There’s no denying that Anthony Bourdain is the maverick of the food-writing world. The chef and author of such bizarre, hilarious nonfiction books as Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour isn’t – unlike his contemporaries – content to limit his prose to reverent descriptions of this soufflé or that demi-glace. Instead, he revels in what can only be called the culinary underbelly, describing with delicious detail the nefarious practices that go on in restaurants, or the truly bracing adventure that is eating abroad.
So it’s no wonder that his latest fiction effort, The Bobby Gold Stories, deals with gangsters, murder, leg-breaking and, of course, truffle risotto. Bobby Gold becomes a leg breaker for a childhood acquaintance after serving ten years in prison for delivering cocaine for said acquaintance.
Of course, he’s a leg breaker with a soul, who tries valiantly to hide his discomfort with his job and whose favorite snack is bone marrow on toast. Bobby also works security at a nightclub (called, ironically enough, NiteKlub) where he meets Nikki, a tough-as-nails line cook who nevertheless develops a soft spot for Bobby. Their fate is sealed when he comes to the kitchen one night, content to snack on the night’s leftovers, and Nikki instead makes him that truffle risotto.
Both want to leave New York and their gritty lives behind, but, of course, that isn’t easy.
As always, Bourdain’s prose is tough and funny, but this compact book isn’t nearly as bracing as his non-fiction work.
His characters talk tough, have interesting quirks and some believable relationships, but the story doesn’t have quite enough bite. The conclusion is convoluted and, without revealing too much, doesn’t really tell us how Bobby and Nikki manage to escape a life-threatening situation. Some characters aren’t drawn well enough (I was aching to learn more about Eddie, the loser friend who Bobby works for, who, we can tell, is an addict and a creep, which is what drew Bobby to him in the first place).
The book is a lot of fun in some places, especially in the early scenes, when we see Bobby on the job, breaking the arm of someone who owes his boss money and roughing up a pair of bouncers for letting underage kids into the NiteKlub. But all in all, there isn’t much to sink your teeth into here. If you want a gripping, hilarious, unsparing read, perhaps you’re better off waiting for Bourdain’s next nonfiction effort.