Has Success Spoiled Anthony Bourdain?

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s turn as head judge in the “Restaurant Wars” episode of Top Chef left me scratching my head.

I first noticed a difference in him on David Letterman in March. He was there with Ottavia, and his interview and demeanor seemed so subdued, I wondered if they’d been fighting.

Now after Top Chef, I’m sure he’s off his game. Describing Lisa’s Mango Sticky Rice as “baby vomit garnished with potpourri” was classic, but the best he could do with Dale’s Butterscotch Miso Scallops was that the plate looked like a “melted candy bar?”

Dale and Lisa had the poor judgment to go with an Asian theme, knowing Tony, an expert on Asian cuisine, could rip them to shreds. But Tony really didn’t take the bait, even though all their dishes were bad. And then he sent Dale packing, even though Lisa’s shown at least twice that’s she incapable of cooking rice but always blames it on sabotage.

What was he thinking?

To answer my own question, I don’t think success has spoiled Anthony Bourdain. I think it’s his new, kinder, gentler lifestyle. Becoming the patriarch of a very young family may be killing him – on several levels.

People have written nasty comments here about Tony’s former wife, Nancy. But I wish she were still around. Married to Nancy, he wrote the scintillating, hilarious Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour, and several novels, and earned his reputation as a snarky adventurer on TV.

Post-Nancy, he wrote The Nasty Bits, which wasn’t as well received. And with Ottavia, he basically produced photo captions for No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, a book that would have greatly benefited from more text.

For better or worse, something about his relationship with Nancy seemed to give him the edge that made him famous. Now I’m wondering if he has – deliberately or not – put his best days behind him.


20 Responses to Has Success Spoiled Anthony Bourdain?

  1. With a little luck Anthony will replace Tom Colichio on Top Chef next season. Tom really seems to be phoning it in and seems bored with the whole process. Bourdain would give the show a boost as it’s starting to get a little stale.

  2. catsworking says:

    That’s an interesting thought. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bourdain take over Top Chef. I think he’d lighten it up with some humor and more banter with the contestants. In fact, I’d be glad to see Tom’s sidekick Padma also go. She reminds me of Paula Abdul.

  3. MorganLF says:

    Can’t help it…I still fancy him madly…even though I think the new wife was a dopey predictable move..

  4. BR says:

    Actually, the Top Chef contestants had no knowledge of Bourdain being replacement judge for Chef Tom until after their concept and menu were established. They were in the middle of cooking when he popped in the kitchen to check on them.

  5. catsworking says:

    BR, the way I remember it, Bourdain strolled in very early in the episode to announce he was taking Tom’s place. In fact, I was surprised that he was nowhere around when they did that egg-cooking challenge in the restaurant. I thought he’d be right there, evaluating their moves since that’s the sort of thing he knows best.

    But maybe you’re right. Just an unfortunate coincidence for Dale. I did think he deserved to make it to the top 4.

  6. julia says:

    i don’t know why people say mean things about nancy bourdain, except just to gossip.
    only tony and nancy know what’s true, and neither of them are talking.
    btw, if you go to egullet.com and do a search on bourdain, you’ll find alot…he used to post over there regularly years ago, and somewhere he mentions that his wife is a “sea lawyer” (i think that means self-taught) and works in housing court.
    he posted that several years ago when he was still married to nancy.
    someone commented somewhere on this blog that nancy worked in advertising, then quit and mooched off tony.
    judging from the very few things bourdain has said, that above statement seems totally false.
    i really like “top chef” and thought bourdain did fine….i thought he was trying to be taken more seriously than his famous snarky reputation.
    on the -last- “top chef” season, he blogged for the show…you can find the blog on Bravo’s website.
    if you read the whole thing you’ll see 1 installment where he says he’s going out to brunch w/ his wife (ottavia) and how much he truely loves her.
    and this quote from bourdain is from the “no reservations” message board, in response to something unflattering someone posted about ottavia being pregnant:

