When is a Badass Not a Badass?

Medium Raw
Anthony Bourdain

Harper Collins, 281 pages, 2010, $28.99CA

I was surprised, upon reading Medium Raw, to see that the sharp-clawed Anthony Bourdain had become a bit of a pussycat. And a timid one at that.

Bourdain has made a whole career out of being a tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face kind of guy. He shit-talked people in his industry publicly, letting his feelings and opinions be well-known. And who knows if it’s the wisdom of age or some joyous glow of fatherhood, but many chapters of Medium Raw are Bourdain not just backing down, but rolling over and presenting his belly for a scratch. He once ripped apart Rachael Ray. But she sent him a fruit basket, and now they’re pals. He super shit-talked Alice Waters, but after meeting her (an event that scared him, probably because he expected her to call him out on his shit-talking) now admits that she’s probably (mostly) right about where our food comes from and changes that need to be made to our food system.

He still shit talks vegetarians, but even that is met with a softer edge, as he instead directs his anger at the factory farm systems that leave us eating burgers full of actual shit.

I guess I’m just trying to get my head around this kinder, gentler Bourdain, but it’s not jibing for me. Tony was the guy you could always count on to say what other people were thinking but were too afraid to say. Which is something I pride myself on doing, so maybe I’m just feeling a little betrayed that Tony has crossed to the other side.

He still calls people out – a whole chapter of Medium Raw is called Heroes and Villains, and he lists a pile of reasons for each call. And the chapter Alan Richman is a Douchbag has made the rounds online with food writers from all over taking sides. But I can’t help wondering – will Bourdain’s next book include a story about how he’s now friends with Richman because the GQ food writer sent him a a fruit basket?

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Where Curly Fries Come From


At first, I was sure I must be dreaming. Pretty ladies stepped out of nowhere to hand me free samples of cheesecake, gelato, or cashews. There was beer, wine, and grilled kangaroo. Everywhere I turned there were displays of gorgeously decorated cakes. Chefs stood over hotplates cooking up dishes of pasta or rosti potatoes, free for the taking. I couldn’t be sure, but there might have been angels singing. I never wanted to leave this blissful place.

Then the ethereal music came to a screeching halt as I came upon a display of salad dressings from a cigarette company. I shook myself out of my sugar-induced coma and noticed displays of chicken wings, available in bags of 500, or frozen burger patties, and all varieties of personal pizzas, sausages and nacho cheese mix.

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Alice in Wonderland

I once worked for a woman who was a whirlwind. Driven, creative, incredibly knowledgeable in her field, kind as can be, she nevertheless drove me and every other person who worked for her right around the bend. She was one of those folks who took on more and more work, spreading herself too thin, ignoring her family and friends. More importantly, she would swoop in, critiquing things that that we thought were fine, rearranging things that didn’t need rearranging, and generally leaving a path of chaos and destruction in her wake. She once pulled me from the sales floor on an excruciatingly busy afternoon so I could do her personal mending, leaving an inexperienced clerk to deal with a Saturday afternoon crowd, and prohibiting me from supplementing my pay with the commission I’d have made on the stuff I’d have sold had I not been hemming her skirt.

This is the impression I have of Alice Waters.

From its humble beginnings, Chez Panisse has been Alice Waters’ restaurant, but by impression only. She has never been the sole owner, and is in fact, one person on a board of directors. She has never been the main chef, although she would fill in when the place was between regular chefs, and she has always had full creative control of the menu. She has never been the manager of the place, leaving that task to a string of people, including her father, who were all faced with the task of forcing a bunch of flaky hippies to adhere to basic accounting systems. Which can’t help but provoke the question – what exactly is it that Alice Waters does at Chez Panisse?

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