Anthony Bourdain & Nancy: Happier Times

By Karen

Life seemed rosy for Tony and Nancy Bourdain when his book, Kitchen Confidential, became a best-seller and earned him an interview in the August 14, 2000, issue of People.

The article, “Reality Bites,” by Peter Ames Carlin and Debbie Seaman, covered ground very familiar to Bourdain fans today so I won’t repeat it, but Nancy was also quoted and here, at last, is a good photo of her:

The photo caption reads: “The stuff we eat is awful,” said Nancy (at home with Bourdain). “But if we’re having a family gathering, I can press him into service.”

Here’s what Nancy said in the article:

Though Bourdain likes to project a freewheeling image, the demands of full-time cooking and a thriving writing career don’t give him much time to waste. “He’s really disciplined,” says Nancy, 45, who helps research Bourdain’s books. “I can’t remember the last time he’s had eight hours’ sleep.”

Now working on a travelogue about exotic foods (“I’ll be looking for monkey brains and poisonous blowfish gizzards”), Bourdain, who lives with Nancy in a spacious one-bedroom apartment in uptown Manhattan, is usually too tired to cook at home. “I thought I’d be eating well,” Nancy says with a chuckle. “I do – if we go out.”

(My thanks to reader Chris who sent me the original article.)

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36 Responses to Anthony Bourdain & Nancy: Happier Times

  1. Daniel says:

    I still like all of Bourdain’s shows. He’s one of the best presenters out there and his philosophical comments elevate the show to a higher level. http://www.bentpage.wordpress.com.

  2. MorganLF says:

    Ouch …they look so perfect together like pals in love. I think I believe him when he says she was the love of his life. More than ever Ottavia does not compute, I feel sorry for Nancy. Here is a great article before Ottavia and after the break up:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329465898-108294,00.html

  3. Nickole says:

    Thanks for posting this picture and article!

  4. MorganLF says:

    They really look like a couple…ouch! I’m starting to believe he may have been the one to blame and I hate that. How corny! Married all his life gets some fame, tosses the wife man that’s harsh. Saw the Portugal episode of a Cooks Tour she’s all over it. Lots of glimpses long strawberry blonde hair, glasses … Vassar looking. Wished I knew the reall story. Like why no kids and how bad the addictions were…I infer pretty bad. Oh well I still wish him well.

  5. Billy says:

    Well if that is Nancy Putkoski then that is the only picture of her that exsist. I have google her several times and this is the only one.

  6. catsworking says:

    Yup, Billy, that’s definitely Nancy. It says so in the photo caption, and she matches the woman who appeared with him on A Cook’s Tour.

    You’re right about the lack of photos of Nancy. I did hours of digging for photos of her and came up empty myself. But at least we have a couple of shots of her here now to satisfy everyone’s curiosity.

  7. catsworking says:

    MorganLF, thanks for the link to that article, which I just got to read. It confirms what I’ve suspected – that Nancy was the love of his life and anyone who came/comes after her will have huge shoes to fill.

    As for who ended his first marriage, I would guess it’s a combination of both. He was profoundly changed by his travels, and I suspect that Nancy couldn’t or wouldn’t change with him, for whatever reason. Maybe she has her own career. So they grew in different directions and drifted apart, as many couples do who marry young.

    What’s most interesting is his complete 180 on the subject of parenthood. He says he’d make a shit parent, but he’s a great evil uncle. I think fatherhood took him by surprise, in spite of what he’s claimed since Ariane was born. His whole “I meant to do that” schtick seems to be an attempt to save face after getting caught with an unplanned pregnancy. But it’s to his credit that he’s taken responsibility and seems to like being a dad after all.

  8. Anne says:

    It still makes me sad that they broke up. I hope they have both found happiness in their respective lives….he seems harder now but maybe that’s just my romanticism coloring my view.

    Love your blog.

