by Anthony Bourdain
The star chef, given a TV show after his book becomes a hit, goes on a globe-trotting tour in search of the best local cuisines have to offer, attending feasts (and getting quite drunk) in Basque country, off the beaten track on Vietnam, Cambodia, coastal France, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Scotland and at fine restaurants in San Francisco. Like his previous book, it’s a very well-written, wry, intelligent, witty look at food and culture. The chapters on Vietnam, veering from hedonistic overdose to near shock at the squalor there, are particularly compelling reading, as is the account of having a whole lamb cooked by Tuaregs, with a “sensational, delicious, delightful” testicle as the crown jewel, as it were, in Morocco.
From a decadent and orgiastic taster’s menu at the French Laundry in San Francisco to the infamous “evil”-tasting cobra bile he manfully swallows in Vietnam (“this will make you the strongest”), Bordain savors all he can get out of life. Brash and opinionated, he shares his iconoclastic views with relish, whether praising “bad boy” Gordon Ramsay (whom Bordain admires as a chef and a hard worker) or deprecating a vegan meal in the harshest terms (“the knife work was clumsy and inept… the vegetables were uniformly overcooked, under-seasoned, colorless, and abused”). Bourdain is more than a food writer; he’s got the travel writer’s deft touch, bringing the essentials of a culture and people to the surface without a lot of purple prose or soul-searching. A very enjoyable, terrific armchair journey.
[read twice: 6/25/02, 12/5/12]