Ottavia Before Anthony Bourdain

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:


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

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


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

21 Responses to Ottavia Before Anthony Bourdain

  1. corrin says:

    Soooo jealous. I adore the Bourdains!

  2. catsworking says:

    Corrin, you are a fast reader. I just posted this like 5 minutes ago!

  3. catsworking says:

    Morgan and Cindy, if you want to jump in here at any time with your account of what Bourdain was doing up on stage, please do. I heard very little of what he said because I was listening to Ottavia, so it won’t be in any of my posts. I felt kind of bad about that, especially when he kept looking our way and we were pretty much ignoring him, and wondered if it was the first time he’d ever been so totally upstaged by his wife.

  4. MorganLF says:

    Karen is right for the most part the competition was tedious. There was an announcer that was wayy too loud and Jose’s mike was over modulated. His delivery is very animated though and generally amusing but by the end I was covering my ears.

    The back and forth diggs between Tony and Jose, plus a liberal sprinkling of mother effers by you know who, kept it moving along. Eric even critiqued Tony’s balsamic reduction saying he’s burnt it, which got the cook in Tony a bit piqued.

    When Tony and Jose did a quickfire challenge Tony insulted Jose’s dish by stating it looked like a plate from a Marriott buffet and judge Ted Allen asked if it was ordered from “Edible Arrangements”.

    The quickfire we were told (hint) was a bit rigged. Tony and Carla it seems knew in advance and had foie all ready to go, but it appears Jose had no advance knowledge.

  5. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I’m glad to hear you say that. From the way the crowd was carrying on, I really thought I was missing something. And I was ready for it to be over right after Tony and Carla cooked. When they announced yet ANOTHER round, I thought we’d be there all night.

    Readers, between the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Food Fight, Tony and Carla Hall teamed up against Jose Andres and somebody to cook something using pears. This is what Morgan’s referring to. Team Tony “happened” to have foie gras on hand, so they used it over glazed pears with a balsamic vinegar reduction, which Bourdain admitted to us later he did burn.

    The other side used nothing but pears and raw veggies, which prompted the “Edible Arrangements” comment, and I think Tony also called it a “fruit salad.”

    The crowd cheered louder for the foie gras than the raw broccoli florets. Go figure.

  6. Von says:

    This is so awesome beyond words! Can’t wait to read more.

  7. Adele says:

    Breath continues baited. Great pictures, Bourdain looks like he’s enjoying the company of you ladies. And Karen, I love the closeup of you and Ottavia; you look so happy, you’re positively glowing, and Ottavia glows anyhow, so the wattage on that picture is almost blinding. I think I would have enjoyed the onstage repartee, but having been to watch the filming of a cooking show, I do remember that all I could see was steam.

    I completely forgot about the “grinning idiot” comment. Ouch. Ottavia is a helluva sport.

  8. catsworking says:

    Adele, at least my chin was glowing! That photo was taken when we first met because we didn’t expect her to stay with us, and you can clearly see Ottavia was genuinely happy to meet us. Yes, we started out roughing her up pretty bad at Cats Working, but she has proven beyond a doubt that she is a positive, grounding influence on Bourdain, so how could you not love her? She really is beautiful, through and through.

  9. Bob says:

    OK OK.. Did Ottavia slip you a twenty to play nice nice Karen???? HMMMMMM

    Well I for one am glad that Ottavia herself had a chance to “Confront Her Accusers” LOL

    I might add that I was one of the supporters of her and Anthony right from the Get Go.

    Sounds like you two were clucking away like hens from the moment you guys sat down.

    So I guess if this is a regular stop for the Bourdains as we have long suspected, I should amp up the “Go Canada Content EH”

    Tony… I must admit that Tim had mentioned that it was a slow night at Les Halles due to Game One of the World Series. So he had some spare time to kill up at the Hostess Station and our table which was close by. I think that he was glad to see someone from close to his North Dakota stomping grounds, Winnipeg is only a few hours North.

    As for Carlos he just looked beat, I guess working hard. But the food was excellent.. You should stop by and buy the guys a beer from Bob. Put it on my tab.

  10. catsworking says:

    Heh, heh, heh…

    No Bob, no $20s exchanged hands. I barely even ate anything, although 60 restaurants were serving food. I think Ottavia felt comfortable with me because she has been reading Cats Working for a while and knows a lot about me. At one point I mentioned Cole, and she said, “Oh, yes, how is he doing?” like she knew all about him, too.

    There’s virtually nothing written about Ottavia anywhere, Tony mentions her rarely in passing, and people have only had a few misleading snippets of film to form an opinion on (except for the Sardinia episode, where she and her family really shined). I am pleased to be able to paint a more complete and truthful portrait of her here, since so many of Bourdain’s fans come here for information.

    What really struck me this time is how down-to-earth and unpretentious they both are, I guess because Tony wasn’t surrounded by flunkies, like he was in Durham. I’ve been writing about Bourdain for so long now, I’ve said before that I’ve come to think of him almost like a cousin I rarely see. And when they greeted me the other night, I got the same vibe off them, particularly her. Maybe I remind Ottavia of the little old Italian ladies back home. I just wish I could cook like them!

  11. MorganLF says:

    Enuf with Canada & Winnipeg!!!! Sorry but it’s getting repetitive. You HAVE stepped it up and you have gotten assistance with your “cause” If it’s meant to be it will happen. Please don’t turn this blog into a boring dear Tony letter.

