Ottavia Bourdain Incites ‘Steakgate’ in Vegas

July 19, 2012

By Karen

But first… Congratulations to Anthony Bourdain and No Reservations on 4 Emmy nominations. I didn’t notice any other Travel Channel blockbusters on the nominees list; they must be eating their hearts out at TC about Tony’s defection to CNN. The categories are:

  • Outstanding Nonfiction Series
  • Outstanding Writing – Cuba
  • Outstanding Cinematography – Mozambique
  • Outstanding Picture Editing – U.S. Desert

Back to Ottavia’s brouhaha… It all started when Grub Street innocently published her “week in the life of” guest blog post. What that woman eats is mind-boggling, but it was her description of a bad steak in an unnamed restaurant in Las Vegas while attending a UFC event with her husband that lit up the ‘Net.

So this guy named John Curtas rebuked Ottavia’s unsophisticated palate in his column at Eating Las Vegas, and Tony leaped to his wife’s defense on Twitter, calling the column “idiotic” and “based on a false premise” (which was where they stayed, which supposedly housed the offending restaurant) — and Tony even stooped to spelling the columnist’s name “Curtass.”

The foodie world went into overdrive trying to ascertain the chef, throwing names around that included Tony’s pal, Mario Batali. But finally the culprit revealed himself to be Charlie Palmer. Since Ottavia didn’t send the steak back, Palmer rued being unable to make things right on the spot and apologized.

On the other hand, you have to appreciate Ottavia’s dilemma. Sitting there with the well-recognized Bourdain, she either had to choke down that steak or earn herself the reputation of being Tony’s picky-eater-bitch-wife.

Personally, I think she took the high road. There’s no sin in describing a bad meal, yet much virtue in concealing who prepared it if the intent isn’t to slam the chef.

And there’s nothing more amusing than watching foodies work themselves into a lather over a freaking steak, how it was cooked, and who cooked it. If the words “GET A LIFE!” have any significant context, this is it.

Moving on to the must-see Web TV department…

Eric Ripert has a new web series, On the Table, on the Reserve Channel, and Tony was his first guest. Without a doubt, it’s the most candid, natural, and informative interview I’ve ever seen Bourdain do. Eric knows Tony so well, he provided the perfect atmosphere (they cooked together in a home-like kitchen), asked the right questions to get Tony on new ground, and provides a bit of commentary on his best friend. It’s in 3 parts for about 22 minutes.

As a sidebar, talking to Grub Street with Eric about that show, Tony revealed that Ariane is a big Katie Perry fan and has a crush on Ripert’s son, among other things.

Other news…

If you’re interested in Get Jiro! (which took the No. 1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller List for graphic novels), Tony talked to MTVGeek about it at San Diego Comic-Con recently.

Here’s another Comic-Con interview.

July 30-Aug. 5, Bourdain will be hosting “Mob Week” movies on AMC in prime time.

Treme Season 3 begins September 23 with 10 episodes, and Tony is back, writing the New Orleans restaurant subplot for Janette.

And if owning one copy isn’t enough for you, a new edition of Kitchen Confidential is coming out this fall, with Bourdain’s handwritten margin updates.


Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter

May 12, 2011

By Karen

I’ve been churning this because every time I look at it, it just revives my lingering annoyance.

People who make food the all-consuming (pun intended) theme of their lives, which Gabrielle Hamilton glorifies in her memoir, Blood, Bones & Blather Butter, bug the crap out of me.

I never would have read BB&B, except that when an exceptional writer like Anthony Bourdain claims it’s the book he wishes he’d written, attention must be paid.

It’s easy to see where Hamilton’s life resonated with Tony:

1. As a teen, she developed a tough façade and a drug habit, and overcame them.

2. She began her restaurant career as a grunt.

3. She married an Italian and grew enamored with Italian family life.

She managed to top Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential descriptions of restaurant kitchen hell only because he never worked nine months’ pregnant.

