A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines
by Anthony Bourdain
I’m a big Bourdain fan. I know he has his critics, as most outspoken, overly confident Americans do, but I’m a fan. I’ve taken his advice on books, shopping and eateries, and am yet to have been let down. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his first book, Kitchen Confidential, a while ago now, and decided a few weeks ago to get his next one, A Cook’s Tour. Even though he wrote it more than a decade ago, it’s still damn good reading (particularly when you find yourself reading it in his condescending yet dulcet tone).
So on the back of his unexpectedly wildly successful first book which looked into the secret life of the kitchen, he approached his editor with a new idea (anything to avoid getting back into the kitchen, he was enjoying the life of a successful author): “‘How about this?’ I suggested to my editor. ‘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?’
Bloody fantastic. Sign me up.
“Of course, I knew already that the best meal in the world, the perfect meal, is very rarely the most sophisticated or expensive one. I knew how important factors other than technique or rare ingredients can be in the real business of making magic happen at a dinner table. Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
The book follows Bourdain and his crew around the world, on this hunt; from Portugal to France, Vietnam, Russia and Morocco, Tokyo, Cambodia and more, we read along as he travels and eats his way around the world. It was also nice to read early on that what you see in his shows, like No Reservations, is far from the reality of how it all really went down behind the scenes; it makes the reading of this book far more enjoyable.
At the end of the almost 300 page adventure, he ends with this: “The whole concept of the ‘perfect meal’ is ludicrous. ‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and, if you’re anything like me, it’s often better in retrospect.”
That really summed it up perfectly for me. Not just the perfect meal, but the perfect travel moment, the perfect adventure, the perfect relationship moment, the perfect day…. Whatever it is, perfect isn’t concrete, nor is it the same for everyone. Perfect is objective, it’s dynamic, it’s in the moment. What this man gets to do for a living is, ironically, my version of perfect; to have the opportunity to travel the world, meeting locals and experiencing their ways of life through their foods and the traditions and customs surrounding them, to eat with new friends and become a part of their stories as they become a part of yours. To learn, to live out of a suitcase, to be constantly moving, to live so fluidly and freely. That’s my perfection. And it was truly a pleasure to be able to zone out of my life for a while and live that life vicariously through those pages. Grab a copy for yourself here and enjoy!