end it comes across as a series of personal journal entries rather than a well thought out book. That doesn’t take away from the overall subject interest, which is what held my attention through the book.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Chef Selfies

Working my way through my reading “pile” (what do we call it these days when it’s electronic?) with a bunch of chef-authored tomes. First up, To the Bone from Paul Liebrandt. I’ve met Paul numerous times though don’t know him well at all. When I worked at AZ he used to come hang out in the kitchen with Patricia Yeo – he was sort of between restaurants and somehow or other connected in to our kitchen and, like any other smart chef spent his downtime learning new stuff. I’ve only had his food once, an evening out with Patricia and our restaurant GM at Atlas during his short tenure there. The food was interesting, if perhaps a little overwrought and precious – it seemed like someone trying way too hard to impress.

Reading the book gives a bit of insight into that, much of his career seems to be just along that vein, trying hard to impress. I’m not sure that I came away with any deep understanding of how he came to be that way, his writing style is fairly reserved and matter of fact (which is kind of how I find him), but certainly there are glimpses from his upbringing of where that might have come from. The book is interesting from the point of view of someone in the field, I wonder if it would be so for someone not. Much of it almost reads like an expanded CV – “I worked here, these were my responsibilities” – then fleshed out by details of what that looked like. There’s very little human interaction in the book, in the sense of we learn little about any of his coworkers or any time he spent with them. Even the various chefs he’s worked for provide little more than background color to the narrative – you could almost come away from the book thinking that he’s forged through his life and career completely solo, with little to no assistance from anyone else, and other people just pop in and out at random, with minimal purpose.

The book is beautifully illustrated with what can only be described as food porn, and there are, scattered here and there, some recipes, or parts of them, for some of the dishes illustrated, and some of those talked about in the text. Many, if not most, or even all, of them go beyond what most people would want to attempt at home, and while any professional cook might be able to turn their hand to them, it would be an exercise in curiosity more than anything. Liebrandt’s style is his own, informed by his impressive resume. If you like the “jewel box” style of food with intricate plating, this is right up your alley.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by internationally renowned chef Jacques Pepin. Everything about this book and the man is probably close to the opposite side of things from the above as it could be. Now, I’ve never eaten anything that Pepin has cooked, he was out of the restaurant chef world before I ever got to New York City and on into his long career behind the scenes and as a culinary educator.

The book itself reads almost like a novel, a storybook. People are the main focus, far more than the food or his career, and he shares deeply and richly of his personal life, his family, his friends, and his coworkers. We follow him through his childhood on into his teens, we see where and why he made the decisions he did. His life is, literally, an open book. By the end of his descriptions of his time spent at each stage of his career, I felt almost as if I’d been along for the ride. Much like watching him on television, he’s open, warm and welcoming.

This book is filled with illustrations – virtually all of them simply black and white photographs of he, his family and his friends over the years. The recipes are straightforward and the sort that anyone with a kitchen and a couple of pans could jump right into and feel comfortable pulling off.

Both of the books, at least on a professional level, well worth reading. Liebrandt’s book is a night out at the hottest trendy spot in town, Pepin’s is a weekend spent with friends at home. It just depends on what you’re in the mood for.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

More, Yo

Almost two years ago I reviewed the book Plenty by chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi, and it’s still one of my favorite “go to” books for creative and interesting vegetarian recipes. At the time he’d just released two other cookbooks but neither was yet available in ebook form. The most interesting of the two that struck me was Jerusalem: A Coobook, and I put in a pre-order for it for when the e-version became available. At some point it did, auto-downloaded itself onto my tablet, and there it sat, forgotten in the electronic reading “pile” that tends to back up on my disk. I finally got around to it a few weeks ago and wended my way through it.

