Letterman Gives Bourdain a Pass

By Karen

On Monday, November 7, TMZ published a few pictures of Anthony Bourdain naked in a swimming pool with a sous chef while he was on vacation in 1999 on St. Martin. That same night, Tony appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Bourdain pre-empted TMZ the previous weekend on Twitter by posting one of the photos himself, complete with TMZ’s tasteful red star obscuring his “nasty bits.” Tony mentioned that the photographer was his former wife, Nancy. Given the year, I assume Nancy was using film and got prints.

What I’m wondering is: How did TMZ end up with them?

It seems unlikely that Tony gave friends prints of himself floating in a pool naked with another man. So that leaves Nancy. While they were married (remember, at this time, he had dedicated two novels to her and fictionalized her as a heroine with near-super powers), would she have shared nude photos of her husband with anyone?

Fast-forward to 2011: Bourdain has moved on with a new family and we’ve never heard a peep out of Nancy. Could she have surfaced and tried to embarrass him, or did someone else have the photos and use them? If so, why?

Tony and Ottavia are rightfully treating it all as a big joke (Ottavia tweeted he looks like “beef jerky”). After all, he posed long ago for the provocative “boner” picture which is far superior, if seeing Bourdain naked is your thing.

Commenters on various websites have noted that the circumstances in St. Martin seem gay.

If Dave Letterman hadn’t been asleep at the switch, he could have asked Tony to enlighten us on this incident and been among the few to ever get Bourdain on the ropes. Instead, Dave did a ho-hum promo for Tony’s new show, The Layover, and lobbed in a few softball questions about food. Here’s the whole interview:

In other news…

On Sunday, November 13, cartoon Tony guest-stars on The Simpsons in an episode where Marge becomes a food blogger.

Eater posted an hour-long video of Bourdain with crew members Tom Vitale, Zach Zamboni, and Todd Liebler, at Google NY on October 20. Tony’s in fine form discussing why No Reservations is the best travel show on TV.

The Dallas Observer reported that ZAMIR, of all people, appeared on stage with Bourdain there on October 27. PS: If you’re on the fence about whether to watch Top Chef Texas, which just started its season, in case Tony drops by — Tony confirmed he won’t.

Tony’s new show, The Layover, begins Monday, November 21, in his usual 9 p.m. slot (barring Travel Channel yanking it for no reason). Eater did some good speculation on any possible symbolism in the bizarre promotional poster.

No Reservations has been nominated for a Taste (Tasty?) Award as Best TV Food Program. The ceremony is in Hollywood January 3.

HuffPost asked Tony 10 questions, to which he provided some interesting responses, although nothing out of character.

11 Responses to Letterman Gives Bourdain a Pass

  1. Britta says:

    Two days in a row on the “working” blog… Having spent time learning about the culinary masters in our world and having had an earlier fascination with Bourdain, I submit the following.

    As a chef, he has nowhere near the experiences of others in the elevated culinary profession. Correct me if I am wrong but when he was tapped for and popularized “No Reservations” (a program I do enjoy) he didn’t have much of a resume in terms of global culinary experience. e.g. didn’t intern in France or Italy and logged most of his notable recent experience with Brasserie Les Halles.

    His books are good and they are a vibrant and real read – I really enjoy his prose – perhaps he penned most of the content. He has capitalized on his former bad-boy/cook/heavy drug user history to his advantage. It has provided him with a means for a very cushy life of traveling well, now with his new family, eating good and exotic food, discovering cultures, criticizing other chefs for their pedestrian and lack of real-world training recipes, and all-the-while, being paid huge sums of money to do so.

    Despite his earlier years of heroin, other drug addiction and abysmal living (and I only mention this because he seems to be okay with discussing it) he lives a life he probably never conceived he would experience but seems totally comfortable self-promoting to continue the means to that end.

    Yeah, I do like his bravado but I think Tony enjoys it the most.

