Part 3: The Truth About Ottavia Bourdain

By Karen

While Anthony Bourdain was autographing my copy of No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach at the Durham Performing Arts Center on February 19, he mumbled something with an Italian accent like, “Make sure you see Cats Working!”

“What?” I asked.

That’s when I learned that it was his wife, Ottavia, who put him on to Cats Working. And it was she who suggested he send me a Christmas card.

Talk about a shock. Every snarky post and comment ever written about her flashed through my mind like it was my final moment on earth. But trying to keep my wits about me, I changed the subject and inquired after Lupetto, his cat.

I figured that’s what he’d expect Cats Working to ask.

“Lupetto’s a 6-year-old male. Ottavia rescued him from the North Shore Animal League some time ago. He came as part of the package,” Tony said.

And I’ve been thinking Ottavia was like my Italian grandmother and hates animals, when all the time, the woman’s been scooping a litterbox. She’s a cat person!

If you look beyond her style and youth (both of which I wish I still had, by the way), Ottavia sounds like exactly the smart, earthy type of woman we’d expect to capture Bourdain’s fancy.

And seemingly to put to rest a reader’s comment about her origins, I was told that Ottavia hails from her mother’s home, the Lombardy region of Italy, and that her father is Sardinian.

Since it’s now abundantly clear to me that someone in the Bourdain household has read Cats Working pretty thoroughly, I want to set the record straight and apologize publicly to Ottavia for misperceptions about her that arose in the absence of facts, to provide the truth so the curious can find it here (because her name continues to appear as one of my top searches), and to thank her for not putting out a hit on me.

Like Tony, she’s a genuine class act — a much-beloved wife — and probably about to have her hands full as daughter Ariane enters her terrible 2’s in April.

33 Responses to Part 3: The Truth About Ottavia Bourdain

  1. Bob says:

    OK Karen still fighting with my sleep addled brain..
    Just how much face time did you actually have with Tony to glean all of this??

    Was Ottavia with him there??? I take it he wasn’t speaking Italian to you… Actually It doesn’t really surprise me that she would have taken in a pet.

    Living in NYC must be a bit of an ordeal, alone in a big city dogs seem like an ordeal living in an apartment, Cats are the OBVIOUS choice. It just speaks to her sensibility to rescue a Cat from a Shelter.. Personally I find it disgusting to buy any animal from a “Store”.. Just something wrong with that in my mind.

    I am just glad that one of them found our little corner of the world and hasn’t taken offense to the way we dissect the episodes and … GASP talk about Tony and Ottavia like they are REAL people, not just cardboard cut outs.

    But I ramble on….. Time to go back to bed

  2. MorganLF says:

    i’m typing in small case ’cause that’s the way i feel. cringeworthy is how i describe some of my early posts about Ottavia….but I did redeem myself with a full reversal last OCtober when I saw her up close.

    I apologize too. Some of our early conjecture here was brutal, but after all there is the jealousy factor. Hopefully we can continue to keep our perspective. Agreed class act the both of them.

  3. catsworking says:

    Morgan, since Ottavia seems to be kindly disposed toward Cats Working, I assume she took the ranting of a bunch of middle-aged women for what it was. Sour grapes. 😉 SHE’S the one who got Tony and has the last laugh. And after meeting him, I can truly appreciate how fortunate she is. We should all be so lucky to find such a man.

    And from the way we have seen Tony change since they met, I feel certain Ottavia has done nothing but good in his life, and probably extended it, because he’s taking better care of himself now that he has so much to live for. I don’t think he’ll ever be repeating his line from the opening of A Cook’s Tour again — “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

    Bob, as I said before, this encounter happened very fast. I think Bourdain knew exactly what he wanted to say to me, and did it quietly and quickly as he was inscribing my book. All I got in was, “What?”, “How’s Lupetto doing?”, asked if he’d take a picture with me, and my closing words on how he works like a cat.

    After it was all over and I was standing out on the stage, I felt like my circuits had overloaded.

    I didn’t see Ottavia, and assumed she didn’t come with him because when he said that line with the little accent (not in Italian or I wouldn’t have known what he was saying), I gathered that she had reminded him before he left home not to forget I’d be there and to make sure we connected.