It’s as well written as the previous book, the subject material is far different. He and his co-author/chef Sami Tamimi explore the classic dishes of the interwoven cultures of the city of Jerusalem, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Israeli or Arab, of Middle Eastern or Eastern European origin. There’s a particular focus on the dishes that the two of them, one Israeli, one Palestinian, have from their formative years. And, it’s a great read. In many ways it’s more of a storybook than it is a cookbook, despite an ample number of recipes. It would be an interesting one to cook one’s way through, but personally I’d be more likely to cook my way through Plenty. Still, it’s one to add to my small collection of Middle Eastern cookbooks, and that adds some depth to a particular subset of those cuisines.

From Jerusalem: A Cookbook

I gave a shot at two of the recipes, modified slightly for the ingredients that we have available to us – for the most part I was able to find everything, and we had a delightful dinner of roasted squash and onions with a tahini dressing, and a lovely salad of chickpeas, tomatoes, and cucumbers in a garlickly yogurt. I’d happily eat either again, Henry wasn’t overly thrilled with the squash dish, finding the tahini dressing a bit on the bitter side for his tastes, which is more a matter of adjusting the amount of tahini in the dish, something that the authors bring up a couple of times in the book.

Do I recommend the book? Absolutely, if you have an interest in exploring a facet of Middle Eastern cuisine. And, if not, but you’re a fan of great vegetable dishes, head back to that previous review and pick up a copy of the other book.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Growing Up Russian

Great book by an author who I already liked – Anya Von Bremzen’s Please to the Table is a fantastic resource for the various cuisines of the former Soviet Union. I was surprised that there was little cooking in this new volume, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. While there’s a fair amount about food, much of it is about politics and growing up, and just life in general, and there aren’t any recipes or even hints at them while reading – which I suppose eminently fits the subtitle, A Memoir of Food and Longing. Only upon reaching the end of the prose, about 90-some percent of the way through the book, did I discover that all the recipes are provided at the back, more or less as a final chapter – I think I’d have liked to know that upfront. Still, her story more than makes up for that and I definitely recommend the book.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Mmmm… No, Chef

Did I like the book, did I not like the book? That’s the question. And I have mixed feelings about it. The book – the latest chef bio to hit the shelves, came with, as most of them do, a ton of hype, that follows on the opening of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s latest restaurant, Red Rooster, in Harlem. I have no doubt that were I back in NYC I would have been hit with a whole lot more of that hype, so given as much as I got online I can only imagine. But that goes with book publishing these days, tends to be the responsibility of the publishing house and/or agent, so doesn’t particularly add or subtract from my expectations.

I don’t have any wonderful Marcus stories to share. I met him once when he was chef at Aquavit and a friend of mine was manager there. At the end of a delightful dinner my friend introduced me to him as a colleague, a former chef now working as a sommelier and manager (at the time for the short-lived American Renaissance) – I got a smile, a handshake, a “nice to meet you”, and he moved on to whomever else was in the room. No big deal. He seemed shy, and, timing-wise, he’d probably very recently become the chef, following the sudden and unexpected death of the chef and mentor he’d come to the restaurant to work with.

And, to be honest, I never really knew much about him. We didn’t move in the same restaurant circles, so I don’t think we ever ran into each other again. Until the book promotions started I didn’t know about the whole “Ethiopian orphan adopted by a Swedish couple, raised in Sweden, etc.” story. If you’d have asked me where he was from, I’d have said, “I don’t know.” So, the story was intriguing.

So is the book in many ways. Much of it really is a heartwarming tale that follows him through his childhood and on into his formative years as a chef, on to various successes, some failures, and to where he is now. The book is reasonably well written (co or ghost-written by a friend of his, author Veronica Chambers), but isn’t going to win any awards for literary style. Knowing the restaurant business gave me an appreciation for what he went through, particularly in those formative stages, and also for the politics and intricacies of later working in the New York scene. A bit of name-dropping of the other chefs he’s met along the way, for good and bad, but that’s to be expected in a book like this. For those things, I liked the book, and the story.

