I know that Anthony Bourdain has a bit of a polarized audience. There are people who just LOVE anything that comes out of his (admittedly sour) mouth,I know that Anthony Bourdain has a bit of a polarized audience. There are people who just LOVE anything that comes out of his (admittedly sour) mouth, while there are others who can't stand the cursing, the negativity, chapters like "Alan Richman is a Douchebag" in his most recent book (which was relatively tame compared to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly), Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. I mostly fall into the admirers camp... I really respect Bourdain's opinions on food and every time I watch No Reservations, I spend a lot of time wishing that I had a life where I got to travel around and eat at some of the world's best restaurants. I also think that he really knows a lot about global cuisine, more due to his travels and friendship with legendary chefs like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, than his own skill as a chef (even he admits that he's a middling chef at best).
All that to say that I tolerate, and even enjoy Bourdain's bravado and arrogance, but it was too much even for me in Get Jiro!, his first (?) graphic novel (illustrations by Langdon Foss). There was a lot of sneering at rubes who dip the sushi rice side in the soy sauce, or don't use their hands, and caricatures of the locavore movement (and Anthony Bourdain REALLY hates Alice Waters: not so thinly veiled jab at her?). For all of Bourdain's dislike for food snobs, he sure comes across as one here.
Get Jiro! is a story (a term which I use loosely in this case) of a sushi chef named Jiro (is it based on famed sushi chef Jiro Ono, of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro? It would seem to be, but the character looks nothing like Jiro or either of his sons...). The book takes place in a future Los Angeles ruled by food and primarily controlled by two warring groups: the locavores and the stop-at-nothing-to-get-the-best-product group. Both are fighting over Jiro for his knife skills in and out of the kitchen. And... that's about it.
I'm making it sound like it was horrible, but it really wasn't. For one thing, it is pretty short (about an hour to read, max), and the illustrations are decent. But unless you're a big, big fan of Bourdain/food culture, I'd skip this one, even if you're really into graphic novels....more
Whether or not you're interested in the world of fine dining, being a professional chef, and food, Yes, Chef: A Memoir is a fascinating biography of aWhether or not you're interested in the world of fine dining, being a professional chef, and food, Yes, Chef: A Memoir is a fascinating biography of award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson. I had read about him before, but watching him on the second season of the show Top Chef Masters was a more formal introduction to his background, which is fascinating. Born in a small village in Ethiopia, he and his sister nearly died of tuberculosis, the disease that claimed his mother in a hospital in Addis Ababa. He and his older sister were adopted by a loving family in Sweden, where he was raised. From his teen years, Samuelsson worked relentlessly in his pursuit of excellence as a chef, becoming a pioneer, one of the few black executive chefs in the world of fine dining, winner of three James Beard Awards (which are like the Oscars of the culinary world), and the youngest chef to receive a three star review from the New York Times (you can read the review, written by the venerable Ruth Reichl, here). All of that ambition came at a price, though, which included fourteen hour days, throwing up every morning out of nerves, and getting screamed at almost daily, along with little to no pay. There's great insight into what professional kitchens are really like, which most people don't know about, thanks to the Food Network. It's a very, very difficult road, and Samuelsson had to sacrifice a lot of things to get where he was, including a relationship with the daughter he fathered through a one-night-stand with an Austrian chambermaid at the age of 20.
Choices like that make Samuelsson appear very human and flawed, but I do appreciate how honest he is. Others might try to write a favorable portrayal of themselves, but for as arrogant as Samuelsson seemed on Top Chef Masters, the Samuelsson in Yes, Chef: A Memoir shows warts and all. I appreciated the inside look into the filming of Top Chef Masters, cooking the Obamas' first state dinner, meeting his daughter for the first time, and discovering the existence of and meeting his biological father and half-sisters in Ethiopia. Like I said, even if you're not a foodie (much as I hate that term), Yes, Chef: A Memoir will be interesting to you, simply because Samuelsson's life is so unique. He says, "I have no big race wounds," but he talks about wrappers from negerbolls (a Swedish cookie with a black sambo as a mascot) being thrown at him growing up, being called a "black bastard" by Gordon Ramsay, and being turned away from restaurants he wanted to cook in without a look at his resume. At the same time, he meditates on his first (and subsequent yearly) visit to Ethiopia, and of seeing the poverty his father and half-sisters currently live in. He writes about the flies that his sisters swat from their faces, the bargaining he had to do to get his father to send his sisters to school, and his realization that that could have easily been him.
Of course, Yes, Chef: A Memoir isn't artistically written (see: Gabrielle Hamilton, Ruth Reichl), but it's not poorly written either. The subject matter is very interesting, and I like the tips and cooking background sprinkled throughout. Things like his grandmother Helga's philosophy of never wasting any ingredient, and how that has inspired him in his Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. It's also interesting to read about his life, living and working in Harlem, and how that has affected the neighborhood. (Though the location of his restaurant has brought lots of positive press to the neighborhood and made it more of a destination, one man stops Samuelsson on the street to tell him that he's responsible for his rent going up, and quotes James Baldwin to him: "Urban renewal means Negro removal.")