  9. lianna says:

    aww that picture is so sweet

  10. michelel allen says:

    First things first, i think his new wife looks like a gold digging bitch who just wants to be famous. every time you see here, she’s just clinging to tony like a life raft. hmmm. i also saw the clip of him getting his tat in miami. she is dressed like a total piece of trash. i’ve only seen this pic of his ex, but she seems way more suited to him than his 2nd wife. Being a snarky bastard doesn’t mean you have to marry like one. EWWWWW!!!!

  11. catsworking says:

    Michelel, you’re basing your opinion on information that’s nearly 3 years old. For the record, a lot of us pretty much agreed with your assessment of Ottavia at first, just based on her age and looks. But she’s turned out to possibly the best thing that’s ever happened to Bourdain.

    They have a beautiful daughter who’s 2 years old now. He’s quit smoking. He’s quit doing the dangerous stunts that could get him killed because now he has people to live for and he WANTS to live. OK, he’s still stuffing his face with pork and drinking like a fish, but he’s entitled to a few little vices.

    And we’re apparently going to meet Ottavia’s family in the upcoming NR episode on Sardinia. From everything I’ve read, they’re big and warm and loving people and Tony really likes being part of all that, and for his daughter to have such a good support system.

    On the other hand, this is to take nothing away from Nancy. They were high school sweethearts and stayed together a good 30 years, so there was obviously something there. I think she was his perfect match for most of that time. But Bourdain himself admits that his extensive travels changed him profoundly (which they should, unless you’re an idiot or the quintessential Ugly American), and Nancy didn’t change along with him, so they grew apart. He’s never said, but I think it was Nancy who wanted to split. Why wouldn’t she? She was left sitting home alone while he roamed the planet.

    Ottavia seems to be the perfect match for Tony at this stage of his life right now, and I hope she’s able to stick it out when he’s a geezer and she’s still in her prime. Only time will tell.

  12. Joan Toast says:

    Found this blog sometime ago and check in from time to time…very amusing most of the time but it is incredible to me so many of you are so interested in Tony. I’ve known Tony and Nancy since prep school and are most of you so very wrong most of the time! Tony would have overdosed on heroin years ago (way before he had ever written anything) had it not been for Nancy’s patience and persistence in getting him straight. Nancy also edited all his books (ever wonder why he hasn’t written much since the break-up?) and helped him every step of the way. Nancy actually is a Vassar graduate; Tony dropped out. Nancy even typed his first book (they couldn’t afford a computer). But then he got semi-famous and everything (as it always was) was about him! He reinvents himself regularly and the latest reinvention just didn’t include Nancy. There is no real Tony. He is the most self-absorbed, superficial person I have ever had the misfortune to know. I feel sorry for his daughter…and by the way, Nancy wanted to have children…but Tony did not.

    Just had to set the record straight. Leave Nancy alone. She’s better off without him.

    As for Ottavia…they probably deserve each other. And I hope Tony is more cordial to Ottavia’s family than he was to Nancy’s.

  13. catsworking says:

    Hi, Joan. Thanks for weighing in. We rarely get someone with first-hand knowledge, so your point of view is very much appreciated.

    We always did think Nancy was a positive influence on Tony because she stuck by him through all the lean years. I know some people have commented that she was an enabler, but I don’t know the truth. I don’t know her.

    Nancy is my age, and I do sympathize with her. No doubt traveling the world changed Tony and their lives became so different, staying together probably became impossible. She has completely dropped off my radar, but I hope she is moving on and proving there’s a good life after Bourdain.

    When I read his book about Typhoid Mary, because it was so thoroughly researched, I definitely got the impression that Nancy was behind much of it. From the way he’s described her (and always in very admiring terms in his books, I might add, as well as making her almost a super-woman in his novels), she seemed like a thorough, meticulous type of person, exactly what he’d need in his writing.

