Three years after the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain, and 22 years after the publication of his first book Kitchen Confidential, today sees the long-awaited posthumous publication of this travel guide World Travel: An Irreverent Guide.
The book is co-authored by Bourdain’s long-term assistant and ‘lieutenant’, Laurie Woolever, who has strung together a listing of sights and places across 43 countries, including Bourdain’s musings, thoughts and insights, as well as stories and anecdotes by those closest to him. While the chef wrote not one word of this book, his voice, wit and profanity-laden humour are present on every page.
Bourdain himself was never a particular fan of travel guides, saying in an interview at South by Southwest in 2016: “I like atmospherics… I don’t want a list of the best hotels or restaurants; I want to read fiction set in the place where you get a real sense of what that place is like.”
Accordingly, An Irreverent Guide does not read like a prescriptive listing of things to do and see in a particular city. Some cities are given the full Bourdain treatment, with creative framing and a light shone on the inner workings of society, while others are given a perfunctory if slightly obvious treatment. Throughout it all Woolever has endeavoured to make the guide as authentic to Bourdain’s personality and experience as possible. “He wasn’t always (or, arguably, ever) about cool for cool’s sake or obscurity as its own reward,” she said.
Using a recorded conversation with Bourdain about what to include, as a starting point, Woolever trawled through his television work on No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown as well as mining her own personal experience as his assistant and friend to piece together a list of places that both inspired Anthony Bourdain, and were somehow influenced by his attention. It therefore reads as much like a map of the chef’s travelling life and a vital part of his legacy.
“It’s a hard and lonely thing to co-author a book about the wonders of world travel when your writing partner, that very traveller, is no longer travelling that world,” Woolever writes in the book’s introduction.
And yet Bourdain is never far from the page in this book. He offers himself in off-the-cuff musings and travel insights, just as he did through the lens to millions of viewers. In Paris, he says, the most important thing to do is to slow down. Stridently ticking off the Louvre or Eiffel Tower on your itinerary will leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, and more importantly, you’ll miss the real Paris that is passing by and all around you.
“Drink some wine, walk around a bit more, eat, and repeat. See? It’s easy.” - Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain had a knack for cutting through the manufactured touristic experiences and connecting with a more authentic sense of a place. In any environment, he was simply able to be himself, and not a tourist. It’s a well-worn cliché that some aspire to be ‘travellers’ and not ‘tourists’. Bourdain aspired to only be himself while travelling.
To his fans and the public at large, Bourdain’s light has not dimmed in the least, since his untimely passing in 2018. Some have tried to fill his shoes, all have failed. There remains an appetite for more Bourdain and An Irreverent Guide delivers and then some.
After a year of travel restrictions, curtailed movement and truncated dreams, this book comes along at the perfect time. People are beginning to dream about travel once again. Looking back at Bourdain’s television work, particularly Parts Unknown, it seems like a different world. One untainted by Covid and the fear of a global pandemic. There is a barely recognisable sense of freedom in travelling a globalised and more connected world. Perhaps that type of travel is gone forever. And we are reminded too, that so is Bourdain.
We don’t yet know how travel will look in the coming years. Cheap flights and business travel may be things of the past. Health and safety will be more prominent components of any trip. How will we process our sense of paranoia?
It is an uncertain time for travel, but if you could pick any one person to guide us through that uncertainty, you couldn’t choose anyone better than Bourdain.