    This thread is about meeting Ottavia and Tony and the Capitol Food Fight, which it should be noted is a charity event that supports the DC Central Kitchen and everyone who participated should be commended for their efforts, which I am sure were without compensation and as we say “on the arm.” I believe a record amount of money was raised.

    Now Bob don’t pout, I know your case has been made and noted. Let’s just wait and see…

    BTW Karen did you photoshop a ham onto my torso? Must have been some distortion on the camera lens or does my face have its own zip code?

  12. catsworking says:

    Bob, I hate to break it to you, but I think all the locations for Season 6 are already set, and he’s filming them now. And with the Travel Channel under new ownership, whether there will ever be a Season 7 is not certain. I think you needed to start working the Winnipeg angle back in Season 4.

    Morgan, what photo are you looking at? Your torso is barely visible, and covered mostly by your dark jacket. I don’t even see a hamster strapped to you. And I’ll see your face and raise you two ginormous Italian boobs. You look perfectly fine. You don’t hear Cindy griping, do ya?

  13. MorganLF says:

    LOL! “Raise me 2 ginormous Italian boobs”!

    I must run, its time for me to finish storing my supply of nuts in my cheeks, after all winter is approaching.

  14. Bob says:

    Ladies Ladies….

    I knew there was no hope in hell of NR coming here, so its cool that I was mentioned at all.

    I must be the most annoyingly polite Canadian ya’ll almost know.. Glad you had a good time at the food fight.

    Morgan you look Marvelous in that photo, does Karen.

  15. catsworking says:

    Now, Bob, there’s always hope. You haven’t heard what Bourdain thinks of your movie. It could tip the scales in your favor. Plus, he knows if he ever goes to Winnipeg, he will be treated with extraordinary courtesy.

    Thanks for the compliment to our group shot. We women are always so hard on ourselves.

  16. MorganLF says:

    Thanks dear boy. Remember we are on your side. You have an ally in Karen, by my observation she and Ottavia got on like old pals. Every time I looked over they were in animated discourse.

    Ottavia really must have a great sense of humor. Clever gal, she knew we were piling on the rabbit and well quite naturally we were curious.

    As I have written in my past up-close brush I thought she was a doll in person. I can do a whole fashion discourse but I’ll just say I would kill for her bag. She was very smartly turned out.

    Well there will be more later stay tuned kids.

  17. Cindy says:

    Actually I thought my picture was pretty bad. It was obvious that I was worn out from the working vacation I had been on.
    I only talked to OB very briefly while Karen was in the “Ladies”. It was chit chat but she did say something about AB headed out on another trip alone.
    Yes she is very pretty and he is even better looking in person. Did Karen mention the 7 inch heels?
    I watched the food fight, but I am a local and I know the chefs. The 2 “Top Chef” guys got beat early.

  18. Adele says:

    Okay Morgan, you got me again “piling on the rabbit?” Yet another expression I’ve never heard, although it seems more decipherable than “piling on the rabbiand,” which I thought had something to do with rabbinical discourse. I’ll bet we’d all kill for Ottavia’s bag; she’s Italian, after all and from near Milan. She must have fabulous taste. One of my best friends is Italian, from Tuscany. She and another one of my best friends (female) have been a couple for years. Many of my Italian friend’s group, when I first knew her were extemely butch, but my friend always worried that her jewelry, much of it stunning, would match. You can take the girl out of Italy . . .

    I just think the camera is the enemy of middle aged women, and digital cameras, because of the way they pick up the light, particularly so. I was at a party, tonight, where photos were taken, and after seeing mine, I’ve begun to think that the burka, except for driving, is not such a bad idea. Come to think of it, I’m middle aged only if I live to be 120 — Karen, Morgan and Cindy, you’re just a bunch of kids.

    Bob, I still think that Winnipeg may have a shot.Once the Bourdains see My Winnipeg, I think they’ll see that its style is somehting that Zero Point Zero would really like. And Karen, the Bourdain’s good friend (no doubt Ariane will be calling her Zia Karen in no time) has put in a word for you — and Tim and Carlos can vouch for your good behavior.

  19. MorganLF says:

    You seemed so culturally attuned it it possible you have never seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon “A hare grows in Manhattan”?

    The exact quote is: “dog pile on the rabbit, dog pile on the rabbit”.

    I abridged it, as I have the right to do, since my poetic license is current and in good standing.

  20. Bob says:

    Morgan… I got the reference!!!! But then again I do watch way to many cartoons!!

    I must admit I am getting a kick out of reading all of this, from a man’s perspective. Its like being back in high school again.. Listen in if you dare…

    ” Oh did you see that NEW girl, the one with the classy handbag and heels, oh I just hate her, shes just too pretty, and her man is SOOOOO dreamy. Did you hear he Can COOK too… SWOOON.. Do you think I look fat in these Pants????”

    Its hard to tell if we are talking bout Bourdain or standing outside the Movies waiting for “New Moon” to Open LOL

    Just teasing Ladies you all looked great!!

    Now lets not Dog Pile on Bob…:)



  21. Adele says:

    Morgan, I must admit that I’ve never seen “A Hare in Manhattan,” which seems impossible, since I’m a huge Looney Tunes fan, and within the last year, I’ve seen a retrospective on Chuck Jones. Clearly this is a lack in my cultural education, which I must remedy.

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