    Your comment about his literary output since they split up is very interesting. With all that he’s got going on now in his personal life, it doesn’t surprise me he hasn’t been writing much. But he does have a 3-book contract with a publisher, and I think the first book in that deal is supposed to come out next year.

    Tony DID drop out of Vassar after 2 years, but he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and finished his education there.

  14. bobsyouruncle says:

    Joan Toast is way off base. I knew both of them back in the eighties and nineties. A classic case of codependant junkies. A 20 year relationship with each other and with drugs. After working for a very brief time after graduation she never returned to a full time job. The two of them were a shifty pair. Watch Drugstore Cowboy and you get that marriage nailed. I didn’t trust either of them.

  15. catsworking says:

    Interesting, bobsyouruncle. We’ve had several people check in here saying they knew Tony and Nancy “when,” but nobody ever mentions how. I guess they don’t want to be identified.

    Bourdain has been very candid about his past shiftiness and drug use, but I have never seen him implicate Nancy in any way (in fact, he’s been highly complimentary of her in his writings), and I’ve never uncovered a word to that effect myself, so I would never speculate on Nancy and any alleged substance abuse.

    Given Bourdain’s work life as he described it in Kitchen Confidential, they never seemed like Ozzie and Harriet.

    I got the impression that Joan is a friend of Nancy’s, so it’s understandable Joan would stick up for her, although I don’t know why she felt the need to. I’ve always been sympathetic to Nancy, if only as someone who has seen too many women our age supplanted by younger models. (I’m not slamming Ottavia here. It’s just a fact of life, unfortunately.)

    I guess there are always two sides to a story. Thanks for weighing in with your take on it.

  16. Bob says:

    Hi all just thought I would chime in on the latest here.
    Seems we have a couple of first hand friends of the Bourdain’s of old…

    I think that I can say with a great deal of certainty that we speculated ALOT about both Tony and Nancy, but before this blog became popular it was about Cats…

    We all perhaps saw ourselves in what we read in the books and saw on the TV shows, transposing what WE thought they were like and what ACTUALLY happened way back when.

    Now I could pop in here and claim to be Carlo’s long lost Canadian Cousin and tell the story of how things really went down from my point of view.

    Far be it from me to say that anyone here is telling untruths and I truly hope that anyone claiming to actually have known them is telling the truth.

    I have thought a great deal about what kind of messed up relationship they must have had being through all that they went through.

    He May have indeed been a saint, sinner, backstabber whatever and others would line up and say the same of her… Undoubtedly things were messed up for them.

    But the one thing that I do know for a fact is that no regular here has ever claimed working knowledge of meeting any of the Bourdain’s accept in passing.

    So take our feeble grasping with a grain of salt..

    Sorry if I stepped out of line Karen.

  17. catsworking says:

    Bob, you’re not out of line at all. I think you gave a nice recap of what’s been going here. I’ve probably written a book about Bourdain when you put all the posts together. Nobody has the time to read all that stuff AND the comments. So they find Cats Working in a Google search, hit one post (usually Nancy: Found or Ottavia: Found, which are both old) and draw conclusions. (For the record, the posts on Nancy STILL outpull posts on Ottavia by quite a bit, even during the spike I had around the Sardinia episode that resulted in over 10,000 hits in 2 days. I don’t know if it’s a Google thing or people are just more interested in Nancy.)

    Any couple that goes through years of lean times like Nancy and Tony did were bound to have their issues. What they were, exactly? Who knows? They did choose to stay together while they were younger and could have been seeking greener pastures, so there must have been something there.

    I love your point about claiming to be Carlos’ long-lost cousin. These people who claim to have known Tony are the ones who must be taken with a grain of salt. We ADMIT we’re just playing detective here with what little we can find.

    I’ll confess I get a little irked by the ones who claim to know him without any facts to back it up and then jump all over my sh** for my innocent speculations, which I’ve never tried to pass off as fact. As Morgan said, we’re all FANS here, for goodness sake!

