Medium Raw & Cuisine Du Moi – Book Review

by Jan

CUISINE DU MOI by Ben Canaider, Allen & Unwin Publishers

MEDIUM RAW by Anthony Bourdain, Bloomsbury Publishers

These two books deal with chef’s inflated egos. Medium Raw is about Anthony Bourdain’s ego, as well as the chefs and food writers he writes about. Cuisine du Moi is about the ego of Gavin Canardeaux, a global uber chef de chef.

One is about the egos of real people and the other is about the ego of a fictitious figure, who is a confection comprised of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Alain Ducasse and Wolfgang Puck.

Medium Raw contains Bourdain’s confessions about his culinary life and views. It’s admirable that he had the courage to bare all in the public arena and that he wrote some negative opinions about members of the culinary elite. He could never have done that in Australia with our hypersensitive defamation laws.

It seems that some of Bourdain’s “heros” and “villains” deserved the serves that he gave them. As I recall, Alice Waters copped a shellacking for various misdemeanours, ie. not being a chef, taking credit for others’ efforts, having a wonderfully romantic vision about ideal food production, but seeming out of touch when it comes to affordability, and sometimes overlooking the meaning of locovore in practical terms.

On the other hand, Jamie Oliver was ascribed “hero” status for trying to get kids and schools to consume better healthier food. What’s not to like? There was a TV show of Jamie doing a schools program in the US. They were largely intransigent in their attitudes, and will eventually become a cost on the already unhealthy American health system sooner rather than later.

Bourdain goes into bat for chefs whom he considers have been treated badly, such as Matt Moran and Fergus Henderson – mainly due to the ignorance and insularity of their US audiences.

It’s very easy to appreciate a writer who can write entertaining gonzo-style prose, and who will pique the villains’ egos, and have the decency to defend colleagues who have been insulted. Plus, Bourdain as an individual is very cool.

Now let’s move 180o away and have a look at a parodic figure whom Bourdain would have vitriolically described as a villain or a buffoon. When you read Cuisine du Moi, you may think about a Shakespearean line: “all the world’s a stage”. One is left with the impression that Gavin Canardeaux is not so much interested in food per se, but empire-building, doing media, and generally taking himself too seriously. Wonder where Ben Canaider got that idea from?

It’s a tired old cliché that in the last couple of decades restaurant have become the new theatre, and some chefs see themselves as impresarios rather than Manuels. The focus seems to be on marketing and image, rather than culinary ability. No one wants their hands constantly soiled by peeling onions, skinning fish, or dealing with nasty customers. After all they are artistes, aren’t they?

Here are a couple of items from the book’s table of contents, so you can get a taste of what Canaider writes about:

“The Ingredients: The hit list of top ingredients, mostly Bio-dio-orgo, and often grown by Canardeaux himself”

“The Menu:  seasonal, sustainable, non-carbon-emitting and never containing any prices”

“L’Attitude: Being a chef and a celebrity and a corporate citizen”

“The Critics and the Media: what others say about G. P. Canardeaux. ‘It is hearts and minds, not PR…..’

In each chapter there is a recipe, such as, De-Re-Un-constructed T-Bone Foam.

Plus a photo of the recipe

Here’s another quote from this last chapter: “But that’s modern cooking for you: you take a perfectly natural ingredient and deconstruct it so that it is easy for food critics to bring into restaurant bathrooms in order to snort it up their nostrils. These people eat hard, type hard, play hard – which is probably why we are all such great mates. And this is the foundation of our unquestionable professionalism vis a vis their independent reviewing and photography of my restaurants. I demand that they are tough and honest and impartial. I drive this particular point home every time we are drinking bellinis in Venice”.

Both books offer a satisfying read: Bourdain for his candour about himself and trying to maintain the integrity of his craft. And Canaider for sending up the pretentious and Narcissistic media tarts whom Bourdain dismisses, with a dish best served cold.

It seems that it’s now normal for celebrity chefs to do deals with organisations like sports celebrities. So, every time you open a glossy, there’s a chef standing next to a flash car, or some culinary equipment, or even wearing a set of threads which he would hitherto not have even heard of. In their cookery courses, should TAFE teachers include a module about public relations?

Restaurant kitchens would be less brutal if the chefs could be a bit nicer, like Tetsuya. There has been some media about him in the last year or two, and it appears that he is the opposite of the above mentioned specimens. Have any chefs considered asking themselves how to be nice? Or if that’s too hard, ask Tetsuya’s advice about how to go about some ego modification?