A note on the format: I listened to this on audiobook, as it's read by Samuelsson himself, and I thought that his particular voice, Swedish accent and all, would make this autobiography seem more "authentic" somehow. It does, but Samuelsson is kind of an awful reader, inserted awkward pauses every few words. It was distracting, to say, the least. Nevertheless, I'd recommend this to anyone interested in food and the fine dining scene, and even to some who aren't....more
I first saw Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, the illustrated edition, at an Anthropologie, where it was probably tucked between a rooster shaped butterI first saw Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, the illustrated edition, at an Anthropologie, where it was probably tucked between a rooster shaped butter dish and a soy lavender candle, which should give you an idea of the intended audience of this book. Anyway, I was intrigued by it, so when I saw it on the new books shelf at the library where I work, I picked it up and read it while cooking dinner one (last) night. I've always been intrigued by Michael Pollan's books, but I haven't read them because a) I already mostly agree with the general message of not eating processed foods, but b) I don't feel that I'm in a place financially to totally change my lifestyle. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, then, was a nice opportunity to wet my feet, so to speak.
The general message, as I've heard is true in Pollan's other books, is thus: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And the food rules are over a hundred ways to say the same thing: don't eat processed food, practice moderation, and don't eat things that are bad for you. But I have to admit that a lot of them were very clever: things like, stick to the outside aisles of the supermarket (produce, dairy, meat--avoid the inside aisles, which tend to contain processed foods). Or "make all junk food yourself." Because if you have to go to all the trouble to make ice cream, desserts, fried chicken, chips, etc. you won't end up eating it very often. (To which I say: try me.) Or "don't eat anything you see on TV."
The end result is reduced down to some clever sayings, all of which could easily fit on a poster (and that is Pollan's intent). If you're looking for substantive scientific research, don't look here. But if you're looking for a fun little coffee table book for a healthy-minded flexitarian hipster friend, check this out....more
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef is Chef Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir. Chef Hamilton is a great chef (she recently won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef, New York City) and a great writer. She has an MFA in fiction writing, and it shows. Her story is quite remarkable: neglected and abandoned by her parents during their divorce, she learned to cook for herself and provide for herself by dishwashing in restaurants. Hamilton moved up to waitress, then bartender, then line cook, and working in catering. She didn't go to culinary school and you can tell by the way she writes about food that she knows her stuff, and that it's a talent she was born with.
Gabrielle Hamilton isn't like other "celebrity" chefs--she's never had a show on the Food Network, and she isn't planning on expanding the 40-seat East Village Prune, where you'll find her cooking most nights. In fact, her story of opening Prune is surprising. She happened to run into someone renting out a restaurant space, decided to go for it (it was her first restaurant, and she had never even been a sous-chef, let alone a chef). That alone is quite remarkable given the very low success rate of restaurants and other small businesses. I'm not too sure about how many chefs got into the business, but her story does seem atypical. She expresses her comfort at getting lumped in with other female chefs when she recounts a female chef panel she spoke at for a culinary school.
A controversial section (and it's really almost half the book) discusses her marriage to Dr. Michele Fuortes, her "Italian Italian" husband. Many people seemed to feel that this section read like an extended therapy session in which she tried to work out why she married Dr. Fuortes, and why she stayed married to him (their relationship is over, but they are still legally married). I didn't mind that she wrote about her marriage in what's supposed to be a chef memoir, but what did bother me is the way she wrote about her husband. She seems to blame him completely for the dissolution of their marriage, and while that may be true, I thought that Dr. Fuortes should have had an opportunity to defend himself. But then again, I do come from a culture that keeps such private matters private....more
Although I respect Anthony Bourdain a great deal, I actually haven't been that exposed to his work. I've only seen a handful of "No Reservations" episAlthough I respect Anthony Bourdain a great deal, I actually haven't been that exposed to his work. I've only seen a handful of "No Reservations" episodes, and I haven't read the wildly popular Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which exposed the goings-on in the restaurant industry. That said, from what I know of him (chef and foodie who travels the world, is best friends with Chef Eric Ripert and speaks his mind), I like.
Confession: I love People magazine. I love knowing what celebrity is dating who, who wore what, and who's feuding with who. Reading Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook is like reading People Magazine. Bourdain skewers many people in the food industry (in fact, he has a "Heroes and Villains" chapter that paints various people such as Wylie Dufresne and Wolfgang Puck as such). He even has an entire chapter dedicated to the hypocrisy of Alice Waters (gasp!). Of course, you have to take everything that Bourdain says with a grain of salt because while everything is fact-based, you get the sense that a lot of it is Bourdain's anger coming down on certain people just because they wronged his friends, or did something he didn't like. However, I found his stories about these different chefs and foodwriters and TV personalities fascinating. To me, chefs and foodies are huge celebrities. I am constantly reading about food, cooking, or watching food-related programs on TV (not to mention eating, of course). So reading about David Chang, Alan Richman, and Justo Thomas (fish butcher at Le Bernardin) was really interesting. I also loved learning more about what it's like to be a chef (really want to read Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly now)--not quite as glamorous as it seems on TV.
The one thing I didn't really like was Bourdain's food porn chapter (can't remember what it's really called). I love food porn (sumptuous descriptions of food), but his didn't really cut it for me. He's no Ruth Reichl or Jonathan Gold (my two foodie heroes!) when it comes to describing food. I actually found myself falling asleep during that chapter.
Still, it was a really fun read that really does express Bourdain's love for the world of food....more