  18. Carlo's Cousin says:

    Hi, thanks for agreeing with me on this, I thought you would. I think there have really only been a handfull of us that have been around here for all of the drama that has unfolded over the last few years.

    Don’t get me wrong its fun, but like you said speculation. I must admit I miss Puebla it’s so darn cold up here and NO ONE makes a decent Taco..

    O’la
    Roberto

  19. catsworking says:

    Hey, Roberto. I’ve heard that you can get some good chili up in the frozen North. It’s not a taco, but it should warm you up.

  20. Linda says:

    he looks delicious in that photo. seriously.

  21. Rafael says:

    I can understand thinking that you would be eating well when dating a chef… quite the opposite. The last thing you want to do when you get home from cooking all day is, well, cook.

  22. catsworking says:

    Rafael, welcome. I’ve always wondered what kind of a sex life a woman would have, married to a gynecologist…

  23. Pat says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s my 2 cents. Somehow I’ve a gut feeling that the good boy role that AB is playing now might get to feel like too-tight shoes after awhile. I am not saying that he does not love his wife or his little girl, but I do get the impression from reading what he has written, that the wild man is never far from the surface and may eventually work his way out again.
    Best of luck to all of them.

  24. catsworking says:

    Hi, Pat! I have to say that I agree with you except for one reason. Yes, once a “bad boy” always a “bad boy.” I’ve met enough of those types myself.

    On the other hand, I think he did hit emotional rock-bottom after splitting with Nancy and he’s smart enough to appreciate what he’s got now. But what I REALLY think will keep him in line is his age. He seems to be very aware of the image he projects and he shed the earring and the thumb ring when he finally outgrew them. Sure, he still does a little schtick, but a leather jacket isn’t such a big deal.

    He’s got a young, beautiful wife now. As he approaches geezerhood, I can’t see him running off with some even younger bimbo and making a total cartoon of himself, because he knows it would destroy him in his daughter’s eyes.

    I’m putting my money on his current marriage lasting.

  25. Jenn says:

    I agree with Cats. I have met Ottavia once (no claim to know either of them) and she was very intelligent, eloquent, and gracious. I was very impressed by her, and Anthony seemed to be smitten.

  26. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Jenn! In the few years since this post was written, Ottavia has turned out to be an amazing influence on Tony, and she’s becoming a Twitter star in her own right. I hope to see her again myself next month.

  27. Kathleen Canavan says:

    This is the most horrible saddest thread of thought I’ve ever seen. Excuse me. *backs away*

  28. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Kathleen. This seems to be my day for Negative Nellies.

    If you read more than one post, you’d have seen that this blog is sympathetic to Nancy, on the whole. When this particular post was written several years ago, Bourdain was mum on his first marriage, which only fueled speculation. We were all just trying to fit the pieces together, since he’d dedicated all his books to her. I assume you found Cats Working because you were also curious about Nancy. I believe there’s more factual information about her here than you’ll find anywhere else on the Web.

    BTW, Tony opened up about Nancy a bit in Medium Raw and explained why he decided the marriage had run its course. You’ll find that in the Medium Raw discussion on the home page under Chapter 11: I’m Dancing.

  29. MorganLF says:

    Kathleen,
    His first wife was strung out and would not work, apparently not the least bit embarrassed about “sea-lawyering “her way through threats of evictions in the housing court system of NYC, something that would mortify me.

    By his admission (see bobsyouruncle) they were co-dependent enablers. Some one had to make a change.

  30. nadinelumley says:

    It’s obvious he met wife number two while still married to wife number one.

    That’s the only reason you leave something comfortable. You don’t bail for no reason…

    CHEATER CHEATER

  31. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Nadine. Unfortunately, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Bourdain actually kicked around for quite a while and hooked up with several other woman (all detailed somewhere here if you want to take a shovel to the archives — this is really old stuff) before he ever heard of Ottavia.