  4. Nancy (Not THAT Nancy) says:

    So that’s it? Really? I’m not surprised, in fact I’d be surprised if she hadn’t googled her own name to see what people were saying. I’d do the same thing (and I have).

    I guess my thoughts are these: I don’t believe I’ve ever said anything bad about her because I don’t think she’s ever been an issue for me. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. To me it’s not jealousy, it’s just watching a type of guy I used to be attracted to follow what I see to be a typical path just, as with the $3,000 Hawaiian shirt, simply because he can. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, doesn’t mean it won’t work out. If he thinks this is what will make him happy and fulfilled into his older years, then more power to him. And I hope OB will be able to keep him in line for the long haul without giving up. Hey, it worked for Warren Beatty and Charlie Chaplin, so why not? It also didn’t work for a lot of other guys, too, so there’s also that.

    Personally, I’m not going to stop commenting or snarking on things I observe about him or the show that I think are amusing and/or interesting. I think that would be hypocritical. I’d hate that we’d all have to edit ourselves now because we know this. Like I’ve said before, I think he’d be a blast to know as a friend or to have had a fling with, not sure if I’d have the constitution for a long haul, but maybe it takes someone 25 or more years younger to put up with such a mercurial nature.

    When people put themselves in the public eye, they invite conjecture and comment about themselves, it’s an occupational hazard of celebrity. We’re just talking like a bunch of us would over lunch, but because it’s searchable from around the world, it’s here for everyone to see. Speaking for myself, I’d really hate to have my lunch conversation shut down just because the subjects might be listening in.

  5. MorganLF says:

    Nancy agreed. But I really said some shitty things, I called her a faccia brute for god’s sake, then again I called him a douchy stork…oh well trust me I calls them like I see ’em. THAT will never change!

  6. catsworking says:

    Nancy, that’s it. Mystery solved. And don’t worry. You’re snark is always safe with me.

    I don’t think we need to censor ourselves here at all. While all praise, all the time, would be nice, I’m sure he finds honesty more valuable in the long run, so I want to keep it real over here at Cats Working. And you’re absolutely right. As a public figure, he has to expect a certain amount of scrutiny.

    I Google myself occasionally to see where my work is being pirated. That’s how I found out my publisher had turned my book into a calendar for 2009 because they apparently didn’t think I needed to know.

    My counterpart in England (another Karen Wormald) Googled herself and found ME. Now we’re pen pals.

  7. Nancy (Not THAT Nancy) says:

    “I Google myself occasionally to see where my work is being pirated.”

    I’m sorry, but I had to laugh out loud out of recognition when I saw that. Isn’t it a sad truth, but isn’t it nice that we can so easily track down some of these people who rip us off? It’s how I found the J. Peterman catalog and the NY Times had stolen from me a few years ago. Grr.

  8. sh!tstarter says:

    That… is too cool. Actually being in about the same shoes Ottavia is, that is, my partner is 55 while I am 39, I have wondered how she handles the age difference, if she ever thinks he is “too damned old for me, what am I doing here?” I think Tony is a more youthful 50 something than mine is and hopefully she won’t ever think that.

  9. catsworking says:

    Nancy, lately I’ve been finding that a lot of people think just because they find something on the Internet, it’s free for the pasting. I got this one large text project from a very reputable large company that included links, and when I clicked one to double-check something, I found that the text had been copied and pasted from a Web site. Started clicking a few more, and sure enough, NOTHING was original. I called the client and, after explaining the concept of plagiarism and its consequences, was asked to completely rewrite the document.

    I don’t mind some copying if it’s to promote my book or otherwise further my own agenda, but I’ve found Cats Working blog posts out there with someone else’s name on them. Anyone who resorts to that should be kicked out of the blogosphere.

  10. Bob says:

    Actually Speaking of Tonys age I Just found this little nugget on Tony’s 50th Birthday.

    Written by the ever present Michael Ruhlman who was in attendance at Siberia Bar for the Surprise party.
    Quite Surprisingly Tonys mom Gladys showed up at the dive bar..


