A Cook’s Tour

I recently pushed myself away from reading the typical self-help, leadership and or business type book, while working my way towards at least a sprinkling of tales of fiction. Instead of jumping right in, I edged closer toward fiction’s edge. I picked up the late Anthony Bourdain’s (he passed in June of 2018) work of art known simply as A Cook’s Tour as it sat in stillness on the barstool (the one acting as a nightstand next to my wife’s side of the bed…many items take the place of others when you are like our family and move every 1, 2, 3, or 4 years as has been the case over the past 20 years) in my bedroom.

Written nearly 20 years ago, way back in 2001, Bourdain sets off with a camera crew (against his better judgment as he admonishes not being able to keep things “real”) to create a unique television experience. An executive chef in Manhattan, he was urged to try something different. And different became quite the understatement.

From Vietnam to Tokyo, Mexico, Cambodia, my beloved San Francisco (if it weren’t for San Francisco I would not be alive), Morocco, the UK, The French Laundry in Napa, California, and more, “Tony” experienced the incredible mystery surrounding various dishes around the world. From the best sushi, to eating a living cobra’s beating heart cut right out of it’s chest (I didn’t even know snakes had a chest), fresh salsa and even a tobacco infused dessert (I just can’t swallow that one) he takes himself, and then the reader, on an adventure of a lifetime. I truly lost myself in his writing.

His incredible vulnerability — from his nights of extreme abdominal pain and vomiting to missing the love of his life — exposed at every turn. The chaos and tranquility — the exuberance of Tokyo, with the picturesque landscape of traveling by train car through uninhabited land. It was only suiting that I read such a masterpiece of literature during such an unprecedented time in our history known simply as a 5-letter, single hyphen, two-digit acronym (I hope you know I wrote all that to just add a little suspense to something as simple as “COVID-19”). The silver lining again apparent to me, but in such a different way. I consider it one of the best I’ve read in my 40+ years. That may seem somewhat crazy, or unorthodox, for a naval officer. But as Bourdain makes claim throughout the 274 pages (not quoted, but my summary):

“Don’t fall for the materialistic, marketed side of food or life. Don’t simply drink the “Kool Aid.” Think, enjoy, live, experience.”

Jason Valadao as interpreted from A Cook’s Life

And then there is an instant where this true voice of reason comes to life in no subtle way at all as he talks about all of the ridiculousness that each of us is coerced to believe:

“Do I overstate the case? Go to Wisconsin. Spend an hour in an airport or a food court in the Midwest; watch the pale, doughy masses of pasty-face, Pringle-fattened, morbidly obese teenagers. Then tell me I’m worried about nothing. These are the end products of the Mastermind of Safety and Ethics bulked up on cheese that contains no cheese, chips fried in oil that isn’t really oil, overcooked gray disks of what might once upon a time have been meat, a steady diet of Ho-Hos and muffins, butterless popcorn, sugarless soda, flavorless light beer. A docile, uncomprehending herd, led slowly to dumb, lingering, joyless slaughter.

A cook’s Tour Pages 194-195

Thus I ask YOU, no matter the cards you were dealt the day you were born, or the circumstances you find yourself in now — what do you want to get out of this life? I’d venture to say Bourdain’s tour of other cultures, the people he met, the food he ate, is but a phenomenal starting point if you are feeling stuck, out of place, and in need of a little redirecting!

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