My Review: Anthony Bourdain is a famous chef and the best-selling author of Kitchen Confidential, a gritty and graphic behind-the-scenes look at restaurant kitchens. However, he wants more than just being in a kitchen and selling books. He wants to wander the world, getting into trouble, and eating amazing meals. So he speaks to his publisher. His hook?
“How about this?... I travel around the world, doing whatever I want. I stay in fine hotels and I stay in hovels. I eat scary, exotic, wonderful food, doing cool stuff like I’ve seen in movies, and looking for the perfect meal. How’s that sound?”And his publisher bit. Now, in A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventure in Extreme Cuisine, Anthony takes readers (and a camera crew) along on his quest for adventure, trouble, and the perfect meal.
Okay, so until I read this book, I'd never actually heard of Anthony Bordain. I had to google him because I’m just not up on those kinds of things. Also, I don’t have cable. Mostly, I like to read about people who travel and eat. You see, I am not an adventurous eater and I love books, like this one, that allow me to “sample” international cuisine and culture without the terrifying experience of actually having to sample it. While I was a little disappointed to find out Anthony would be accompanied by a camera crew, it wasn’t hard to forgive him once he flat out admitted to selling out to the Food Network. I guess it’s hard to turn down an all expenses paid trip around the world.
Anthony's adventure started off a bit rocky; while he enjoyed the food, I think he was expecting bliss right away and was disappointed when he didn’t get much more than forced adventure. For a while he bounced in and out of the moment, alternating between loving (and hating) the experience, but eventually he found his groove.
A Cook’s Tour provides plenty of opportunities to sample food and culture as Anthony eats his way around the world. Here’s a small sneak peek at some of his adventures: He helps slaughter a pig in Portugal, admires the elegant simplicity of Japanese cuisine (and eats one of the worst meals ever made), attends a vegan potluck in California (he hates vegans), kills fluffy bunnies in Scotland (vegans don’t like him much either), eats braised reindeer in Russia (and a little vodka), is force fed iguana in Mexico, eats the most impressive restaurant meal of his life in California, and falls in love with the food and people of Vietnam (but not their driving). Each chapter was a revelation of experience and I loved how he managed to weave food, culture, politics, and history into his narrative. Through it all, Anthony discovers that when looking for the perfect meal – one composed of “good food, good company, exotic ambiance, and an element of adventure,” – it’s all relative, and that “perfection” can be found in the most unexpected places.
While I really enjoyed reading about his adventure, Anthony is kind of a jerk. Well, to be perfectly honest, he’s a pompous, mean-tempered, arrogant, vulgar, foul-mouthed heathen and he’s proud of it. His less-than-polite personality is reflected in every facet of this book, especially when he rants about anti-smoking laws, vegetarians, and a variety of other topics. A sensitive reader might do well to steer clear or opt for watching the video version on The Food Network (where I’m reasonably certain it will be edited for television). Overall, I enjoyed this book and, while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone (e.g. my mother), I might recommend it to a few die-hard foodies who would appreciate the journey.
Sidenote: This book has some similarities to Eat My Globe, another book about a man who travels around the world eating all types of food. The difference between the two books is that Anthony was a professional chef in pursuit of the perfect meal, while Simon was more professional eater on a quest to eat the good, the bad, and the hideously disgusting (on purpose).
My Rating: 3.5 Stars (It might have been more if there had been less swearing and vulgarity)
For the sensitive reader: Um. Watch the show on The Food Network. I’m pretty sure it’s edited for television.
Sum it up: An enjoyable trip, full of great food, stories, and observations, but you have to wade through a quite a bit of muck.