Yes, I have read more books about food. I would hate to disappoint. Here’s the latest fare:
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain is always entertaining, and this book is no exception. It’s not as good as Kitchen Confidential or A Cook’s Tour, but I still enjoyed it. The book is a bit of an apologist for Kitchen Confidential, explaining that he was angry when he wrote it. No need for apologies — Kitchen Confidential was insanely funny and informative. It gave an insightful look at just how grueling restaurant work is. Medium Raw seems like Bourdain’s attempt to justify his selling out and becoming a celebrity chef (without the chef part, since he no longer has a restaurant) since he mocked celebrity chefs so mercilessly in Kitchen Confidential. Medium Raw goes over some of the same ground as A Cook’s Tour — eating around the world — but in less detail. If you’re only going to read one Bourdain book, I would not recommend Medium Raw, but I enjoyed getting his perspective now that he’s older and had different life experiences. And like the other books, Medium Raw is funny.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, by Lisa Abend. At first, I hated this book. Probably because I hated the idea of El Bulli. I love to cook and eat, but I don’t think food is “important.” I don’t think it should be taken that seriously, or manipulated so intently. But I got into the book, and I ended up liking it very much. The book follows several stagieres, or young chefs doing unpaid interships at the restaurant for the season. Reading about the stagieres’ backgrounds and motivations was interesting, but more interesting was their attitude about El Bulli. Some revered Ferran Adria, El Bulli’s chef, and wanted to continue making avant garde cuisine. But others disliked the drudgery and longed to cook, rather than making these high-concept creations that didn’t really involve actual cooking. The book gives you a sense of what it’s like to be a stagiere — the long, unpaid hours, the sacrifice to the stagieres’ personal life, the constant pressure to be perfect and to get noticed by Adria and his team, the pressure of not wanting to disappoint diners who have traveled to this remote part of Spain to eat the meal of their lives. After reading the book, I had little desire to eat at El Bulli. I’d rather not travel to another continent, brave a treacherous mountain road, and pay a fortune to be forced to eat rabbit tongue and other dubious creations. That’s just too much pressure for me.
Blood, Bones, and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton. I would have liked this book better if it wasn’t for Anthony Bourdain. His quote on the front cover said that it was “the best memoir by a chef ever. EVER.” Really? I’ve read alot of chef memoirs – and I mean a lot. You’ll see many titles listed if you look in this blog’s book index, and those are only the ones I’ve read since I started this blog — I’ve read many other before that. So I can confidently say that it was NOT the best memoir by a chef ever. However, it was pretty good. Hamilton had a tough childhood – her parents’ divorce bounced her around and ultimately left her living on her own too young. She got into drugs and drifted about — but always maintained a strong work ethic, so she was able to work and support herself throughout. And then there’s her crazy love life – she’s a lesbian but marries a man with whom she’s having a relationship but who also happens to need a green card. Although their marriage has problems, he provides her with the loving, effusive family she sometimes longs for.
Ultimately, she became the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York. I enjoyed reading about her rise and respect the fact that she is entirely self-made. She is also a good writer — she received a masters’ degree in writing along the way. But I found her unsympathetic and complaining at times, so I didn’t love the book as much as I probably should have — or at least as much as Anthony Bourdain thinks I should have.