San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Voice of late TV chef suffuses travel guide
Anthony Bourdain’s appetite was a gift to the world.
During his life, the beloved writer and television host focused prominently on place as an extension of one’s stomach. He also emphasized taking the time to really understand lands both unknown and familiar. For Bourdain, trying a new dish was an invitation to learn more about his current location and the people who called it home.
It is fitting then that the late chef intended, with the help of his longtime assistant and coauthor Laurie Woolever, to compile his experiences into a travel guide.
As Woolever writes in her introduction to “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide” ($35, Ecco, April 20), the two held a onehour meeting to discuss an outline for the book in 2018. Later that year, Bourdain, 61, took his own life.
The result of this tragedy is the posthumous publication of a refreshingly unique travel guide that thoughtfully fleshes out Bourdain’s desired intentions with supplementary essays from his peers and loved ones.
Organized alphabetically, “World Travel” features sections on more than 40 countries. (Somewhat surprisingly, the Bay Area is not among the regions highlighted here, though Bourdain’s love for Mr. Bing’s will eternally endure.)
While basic information on transportation, amenities and customs are included, each chapter also features carefully culled passages from Bourdain’s previous writing and television appearances, including “Parts Unknown,” “No Reservations,” and “A Cook’s Tour.” The book makes it abundantly clear when we’re reading Bourdain’s voice, stylized in a bold blue font — a thoughtful distinction but perhaps a redundant one as well.
That’s because only Bourdain — witty, adventurous and forever singing the praises of pork — could compliment a particularly spicy Sichuan meal in Melbourne by calling it “the flavor equivalent of a weekend at Caligula’s house.”
While we often credit Bourdain for his ability to translate the intangible allures of food to the page, this new, geographically oriented compendium also cherrypicks some of his favorite nongastronomical sites and occasions.
In the section on Austria, for instance, Bourdain gleefully endorses Krampus Day (“a day where people dress up in furs and demon outfits to honor Saint Nick’s evil counterpart”) while his introduction to Cambodia finds him striking a somber tone while ruminating on the crimes of Pol Pot.
In addition to a generous serving of Bourdain’s own words, there are the essays, including by Toronto chef Jen Agg, who shares a story about bone luges, and Bourdain’s brother, Christopher, who contributes a pair of moving pieces set in Paris and New Jersey, respectively.
Collectively, these brief interludes are a joyous yet painful reminder of what Bourdain gave the world: an infectious hunger to learn more and eat well.