A Cook’s Tour (CBR7 #73)

::sigh:: I’m pretty sure the problem was me, and the fact that in the many years since this book was published I have watched many a show featuring Bourdain do exactly the kind of thing he originated in this work. In fact, one of the running asides in this book is his experiences with the camera crew that followed him as part of the series of the same name on The Food Network.

Here’s Goodreads’ rundown of what to expect with this one:

“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.”

Really, ‘gonzo gastronome’?

Anyway, My problems with this book were two-fold. 1. The shtick of Bourdain traveling around and eating local food amongst locals has over a decade worn thin. 2. The writing was uneven. And that sums up my general feeling about the work. The parts I enjoyed were fine, the rest left me skimming. If you’ve spent any time with Bourdain on No Reservations, or The Layover, or Parts Unknown you probably don’t need to read this book. Unless you have a pressing need to read Bourdain’s words about his emotional responses to Vietnam or Cambodia. Then maybe this book is for you. I would suggest Kitchen Confidential instead. Although I still plan to read Medium Raw next year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Typhoid Mary (CBR6 #39)

After reading Kitchen Confidential this summer I decided to add all of Anthony Bourdain’s books to my To Read pile. Given my slightly OCD nature I went immediately to Goodreads to figure out which book was next by publication date, not knowing which came first, A Cook’s Tour  or Medium Raw (it’s A Cook’s Tour for those equally as worried about these things as I am). While looking for that information I came across another book Bourdain authored.  This one wasn’t an autobiographical work and its publication date preceded A Cook’s Tour. It looks as though in 2001 Mr. Bourdain spent some time researching the infamous Typhoid Mary, and that I would be reading all about it.

I read this book quickly (a few hours over two days), its short (only about 140 pages) and Mr. Bourdain is many things, but a historian is not one of them (he knows it too, and refers constantly to looking at Mary’s life through that of their shared experiences as cooks in New York) but it was certainly a pleasing look into a life I thought I knew a lot about, but it turns out I knew very little. Bourdain chronicles, in an almost diary fashion, the events of 1904-1915 and the rise and fall of the specter of Typhoid Mary. All told with the now easily recognizable Bourdain delivery familiar to those who have read his books or watched his television shows.

This is not a definitive work on the subject, and shouldn’t be looked at as such. It is instead an appetizer of a larger story. It highlights what the culinary world was like at the turn of the last century, hints at the Irish immigrant experience, pulls back the veil about the beginnings of the health commission, and gives a glimpse at the life of Mary Mallon, the woman who would become known the world around as Typhoid Mary. This is a succinct, adroit, and relatable biography about a seemingly unrelatable public persona.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Kitchen Confidential (CBR6 #28)

There’s a certain amusement that comes from knowing more than the teller of a story. I don’t often suggest reading memoirs or the like so far after their publication dates (see my experience with Denis Leary’s Why We Suck earlier this year). But, there was a delicious sort of fun to be had reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and knowing what his life would turn out like in the decade which followed the book’s publication in 2000. He certainly, had no idea.

You’re likely familiar with Anthony Bourdain, whether from his old show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, or his current show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. Or from his books which had been reviewed rather frequently for CBR. I’ve always enjoyed watching Bourdain on his television shows, and guesting on Top Chef. My sister and her fiancé are both trained chefs working in food service and I thought that reading about Bourdain’s experiences would give me a better insight into what they do for a living. It did, to a degree.

Kitchen Confidential was his first foray into biography, and has been followed by A Cook’s Tour and Medium Raw as well as nearly a dozen other books. Bourdain is, bless him, exactly whom you’ve known him to be from the moment the book begins in his Chef’s Note. The person you’ve likely seen on your television screen is also who you hear reading his words. He is sarcastic and sardonic, bracing and biting and always humorous. He is also truthful about his life, his experiences, and how they aren’t necessarily the experiences of everyone in his field. In Kitchen Confidential Bourdain talks about his youth, his discovery of real food, the delicious possibilities of eating outside your comfort zone. He tells us about his discovery of life in the kitchen, his journey through school and his working through the kitchens of New York. He’s also bracingly truthful about his experiences with drug and alcohol, and what his greed and addiction cost him along the way.

I mentioned before that there as a joy in knowing where Bourdain’s life was heading. At the end of this book Bourdain talks about the joys of being the chef at Les Halles in New York, and how he hoped to stay there. Throughout the book Bourdain makes digs at name chefs, including Eric Ripert and Emeril Lagasse. He’s only a few short years from running in the same circles as these men and leaving behind the punishing world of line cooking for years as a television personality and author. But the love of food remains the through line in the life of Anthony Bourdain. I’m going to happily keep reading and watching to enjoy Bourdain’s view of the world.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.