For me, that’s where similarities ended. Bourdain should be thankful that, like her, he’s not an emotional cripple.

Hamilton’s MFA in fiction certainly paid off — she knows her way around clever similes and metaphors. But since most rhapsodic descriptions of food look to me like…

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

… on the page, I was more interested in Gabrielle the person. I really wanted to like her.

The book is marketed as “memoir,” but she only sprinkles glimpses of her adult life as garnish. The sin of omission is so chronic that very little about her personality adds up — except her obsession with food.

She claims a woman she met at grad school was probably “the love of her life,” yet gives her no more than two pages of ink, and never bothers to humanize her with even a fake name.

Then she marries a man she’s been screwing but professes not to love so he can get a green card, but decrees they live separately — then has not one, but TWO children with him.

I wonder how many years her kids will spend in therapy, trying to figure out Mom’s relentless, white-hot hatred of Grandma, and why they had to commute to see Dad for years because Mom insisted they all pretend she was single?

On the other hand, she loved her husband’s family in Italy (when she wasn’t furious at them for making her feel enslaved by the care of her children or by cooking meals after she commandeered her mother-in-law’s kitchen).

In 7 years, she never learned enough Italian to communicate with her in-laws beyond food terms, and then kvetched about how alienated she always felt.

I don’t know how any reader could not have been left with a strong urge to slap the shit out of her and wish she would just GROW UP.

I thought Hamilton ended the book on the implication that divorce was probably coming (well-deserved and long overdue, IMO). But NPR interviewed her in March, and she talked as if she’s still married and things are fine.

Who knows? Even if she brings it up, unless the topic is food, don’t expect candor from Gabrielle Hamilton.

One more Bourdain connection: They’re both represented by the same literary agent.

Other reviews:

Josh Ozersky fawns in TIME.

Frank Bruni largely agrees with me in the NY Times on the autobiographical angle.


Bourdain Meets Tomas, Up Close & Personal

November 8, 2010

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s been busy making television. He returned from Cambodia in time for Halloween, and wife Ottavia tweeted that he became Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas to escort his daughter, Little Red Riding Hood.

Yet Tony claims he has no interest in “stretching his range” as an actor.

This past week, he flew to Haiti during a cholera epidemic to rendezvous with Hurricane Tomas, so we’ll probably see another breakout episode of No Reservations next season.

I think I smell an Emmy nomination…

I just hope Tony and his crew didn’t drink the water, stayed in one piece, and get home safely (tonight, according to Ottavia).

The HarperCollins Medium Raw essay contest wrapped with 1,949 entries. Michael P., a mover by profession, won for writing “Late Nights.” It only garnered 3 reader votes and was ranked #834 among all entries. None of the runners-up ranked lower than #383 in reader votes, and the first runner-up was #2.

The methodology would make you think the winner would have been #1 in reader votes, but that would have been a crock because many entrants campaigned online for votes, even if their essays were crap. So it’s no surprise that Bourdain’s people dug deeper into the pile for the winner.

But here’s the promo blurb for the essay, which I assume Michael P. also wrote:

On those late nights after moving you peoples stuff all over the city all I need is a home cooked meal and a beer.

When I saw that, I had a “WTF?” moment. No offense to Michael P. — he wrote about what he knew and from the heart — but I’m surprised the essay won because exactly one sentence in 300 words mentions food. It says…

The arroz con pollo is cooked perfectly and a small side of tostones is topped with a spicy pico de gallo.

But Michael P. sounds like Tony’s favorite kind of downtrodden working stiff, albeit not a kitchen slave, who will be truly grateful to win the $10K Bourdain personally pledged.

Just as Kitchen Confidential spawned a new genre of culinary tell-all, Bourdain’s upcoming graphic novel, Get Jiro!, is being credited with inspiring knockoffs even before its publication, like The Dirt Candy Cookbook.

Here’s an interesting post from Catalan Cooking, although only the opening and third-from-last paragraphs are about Bourdain. First, she calls Kitchen Confidential a male Eat, Pray, Love, and in relating a personal appearance anecdote near the end, says Bourdain has “a drawl.”

