Anthony Bourdain used to be a chef at Les Halles in New York and rose to stardom after his book Kitchen Confidential in 2000. I picked up a copy of his book Nasty Bits in Singapore 2006, which is an essay collection.
Many of the chapters are based on his experiences from episodes of the series No Reservations and A Cook’s Tour. One of my favorites is “Food and loathing in Las Vegas”, where he travels with Michael Ruhlman in a reenactment of the movie.
Bourdain really goes off the rail in these short stories. There are a lot of chefs in media these days, but things that separates him from most peers are his personality and no-nonsense attitude. I enjoy his brutal honesty, even when it comes to simple things such as a hot dog: “And if you put ketchup on your dog, I will fucking kill you”. Not exactly something from Jamie Oliver’s vocabulary.
He eats anything with a smile, including Hákarl (rotten shark, a popular dish in Reykjavik) which appears to be the most disgusting thing he’s ever tasted. Well, apart from the warthog anus in Namibia where he contracted a parasite.
When I read about his culinary adventures, I wished I had stopped by those restaurants on my own travels. He mentions El Bulli, close to Cadaqués on Spain’s Costa Brava, where Ferran Adria arranged “a long gastro-thrill ride ranging from the farthest reaches of chemistry class to the stunningly simple”. What did I have in Cadaqués last summer? A pizza.
Brazil is described as a great place for sushi, since the country hosts the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan, but the only sushi I had in the country was a mediocre plate in the suburbs of Sao Paulo.
In New York he goes on about chopped liver and washing down hot-dogs with frothy papaya drinks. My own gastronomical memory of that city consists mostly of blueberry pancakes and giant burgers. Mea culpa.
We’ve both had gumbo in New Orleans, with the difference being that I didn’t enjoy it. But at least I’m pretty sure he hasn’t tasted whale tartare in Svalbard. Yet.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
–Anthony Bourdain (Nasty Bits preface)
All in all, the collection of stories is a bit uneven, written at different times in his life. But I cannot really complain about this, since it is literally printed in the subtitle. One of the things I found most interesting in relation to this is the ending notes where Bourdain look back on each chapter with older eyes, dissecting his own work.
The only bad thing about this book is that it will make you very hungry, but I’m sure you will get a lot of inspiration of how to remedy that particular issue.
Bourdain is the author of several books. If you enjoy his travel adventures, I definitely recommend A Cook’s Tour published way back in in 2001 with a lot of behind the scenes content from the show, as well as No Reservations, featuring many backstage photographs from the series.