  2. kittiequeen says:

    If Nancy released THOSE photos of Tony B. then good for her. I would NOT appreciate getting dumped for a younger model wife. Some love Tony B. really had for Nancy. By the way, thank you for having the class not to put THOSE photos of Tony B. at Cats Working. Big treat, that guy naked. Talk about lose your lunch.

  3. catsworking says:

    kittiequeen, I do believe that Nancy was the love of Tony’s life (they were high school sweethearts, and he was one, if not THE, first male enrolled at Vassar so he could be with her), but they seem to have had a long, bumpy, on-again, off-again relationship that finally led to a nearly-30-year marriage. What broke them up was Tony’s TV career and new lifestyle. Nancy just wasn’t into the travel, notoriety, or exotic food, so they drifted apart.

    Tony was at loose ends for a year or 2 and had several girlfriends before Eric Ripert’s wife arranged a blind date for him with Ottavia. They clicked, and the rest is documented elsewhere on this blog. So, although I originally thought as you do, that Nancy was “dumped for a younger model wife,” that wasn’t the case at all. It was really a natural progression. Tony found someone more willing to share his new lifestyle, and she happened to be much younger. And then she gave him a beautiful daughter, so Ottavia honestly earned her spot as the new love of his life.

    I’ve never posted any of the naked photos of Tony (not even the “boner” pic), although I’ll provide links if anybody wants to peek. As hard as I am sometimes on Tony, I do admire him as a writer and for all he’s accomplished and feel there’s a line at his privacy I shouldn’t cross — and the Bourdains know I honor that distinction. They know me by sight and we’ve spoken a few times, but I don’t presume any real friendship and I try to keep a respectful distance. For instance, you won’t see Cats Working pouncing on their every tweet with a reply, or posting regularly on Tony’s Travel Channel blog (I have done so only once or twice). They have their own circle of friends and I don’t aspire to be in it because they’re out of my league. I consider myself more as his “everywoman” chronicler and reviewer, at least while Bourdain remains in the public eye and I remain interested.

  4. catsworking says:

    Britta, Bourdain readily admits that his culinary skills have never come close to Ripert, Batali, Chang, or any of his other famous chef friends. He says none of them would ever hire him. He considered himself a journeyman cook, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, with 28 years of OTJ experience in various restaurant kitchens. As a chef, he wasn’t particularly innovative and was heading nowhere.

    He wrote 2 crime novels that sank into oblivion before Kitchen Confidential put him on the bestseller list. That led to Food Network letting him do the 30-minute show, A Cook’s Tour (which is now rerunning on Tuesdays at 9:30 PM ET on The Cooking Channel — thanks to reader Adele for that tip!), which was a mini-No Res. When FN tried to rein him in with more domestic destinations, he took his crew and walked. They pitched No Res to Travel Channel and you know the rest.

    Although some accuse Bourdain of being pompous and arrogant, I don’t agree with that at all. I’ve met him 3 times, and what always strikes me about him is how NORMAL and approachable he is. I think he still pinches himself to make sure his life is real. In fact, he told Letterman the other night that he’s deliberately milking his fame for all it’s worth while he can. After a life of living paycheck to paycheck, why not? He’s got a daughter now. If his abilities can open doors to help him set the family up for life, I say go for it.

    On the other hand, I see the end of his TV travel career coming, and think his future fame will rest on his writing. Writing got him the TV opportunities, and it will sustain him for the long haul — if he ever stops repeating the same damn crime novel and branches out with his fiction, or taps deeper into his travel experiences to write nonfiction. With Bourdain the writer, I feel the best is still yet to come.

  5. Bacardi1 says:

    “Commenters on various websites have noted that the circumstances in St. Martin seem gay.”

    How absolutely ridiculous is that?? While frankly it’s nobody’s business but Bourdain’s, I’d be truly surprised to discover that he’s either gay or bi (“not that there’s anything wrong with that” – to coin a well-known Seinfeld phrase). And he’s mentioned on more than one “No Reservations” segment that he &/or his male crewmembers have gone hot tubbing together. Naked or not – I don’t see why this is even worthy of comment by the general populace.