Yeah, just like Fran Drescher’s and Woody Allen’s.

Later this week, several Cats Working readers and I are having a personal brush with Bourdain at an evening of great food, the DC Capital Food Fight, hosted by Tony and José Andrés, with Eric Ripert and Tom Colicchio. Stay tuned…


Bourdain too Profane for Small Children?

October 11, 2010

By Karen

Nuvo revealed an interesting little tidbit from the Q&A of Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert’s joint appearance in Indianapolis on September 30. The last paragraph of the article tells how an irked mother apparently called Tony out for using the F-word to a child who asked a question. Keep scrolling, because commenters weighed in on what he most likely said, and rightly questioned why anybody would bring a child to see the guy whose show carries a warning about its appropriateness for children on every episode.

To MorganLF: I thought of you when I saw this post on Real Estate Resuscitation. You’ll know what I mean.

Bourdain sold out Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on October 2 for their Wine and Food Festival. The link’s here to document that, but there’s no new ground there.

Tony revealed to Jimmy Fallon on October 5 that he once collected comic books and wanted to be a cartoonist. That explains his ease with drawing his chef skull logo.

DC Comics imprint Vertigo offers a sample of illustrator Langdon Foss’ work on Tony’s new graphic novel, Get Jiro. His co-author is Joel Rose. It’s coming out in late spring/early summer.

Bourdain went yet another round with novelist Jonathan Safran Foer on the joys/evils of eating meat on Canadian radio. (Warning: It seems only a few minutes long and keeps repeating. I heard the same stuff 3 times before giving up, and I was only 11 minutes into the 24.)

Tony seemed to be in Toronto much of last week (maybe to film that new episode of No Reservations?). The Globe and Mail got Tony to describe his first 3 romantic dates with Ottavia (tats were involved), but they got her age wrong by 10 years.

Tony also did Toronto TV, talking to George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC. The quickfire Q&A during the last 3 minutes were the best. And for the love of God, would somebody PLEASE hide Tony’s hair gel! It’s clearly become his new addiction.

Knife Tricks reviewed Medium Raw mostly by quoting hunks of it, but it was the rather nasty assessment of Bourdain leading up to it that got my attention. However, I think there may be some truth in his theory on how Kitchen Confidential came to be. Tony was shooting for the top when he withdrew his article languishing at an indie newspaper and sent it to the New Yorker, so to say now that he didn’t expect anybody to read the resulting book does seem a bit disingenuous.


Bourdain’s on the Road – Again

September 20, 2010

By Karen

We’re fresh out of new episodes of No Reservations, but this week Anthony Bourdain is making personal appearances in Houston (tonight), Toronto (9/22), Fredericksburg VA (9/23), and Springfield CT (9/24).

The Houston Chronicle got an advance interview. Among other things, here’s what Tony had to say about food writers…

“I can hardly imagine that this brave new world of bloggers can be worse than the agenda-driven, overprivileged, entitled class of dottering old farts who currently occupy the top tier of food journalism. It’s a pretty appalling bunch of bent, angry people who despise their subjects and hate their jobs and have been going through the motions for a long time.”

NowToronto published a 2-part interview with Bourdain, where he describes himself as an “’ex-cook who tells stories.’ Essayist maybe?” In Part 2, he says he doesn’t hate Paula Deen, and describes his upcoming graphic novel, Get Gyro (spelling? Ottavia spelled it Get Jiro on Twitter) as “Yojimbo meets Big Night and Babette’s Feast, an ultra-violent slaughter-fest over culinary arcana.”

Earlier, he told the Omaha World-Herald it’s “a gourmet slaughterfest, sort of like Fistful of Dollars meets Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Whichever it is, it sounds like an orgy of food, blood, and guts that may make his animated Alternate Universe seem tame.

