Desert Isle Keeper
In the ten years since Kitchen Confidential, doting (and non-smoking) dad Tony Bourdain has settled into the kind of fat cat celebrity raconteur he once took delight in ridiculing. It’s clear that he thinks he’s sold out (he cheerfully admits Rachael Ray bought him off with a fruit basket), but anyone reveling in his razor sharp prose knows differently.
Let’s get it right on the table: If you loved that earlier book, you’re going to love this one. Billed as A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, the book is exactly that, with withering and sometimes glowing assessments of many names so familiar to foodies. But, wait, there’s more: The reader is also treated to his brutally honest appraisal of pre-reformation Tony, including a decadent lost period in the Carribbean after the collapse of his first marriage.
The book is a series of stand-alone essays/chapters and begins with a Godfather-like description of a clandestine gathering of New York’s great chefs to consume the forbidden ortolan. He captures perfectly the illicit nature of the gathering and the pleasure with which the happy carnivores consume the birds – beaks and all. He moves on to his ruminations on why the rich are different, what’s wrong with the Food Network, and how Tony, secure in his own Tony-ness, is dealing with the celebrity that goes along with a successful TV show and a bestselling book. And, oh yeah, along the way he even tells us why he kinda sorta regrets that “don’t eat fish on Mondays” thing from the first book.
And then there are the food people – some he praises, but even more he skewers. Well-known critic Alan Richman is a Douchebag (and that’s the exact title of his chapter), Alice Waters should get over herself already, Emeril really is an okay guy, and David Chang is the way of the future. All Tony’s assessments, by the way.
One of the things that knocks me out about Tony’s writing is that his voice is perhaps the clearest I’ve ever come across. If you’ve watched even a single episode of No Reservations, you can hear that gravelly voice in every sentence. (Audiobook, here I come!) And, while Tony has clearly changed in many ways over the past 10 years, that unique voice rings strong and clear on every page. He’s almost always an unapologetic testosterone-fueled asshole. He makes judgments – some fair, some not. He doesn’t care if you like him. And it all makes for fascinating reading.
I love to eat well and enjoy both casual and fine dining, but I’m not a foodie. What drew me to Tony’s writing is Tony himself – I love the badass-edness of a truly unrepentant badass and, when he’s as smart and incisive a writer as Tony, then let’s just go right ahead and call me lunchmeat. I don’t know if Tony was a great chef or not – he doesn’t think he was, but that’s not what put my butt in the seat in the first place. Is he a fine writer? That I know and that he is. Damn fine, as a matter of fact.