Anthony Bourdain's final book offers a guide to the world through his eyes

A posthumous collection of Anthony Bourdain’s best travelogues offer up a guide to the world according to TV’s beloved bad-boy chef.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 19 Mar 2021, 08:05 GMT
President Barack Obama appeared on Anthony Bourdain's television series Parts Unknown in an episode, set in ...

Former US president Barack Obama appeared on Anthony Bourdain's television series Parts Unknown in an episode, set in Hanoi, Vietnam, that aired in September 2016. The beloved television chef died in 2018 aged 61. 

Photograph by 2016 Cable News Network, a Time Warner Company

One spring afternoon in 2018, Anthony Bourdain sat with his ‘lieutenant’ Laurie Woolever — assistant and co-author of his cookbook, Appetites — to brainstorm his next project: an atlas of the world through his eyes. “Tony chain-smoked and free-associated for over an hour, recalling best-loved dishes, hotels and people,” recounts Woolever. Those that had “stuck with him, without aid of notes or videos, throughout nearly 20 years of travelling the world in the service of making television.” Little did Woolever know this would be all she’d have to go on. Tragically, Bourdain died just a couple of months later.

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, by Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever. RRP: £18.99.

Photograph by Bloombury Publishing

The resultant scattergun atlas of Bourdania centres around select quotes from his TV shows; Woolever’s words pad out the pages. Destination entries (cities mostly, plus a few mega-bucks remote hotels) are often dwarfed by somewhat redundant practical transport advice. This isn’t a book to bag on the go, and it’s hardly in the spirit of Bourdain, whose nods to practicality are more along the lines of directions to Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, near Charleston: “Way out in the weeds, off the main road, and good freakin’ luck if you can find it, is one of the most respected barbecue joints in the US of A.” It’s this irreverence we’d have liked more of.

At its best, notably in the newly commissioned essays from friends and family, the book provides intimate insights. Bourdain’s brother, Chris, reminisces about exploring their native New Jersey and chasing up unexpected ancestors in Uruguay. We go behind the scenes at the Hanoi restaurant where Bourdain had a casual bun cha (pork and noodles) with Barack Obama. TV writer Bill Buford, in Bourdain’s beloved Lyon, notes the cheffy seriousness hidden beneath his anarchic manner. Production assistant Nari Kye gives moving thanks to Bourdain for helping her respect her Korean culinary roots. There’s not quite enough of these reads for the book to escape being an impractical guide, but it’s still another serving of Bourdain: a tour of underdog cooks and Michelin stars, all patchworked together in a ping-pong map that you’d need a TV budget to follow in real life. But boy, if you could.

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, by Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever, is published by Bloombury Publishing, £18.99.

Three more of Bourdain's best books

1. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

The tell-all tale of New York’s restaurant kitchen culture that propelled Bourdain into the role of punk-rock poster boy for a new era of food writing, born out of his 1999 New Yorker feature, Don’t Eat Before Reading This. Years later, in the wake of #MeToo, Bourdain said he regretted glamourising toxic chef culture, but back in 2000, this bestseller spoke to many, from foodies to travellers, musicians to misfits. (Bloomsbury Publishing, £9.99)

2. A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal

With an accompanying show on Food Network, this 2001 book began Bourdain’s TV career. It follows Bourdain through Cambodia, France (home of his paternal grandparents), Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Vietnam, with a notable entry on Napa Valley’s The French Laundry — then the pilgrimage restaurant for chefs and food travellers. (Bloomsbury Publishing, £12.99)

3. No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

A companion piece to the first three seasons of the hit Travel Channel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, this book sees Bourdain cement his position as a determined hole-in-the-wall diner, travelling everywhere from New Jersey to New Zealand. (Bloomsbury Publishing, £20)

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