    “alright…..alright. Had about enough of this nonsense.
    I’m going to be a father. I’m thrilled, delighted, proud, excited and happy about it–in ways I never previously anticipated but which most parents, I gather, can vividly describe. Any notion that this imminently arriving child–a daughter–for whom I am already giddily buying pink things–was an “accident” or unwanted is wrongheaded, ignorant and hurtful. I DID (reasonably) assume, that given my advanced years, it might take a few weeks or months before getting the happy news( something I crowed ecstatically about in public)–but I am and have been dancing on the ceiling since. Just because I haven’t been posing, cynically grinning like an idiot, exploiting personal business for promotional gain–or babbling to daytime talk shows about the joys of fatherhood means nothing beyond the fact that I’m not a Scientologist with a movie coming out.
    I am ludicrously happy with my life of late–and would greatly appreciate it if we can drop the whole subject. Love, children…these are private matters for me. And beyond well wishes, I’d like to keep them that way. Thanks in advance:

    sorry, i didn’t mean to go on so long…..i sound like 1 of bourdain’s PR people….lol….i’m not, i just found your blog tonite and was surprised at some of the erroneous comments others have left, considering evidence to the contrary isn’t hard to find online..

  7. catsworking says:

    Julia, I’m so glad you found my blog. Thank you for posting. You’ve provided a lot of details I’ve never been able to find. Although I express only my own opinions here, I do try to base them on fact, and I’m always pleased when someone knowledgeable contributes to the conversation.

    I read Tony’s blog on last season’s Top Chef and was disappointed he didn’t do it again this year, but the man’s got to be up to his eyeballs busy. Even on a bad day, he’s a wonderful writer with powerful gifts of expression. There are only a few writers who compel me to read anything with their name on it, and he’s at the top of my list.

    I was very glad to read the posting you provided about the baby. He does a really good job of keeping his public and private life separate, so Bourdain watchers who’d like to know a bit more detail do have to hunt for it. From what I’ve seen, he does seem to love being a father, and it was good to read that it was no accident, as we’ve all wondered.

    I had seen it written in quite a few places that Nancy Bourdain works in advertising, but he would know. I guess it’s a matter of one mistake getting repeated all over the Internet. My publisher initially gave my book a really bad cover that was posted on Amazon.com for a short time, but it got snapped up and it still appears in pockets all over the Net like the Thing That Won’t Die.

    I’ve never seen a photo of her, but have always assumed that someone who stuck with Tony during his double-shift, drug-taking days couldn’t be all bad, and some of the comments I got about her really surprised me. I still can’t picture her as a lazy mooch in any way, and regret that a marriage which lasted nearly 3 decades fell apart, probably, as an offshoot of his success. It should have been the start of their best days together.

    I’ll definitely check out the sites you mentioned for more Tony Trivia. And if you see anything else here that needs correcting, you’re always invited to set the record straight. 🙂

  8. barb says:

    Catsworking, I agree with you that Tony seems “off his game”–hard to know if that is just career fatigue or just plain old fatigue–his schtick (and it IS a schtick) is also getting pretty old. But the weird kind of total repression he demonstrates lately is a bit hard to figure out. But if you go and look at that Miami Ink clip–think its on YouTube- he has a severe case of it–is it just a coincidence he’s with Ottavia in that clip? Don’t think so…Nancy was not the world’s nicest person and although intelligent was not career-minded, I guess you could say…”mooch” is kind of a harsh term…Tony’s books definitely did not reflect the reality of his relationship with Nancy, I think he used her (maybe like all writers use people) as a kind of character to present a hyped image of himself. Face it people, it’s called marketing yourself, selling books, selling an image–how do you think people would have reacted if he had been honest and written “We’ve basically hated each other for years but were too afraid/stuck in a rut to make changes…I have problems with women and am not the guy you fantasize about”? I’m just saying, take what he says about most things (but especially marriage, fatherhood) with a BIG grain of salt.

