Review: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

From the star of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain’s New York Times-bestselling chronicle of travelling the world in search the globe’s greatest cuilnary adventures

The only thing “gonzo gastronome” and internationally bestselling author Anthony Bourdain loves as much as cooking is traveling. Inspired by the question, “What would be the perfect meal?,” Tony sets out on a quest for his culinary holy grail, and in the process turns the notion of “perfection” inside out. From California to Cambodia, A Cooks’ Tour chronicles the unpredictable adventures of America’s boldest and bravest chef.

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain. Published in 2001. My version is the first Ecco edition published in 2002. 274 pages. Possible triggers: Animal deaths. Offensive / sexual talk.

Books that revolve around cooking are not books I usually seek out. Neither are memoirs or travel books. Or memoir travel books. Even when I like the subject matter, or the person, I’m just kinda MEH to reading a whole book dedicated to it. Most people who know me, would probably have thought it was odd of me to pick a book that was a traveling memoir thinly disguised as a book about food. “What? She’s reading a book that’s not about giant volcano spiders eating Hawaii? No science gone wrong genetically mutated radioactive rabbit -shark hybrids destroying New Zealand? Not even one haunted house, alien and or zombie?? :O ”

I know, I know! This is pretty outside my wheel house of reading material. I do like Anthony Bourdain a lot though. I used to watch his travel food shows. Yes, I know…. I can watch shows about that but I don’t like to read them? *Shrug* I don’t know what to tell you. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

The reason I picked this to read, is not because I like Bourdain’s show ( I do, but that is besides the point). I picked it because of that silly little 2019 Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge list. Prompt # 17. Continental Drift: Read a book set on every continent. WTF….? How are you supposed to find a book that goes to every continent?? I was not the only one doing the challenge that had problems with this prompt. Lots of people didn’t understand it. Does this prompt mean you read a separate book for each continent or one book that covers it all? Action-adventure books are notorious for globe hopping, but I couldn’t think of one that might have gone to every continent like that. :/ Personally, I just went ahead and tweaked the prompt, instead of saying every continent, just go to as many as you can and that’s good enough. >.> What? Summer is only a few months long! I didn’t have time to sit around pondering the existential crisis of prompt #17, I needed to get going with the challenge! ๐Ÿ˜›

A friend of mine suggested, ” You like Anthony Bourdain, right? Why not one of his travel books? ” :O OMG, yeah, why didn’t I think of that in the first place?? That would probably fit my new, tweaked version of prompt # 17 perfectly!

So here I am. With A Cook’s Tour.

I do love Anthony’s voice. He is blunt. He is kind of offensive. His words really shine in this book. He has such a wonderful way of describing things the way they really are, not just sugar coating things for mass appeal. Often he is describing things in messy, dirty, sexual ways. Many times comparing something to a prostitute or pornography or drugs. It’s melancholy and poetic. A refreshing look at the real world and the real people in it. Of the places down the dark back alleys that get lost in the glamours shuffle of everyone pretending to be great. Anthony’s voice is what makes this book worth reading.

Of course… I don’t think Bourdain is for everyone. He gives zero fucks about being offensive when it comes to how he talks (in the book. He actually goes out of his way when in other countries to be polite to his hosts and follow whatever cultural dinning etiquette they have there.), curses, smokes, drinks, etc. He has some EXTREMELY high opinions of how he feels about vegans and vegetarians that go well past ranting soap box territory. He is very open about being liberal and excepting of all people (unless you’re vegan! :O ). He is not overly cautious and often drags everyone with him into some whack a doodle side trip idea that may or may not get everyone killed. He is DARK. Even when he is “happy”, he is being a real Eeyore. I loved it. It’s very me. A kindred spirit. I love his mind. His manic mood swings. I thought it was all great. But… I could see some of this being a little too much for some people. He is kind of abrasive the whole way through and that might rub some people the wrong way. So, you might want to keep that stuff in mind before picking up his book, if you don’t already know who you are dealing with.

Often times, while I was reading A Cook’s Tour, I felt way in over my head. I don’t do much cooking myself. And I don’t watch or read a lot of cooking shows. A majority of the time Anthony is telling us about a certain type of food or sauce or some other random cooking term thrown in…. I had no freaking clue what the hell he was talking about. He threw in French, Italian, and other names for dishes or recipes and then not translate it for us non-chefs. Sometimes he would talk about a certain kind of thing the people were cooking in and I couldn’t tell you if it was a skillet, a grill or a crockpot until I googled it (SURPRISE!! It’s neither!! It’s just a hole in the ground!)!! But he wouldn’t fucking tell us!! ๐Ÿ˜ก UGH! If you are going to use a bunch of fancy chef words, at least clue us uncultured heathen sloths in on what that word or term is! This habit of his was frustrating and left me NOT having the warm and fuzzies for this book. >.< So. Annoyed.

Another unpleasant part of this book is that there is a lot of animal death, some of it getting a little bit more on the graphic side. When reading a traveling food adventure type story, you assume that there will be a fair amount of “seeing” animal death happen and except that it will be there. I also get that part of what Anthony wanted to do on this adventure, was to learn every step of how people cooked and prepared food in other parts of the world, even if it was uncomfortable and awkward. I appreciate that he wanted to put himself through discomfort in order to full learn about something he was so passionate about. I personally, do not want to read about animal death. A little bit I can deal with, but that whole Pig chapter was like a sucker punch.

And yes, some of that was the point Anthony was trying to make in A Cook’s Tour. About how we (Americans) waste food because it is part of an ICKY place on the animal (So many animal cheek and butt hole meals ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ) or how Americans can afford to be vegetarian if they want to because we are generally richer then other countries and because we haven’t had thousands of years of struggling to find something to eat like the rest of the world. About how Americans are picky about if their vegetables look bright and crisp, unlike the guy over in some rural third world country who has one dingy carrot and half a fish and has to feed his whole family. Or how we have an abundance of food in the US (as a country) compared to other places, that we feel too much sympathy with the cute little animal that someone is about to kill and eat. How other countries don’t have the luxury of a choice between the whole family starving or eating the cute little animal. Anthony talked often about how Americans just make food and eating a convoluted, watered down pain in the ass with food safety restrictions, snobby attitudes, self righteousness, GMOs, etc. He seemed to long for finding a place on the far side of the world, and just having a nice simple meal without over thinking things, worrying too much or making anything into a big deal. He did bring up some fair points.

In the center of the book, there are several wonderful pictures of Ant and co. on their adventure around the world. Some clearly posed, some candid. All of them are black and white and very nice. Some countries got way more pictures though, and some places didn’t get any pictures. I would have liked to have had more pictures… but, I always like lots of cool pictures in whatever non-fiction book I’m reading.

I really like Anthony Bourdain and I did find this book very entertaining watching the world from his view point. However, I had a hard time following what was being talked most of the time and didn’t enjoy the detail heavy animal scenes.


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