Medium Raw

[by Naveen]

I discovered Kitchen Confidential at the start of my year in Singapore and read his other books (and watched all of No Reservations) during my remaining time on the island. I explored as much of the local food culture as I could, while struggling to find a balance between my undergrad vegetarianism and Bourdain's total gastronomical immersion. He's not a role model, but he's always thought-provoking in a way that challenges my too-comfortable grad student life. The new book isn't the best introduction to his philosophy, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as the transcript of a hypothetical conversation in a bar after a few drinks.

One of my reasons for reading Bourdain's travelogues and essays (as well as the similar books by Bill Buford, Gordon Ramsay, and Michael Ruhlman) was the intense devotion of each to their craft: a combination of relentless curiosity and almost inhuman diligence. What drives chefs? Bourdain looks at the case of celebrity chefs, such as Emeril, Godron Ramsay, and David Chang. With regards to Mario Batali:
"He gets off on successfully filling a restaurant that everyone said was doomed, or bringing the cost of food below 20%. He likes to do the difficult thing, the dangerous thing - like take a gamble that what America needs and wants right now is ravioli filled with calf brains, or a pizza topped with pork fat."

Does Bourdain have regrets? Yes, many. One of the biggest ones is not seeking out a challenging position in the kitchen of a top-ranking chef after culinary school. He writes:
"The simple fact is that I would be - and always have been - inadequate to working in the kitchens of most of my friends, and it is something I will have to live with."

Wylie Dufresne is a hero. Bourdain writes "To his constant peril, he experiments, pushes boundaries, explores what is possible, what might be possible." I caught a glimpse of this during a conversation with him at TEDx Cambridge and from my dessert at WD-50, so I'm hungry for more.

A major internal debate for me still is between the optimal nutrition of elite athletes like Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier and the fearless exploration by numerous vagabonds and a smaller number of food critics. With regard to tasting menus, Bourdain writes
"If cooking professionally is about control, eating successfully should be about submission, about easily and without thinking giving yourself over to whatever dream they'd like you the share."
This excludes over-intellectualizing the food, taking photos of every course, and focusing more on the future blog post than the seamless passage of time.

Finally, back to his thoughts about vegetarianism:
"I guess I understand if your desire for a clean conscience and cleaner color overrules any natural lust for bacon. But taking your belief system on the road - or to other people's houses - make me angry."
He elaborates on this anger for quite a few pages.

Has anyone else read the book? Has it changed the way you eat?

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