When Bourdain was recently in London pushing Medium Raw, he told Metro that he doesn’t see food writing as part of his future path. He said he’s “kind of pushing himself” out of it because he’s becoming jaded, and has shelved plans to move to Vietnam because of No Res.

Hey, you read it here first. I’ve been saying that all along.

He also said something I take issue with. That is…

“I don’t think my writing has evolved. I mean I haven’t been working at it.”

By virtue of his output since Kitchen Confidential, he has unconsciously been honing how he expresses himself, even if he thinks he writes like he talks.

Tony, here’s the test: If you can read anything you wrote at least 6 months ago and find anything you’d like to revise, your writing is evolving.

On September 13, Bourdain appeared at the 92nd Street Y in NYC with David Chang and Eater.com provides a thorough account of what sounds like a strange and awkward night. Chang is weird. Tony mentioned that Cuba, Haiti, the Congo, and Kurdistan are on his short list for NR Season 7.

Bourdain did an interview with Submerge before his September 17 Sacramento appearance and said that daughter Ariane and Alice Waters are a lot alike because Ariane eats only organic food and likes Paris.

CTnow got a really good interview with Tony before his September 24 Springfield appearance where he mentions that Ariane behaves herself in restaurants.

For some reason, I want to give Ottavia most of the credit for making sure Ariane’s never a whiny, fidgety brat in public, like the ones we’ve all had the misfortune of sharing meals or airplanes with.

On a side note…

Chow.com selected the still-unidentified Ruth Bourdain as one of the Chow 13 in their 2nd annual recognition of the food world’s movers and shakers. They even got an e-mail interview with the elusive, yet always hilarious, tweeter.


Bones to Pick with Bourdain

August 9, 2010

By Karen

In another new episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain shows us around Dubai for almost 5 minutes before plunging his fingers into mush that looks like vomit. Except for one scene in a deserted Gordon Ramsay restaurant where he wields a knife and fork, it’s finger food everywhere else, even if it has the consistency of sour cream.

My highlight is Bourdain on skis on a snowy slope manufactured from desalinated water in the Mall of the Emirates. His well-honed sense of the absurd also gets a good workout.

But I still can’t wait for him to get to Rome and Paris, where people don’t eat every meal like toddlers.

Must confess I finally abandoned The Best American Travel Writing of 2008, which Tony edited, due to its everywhere-but-Europe emphasis. I understood why he was drawn to the essays he picked, but enough’s enough.

I call “Bullshit!” on “Where it All Began” when Bourdain asserted he hardly considers writing a “craft” and has learned nothing about it because he just writes the way he talks.

Yeah, and all his first drafts are publishable.

Tony originally aspired to be a novelist with Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. He had to know something about plotting, pacing, character development, dialogue, description, point of view. There’s much more to crime fiction than “writing the way you talk.”

Granted, he finally hit one out of the park with Kitchen Confidential, which he just called his first “real” book on his blog. Of the 7 books he’s produced since, 6 have been nonfiction (The Bobby Gold Stories is the exception).

But his next book will probably be a novel, since he’s got personal appearances here through at least February 2011 and the Vietnam book still seems iffy.

And now for my coup de grâce…

The other night I caught about 20 minutes of Samantha Brown in — guess where? — Vietnam. I hadn’t seen her in while, and she seems to be over her “Golly, gee, I’m just a dumb American, but ain’t everything lovely!” phase. She met people and tried things most tourists would probably never do. She ate bun cha, but didn’t dwell on it. Vietnam through her eyes seemed more appealing than Tony makes it.

There, I said it.

Tony and family have been enjoying some much-needed R&R in Italy, but there’s a little news…

Jonathan Sorof at The Improper Bostonian did an interview some time in June with Tony where I learned that Brussels sprouts are part of his Thanksgiving dinners. Yeecchhh!

Here’s the article and photos of the Bourdains in the July 5 People, in case you missed it.

Eater.com collected Bourdain’s best one-liners from “Where it All Began.”

