Search for a Perfect Meal

Every foodie dreams of hunting down the ultimate meal - the freshest fruits de mer in France, the juiciest steak or even the best British fish and chips.

But one man's quest for the perfect meal took the search to extremes. His journey took him from Russia to Cambodia to Cuba, tasting such treats along the way as heart of cobra (still beating, of course). He tells Lifestyle more�

For his new book, A Cook's Tour, top New York chef Anthony Bourdain snacked on duck embryo and sheep's testicles.

So is there anything he wouldn't eat? "I wouldn't eat dog, cat or live monkey brain and I'd pass on iguana and natto (fermented soybeans) if offered again."

But this is nothing compared to what he describes as his worst nightmare - vegan food. "Soy-based dairy 'substitutes' are something I'll never - thank God - have to eat again."

On his quest for the perfect meal, Bourdain tried everything from the finest restaurants to local farms. So, what were his highlights?

"The French Laundry in California was a particular highlight - but actually the most memorable meals usually have little to do with the food and a lot to do with where I was and who I was with such as eating on a farm in the Mekong Delta with a bunch of former VCs."

Bourdain's mission, he says, was inspired by Apocalypse Now. "My old kitchen colleagues in 1980 were obsessed with that movie.

"When I got to Vietnam I wanted to retrace the story arc: Saigon to Nha Trang up the river to the 'heart of darkness'."

"The 'chef' character in the film had a particular hold on all our imaginations. Many chefs have a taste for melodrama - I'm no exception."

On his travels he also took in a medieval pig slaughter in Portugal, dined with Russian gangsters and went to recapture memories of his first oyster in La Teste, France.

"What is an oyster if not the perfect food? It appears on your plate as God created it. I blame my first oyster for everything I did after - my decision to be a chef, my thrill-seeking�"

Having wandered the globe for the best food, Bourdain says there are three countries that really have it sussed.

"Vietnam has it all figured out, with Japan and Mexico close behind. The freshness, the uniqueness and the intensity of flavours and colours impressed me."

"And the importance with which food is regarded, the pride with which it's prepared, make those countries must-visits for foodies."

Despite his travels, he has no plans to move from New York, where he lives with his wife Nancy. "That's where I'll always live," he says.

When he's at home, Bourdain says he cooks very little. "I cook very simply - when I cook at all. I'm frustrated by home cooking equipment and hate cleaning up.

"Usually I call out for Chinese, pizza, deli, or Japanese. When I do cook, it's always something really primitive like boeuf bourguignon or potato and leek soup, a grilled cheese sandwich or maybe a few chops."

At 45, Bourdain has plied his trade for some 28 years and is now executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan.

His advice for gourmets everywhere? "Respect the ingredient - and take your time and enjoy. Food should be an adventure."

Published Teletext Lifestyle 2001