  9. i do not like bourdain. never did. right after reading the first couple of pages of kc, i disliked him. it got worse after he became famous. the problem is that bourdain is transparent. like all narcissists, his insecurities are painfully visible to the whole world. sometimes, i almost feel sorry for him, but then i remember that all human beings have free will and are ultimately responsible for their actions, decisions and what comes back to them as consequence.

    having said all that, watching bourdain on top chef was a little difficult for me to watch. i dont know when it was shot, but i got the same vibe from him as the last time i watched the NR(i dont remember if it was the london episode or the greek one). to put it bluntly, i think bourdain is on the verge of plunging into depression….it could be a mild one or suicidal. the signs are not good. this isnt just some ‘burn out’. i dont think this man has any friends or anyone who truly gives fuck about him….if he had, someone would have intervened by now. thats the tragedy, imo.

    on a seriously serious note, what he needs is a complete detox….on several levels. three months off…on a strict regime of daily yoga practice and a clean vegetarian diet. i am not a practicing homeopath, but i know a little something..but seeing what i see, i think i can make a very good guess about his constitutional type.., but a certified homeopath(pref one who is a medical doctor also) can steer him right with his constitutional remedy. it would do him good living in a farm..farm sanctuary has a beautiful farm with rescued ducks and lamb and pigs.

    i just read that he’s going to write a book about living in vietnam. if he wants to change his schtick, he should probably write a book about his lived experience as mentioned in the previous paragraph. nobody wants to listen about laksa or pig’s ears anymore. there isnt much content in that and its been done to death.

    but knowing bourdain, he’d turn into a shiny button and still spit on what saved his arse.

  10. catsworking says:

    Faustianbargain, I’m with you in thinking that a period of detox would do Bourdain a world of good, but he’d probably rather die than go vegetarian for any length of time. Maybe he’s looking forward to a year in Vietnam as the way to rid himself of his demons.

    As far as TV goes, I’ve said before that he seems to be a one-trick pony (although I love the one trick!) and he’s undoubtedly aware of it. I think it would be great if he turned to his writing as his popularity on TV starts to wane. I loved his novels and I think he has unlimited potential there, once he’s finished writing about himself.

    The wife character in his novels seemed to be based on Nancy, and I guess it gave me the impression that she and Tony were solid and that she’s an amazing woman. No matter what he thinks of her now, he did make her look really good in his books, so at least he wasn’t being mean there.

    I sincerely hope the man isn’t headed for some sort of breakdown. Hopefully, his schedule will permit him some extended R&R this summer so he can catch his breath from the endless book tour he’s been on and regroup.

  11. to the contrary, re being vegetarian for a few months, i dont think bourdain would want to kill himself over anything that will revive his career. and i am sure his fans would lap it up…they love it when he eats weird stuff and ‘abuses’ himself. this will be something where he will ‘abuse’ himself, make his fans happy, do his health a world of good AND get ratings. seriously, stuffing another chunk of meat down his maw isnt going to do *anything* for him anymore.

    i havent read any of the novels..in my experience, its best not to analyse relationships..especially long lasting ones even if they have ended. its very personal and others cannot make sense of it from their pov. and they shouldnt have to because its none of their business anyways.

    p.s. on a different note, i have been forwarding your tidy cats commercial link like crazy to everyone i know. were they adopted from a shelter by tidy cats company or do they belong to anyone specific?

  12. catsworking says:

    Nice thought, but I just don’t see him doing it. It would be like caving in to the faction he has dissed.

    I highly recommend the novels. They are like the Sopranos with high humor. The man has a way with metaphors and similes that’s awe-inspiring.

    Tidy Cats: One of the videos says that they got many of the cats from shelters, and I would assume that their handlers and trainers are now taking care of them like an owner. That’s how Morris got his start with 9-Lives. So much untapped talent, if people would only pay attention.

  13. maybe…but wont it make for terrific tv viewing? i think his fans should demand that bourdain become a downward facing dog bending, incense burning, birkenstock wearing vegetarian. its not like he is not nice enough to oblige them.

    p.s: i have been getting cat links as gifts from those with whom i shared your tidy cats commercial pagelink. this has become part of my daily viewing > http://icanhascheezburger.com/

  14. catsworking says:

    Faustianbargain – a friend turned me on to icanhascheezburger a while ago and it’s hilarious. I also believe it’s one of the WordPress blogs that recently snagged a book deal.

