My reading amid my San Francisco flights last weekend was Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, his sequel to Kitchen Confidential. I loved the first book. Thanks to my brother for giving me the second. The newer book was scattered and more of an insider read, but I still enjoyed it.
Best parts for me:
- The opening chapter found Bourdain and other elite chefs having an illicit dinner of ortolan, the delicious songbird whose deaths made Jonathan Franzen cry. I had no strong opinions on eating the bird — against it, probably, yet might try it — but antagonizing Franzen has come to seem like something worth doing. Toughen him up.
- The list of things Tony feels everyone should be able to accomplish in a kitchen. “Everyone should be able to make an omelet.” “Everyone should be able to roast a chicken.” “One should be able to roast and mash potatoes.” I can accomplish nearly none of them. Some I could look up on eHow (the next time you argue content farms are useless, think of me in the kitchen); others would be out of reach. I am, however, very good at pushing the cart at the supermarket.
- The breakdown of how the recession affected restaurant operations.
- The description of farmhouse cafes in Italy. Drinking “the local red whose rough charms have lately gotten a serious hold on you,” your worldview changes. “You don’t care about the big Bordeauxs anymore. The high-maintenance Burgundies with their complex personalities. The Baron Rothschild could back his car up to the door, trunk full of monster vintages, he’s drunk and offering them for free — and you would decline.”
- The chapter hanging out with Momofuko Ko’s David Chang and the description of all Chang’s inspired email threads, global and long-running, that turn into tasting and testing and then dishes.
But my favorite part is the chapter watching the work of Justo Thomas, who cuts the fish — an epic amount, beautifully — at Le Bernardin.
He is a man set in his habits. He has organized his time and his space the way he likes them. He has a routine, a certain way he likes to do things. And he never deviates.
“With Justo,” says Le Bernardin’s chef de cuisine, Chris Muller, just arriving for work, “it’s all about no wasted motion.” In a Buckaroo Banzai-like explanation of the universe (“Wherever you go… there you are”), Muller holds up one hand flat, representing a fish in Justo-Land, and says, “It’s here…” then turns the palm over, like flipping a page, “… and then it’s there.” He holds my gaze for a split second as if I should understand that he’s just revealed something profoundly important.