Blogger Scott D. Parker did write a review of the Medium Raw audio book, which he devoured. Scott, just for the record, No Reservations’ 100th episode isn’t until September 6, and it will be in Paris, returning where Tony filmed the first episode. Travel Channel is advertising for tributes.

Village Voice reports that a panel of editors will select the finalists from which Bourdain will choose a winner in the Medium Raw essay contest, which is now up to 1,300 entries. He was checking the site and commented on a few in the beginning, but the chances of him reading your essay now seem pretty slim.

The New York Post, still referring to Les Halles as “Bourdain’s flagship brasserie,” reported that the restaurant received a B grade on a recent Health Department inspection for “evidence of mice, problems with plumbing and food left out unprotected from contamination.”


Bourdain Returns to “Where it All Began”

August 2, 2010

By Karen

Tonight’s new episode of No Reservations takes us back to 2000, when Anthony Bourdain was still working as a chef when he scored unexpected success with his book, Kitchen Confidential.

For the record, KC wasn’t his first book, but his third. Tony’s literary career began with two crime novels published in the 1990s: Bone in the Throat (1995) and Gone Bamboo (1997). I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

Travel Channel posted a deleted scene from this episode where Tony talked about writing Typhoid Mary, and it includes his visit to the cemetery to leave her a “gift.” The Web wankers at TC incorrectly identify the book as a novel. It’s a biography, much more interesting than you might expect, and out of print, so it’s a collector’s item.

Eater published some of Tony’s best one-liners from last week’s episode in Kerala, India.

On September 6, Travel Channel will air No Res‘s 100th episode (in Paris), and they’re trolling for your congratulations and tributes on YouTube and Twitter.

The Medium Raw essay contest is still going strong, surpassing 1,200 entries.

CNN’s Eatocracy interviewed Tony. He talked about revisiting Beirut recently and revealed that 3-year-old Ariane is already a sophisticated restaurant patron, well-behaved and an adventurous eater. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s kids who scream and run amok in restaurants and the parents who let it happen.

Nose to Tail at Home describes meeting Bourdain at a book-signing in Austin, Texas, and his reasons for wanting Tony to autograph Fergus Henderson’s cookbook. (I didn’t read the whole blog, but gather he’s doing a male Julie & Julia thing.)

Tony participated in KCRW’s Guest DJ Project in Santa Monica. Here’s what he played and a transcript that shows he’s as eloquent talking about music as he is about food.

BONUS: My father found this undated photo of Tony in a Canadian magazine called Maclean’s with a write-up of Medium Raw, although the book wasn’t on Maclean’s bestseller list.

It's not easy to catch Bourdain over a barrel. (Photo - Maclean's)


Bourdain Meets Another Cats Working Reader

April 28, 2010

By Adele from Chicago

“This is just like 1981 when no one could get Rolling Stones tickets and somehow you found them,” was how my friend Linda reacted when I told her I snagged last-minute VIP tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 24 appearance in Chicago.

Just after 8 p.m., Tony, wearing jeans, a tee shirt, blazer, and tan boots, took the stage to enthusiastic applause. He said we were one of his largest audiences yet and launched into his tale of meeting Sandra Lee, embellishing his blog account. His imitation of Ottavia’s stunned look was particularly funny. His wife took mixed martial arts, could throw a punch, has no problem telling other women to keep their hands off her man, and he’d have been grateful if she’d run interference. But Ottavia stood stock-still and let Sandra grope Tony’s waist, tug his ear, and say, “You’ve been a bad, bad boy.”

He talked about the Food Network getting rid of every trained chef except Bobby Flay. Tony imagined Bobby, whom he thinks has talent and some decent restaurants, getting called on the carpet by FN brass. They tell him, “You poll as cynical and inaccessible, so to stay here, you’ll have to go around the country having throw-downs, competing with local cooks on their specialty dishes.”

So now it’s OK for Bobby to stay in the FN family because yokels can brag, “Ah beat Bobby Flay with my chili.”

