Anthony Bourdain: World Travel (2021) | featured image

Anthony Bourdain’s Last Word on Travel

In World Travel, readers are once again welcomed to Anthony Bourdain’s world, although that world is trapped in time.

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide
Anthony Bourdain, Laurie Woolever
Ecco
April 2021

Readers should not be surprised to hear Anthony Bourdain’s voice in their heads when reading World Travel: his profanity, his lush description, his profound take-no-prisoners language, and sometimes, his unabashed joy. This is due, in part, to the unfortunate need to transcribe his narrative from various television series focused on global food and culture to create his contributions to the book.

In the introduction, author, editor, and Bourdain assistant Laurie Woolever writes that her long professional relationship with Bourdain began with her role as editor for Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. She became his assistant in 2009, taking on a role that he referred to as his “lieutenant”. Readers are fortunate to have Woolever organizing the strategic battle to create what has become Bourdain’s final word on travel.

She also notes that the book evolved from one single–but incredibly long–meeting to hash out what should be included and how the book should be structured. In the aftermath of Bourdain’s death, Woolever decided to proceed with the project, emulating his linguistic style in the passages she’s written and inviting some from his inner circle to contribute to the collection. Bourdain’s text is in a blue font, easily separating his words from Woolever’s and also creating a sense of conversation between the two authors.

World Travel is a compendium of cities Bourdain visited, many of which were subsequently impacted as locales for tourists aspiring to follow suit. Destinations are arranged alphabetically by country with cities organized within each national listing. The opening page of each national listing includes an illustration on the left side of the page created by Wesley Allsbrook. The simply-rendered sketches are a rich addition, setting the tone for a diverse group of locations.

The right side of the page begins with an extensive quote from Bourdain, typically in the same manner used to open an episode of No Reservations, The Layover, or Parts Unknown. Woolever has crafted sections on arrival and getting around, where to stay, and where to eat. These sections are highlights of Bourdain’s favorite places in the world.

Where possible, Woolever includes his deep descriptions of the dishes he savored at the eateries that won him over. Addresses, website information, and current expected prices are included in the local currency and US dollars. Additional content in each section depends on the features Bourdain found most appealing. In Laos, for example, it’s the Plain of Jars, a collection of thousands of limestone cups that intrigued him immediately. In Osaka, Japan, it’s baseball. The entries for Macau include Bourdain’s comments on bungee jumping from the Macau Tower, followed by the pork chop bun, which Woolever notes was adapted for a recipe in the 2016 cookbook Appetites that she co-authored with him.

“Welcome to my world” was Bourdain’s flat invitation during the opening sequence of A Cook’s Tour, which originally aired in 2002-03. In World Travel, readers are once again welcomed to his world, although that world is trapped in time. The places that profoundly moved Bourdain are as subject to change as any place, making it difficult for readers to recapture those experiences for themselves. Even as Woolever was putting together the book, she remarked on restaurants and hotels that have closed since Bourdain visited them.

Both armchair and actual travelers can find solace in Chris Bourdain’s essay about joining his brother in New Jersey to look for their familiar childhood hangouts while filming a segment for Parts Unknown. He reflects on the commingled feelings of loss for the specific sites and pleasure in remembering. 

As the book undoubtedly serves as an homage to Bourdain, World Travel could have benefited from additional essays penned by his dear friends and traveling companions. The included essays show parts of Bourdain’s ways of being that audiences could glimpse in his books and television series, but are presented with both unabashed joy and tenderness. The chapter on South Korea, for example, includes an essay by Nari Kye, the No Reservations production manager who traveled to Seoul with Bourdain to film an episode focused on her return to her homeland. Kye closes the essay with gratitude to Bourdain for instilling a transformative sense of pride in her as a result of the trip.

In a more lighthearted essay, Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg reminisces about Bourdain shooting a segment of The Layover in her former restaurant, The Black Hoof. She describes the “Bourdain Effect”– the tremendous surge in interest that often followed when he included a destination in one of his shows. Agg affectionately refers to the Bourdain Effect with her own term, which is “getting Tony’d”. The restaurants, hotels, and neighborhoods that Bourdain celebrated on television have likely experienced this, and the readers who will savor World Travel are among those who are responsible for the increased attention.

World Travel is subtitled “An Irreverent Guide”, which any Bourdain fan would not only expect but would also insist upon. There is no disrespect in his unique brand of irreverence. Rather, the book celebrates both the refined and the rugged bits of the world on their own terms, appreciated by Bourdain regardless.

RATING 6 / 10
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