"Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook"

By Anthony Bourdain, 281 pages, $26.99

I suppose it's a given that Anthony Bourdain is a potty mouth. Even when evoking a saint in his new collection of hot-and-cold food essays, "Medium Raw," he can't help dropping the emphatic, efflorescent curse.

Yes, that's the casual, caustic, conversational prose we've come to expect from the raucous author ("Kitchen Confidential"), globe-hopping cable-TV star and onetime reckless, self-destructive, anger-fueled psycho case.

But the man knows his food, knows what he thinks and doesn't hesitate to offer provocative takedowns of other food stars (Alice Waters, Rachael Ray, the Food Network), of joyless vegans and even of himself ("an undistinguished — even disgraceful — career").

Bourdain is generally an entertaining read, compelling more for his passion than his mean streak. And while this collection lacks cohesion or a through-line, there is much to enjoy in the miscellany.

From a secret gathering of chefs devouring a "once-in-a-(expletive deleted)-lifetime" meal of a legendary and patently illegal bird dish called Ortolan to a closing update, apologia and score-settling about various "Kitchen Confidential" characters, Bourdain takes the reader behind the scenes and into a life defined by the cooking and eating of food.

Even a chapter about parenting his toddler daughter, a girl destined to grow up with attitude and a "jaded palate," elevates food to a central role as Bourdain conspires to keep her off the easy road to McDonald's. At the same time he attempts to slam the lid on his past life as a drunken, drug-bruised ass. "Dada may have, at various times in his life, been a pig," he writes, "but Dada surely does not want to ever look like a pig again."

Well, maybe to Alan Richman, the GQ food writer and restaurant critic who, deservedly or not, undergoes a pasting here, Bourdain will forever remain a pig.

Which brings up the point that, at times, you have to be a raging food-world maniac (I'm not) to pay close attention to some of Bourdain's culinary feuds and New York kitchen tales. I mean, really, who cares?

But Bourdain at his best captures what's really right and good about food and restaurants and the hedonistic impulse that drives us to expand our eating horizons ever beyond.

For me, the highlight of "Medium Raw" finds Bourdain at his most generous and even tender-spirited. In the chapter "My Aim Is True," he's spending time with a man, Justo Thomas, who day after day takes a toolkit of modest knives to 700 pounds or more of fish in his basement work space, holding up the standard and the reputation of the finest seafood restaurant in New York (or anywhere?), Le Bernardin. What you learn about Thomas' skill, devotion and humble, focused approach to life, as well as to the carving of fresh halibut, monkfish and organically farmed salmon, is educational and nothing short of inspiring.

And I don't recall, in the whole piece, a single darned, blue-noted expletive.

— McClatchy Newspapers

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