Then Tony gave us a look as if to say, “Yeah, and it’s not rigged at all.”

After a bit more FN-bashing, Tony observed that since Scripps Howard recently bought the Travel Channel, he was working for his former masters and feared if he didn’t stay in line, he might be forced to do a bikini wax on Paula Deen.

Mentioning Scripps brought him to their new product placement policy. “I know how much you all love that,” he said, noting how he was castigated all over the Internet for not keeping things real. Thanks to TIVO and DVRs, he pointed out that commercials aren’t watched much, so sponsors place products within shows to get consumers’ attention.

“What’s real, anyhow?” he asked. “Was I more real when I was selling books to get crack? Was I more real when I was hitting up my mother for cash to buy drugs? Was I more real when I was standing in a kitchen turning out meal after meal for people I didn’t care about?”

His implication was, I think, that we all have to serve somebody.

He urged people to get passports and experience other cultures, but cautioned on the necessity of showing respect and wondered why certain Americans pack their tackiest clothes to travel, like tee shirts with logos and slogans. He mentioned the 19-year-old American girl he saw in the Blue Mosque, wearing a tube top with “her jugs hanging out the bottom,” Daisy Duke shorts, that left nothing to the imagination about her nether cleavage, and 6-inch Lucite heels. She looked “more like she was ready to give hand jobs under the West Side Highway than visit one of the holiest places in Istanbul in the holy month of Ramadan.”

With regard to hospitality, Tony advised us to “accept indigenous beverages and local meat.” Although he draws the line at eating pets and has almost always had a shelter cat in his life, he said, “If the head man of a village has rolled out the red carpet for me and serves me a plate of puppy heads, I’m eatin’ the f*#%in’ puppy heads.”

Tony said he thinks food blogging is a good thing. But after his “Techniques” episode, bloggers complained that “Jacques Pepin used a fork in a nonstick skillet and left eggs runny in a omelet, and Thomas Keller didn’t wash a pepper mill after seasoning the inside of a chicken.” Since these guys are the best in the business. when they tell you how to make a French omelet or roast a chicken, “Shut up and listen.”

During the audience Q&A session, where my fellow Chicagoans kept the stupid questions to a minimum, someone asked how he had the nerve to pose with that bone in My Last Supper. Tony said it was the result of getting drunk with the photographer.

Asked to recommend a culinary school west of the Mississippi, Tony couldn’t and said there are too many culinary schools giving subprime loans and promising everyone they’ll become a chef. “If you’re 32 and decide to change careers by attending culinary school, don’t.”

He said he was grateful that Kitchen Confidential was such a success because at age 44, he was practically a dinosaur on the line.

The tattooed stalker was mentioned, and Bourdain admitted that when the guy showed up in Minneapolis, it really freaked him out.

Someone asked if Scripps told Tony and ZeroPointZero they had only one more episode to shoot, where would it be? After thinking a minute, Tony answered, “Spain,” and explained that when A Cook’s Tour ended, they had begun filming, “Decoding Feran Adria,” and Food Network thought the show was getting too cerebral. Tony and his crew finished the episode and used it as a calling card to get the No Reservations gig. It all began with Spain, and it should end with Spain.

The finale came when Tony summoned some guy up on stage, who went up with a woman. He got partially down on one knee and proposed, citing NR as what brought them together.

Tony wished them well and said he’d accept no responsibility if things didn’t work out. He said when he married Ottavia 11 days after Ariane’s birth, the Manhattan city clerk who droned the words looked up once to ask, “You’re on television; aren’t you?” and then resumed the ceremony.

Linda and I got in line to meet Tony at the VIP reception. When I introduced myself and gave him a children’s book for Ariane. He said, “Ah, Adele from Cats Working,” and inscribed my copy of No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach to “Adele” with “Cats Working” inside his signature knife drawing. He graciously thanked me for Ariane’s book and posed for pictures with us.

