Read this: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines
by Anthony Bourdain

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I’m a big Bourdain fan. I know he has his critics, as most outspoken, overly confident Americans do, but I’m a fan. I’ve taken his advice on books, shopping and eateries, and am yet to have been let down. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his first book, Kitchen Confidential, a while ago now, and decided a few weeks ago to get his next one, A Cook’s Tour. Even though he wrote it more than a decade ago, it’s still damn good reading (particularly when you find yourself reading it in his condescending yet dulcet tone).

So on the back of his unexpectedly wildly successful first book which looked into the secret life of the kitchen, he approached his editor with a new idea (anything to avoid getting back into the kitchen, he was enjoying the life of a successful author): “‘How about this?’ I suggested to my editor. ‘I travel around the world, doing whatever I want. I stay in fine hotels and I stay in hovels. I eat scary, exotic, wonderful food, doing cool stuff like I’ve seen in movies, and looking for the perfect meal. How’s that sound?’

Bloody fantastic. Sign me up.

“Of course, I knew already that the best meal in the world, the perfect meal, is very rarely the most sophisticated or expensive one. I knew how important factors other than technique or rare ingredients can be in the real business of making magic happen at a dinner table. Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”

The book follows Bourdain and his crew around the world, on this hunt; from Portugal to France, Vietnam, Russia and Morocco, Tokyo, Cambodia and more, we read along as he travels and eats his way around the world. It was also nice to read early on that what you see in his shows, like No Reservations, is far from the reality of how it all really went down behind the scenes; it makes the reading of this book far more enjoyable.

 

At the end of the almost 300 page adventure, he ends with this: “The whole concept of the ‘perfect meal’ is ludicrous. ‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and, if you’re anything like me, it’s often better in retrospect.”

That really summed it up perfectly for me. Not just the perfect meal, but the perfect travel moment, the perfect adventure, the perfect relationship moment, the perfect day…. Whatever it is, perfect isn’t concrete, nor is it the same for everyone. Perfect is objective, it’s dynamic, it’s in the moment. What this man gets to do for a living is, ironically, my version of perfect; to have the opportunity to travel the world, meeting locals and experiencing their ways of life through their foods and the traditions and customs surrounding them, to eat with new friends and become a part of their stories as they become a part of yours. To learn, to live out of a suitcase, to be constantly moving, to live so fluidly and freely. That’s my perfection. And it was truly a pleasure to be able to zone out of my life for a while and live that life vicariously through those pages. Grab a copy for yourself here and enjoy!

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Read this: Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen

Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
by Sara Roahen

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Another day, another travel book finished (my obsession may be growing out of control – I regret nothing other than the fact I don’t have more time to read!). Except this is no ordinary travel book. Nor is it regular foodie journalism. It’s a bit of both, and it is anything but ordinary.

This is an ode to the culture in New Orleans that has been brought about by its very unique food, and the traditions and stories surrounding it. Sara Roahen, an ex-line cook, a restaurant critic, a Wisconsin native and a New Orleans transplant, found herself living for many years in New Orleans (pre-Katrina), and quickly became submerged in a city where the food culture runs deeper than most of us could possibly imagine.

Clearly a woman besotted with her adoptive city and it’s food, she writes beautifully and tenderly about a different, traditional New Orleanian dish in each chapter, covering everything from gumbo to po’ boys, oyster to Sazeracs, red beans and rice to the slightly more unconventional turducken. But more importantly, she writes about the characters behind the dishes, the New Orleans stalwarts like Leah Chase, Chef Paul Prudhomme, and the Hansen family, among countless others. She tells of their histories, their traditions, how they each left their mark on the city so profoundly, that not even Katrina could take that away.

Given that this book was completed post-Katrina, I found the way she wove that secondary story of loss and tragedy in to be really incredible; she writes about it not with anger or fear, but with reverence and humour. She gives a really beautiful insight into how those horrible events re-shaped the city’s food culture, how it managed to bounce back relatively quickly (comparatively), writing with nostalgia about the places that never had the chance to re-open (at time of publishing anyway) and the changes that occurred to some of the places that were back up and running at the time.  She also really hits home that food has the power to heal, to bring people together, to make the good times so very much better and the bad times a little more manageable – the simple act of sharing a meal is one of the most understated, yet powerful acts there is.

I didn’t want this book to end, truly; I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to something I’ve been reading about as I have to this. Strangely enough, and for reasons I can’t possibly fathom, I’ve always had a bit of an affinity to the city of New Orleans. I’ve never been there (although I will finallybe visiting in January 2015!!!), never actually known anyone who has been there, come to think of it, never had a tangible connection with it, but I’ve always instinctively felt it would be somewhere I’d instantly be at home. And that’s how I felt reading this book; warm, comfortable, familiar. Maybe it’s the food culture that I relate to so strongly, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the personalities, maybe it’s the macabre of the voodoo and cemeteries, maybe it’s the fascinating history. Hell, maybe it was a past life… Whatever it is, I, like Sara, feel like I’d manage to find a spot for myself at the New Orleans table… hopefully they have room for me once I get over there!

Get your own copy right here, and start reading it immediately!