Although he’s a host of Market Kitchen, a cooking show on British television, Tom Parker Bowles’s approach can be a bit, well, unconventional. “I get into trouble for dipping my fingers into the food and tasting it,” he admits. “They have to shout, ‘Cut,’ and film the scene again.” No wonder he’s reluctant to offer his services to Prince Charles, whom his mother, Camilla, married in 2005. “I think he’d probably be horrified,” Parker Bowles says. “He has people who are better that cook for him.”
Better, maybe. Better traveled? Probably not. In 2005 Bowles set out across the globe so he could sample different kinds of local grub, an experience captured in his new book The Year of Eating Dangerously (out this week). By testing more familiar fare as well as rare dishes that may not be for the faint of stomach, Parker Bowles, 32, says he hopes to encourage different cultures to embrace each other’s cuisines. “The Chinese might see Stilton cheese and say, ‘Hang on, you think we’re weird? You eat rotten milk with blue mold in it!'” he says.
He celebrates a number of savory discoveries in the book. There were the “sweet” barnacle-like percebes shellfish harvested from the swells of the Atlantic off Spain. And he was smitten with the fare and smells of Laos. Still, he admits that there were more than a few times when he found himself hankering for the “comfort food” of home—specifically, the roast chicken (see recipe below) and shepherd’s pie that Camilla would make for him and his sister Laura, 29, an art gallery manager, when they were growing up in the bucolic countryside of Wiltshire. Korean silkworm pupae left him cold, but nothing chilled his appetite like the water beetle salad in Laos—”The huge head stares at you menacingly.”
A chili freak who always carries a bottle of Tabasco, Parker Bowles “is the greediest and most enthusiastic gastronome,” says his cousin Ben Elliot. “On family holidays he was always asking chefs for more spice—or simply just more.” It was his parents (his father is Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, 67) who encouraged this love of wholesome, fresh food—a banquet compared with the institutional fare of his boarding school days. “My dad was a mad, keen gardener,” says Parker Bowles. “And my mum was a really good, basic British cook.”
When news broke of her affair with Prince Charles, his mum also became the subject of tabloid headlines. Being a student at Eton College at the time offered her son some protection. “If people did read about it, they weren’t going to say anything about it to me,” he says. His parents also offered comfort. “Despite everything that might have gone on,” Parker Bowles recalls, “my parents always said, ‘Whatever happens, we will always love you, and you are the most important people.'”
Still, the scandal made him angry. “You want occasionally to go and kill people for writing these things,” he says. “But as time goes on, you get a thicker skin.” That became even more personally important in 1999, when it was reported by the British papers that he was taking cocaine. But, he says, facing his stern father was worse than the tabloid trials: “He didn’t speak to me for four weeks.”
Today Parker Bowles remains close with his family (“My parents are best friends”) and has started a family of his own. In 2005 he wed Sara Buys, 34, fashion features editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and the couple—who live in a townhouse in London’s trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, where a china plate commemorating his mother’s royal wedding sits on a bookshelf—are expecting their first child next month.
And what of his relationship with his new stepbrothers Princes William and Harry? “It’s lovely when we see each other,” he says, “but it’s not the Brady Bunch. All I can say about them is that they are just charming.” But surely they must be impressed by his globe-trotting gusto. Or not, says Parker Bowles: “They think, ‘That idiot Tom’s going off to stuff his face again!'”