A bit later, while Linda and I were having a glass of wine, I checked my camera and discovered the picture of Tony and me hadn’t come out. The crowd was thinning and I caught his eye. I must have looked rather pathetic because he asked, “What’s wrong, Adele?”

I told him about the photo, and he posed with me again. We stayed to talk and I asked Tony about the Cuba shoot.

He said that for the last three years, something always went wrong, either in Cuba or or the U.S. NR segments need to be set three weeks in advance, so thanks to bureaucratic snafus, the plug got pulled every time.

Of Liberia, he said he had a hard time figuring out how to write about it, being honest without conveying overwhelming despair. And he got really sick there. He thinks Liberia has the beginnings of what it would take to make things right, but it’s been so messed up for so long, it’s hard to know when they’ll make real progress.

Someone else asked him about endangered sharks, and Tony said it was almost strictly due to the market for sharks’ fins throughout Asia, where they’re valued as aphrodisiacs. He’s tried shark’s fin and said it was OK but has an odd texture, and seemed to dismiss it as a love drug. He hold us he’d used back channels to contact Paul McCartney, urging him to invest a few million in Viagra and Cialis, send it to Asia, and save the sharks. He didn’t say if he’d received a reply.

Linda and I left soon after that, and Chicago’s wind and rain couldn’t dampen our happiness as we kept asking each other, “Can you believe this evening?

(Note: Adele misplaced her camera cord. We’ll post her photos when she finds a way to send them.)


Bourdain was Big in the Noughties

January 4, 2010

By Karen

If you have Comcast cable and want a jump on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Season 6, the Panama episode is On Demand. No such luck with Verizon FIOS.

You may remember a debate we had back when No Reservations Hawaii aired. Winnipeg Bob thought Tony’s wife Ottavia was sitting in the background during Tony’s closing monologue after the tourist luau.

I have received confirmation from an unimpeachable source that Bob was right. It was Ottavia, and she was sitting with a crew member. Ottavia-watchers can also see her in the Tuscany episode, and she and her whole family were featured in Sardinia.

And the kudos keep rolling in…

Toronto-based Indigo Books & Music, Inc., compiled a list of 75 books of the past decade that had greatest impact on booklovers, and Kitchen Confidential made the cut.

A panel of leading British food writers also placed KC in the top 10 of the best 40 food books of the decade.

The Buffalo News named Bourdain 2009’s “Visitor of the Year” for filming a segment of his Rust Belt episode there. Poor Zamir didn’t even get honorable mention.

Journal Squared predicts 23 original thinkers who will shape 2010, and Bourdain makes his list at No. 12.

North Carolina Public Radio has posted audio of, I believe, the entire talk Bourdain delivered in Durham, NC, on February 19, 2009, when I drove 6 hours round-trip to hear him speak and meet him. Enjoy!

And since you’ve probably been dying to know (yeah, right) if I ever attempted béarnaise sauce from scratch, the answer is yes.

I used the dumbed-down 3-ingredient “Never Fail” recipe and was able to eat it, so it didn’t totally suck. But as Bourdain predicted 10 years ago in his cookbook, I fucked it up. In the time it took George Foreman to cook my rib-eye steak, the béarnaise assumed the consistency of lumpy custard.

But what pissed me off the most was that with only 3 freaking ingredients, I ended up with a sink full of pots, bowls and utensils, and congealed butter EVERYWHERE. Such a big mess for such a little bit of sauce!

But I will try again…

I’ve also got my eye on Bourdain’s cassoulet recipe because Hermione Gingold made it in Gigi and he says anyone who can make good chili (me, me!) can make cassoulet.


Ottavia Before Anthony Bourdain

November 14, 2009

By Karen

Morgan gets full credit for putting me in the right place at the right time to meet Ottavia. We were in a cavernous ballroom of the Ronald Reagan Building. The Food Fight stage was on a high platform with two small tiers of seats before it, off to either side. Morgan staked out the second row, house right. I think Ottavia and I spotted each other simultaneously.