But there were some things that struck nerves. First off, by the end of the book, I was so ready to chuck it across the room (other than it’s on my tablet, not a print version, so that’s just not a good move) if he one more time launched into how tough it was for a black man to become a celebrity chef because of all the prejudice he encountered. I have no doubt he did – although many of the examples he uses strike me more as seasoned chefs dismissing him for being green rather than black, but I wasn’t on the spot to witness the encounters. And no doubt they were formative as to his character, but the constant repetition begins to come across as “poor little me” whining.

The same also lost some credibility with me in regard to other minority groups. He makes little, if any acknowledgement of how difficult it is for pretty much any minority to get ahead in the restaurant business, which in the U.S. is a very white male dominated, culture. On a personal level I could only laugh out loud at his assertions, that the restaurant business is completely welcoming of gay men and women. He even provides examples of his “fabulous gay” (really, straight men should never use those two words together, actually, they should never use the first word at all) employees – a waiter, a food-runner.

Yup, working the “front of house” and being gay practically go hand in hand sometimes in NY. But in the kitchen? I’d say that in my life, the kitchens of NYC restaurants were probably the most homophobic places I’ve ever been, and that includes stints in EMS, security work, even a year and a half in ROTC. And that’s in a place like NYC, it’s far worse in much of the rest of the country. As one chef I used to work for was fond of uttering, “vegetables work in the kitchen, fruits work in the dining room”. Let’s just say that one’s gone on to be a well-known face on television who thankfully has outgrown that phase of his life.

And, gee, the other minority I belong to (I told you it struck a personal nerve or two) gets a mention when he talks about cooking a state dinner for the Obamas – he makes a point of that he not only brought in other Swedes and African Americans, but “some Jews” into the White House to cook with him.

The last thing that really struck me was, and I’m sure it does other readers, and a spoiler alert here, was his abandonment of a woman he got pregnant and who had a daughter. Not complete abandonment mind you, he lets us know, because after he told his parents, his mother took on handling his financial responsibility for that daughter and demanded that Marcus pay her back on a monthly basis for that… something that continued for fourteen years before he finally had the guts to meet that daughter (he gives a list of excuses all related to being busy with his career), a scene that while it takes up a chapter of the book, he glosses over almost as if he’s done something noble by going and meeting her. Why, we even find out later on (since she doesn’t come up again) that he invited her to his wedding down the road.

He then doesn’t include her, nor the mother who raised her (and who in essence let him get launched in his career by not demanding that he marry her and stay in Austria, nor help her care for their daughter), in his acknowledgments at the end of the book – where he makes it a point that “family” is all important – even acknowledging his biological father’s other children, whom he never met until well into his adult life when his sister tracked down that their father, in Ethiopia, was actually still alive and he wasn’t the orphan he’d always thought he was.

He makes a point at the end that much of the book involved revisiting people, places and feelings that were painful or difficult for him to remember or explore. He doesn’t seem to get that some of the pain might be that of other people around him, and that he bears some or all responsibility for that. Those things tell me a lot about the character of the man, if not the chef, and in the end, despite all the good parts of the book, leave me thinking, I just don’t know if I recommend it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Craig. The Book.

Craig Claiborne biographyAbout a year and a half ago I was contacted by the Tom McNamee, author of the newly released biography of Craig Claiborne. He’d stumbled across a post or two, here and there, from an interview I’d done with Craig many, many moons ago, and wondered if I could answer a few questions. I did, and also, since I still had it, forwarded him the transcript of the interview. And then, I kind of forgot about it until a couple of months ago when he contacted me to tell me the book was coming out soon and thanking me for my contribution. As it happened, a New York based food lovers group was hosting a book launch party on the night that I arrived in town, and he very graciously invited me to it (I doubt he thought I would actually show up given the distance, but as things turned out, I did). And so we met, each got to put a face to the e-mail, and I stayed a short time (I’m never good at cocktail parties – but long enough to say hello to some folk I haven’t seen in forever like Danny Meyer and Colman Andrews), and came away with a signed copy of the book with a very nice thank you in it from Tom. And, I read it.

And, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Tom goes back to Craig’s childhood and works his way forward to the end of his life, and he’s quite thorough. He’s also quite entertaining, and not at all shy about bringing in the more salacious elements of his subject’s life. Actually, at times, he seems to dote on those more than other details, but then, I think that was partially his point – there was a lot of sexual innuendo and activity in Craig’s life that is generally glossed over by other writers. On reaching one of the last chapters and finding that much of it is devoted to the transcript I provided, I’m named a couple of times – as a young journalist, which sort of had me sounding like a kid right out of school rather than a 33 year old chef who’d been cooking and writing at that point for about 17 years, and was the food and wine editor for Genre magazine at the time. I was surprised to find in the footnote that the interview was unplanned, and that Craig had picked me up at a bus stop for what he hoped was a casual tryst. Nothing of the sort – it was an arranged interview by a mutual chef friend, Paul Grimes, that was planned out over a series of e-mails. I can’t help but wonder if some of the other more prurient details in the book are speculative on the author’s part…. Several quotes have been rewritten to make them flow more smoothly, since our conversation had been a bit jumbled and punctuated by a bit of cooking and interruptions of phone calls and such, but they’re all in context and accurate as to content.

In the end, a highly recommended book. I doubt that any other has been so well researched, and even if a bit of license is taken here and there, it’s likely in keeping with Craig’s character anyway, even if the details, and particularly his own thoughts, are lost to all time.

[UPDATE: Received later in the day after posting this from Tom: “I just saw your review–thank you for all your kind words. I’m mortified that I got the situation of your interview wrong. At least two of Craig’s friends told me that he had described it that way–but of course I should have asked you. Stupid mistake, and I do apologize.”

No harm done – it just adds some interesting flavor to my life history! It does seem odd that Craig would have described it that way to friends – it was a professional interview from moment one, and part of a planned series of food industry professionals who were out of the closet – and he knew that, it was part of why he agreed to participate in it. Maybe he just wanted to spice up the story a bit – but there’s certainly nothing in the transcripts or on tape that would suggest otherwise.]

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Best Chef in the World?

“I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all, but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me; otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”

– Oliver Cromwell

Ferran book coverI’ve reached the point in living overseas where I don’t pay that much attention to US food press, particularly in regard to things like the newest book flavor of the moment. But a review in the NY Times of Colman Andrews’ new biography of Ferran Adriá that basically trashed the book for being nothing more than a fluff piece caught my eye. Now, I don’t know Colman well – we’ve met, as best I recall, thrice, two of those while I was working in a restaurant where he was a guest at a table, and once in passing at a food event where we were introduced and had a whopping thirty second conversation before we both moved on. I’ve got his book on the cooking of the Riviera – well written, thoughtful, insightful, and a favorite to refer to for the cuisine of that area, and, I’ve been a fan and subscriber of Saveur magazine for many years. And we follow each other on Twitter. So while I can’t say that I know the man, I’m usually a decent judge of character and he hasn’t struck me in person or in print as someone likely to write a puffed up biography.

That was intriguing enough to get me to pick up an e-book copy and sit down to read it. All I can say about the Times review is that we must have been reading completely different versions of the book, if the same book at all. No more to say about the review – on to the book.

Regular readers know that I’m not much of a fan of the world of foams, gels, airs, etc., and typically don’t enjoy those sort of meals very much, even if I find them intellectually interesting. That may, however, be simply that I’ve only had meals prepared by chefs who aren’t very good at it. Oh, they’re good enough at the scientific techniques – they aerate and spherify with the best of them – they produce gems of presentation – and, for the most part, they don’t deliver on the flavors, the seasoning, the base ingredients. It’s been a series of meals that are all about the vanguard methods with little understanding of the basics of cooking.

By the end of reading the book, lengthily titled Ferran: The Inside Story of elBulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food (really? a two line subtitle?), I found myself actually interested in what it is that Adriá is and has been doing – as an intellectual exercise – it appeals to my inner nerd. I found myself thinking, gee, if I’d have kept on heading in the direction of laboratory and research work as I set out to do in my younger years, and combined it with my love of cooking, I could have easily ended up down that path. I also find myself at the end of the book with even less interest than I had before in actually going to elBulli, not that that’s likely to be in the cards at any time in my future.

