Book OP: A Cook’s Tour

With his ashy-white, unruly hair and loud, unrestrained New Jersey accent, Anthony Bourdain is quite a character. He enjoys the frequent use of expletives, heavy consumption of alcohol, and allusions to his former hardcore life of wild sex and crazy narcotics.

Anthony Bourdain is a writer, TV personality, and a chef. He graduated from the Culinary Institute in America in 1978 and worked at various restaurants, including the renown Brasserie Les Halles, a French restaurant located in New York. His favorite foods vary from tête de veau (a gelatinous French dish made from stuffed calf’s face) to classic Animal Style Hamburgers from In-N-Out and waffles from his favorite chain the Waffle House. Bourdain’s career took off when his first book Kitchen Confidential landed on the New York Time’s Best Sellers list. Following that, his other books shadowed the same path, providing him with the opportunity to host a variety of travel food shows, his first being A Cook’s Tour (which is both the name of the Food Network sponsored travel food show and his second book).

This 2001 book feels a little outdated, but it does not fail to show Bourdain’s love for food and his close attention to detail. The full title is A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal and it is a collection of Bourdain’s world travel stories where he eats exotic foods and feasts with the locals. He recounts his time in Portugal when his friend José invited him to his village for the ceremonial killing and feasting of the fattened village pig. Bourdain says that although the food was great, it was another thing to look at an animal in the eyes before its imminent death in preparation for the feast. His inimitable style of describing foods in an unconventional way is also apparent throughout the book. He always has a story with each dish, like when he talks about eating oysters in his childhood home in France. He says that because oysters are bisexual and change sex from year to year, they would not be offended if you were to tell them to “Go fuck yourselves.”

Despite his prominent position in the food industry, Bourdain is also known for his leftist stance on politics, particularly during the recent elections. In an interview with Reason (a “Free Mind, Free Market” e- editorial), Bourdain states his opinion on the current state of politics in America and turns to fellow comedians for support. “The way we demonize comedians for use of language or terminology is unspeakable. Because that’s exactly what comedians should be doing, offending and upsetting people, and being offensive. Comedy is there, like art, to make people uncomfortable, and challenge their views, and hopefully have a spirited yet civil argument.”

This is what Bourdain does with food. He looks at them in a different point of view, sometimes too gruesome and a bit too real. He challenges the norms of what food and what good, comfort food is and uses his worldly perspective to bring new ideas to the table. His objective is not to demean those who have an inclination towards a food he dislikes, like when he wasn’t a fan of hot vin lon, a soft-boiled duck embryo, which is a popular snack in parts of Asia for its ability to “ensure an imminent erection and many, many sons.” He tells food simply like how he sees it—straight and to the point. In a world now heavily relying on mass-produced media such as two-minute video clips to entice viewers to eat calorie-laden brownie-cookie-cake-whatever confections, it’s refreshing to read a book that reports on food exactly like it is portrayed: comforting, unpalatable, tasty, and exotic.

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