"I'm not afraid to look like a big, hairy, smelly, foreign devil in Tokyo, though I do my best not to, I really do."

A Cook's Tour is an exceedingly entertaining 22 episode show on Food Network, hosted by cook/author/chain-smoker Anthony Bourdain. The setup is essentially that our intrepid Tony travels throughout the world, searching for "the perfect meal". He intentionally avoided the obvious spots, like Paris, Rome, and China, because "I was looking for places where my enthusiastic ignorance might prove a plus on occasion.", places like Japan, Morocco, Vietnam, Scotland, and Russia. So, to sum it up in a sentence, it's part cooking, part travel, and part comedy.

On it's face, it doesn't sound that great, but Tony makes it great. He is not afraid to try something new (like ox marrow, or deep fried pizza), nor is he afraid to give his opinion on the item in question, good or bad. And his opinions show real insight into the food and the culture that created it, as one would expect of a three-star chef. His commentary also provides a companion to his expression when he is faced with something particularly... exotic. Perhaps my favorite was his visit to London, where he ate with local Indian immigrants. When he found out that they were using a pressure cooker, he slowly backs out of the kitchen: "Everyone has their fears, and I think that's OK. Pressure cookers scare the crap out of me."

Bourdain is well known both for his cooking (he is the executive chef at Les Halles in New York City), and his writing (several works of cooking-related fiction and nonfiction, all of which have sold quite well). In addition, prior to doing A Cook's Tour, he was a vocal opponent of the Food Network, in particular the 'celebrity chef' phenomenon which has made Emeril and Bobby Flay famous here in the US. Tony's opinion on the topic after doing the show: "You don't, it turns out, sell out a little bit. I sold my ass."

Sep 29, 2003: I finally read the book this last August, and I can say that it's really good. It's basically like the show in book form, but with lots of cool details that would never make it onto TV - for example, Tony and his Russian friend getting wasted and then having to do an intro scene for the camera about 20 times, because they kept falling down. And so on and so forth.


  • http://www.powells.com/authors/bourdain.html
  • http://foodtv.com
  • A Cook's Tour, various episodes
  • Some quotes from Tony's books, A Cook's Tour, and Kitchen Confidential

Please don't read this wonderful book as some sort of supplement to the series. The opposite approach should in fact be taken, as Bourdain freely admits that he only agreed to the cable TV deal in order to be able to finance his wordwide research for the book.

A worthy younger brother to the earlier and much beloved (well, by me anyway) Kitchen Confidential, this is a tightly written, highly well crafted entry into the growing genre of travel writing; what's great is that it incorporates food writing as well, giving the book a double appeal to sybarites and adventurers.

By turns hilarious, touching, scary and thought provoking, the book covers much more than just the dietary differences between countries and cultures. Bourdain stage manages his meals to be microcosms of the local geography, history, religion, politics and tradition. Be it a Vietnamese establishment where you can order a Kalashnikov and a round of ammunition with your meal or a traditional Japanese Ryokan where breakfast is served in your quarters by a pair of maids in kimono, each one of his steps on the quest for the perfect meal is a complete and rounded cultural experience.

Having proved already to be an accomplished non-fiction writer, Bourdain here hones his style further, fine tuning the balance between journalitic realism, romantic thoughtfulness and that irreverent hilarity that originally endeared him to so many readers. This is a book to make you laugh, make you hungry - and if it doesn't make you want to go to Vietnam, you've not been reading properly...

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