The book is, as I’ve always found Colman’s writing to be, inquisitive, well written, and very prominently displaying both the polish and the blemishes of the man it exposes. I come away thinking, “of all the pompous, self-important, hypocritically humble people…” and “well maybe he has a right to be…” in regard to the “best chef in the world”. Of course, when you’ve been lauded with the accolades that he has, it’s bound to rub off. How could it not? But at least in this biography, he doesn’t come across as a likable guy, or in fact someone that I’d want to be in the room with on a social basis for more than about five minutes. In fact, in some ways it reminded me of having just seen The Social Network and the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as a pathetic, self-absorbed savant.

I doubt that was the intention, and there’s certainly plenty of good said about the man in the book, and about his food, and about the restaurant, and much about how beautiful the setting is (which at times comes across almost more important than all the rest of it). I particularly enjoyed the history and development leading from the early days, pre-Adriá up to, essentially, today (or at least about 8 months ago when the book more or less terminates).

If there’s a fault in the book, it is in the lack of any clear picture of those around Adriá. While true, the title of the book is his name, it purports to be the story of the restaurant as well, and while the early history and original owners are well developed, there’s a lack of any real exploration of those surrounding him – his senior staff, both front and back of house, his wife, and other than one or two chefs who have had an impact on him or vice versa, both good and bad, any outside influences. I have trouble imagining that those people have not been of significance in the development of the restaurant, as well as his personal development. But that may be a series of stories for another day and another book.

The conclusion, at several points, both by author and others, that Adriá will always be remembered and that there will always be a pre- and post- annotation in the annals of culinary history seems unlikely to me. There is no doubting the import the man has had on the culinary world, but it is easy to spend a short amount of time in conversation with those in the food world who have not been steeped in the classics to find a complete lack of knowledge of luminaries like Escoffier, Vatel, Guerard, Bocuse, or whomever you wish to name, and that’s just some of the big names in the French world. The likelihood is that a hundred years from now, perhaps even just fifty or less, Adriá will be nothing more than a footnote lost amongst volumes of information that have succeeded him, and only someone delving into the cuisine of our era will encounter him as anything more than that, and then, probably just because he has been an obsessive documenter of his own work. Just a prediction that I doubt I’ll be around to checkout.

In the end, this is a fascinating read, well worth the investment, financial and temporal, whether you’re “into” this sort of cuisine or not, and I highly recommend it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Medium Raw, or Half Baked?

Medium RawI disliked Kitchen Confidential. Let’s just get that out of the way with. Let the hate mail begin. Anthony Bourdain’s hate fueled rage against the restaurant industry machine that ground him up and spit him out (with his admitted acquiescence… no, active participation) was, for me, nothing more than misdirected venom spewing about his days of drugs and debauchery. I know many of the personalities that found themselves lambasted in the book and found his characterizations to be mean-spirited and caricatured, emphases on occasional quirks or happenstances that he blew up into full blown personae. I even worked with a couple of them and found their kitchens to be anything but like the bastardized versions that found their way to his pages. I found myself doubting that he knew many of them more than perfunctorily. But the book has become an epic work on the world of restaurant work, revered among the young who are just entering the profession. Perhaps it’s because he and I are basically the same age and had vastly different experiences and very different perceptions looking back that I found it too one-note, to specific to just him, despite being touted as a universal.

I’ve met the man himself, a trio of times over the years – and while I can’t say that I dislike him, I didn’t particularly like him either – I’m not a person who’s good with names, it often takes me meeting someone a couple of times before I’ll remember it, but I do remember faces and that I talked to someone – he didn’t seem to on the latter two times we encountered each other, and I found him to be, even on the first meet and long before his fame, a bit dismissive if you weren’t someone in his little circle. Though, all three times were pre-KC, so perhaps he was just stoned…. That said, I don’t like to hold a grudge, and the writeups his new book, Medium Raw, is getting, piqued my interest. So, I picked up a copy and dove in.