  11. catsworking says:

    Thanks Bob. In the comments, I found this link to 3 podcasts Bourdain did when The Nasty Bits was published.

    There’s also a comment from Ottavia to Ruhlman there.

  12. Bob says:

    Looks like you have some serious competition in your litter box Karen… Just listening to those pod casts you linked to from Raincoast Books. Got snooping looking for more podcasts with the dude…

    This is what I found… Pictures of his apt. and more.

    We had better up our game!!!

  13. catsworking says:

    Bob, good sleuthing! those were really great interviews, although a few years old.

    I found it interesting that Tony said he never wants to return to St. Maarten (one of my personal Caribbean favorites) for “personal reasons.” It used to be his favorite getaway. I believe some of his novel, Gone Bamboo was set there, so my guess is that his split from Nancy was still pretty raw and the island evoked too many memories. I have similar feelings about the place myself, so returning there alone will always be bittersweet for me.

  14. adele says:

    Geez, so Ottavia is not only young and cute, but she obviously has a sense of humor — and Lupetto was her cat. I was out, enjoying the sunshine today but kind of itching to get back to the computer so that I could read the last and juciest installment of your evening with Bourdain. You must have lost the ability to breathe or feared the loss of bladder control, when you learned that Ottavia was the member of the Bourdain family, who discovered Cats Working.

    One of my vacation books is Gone Bamboo, and I’ve nearly finished it. This is my first foray into Bourdain’s fiction, and the man can write as well as build suspense. It seems to me that Nancy permeates that book, so I can imagine that St.Maarten would have contained bittersweet memories. Gone Bamboo was written in 1997, when Tony was unknown. If he writes more fiction, now that he’s a celebrity, I wonder what the female characters will be like.

    Who knew that the Evening With Bourdain would end up as 3 installments?

  15. Bob says:

    From my personal point of view I found those NYC interviews to be the most revealing.

    I don’t know if it was jet lag or just being at his own home.. but his frank discussion of his drug use in the past was very telling… He had just gotten over Nancy and Ottavia was in the picture then.

    Like you said Karen I think he was a bit raw when he gave the invite.. It was pre-Namibia but post Ghana.

    I always found his head hunter visit a bit odd, he says he’s in a dark place, his heart of darkness.

    If you search your posts I think I even mentioned it way back when…

    Thing is though he’s a real person, apparently loving his touring and writing.

    Ottavia this is for you…. I know you guys are busy.
    But if you make it back up to Canada on a book tour.

    The first round is on me.

    Bob …. From Winnipeg

  16. catsworking says:

    Adele, I think Gone Bamboo was his first book ever, the one a friend of his urged him to finish.

    In the podcast interviews he did with On the Broiler that Bob linked us to, Tony said several years ago that he was working on a novel called, I think, No New Messages, and said it would be his next book, but that turned out not to be the case. I think he came out with Nasty Bits and No Reservations after saying that. But that novel is supposed to be part of the 3-book deal he signed with his new publisher.

    Another thing that came out in those interviews was that he didn’t think that, although he’s enchanted by Vietnam, he could ever live there. That may partially explain why he hasn’t leaped on his plan to spend a year there. Plus, the logistics of doing No Res with Vietnam as home base might be very problematic.

    Bob, you’re right. I’ve never heard him talk so frankly about his love of travel. Usually we hear the stories about the warthog, the cobra heart, the superficial stuff. But he really got into his “addiction” to itineraries and need to always be going somewhere. I can so relate to that. Budget has curtailed my travel almost completely the past few years, but I’ve always been happiest when I’m leaving Richmond.

    As far as finding out Ottavia’s role in all of this, I don’t think any of us ever suspected that she’s the one watching his back on the Internet. And she’s definitely showing more maturity and sense of humor than I had at her age. She sort of reminds me of Diana marrying the older, more famous Charles, and having to cope with all of that.

    Too bad Diana isn’t still alive. Ottavia could show her a thing or two about how it’s done without going into total melt-down.

