January 25, 2006
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
For a chef at a fairly well known Parisian brasserie style restaurant in New York, Anthony Bourdain sure does write a lot of books. His first novels were fiction, mostly humorous crime dramas from what I can gather (without reading them). Then came a look at Typhoid Mary from an intentionally biased point of view.
Then came the success of "Kitchen Confidential" spurred on by an earlier New Yorker article which grew to become the book. This success meant that he could suggest to his publisher that he would travel the world for this next project in search of the `perfect' meal. In a Faustian bargain, the book was linked to a Food Network show of the same name, guaranteeing for him a new and larger captive audience and providing him with adequate guilt and angst to fuel his venting on the show against other easily ridiculed Food Network stars such as Emeril and Martha Stewart. Tony has no less than five installments of `Why you don't want to be on Television' distributed throughout his book bitching about filming the show.
The first thing about this book is that while Tony's plan was to scour the world for his meals, he spends most of his time writing about Vietnam and neighbouring Cambodia with no less than six out of the sixteen chapters in his book about these two countries (Cambodia gets one chapter out of the six).
Being the modern day equivalent of the travelling journalist (like a modern Peter Fleming, for example) can only work if the personality of the author is upto the challenge of eliciting a grand experience in the travels. To some extent, Tony tries to do this by pursuing the exotic meal: still beating heart of a snake and numerous types of offal, poisonous fish and bugs. But these are mostly visual and are more readily enjoyed on the TV show. The book provides a much more tangible sense of the no-bullshit personality of the author and the contexts into which he chooses to put himself. For example, discussing Iron Chef with a group of drunk salarymen in a Tokyo bar is something that cannot be planned out (for the record, Tony's favorite is Morimoto, while the popular favorite seems to be Sakai, and Tony ends up providing the American reaction to the disgraceful Bobby Flay cutting board incident during the first Flay/Morimoto face-off).
Of course, you don't need to travel very far to get the same kind of food that Tony talks about in his visits to South-East Asia: a good bowl of Pho, even durian fruit are readily available in any big city in North America. Tony knows this, of course, but does not actually express it in his book, but what he is after is the right context for a meal: perhaps in the middle of Khmer Rouge bandit territory, which makes the meal perfect. In the end, it's eating some beach resort ribs on vacation in the French West Indies with his wife after the tour is over is what seems to be as perfect as anything else to be found in a world tour.
%T A Cook's Tour %T :in Search of the Perfect Meal %A Anthony Bourdain %I Raincoast Books, Vancouver %P 274 %D 2001 %G ISBN: 1551924293 %K non-fiction
Review written: 2002/12/20Posted by anoop at January 25, 2006 01:33 AM