    Tony was long separated before Eric Ripert’s wife, who was friends with Ottavia because she once worked for Ripert, decided to set up a blind date between Ottavia and Tony. And this next part I got straight from Ottavia’s mouth, in person, a few years ago when I met her: After that first date, she declined a second one the following night because she was pooped, then he went on one of his extended trips and they didn’t have a second date for several weeks or months. Then after that, they became an item. He was living alone and eventually invited Ottavia to move in with him.

    The marriage to Nancy had long ceased to be comfortable. He writes about his frustrations with her and how it ended in his book, Medium Raw. Once he started working in TV with all the extensive travel, both of which she was totally not into, even though they desperately needed the money because she didn’t work, things started falling apart. But she was his first love, and he didn’t deal well with the breakup.

    And I’ve seen a lot of nasty things written about Bourdain (arrogant, full of himself, pompous, etc.), but the one thing nobody has EVER accused him of is cheating on a wife. In fact, aside from those few pages in his book, I have NEVER seen him utter one negative thing about Nancy, and I’ve read literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of interviews over the years, as well as EVERY book he’s written. If anything, he’s got a chivalrous streak a mile wide. His mother raised him right when it comes to how he treats women.

  32. MorganLF says:

    Damn right! I know for a fact Nancy who was Vassar educated felt no shame in skipping out on rent and tying up landlords in court for months and years while she fed her habit.

    Tony wrote a little book that garnered him some fame and he brilliantly capitalized on it and made a new life.

    Nancy wouldn’t couldn’t get on board. After sooo many years together one would think she valued the relationship enough to evolve … But I guess she felt they were inextricably locked in.

    He may have cheated but not with Ottavia. By then Nancy was in the past.

  33. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I’m not sure who you’re responding to here. Must have been an old comment. But you’re spot-on. Cats Working was following the timeline of Tony meeting Ottavia back in the day. He bounced around a bit with a few other ladies before Ottavia came along. You and me and the original Bourdainiac gang were there for all of it. We can say we knew him when…

  34. iwonder says:

    Regarding the bobsyouruncle comment…

    bobsyouruncle says:

    September 16, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Joan Toast is way off base. I knew both of them back in the eighties and nineties. A classic case of codependant junkies. A 20 year relationship with each other and with drugs. After working for a very brief time after graduation she never returned to a full time job. The two of them were a shifty pair. Watch Drugstore Cowboy and you get that marriage nailed. I didn’t trust either of them.

    And the description in Anthony’s words in Medium Raw:
    “Of my first marriage, I’ll say only that watching Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy—particularly the relationship between Matt Dillon’s Bob and Kelly Lynch’s …”

    That’s a little too close to be a coincidence, don’t you think?

  35. catsworking says:

    Welcome, iwonder. You are digging way back into the archives here to the post that continues to be the most popular one EVER on this blog (go figure).

    I’ve never connected the dots, but it seems you have, and I’m honored if Bourdain chose to weigh in back then. A few curious Cats Working readers and I wondered about the veracity of Joan Toast and I’m 99% sure we were able to trace her true identity. I’ll just say that, like bobsyouruncle, she was also firmly in a position to know Tony and Nancy Bourdain well before and during the period in question.

  36. MorganLF says:

    “I wonder” : you connected the dots. To writers, words are like children and” bobsyouruncle” is exactly who you suspected. I’ve known it for years. Karen and I were able to establish reasonable identity years ago. Never mind the clever nome de plumes (research Joan Toast… Nancy has a sister Joan.. Then check out bobsyouruncle only a well read raconteur would use that handle in the USA)…remember we’re talking Vassar here. But as you correctly identify the passage in MEDIUM RAW is almost word for word as our uncle posted so many years ago. I long ago deciphered the co-dependent junkie relationship and reversed myself on his relationship with his now wife…who I admire, is a nice person and has been great for Tony. Nancy had ….issues that he moved past.

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