  17. The Muse says:

    Hello again. It seems to me that you want to win over the Bourdain’s! But keep it real Karen, as always, it’s going to be appreciated more than the suck ups on the No Res blog. The first comments about Ottavia were based on some kind of jelousy and bitterness because she’s got the big fish, but now everyone agrees that she is sweet,lovely and earthy and had made such a good impact on Bourdain’s life. But I’m still so curiose about her age,I think she’s like around 30’s. And I have a certain curiosity to find out how does Bourdain’s mom(Gladys) looks like. And many many things more that I’m finding out in this entertaining blog. I’m a latin american girl and I think we have a lot in common with italian women. keep me informed Cats!

  18. catsworking says:

    Hi, Muse! Don’t worry, we’ll keep it real. I just wanted to thank Ottavia for being such a good sport after reading all the snarky comments about her here. The Bourdains have gone out of their way to be nice to me since they found Cats Working, so I’m just trying to return the favor.

    Trust me, I’ve been fired too many times in my life to ever be mistaken for a suck-up!

    Maybe you’ve noticed that the people who heap unqualified praise on Bourdain on his own blog don’t post comments here. They probably know they’d get shredded. This can be a tough crowd. Just ask Morgan!

    I think Gladys Bourdain appeared in a 60 Minutes interview shortly after Ariane was born. She looks really great for her age (70s). You’ll find a link to it here:

    I don’t know Ottavia’s birthday, but I think she’s about 30 now, because she was 28 or 29 when she had Ariane.

  19. Boxerbrats says:

    Don’t know if I’m even allowed on here…I’m a D-O-G person! But I just wanted to say that having recently discovered this blog, I check back frequently and really enjoy it.

    I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Bourdain and I don’t think I’d ever say anything bad about Ottavia…because I don’t know her. But, having said that, I do admit to some minor annoyance (very minor because it has no direct effect on me!) – or perhaps disappointment is a better word – at the whole sterotypical middle-aged-male-celebrity-marries-woman-half-his-age-who-as-it-turns-out-happens-to-not-be-an ugly-little-troll.
    Knock me over with a paper towel!

    Never mind you folks here keeping it real…as long as Tony keeps it real…I’m O.K. with it.

    But then…what do I know? I’ve been buried alive in a snowbank here in NH since mid-December. To quote Mr. Jimmy Buffett, “This morning I shot six holes in my freezer, I think I got cabin fever…somebody sound the alarm”.

  20. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    “If he writes more fiction, now that he’s a celebrity, I wonder what the female characters will be like.”

    He’ll probably feature a bunch of middle-aged gossipy stalkers and have us all get food poisoning.

  21. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Boxerbrats. We accept dog people, and the cats even occasionally write about the ones who interest them. Believe it or not, one of their favorite programs right now is “Dog Whisperer.” They think it’s hilarious to watch psycho dogs get their cumuppence.

    We all went through the “How could Bourdain be such a stereotypical male?” phase some time ago and have reconciled with it. We’re also in the process of accepting and even learning to appreciate the kinder, gentler persona he’s projecting these days. It’s tough when our cardboard idols behave like human beings!

    Nancy, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Bourdain gives a group of middle-aged women a cameo in one of his plots so they can be bumped off by his hero’s feisty, sexy wife. Call it poetic justice.

    Which reminds me. In Durham last week he admitted to once, long ago, putting dishwashing soap in a customer’s food after it came back to the kitchen for the 3rd time so the guy would get a nice case of diarrhea.

  22. Boxerbrats says:

    Thanks for the welcome, cats. My dogs don’t watch Dog Whisperer because they’ve grown up knowing who the Alpha B!tch is around here. Being the children of a dog trainer themselves, they don’t approve of all of DW’s methods.
    But we have a grudging respect for the black cat who likes to sit outside the fence of my dog yard and enjoy the chaos he or she creates. Cats must have a much higher tolerance for noise than I do. When I am forced to go to the door to silence the dogs, they give me such a sadly aggrieved look…”But MOM! It’s a CAT!” The cat on the other hand, merely switches his tail and strolls off into the woods. Clearly he thinks dogs are stupid but humans could be trouble. Especially one who is yelling, “I said shut UP, you furry little freaks!”