Like KC, MR is a relatively quick and easy read. There’s no dense prose or deep thinking – if you’ve watched any of his television shows, he writes the way he talks, or vice versa. But it’s in many ways a far better book than he former. It’s certainly better written, his style has improved. It’s not nearly as angry, most of the time – though here and there he takes one person or group to task, seemingly without reason. On the other hand, it’s a poorly organized book – with topics that jump from one to the next, in no particular progression – it seems rather than a narrative to simply be a collection of varied essays that occurred to him at one moment or another.

The anger is still there, and he freely admits it. Where that anger comes from is a great mystery – he alludes to a delightful childhood with loving parents, which apparently was enough to send him, if not anyone, off the edge. He’s kicked the hard drug habits and replaced them, as anyone who’s watched the shows (or reads the book) can see, with copious, if not excessive, amounts of alcohol and caffeine. And the venom still surfaces here and there.

There are some good reads in the book – his essentially open letter to anyone thinking about attending cooking school and becoming a chef is well worth a read – it’s specific, I think, to a very New York restaurant industry experience, but much of it holds true even for other places. His urging for people to learn to cook as they grow up is dead on. Amazingly, I find myself agreeing with his trashing of Alice Waters – not the way he did it, it’s far too caustic, but that despite her Utopian, idealistic views having merit, she’s completely out of touch with the reality of most of the country’s citizens and their day to day concerns. And quite a few of his little analyses, his heroes and villains, and other writings, on individuals, this time around are pretty much on the money. Some of his “food porn” is delightful, some of it just blah, but all of it intriguing.

On the other hand, he takes to task people who have slighted him, or someone he knows, or some sort of vague other, with malicious glee. He spends umpteen pages trashing Alan Richman for one article that the man wrote – the trashing is longer than the article, likely by double, and could have been handled in a paragraph or two, without the name calling. It almost felt like a plaintive “look at me, I can still be just as nasty and hateful as ever… really, I haven’t lost that… really.. can’t you see?” (Despite a chapter or two on how he’s mellowed and changed since becoming a father, he can’t quite seem to let go of that past image. Really Tony, it’s okay that you grew up. Really.) He likes but doesn’t like Regina Schrambling – praising her for her wit and willingness to take on anyone, and then mostly trashing her for using euphemistic and suggestive names for the people she gets caustic about in her blog – but he does the same thing, throughout both books – anyone who, likely, he’s afraid would sue his ass over the characterizations he spews, he makes up a title for, be it as simple as “Chef X” or as descriptive as “Mr. Silver Fox”. The books are littered with them. He rails against vegetarians and vegetarianism, as is his wont – but his premise is flawed, that when one travels one should simply be accepting of whatever it is that is put in front of you. Sure, it’s gracious, but you know what, it’s not reality. People make ethical choices, dietary choices, lifestyle choices, and his suggestion that one should just go with the flow, or “when in Rome”… type attitude, is nonsense (those from Rome, don’t follow a “when in Buenos Aires” approach, trust me) – and he’s no better than those he goes after – seeking out alcoholic drink when he’s in countries where it’s prohibited, sitting down to a dinner of a foodstuff that’s banned, or simply seeking out completely inauthentic experiences in one place or another because it’s what “I want to do”. But that’s likely the new found fame at work… goes to one’s head and all that.

Overall, is it a worthwhile read? Well, it’s certainly a more interesting read than Kitchen Confidential. It’s certainly better written. And now that Bourdain is basically a household name, it doesn’t come across as something completely out of left field. The tone is very him, or at least the cultivated persona of television. So if you’re a fan of his shows – and sometimes I am, and in fact, a few of his episodes, like his recent one on Rome, or past season’s Sardinia, are so perfectly done that I wanted to be there with him, sometimes I’m not, like the episode on Argentina linked in the paragraph above – you’ll likely enjoy this book. I sorta, kinda, did.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail