As the world continues to recognize and celebrate the life of Anthony Bourdain, June 25 will become a calendar reminder of the chef and traveler who so publicly impacted our generation. Discovering Bourdain’s voice much later than other fans, I’ve just begun to appreciate the man who made the legend.
A Cook’s Tour – Anthony Bourdain, 2001
Chef Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential, has done so well that he’s finally paying bills on time. Wanting to keep the banks (and himself) busy, he suggests a second book to the publishers: a worldwide search for the perfect meal.
Bourdain wants street vendors and shady ingredients, the exotic destinations of a little boy’s dreams. But his publisher wants all this followed by a camera crew for a new series on Food Network.
A Cook’s Tour ensues. This is the book, the journey, that transformed Bourdain into a notable traveler. Picking destinations where he has personal connections (and a few that he’s told will be good for ratings), Mr. B eats and drinks his way around the globe in a state of bemused, sometimes sullen, awe.
Bourdain understands that the ‘best’ meals are directly linked to memory – and he returns to places that have left a memorable taste: the southwest France of his childhood summers; the early a.m. fish markets of Japan; the hometowns of restaurant staff members from Portugal and Mexico.
New flavors are thrown in at a vegan picnic in San Francisco (you can probably guess how he felt about that), and a Bedouin dinner in the desert beyond Risani, Morocco.
And then there’s Vietnam – a country he returns to over and over on his quest – finding happiness in pho and the resilience of one country’s fresh cuisine.
What is love? Love is eating twenty-four ounces of raw fish at four o’clock in the morning.
Try not to read this and search for clues to the mental health concerns that (it’s generally accepted) led Bourdain to take his own life in 2018.
You’ll want to; you’ll soo badly want to know why such an observant, forthright guy could not find peace in a world he seemed to move through and dominate with childlike eagerness.
Or at least, that’s the persona Bourdain portrays here. A Cook’s Tour reads 100% like a personal storytelling session with Anthony – maybe over a beer at his favorite smoke-filled, meat-dish-serving dive bar.
It’s just real: chatty, ranty, abrupt, obsessive, introspective.
The famous Bourdain honesty wrings out even when reflecting on dishes he was coerced into trying by the TV cameramen. He does not hold back judgement on bad food or fake places. He doesn’t seem to care whether you like the locations or not. Bourdain is exposing a new way to explore the world – and while it can rub a bit raw, I find it unapologetic yet diplomatically conscientious.
Reading it in retrospect of his death, the book is disarming. Still, (and I would like to think this has nothing to do with his passing, everything to do with his natural talents) it’s one for the home shelf. In entertainment and memoriam…
Have you read this book? What Bourdain title would you recommend next?
Hungry for another armchair escape? Read about the intrepid traveler who re-imagined the North American meal…