    But I digress.

    Do we all find Bourdain’s “kinder, gentler persona” as entertaining as his snarky, curmudgeonly one?

  23. adele says:

    Nancy, I’m afraid you’ve hit the fiction nail on the head; I don’t know if our fate will be food poisoning or bad plastic surgery, or if Karen’s right, and we’ll all be done in by his young, wife, who’s skilled in martial arts. We’ve given him a fair amount of material.

    And Boxerbrats, (even though I’ve always had cats, boxers are among my favorite dogs) I liked Bourdain’s snark; it was pretty witty most of the time, but I don’t mind his gentler persona in places when we really get the idea of his love for a location. The Laos and Venice shows have been among my favorites.

    What did everyone think of last night’s NYC No Reservations? I liked it, because I always like seeing places that time forgot. In fact, I had to go out and have lox and bagel this am.

  24. Bob says:

    GRRRR still waiting on the interweb to bring me my fix.

    Karen … you must be thinking of some other Borurdain that dribbled dish soap into a dish.. Heavens sake not that Tony…. Snicker..

    I must admit I am also pretty keen on the dog whisperer.
    But I have never seen him do up any Lassie Stir fry.

    Must have to go to Korea for that???

    Still waiting for my Bourdain Fix….. Damm it man, this is the city that Killed John Candy….

    He used to order out from here all the time, and we have photographic proof!!!

    Just being insane ….

  25. MorganLF says:

    Muse believe it, we (I) will keep it real, although knowing OB is watching carries with it a sense of self editing.

    Boxer, welcome aboard we’re a pretty diverse group here and all comments are devoured.

    As Karen intimated there are some, (me) who do not suffer fools easily and if this becomes a sycophantic site for BLOG-HOGS who post book length posts about silly shyte, they will be shredded!

    Here is the bad news, My company’s software finally caught “Catsworking”, maybe because I was a tad too excited about the “meeting with Bourdain” posts and one of the IT tools was alerted.

    I rarely log on at home . So my posts will be less frequent..but they will be pithy.

    May I say IT? A-holes who spend their whole time watching what I do on-line are USELESS overhead.

    If I blow off steam with an occasional post, while generating the income that pays THEIR inflated salaries so they can spy on me while watching porn, taking extended lunches, leaving the office early or arriving late whenever one of their kids has a cough and my company buys in then….

    what can I say??? Am I pissed?

    What do u think?

  26. catsworking says:

    Morgan, so sorry to hear that Cats Working has been filtered out at work. As a former technical writer who toiled in IT with cubicle-dwelling nerds incapable of relating to human beings while never completing any project less than 2 years late (if ever) and way over budget, I feel your pain. That they are the appointed guardians of the Internet is an affront to humanity.

    Boxerbrats, I’m a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, which has lots of cross-over dog people as members, and I think many of them take exception to Cesar Milan’s methods as being cruel and inhumane and breaking the dogs’ spirits. And maybe the show is edited to make him look like a savior, but the reactions of the owners don’t seem faked and they are pleased with his results. The cats laugh that dogs can be controlled with “Shh!” tugs on their leashes, and someone getting in their personal space and not backing down. “Let him just try that with us and see if he has any pants legs left,” they scoff.

    Bourdain seems to be growing more tolerant in his travels, and gracious toward other human beings, but that snarky streak still lurks below the surface and comes out mostly in his writing these days, so we haven’t had to give it up cold turkey.

    Bob, so sorry you aren’t getting your dose of Bourdain. I’m thinking we must be nearing the end of this season and we’ll all be settling for reruns soon.

    I liked the Manhattan episode, although again, I didn’t think it was a standout. If reincarnation exists, I want to come back as a New Yorker. I’ve been there only about 5 times in my life (most recently last July), but I revel in the sights through Woody Allen and Sex & the City. Never ate at any of the restaurants Tony visited (although I did once have an obscene pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli), but then a casual visitor wouldn’t know where to begin to look. Practically every square inch of that place is famous.