Before I knew it, she and Tony had joined us. Ottavia greeted me with a big smile and a hug. Tony kissed my cheek. I apologized for basing my first impression on the Miami Ink clip. She laughed, agreeing that she looked like a “grinning idiot” (my description) because of how they cut the episode. She was dressed to relax in Miami, not be on TV, and understood how people got the wrong idea from her bare midriff.

She told us reading Cats Working is part of her Internet routine, and greeted Morgan and Cindy like old friends.

Tony brought up Winnipeg Bob’s recent visit to Les Halles, and told us waiter Tim, depending on his mood, will tell customers outrageous “revelations” about Tony, like he’s undergoing a sex change.

Before Tony left us to host the Fight, we got this group shot:

Bourdain-CapFoodFight09-Cindy2

(L-R) MorganLF, Karen, Anthony Bourdain, Cindy (Photo - Cindy)

Ottavia graciously posed with me to prove there are no hard feelings with Cats Working:

Bourdain-CapFoodFight09-Cindy3

Karen with Ottavia Bourdain (Photo - Cindy)

We were pleasantly surprised when Ottavia asked us to save her a seat because she was “alone.” She and I chatted for the next several hours.

Now, I must sincerely thank Ottavia for her company. I’ve said before I’m not a foodie. If she hadn’t kept me distracted, I’d have found some gourmet delicacies on toothpicks and poked my eyes out.

Watching people cook on stage is the PITS. Camera people constantly stood in front of the chefs to project their actions onto a big screen behind them. The judges, who included some of my faves, chef Eric Ripert and past Top Chef contestant Carla Hall, were seated far upstage, hidden from our view.

Three hours of watching smoke rise live from pans, with the actual food on TV, is not my idea of entertainment.

Now back to Ottavia…

She grew up in a small rural community of about 2,000 in, I believe, Italy’s Lombardy region. She loves animals and had chickens, rabbits, and “usually about 10 cats and always a lot of kittens,” and explained that spaying and neutering weren’t priorities then.

After high school, she began to study medicine and would have pursued it after moving to the States, but we require an undergraduate degree first. Her credits didn’t transfer, so she took a new direction in the restaurant business.

She met Eric Ripert working for him at Le Bernadin.

When she learned her favorite cat in Italy had died, Ottavia happened by one of those adoption events held by the North Shore Animal League. She saw a black kitten cowering “back in the corner of the cage” and decided they needed each other. She named him Lupetto.

Ottavia said she would love to have more cats one day when they move to a larger place, but she doesn’t know when that will be.

At age 28, Ottavia was working 14-hour days at the Geisha Restaurant in New York City and felt she didn’t have time for a relationship, but she didn’t want to be alone either.

She’d read Kitchen Confidential, saying, “Everybody did, it was like the Bible for us.” And she caught Tony once on No Reservations, “in Morocco or somewhere like that,” while she and a girlfriend were looking for another Travel Channel host they liked (sorry, I didn’t catch the name).

But Bourdain was still nowhere on her radar. She said, “I never thought I would get mixed up with a celebrity.”

Tony and Eric Ripert were good friends, and Ripert’s wife thought Ottavia and Tony might be a good casual match because Tony was on the road so much.

Ottavia made it clear to me that when she met Anthony (she uses his full name), he and Nancy were long separated, although not divorced, and he’d been dating. There was no overlap whatsoever with their meeting and his first marriage.

It took Tony a couple of months to follow up and contact Ottavia, and he did it via e-mail around Thanksgiving 2005. Their first date was that weekend, a very late night of drinking and smoking (she also had a 2-pack-a-day habit), so Ottavia was feeling rough the next morning and declined when Tony called and asked her out again that night.

He didn’t call again for about a month, but when they finally had another date, something clicked, and they became a couple.

While Ottavia and I were talking, Tony kept casting worried glances our way from the stage. At one point, he stood downstage in front of us and signaled her to button her lips, but she ignored him. I wonder what he was afraid she’d tell me?

Next: Becoming Mrs. Bourdain


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