  6. catsworking says:

    Bacardi1, I only report what I find, and mentioned it because of its utter absurdity. Any speculation on Bourdain’s sexuality comes from people who don’t know anything about him. He couldn’t be any more hetero (not that there’s anything wrong with being NOT, as you said).

    These pics of Tony reminded me of a biography I read recently about the writer Somerset Maugham, who was gay but never fully “came out.” There was a photo of him lying by his gorgeous pool at his French villa with a bunch of guys, and they were all naked.

    Tony was on the French side of St. Maarten when these latest photos were taken. Maybe the French put something in the water that makes men want to strip. 😉

    You’re right that such photos shouldn’t raise comment, but the other night on tne NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams’ first two stories were basically penis-based. Last night, he started off with Berlusconi resigning because of his “disgraceful” behavior. Again with the veiled penis reference. I think the media projects this endless fascination with dicks on all of us, whether we want it or not.

  7. Bacardi1 says:

    Oh – I wasn’t at all critical of you bringing up the subject Catsworking, just the folks/commenters who for whatever reason found the pics worthwhile or offensive in some way. I just never understand stuff like that. I’ve always felt that unless it involves children or animals, what folks do consensually & on their own time (& these pics were supposedly taken during a private vacation) is their own business – celebrity or not. Just my opinion. 🙂

  8. catsworking says:

    No offense taken at all. I just knew the readers who found Cats Working because of the Bourdain posts (we have called them “Bourdainiacs”) would find anyone thinking Tony is gay pretty funny. I bet Ottavia’s getting a chuckle out of it, too.

  9. Britta says:

    Hi Karen – I do agree (in light of your first person experience) with your assessment of Tony’s persona. What I have heard and object to is his criticism of other TV chefs who have similar credentials in terms of depth and breadth of experience.

    It’s great to rub elbows and consort with the Toms and Marios, Gails and Padmas, but it just seems a little haughty, with the culinary foundation he possesses, to dismiss Paula, Rachel and others because he can. While I don’t herald these chefs as visionaries, they are all attempting to work the same venue of notoriety for very similar reasons. No judgement on who is most deserving, I just don’t think he has earned a right to establish pecking order in the culinary world.

    As you point out, his writing may very well be his future claim to fame. I hope to read more of his musings.

  10. catsworking says:

    Britta, one of the ways I think Tony is trying to keep it real is — brace yourself — his teeth. He could afford to have caps or whatever they’d do to make his smile perfect, but his teeth looked like total hell on Letterman. They are the REAL Bourdain and he is holding on to them. They’re so bad, he could be a BBC news anchor. I respect him for that.

    I agree with you that he is hardly one to talk about the skills of other TV chefs. But he doesn’t attack their kitchen skills so much as what they cook. He goes after the food itself. OK, he did pick on Emeril’s technique, but that’s because Emeril did work in restaurants and should know better. But Emeril recognized his audience and “dumbed it down” accordingly, which I applaud him for. But Bourdain doesn’t attack the techniques of Sandra Lee, Rachael, or Paula. He attacks the end result.

    In that, I have to agree with him. I’m not a gourmet cook and I appreciate shortcuts, but I think a lot of what those women prepare is crap.

    Bourdain has never had a cooking show. Aside from a few special where he’s shown he can cook, he has never tried to pass himself off as a “stand and stir” kind of TV personality. So I don’t see his criticism of TV chefs as someone in the biz pissing on colleagues, but as the same type of skepticism I might have.

  11. Britta says:

    Karen – you’ve got a great point on the teeth and others as well. Seems odd to think of his grill as unnaturally white and even. That would really look rather out-of-place. I wholly agree that 30 minute meals, and other such venues are more about the deal and little about good, thoughtfully prepared food. I, too, am not a chef by any means. As far as critique, it’s just the notion that he doesn’t have to comment on anyone unless he chooses to do so. Here I am criticizing him so I guess I am guilty of what I propose. Seems now, nuff said. Looking forward to reading more of his real-world candor…that I do enjoy.

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