    In July, I was taking a cab out to Red Hook in Brooklyn and happened to notice Henry Street, which caused that song from Funny Girl to run through my head for days.

    Watching him there made me want to find a way to spend a long weekend in the Big Apple — and soon.

  27. Boxerbrats says:

    Cross-over dog people?!?! Surely you jest 🙂

    With regard to Cesar Milan – like so many other things you see through the magic of television, his results are misleading. And his promotion of the use of the “alpha roll” is, in my opinion, extremely irresponsible. Has probably caused more well-meaning pet owners to wind up being bitten than any cases of genuine aggression.

    Long weekends in the Big Apple are either great fun or a huge pain in the ass…depending on your reason for being there! Westminster Kennel Club show falls into the latter category. Though, growing up in northern New Jersey, I have many fond memories of weekend trips into the City with my father…who loved trying new restaurants and visiting museums and art galleries.

    I only managed to catch part of the Manhattan episode, but the general “feel” of the show was evocative of those childhood experiences…so I guess, for me, it worked. Especially the part about Chinatown…and the menu we didn’t know about.
    That said, I refuse to apologize for loving egg rolls! I make a mean pork and shrimp roll.

    Thanks to all for the welcome.

  28. catsworking says:

    Boxerbrats, funny you should mention Westminster. This year, the CWA (Cat Writers’ Assoc.) is somehow piggybacking their annual get-together on something related in NY this year. I can’t remember the details. Is there a cat show, too?

    I think Cesar Milan does a great job of highlighting how dogs are from Mars, cats are from Venus. After my utter failure to get Yul to even consider taking a step wearing a leash and harness to meet Santa in December, I am amazed by the way dogs respond to it, and I think that’s probably why Yul wouldn’t. To be called a “dog” in this house is a great insult.

    I have nothing but great memories of NYC, except maybe the day I arrived by ship and walked a total of about 8 miles trying to get to the World Trade Center and never making it. My companion refused to take a taxi, so we ran out of time and had to turn back. But I had those Twin Towers in my sights for the hours we walked toward them. Still hard to believe they no longer exist.

  29. Boxerbrats says:

    Don’t know anything about a cat show. WKC was held earlier this month.

    Hey! Being called a dog isn’t an insult! After all, my dogs like cats…with french fries.

    Actually, I grew up with cats and dogs. My Mom bred Bluepoint Siamese. I like cats, but had to give up after my last attempt to keep one…some years ago. I found this TINY abandoned kitten and brought her home. She was jet black so of course I called her Blizzard. She was always shy and a little wild. The Boxers liked to play with her but she didn’t care much for their rambunctious style of play.
    I had her for about two years when a single guy who worked for my husband mentioned losing his longtime feline friend to old age. He came over to meet Blizzard and spent an hour and a half laying on my living room floor until he coaxed her out from under the couch. I knew they were meant to be together. I guess I was only meant to keep her alive and well until Dale came along to claim her.

  30. catsworking says:

    Cindy, thanks for those links. They were both good interviews. The Palm Desert one particularly.

    Boxerbrats, you did a good thing for Blizzard. I hope she and Dale lived happily ever after.

  31. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    I grew up 20 miles from NYC and it was always a big deal to go there when I was a kid. I watched the Manhattan episode on the Skype with a good friend who lives in the West Village and has lived in NYC his whole life, and he had been to several of the places shown. It was fun to watch with him and hear about the places. I think we’re going to hit Katz’s deli next time I’m visiting.

    Karen, I hear you about the WTC. I visited NYC for 3 weeks in 1997 and stayed in Soho in a cute little penthouse apt. The bedroom windows faced the WTC which loomed large outside. I’d visited the WTC a couple of times, there was some good shopping underneath it and a place to get last minute tickets to shows. I also had a business meeting there once with the Wall St. Journal and rode the elevators. I agree that it seems uncanny now, thinking back, that it’s not there anymore.

  32. MorganLF says:


    I loved the “mydesert” post. Especially the line about Paula Froelich…”great sex and even better breakfasts”

    The writer forgot to add: uncomfortable silence, before his response.

    As if we all didn’t know that anyway!

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