Over-the-top and highly diverting international culinary adventures, always to be taken with a generous grain of salt—and make it Fleur de Sel—and best consumed a bite at a time.
Forget the “perfect meal” baloney. What chef Bourdain (the bestselling Kitchen Confidential, not reviewed, etc.) is looking for on his yearlong earth-spanning journey is a good mix of food, memory, and context, and if it comes with a modest side of danger and another of humor, more the better. Bourdain enjoys being outrageous—“blowing chunks” is how he vomits, and his “pig-fisting” is more aptly known as cleaning the intestine of a pig—and he over-relishes the mock macho (“Casinos? Run by the most vicious, hard-core Commie mass murderers in history? Well, why not check it out?”). But his enthusiasm is mighty engaging, and his snappy, full-bore writing style—whether being sarcastic, passionate, or descriptive—is good entertainment. And exhausting. Food, oh boy, does he know his food; only when speaking of food (and the rare landscape that gets right into his soul) does Bourdain get serious. In these tales, Bourdain lives close to the ground, getting the local experience, enjoying the alchemy of food in which necessity is the mother of cooking magic. With TV crew in tow—a series is in the works—Bourdain attends the butchering (literal and figurative) of a pig in Portugal and bacaloa-making in the Basque country, and partakes in vodka and black bread in Russia, a tagine of kefta in Morocco, and some truly nasty encounters in Mexico and Cambodia. (Truly nasty encounters, indeed, most everywhere.) And he seems never happier than when sticking it to the self-righteous, be they San Francisco vegans or folks decrying the making of foie gras (the birds, Bourdain notes, are fed “a considerably lesser amount comparative to body weight than, say, a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast”).
Ultimately, then, it’s not about the food, it’s about the chef and author: a high-maintenance gent, brash, insightful, a jokester, and certainly someone you wouldn't want by your side at a touchy border crossing.