    Now, would Anthony Bourdain ever go New Age? Maybe for the span of one episode, but I doubt it. That would be like giving in to those who hate him for bad-mouthing veganism.

    But for the sake of his health and longevity, I think it would be a good idea, although I don’t know that I could bear to watch it.

  15. i think i’ll enjoy that. who knows..i might even tape it..;-)

  16. Robert says:

    A belated repy to Julia’s post–that reference to Nancy being a “sea lawyer” was made in connection to the times she and Tony faced eviction from their apartment and she went to housing court to prevent that–she is NOT a lawyer who works in housing court!–you need to check your facts! They both had drug problems, hence the threat of eviction. And as to his protestations of being thrilled about fatherhood, it was all planned–you might take this with a grain of salt considering how dishonest Tony was about his first marriage–there were a lot of problems and bad feelings there for years but you’d never know that from reading his books, his interviews etc. where he painted a rosy picture to make himself look good! My point is that the guy sees no problems with using his private life to concoct this fake image of himself but if anyone questions that, they are invading his privacy! Bullsh–! And I looked up that reference to telling his wife how much he loves her–it was actually that he was reassuring her that he does–why? Is she so insecure? Given his past behavior, she should be!

  17. catsworking says:

    Robert, as much as I would like to believe everything Bourdain says, when it comes to the timing of the baby, the calendar doesn’t lie. He’d only been dating Ottavia a few months when she got pregnant. Now why would a guy who never gave any indication of wanting children suddenly DELIBERATELY knock up a young woman he barely knows? And do it when he isn’t even legally divorced from Wife #1 yet?

    Sorry, but I still smell entrapment all over that one, and he should have been smart enough to see it coming.

    I do give him credit for stepping up to the plate and making the best of it. Imagine how Ariane would feel if she Googled Daddy some day and found all these interviews of him proclaiming he was tricked into having her. So, lying or not, he’s doing the right thing.

    Yeah, yeah, he may have known Ottavia superficially before in the restaurant business. But buying your wine from someone and dating them are 2 different things.

    If things in his personal life were as rosy as he tries to make everyone believe, there would be no reason to be so secretive about it. It just occurred to me last night that you never see Ottavia anywhere without big sunglasses. Even in the Miami Ink clip, he walks in holding an UMBRELLA over her because it’s POURING outside, but she’s wearing the sunglasses. She does remove them once inside.

    Unless she’s channeling Garbo, as a pair they just strike me as a couple who aren’t all that they seem, and his behavior has become so much more subdued since they hooked up I feel that the whole relationship is somehow draining him.

  18. Annika says:

    For all who speak Spanish. Here is an interview with Bourdain in Uruguay.


    He is also talking about his family and that being a Dad changed the idea of his show, no more extreme shows like Namibia or Cambodia or jumping from the rock in Sicily. He says this is a natural process and he will stop doing stupid things he used to do. He says he owes her (Ariane) at least to live until she turns ten and they want to send her to an Italian school in New York. He doesn’t want her to be like all the American kids who don’t care about others and eat only crap. He will do everything to make her happy. Most of the time she stays with her mother in New York, but she traveled with him to England and Italy.

  19. catsworking says:

    Thank you for that link, Annika. I don’t speak Spanish, so I ran it through a translator and got a little more information:

    Tony’s brother Chris will be in the upcoming episode in Uruguay because Tony found papers and photos belonging to an aunt who was dying in France that indicated some Bourdains came from Uruguay, Paraguay, and other countries in South America. So he and Chris are there to look for their roots.

    He also explained why he has not been so snarky lately. We’ve all been wondering why he seems so subdued in his TV appearance on Letterman and Top Chef. He said (this is from the translation):

    “I believe that now I am less angry and pardon a little more. I imagine that I am just a little bit going to be gentle and I would like to think that I will be less disagreeable and revolting, but I doubt too much to it. (laughter)”

  20. […] March, he was interviewed while filming No Reservations in Uruguay and explained the kinder, gentler demeanor we’ve been seeing. (This was translated electronically from Spanish, so it’s phrased […]

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