Review: Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain

October 18, 2022

By Karen

I’ve switched to e-books mostly, due to bulging bookcases, but for any book written by/about Anthony Bourdain, I MUST have the real deal. Opening Charles Leerhsen’s Down and Out in Paradise brought Bourdain back to life for hours of good and bad revelations.

But then Tony was gone again.

I’ve written enough words here since 2007 about Anthony Bourdain to fill several books myself. Since his passing, the more I’ve read about him — which often confirms theories I had — the less I’ve felt we knew him.

Leerhsen took the backdoor to his subject because Bourdain’s “authorized” group (exception: his two wives) shut him out. The result fills in many blanks. And I’m not just talking about the circumstances of his death, but how he became who he was.

Despite Tony’s mantra, “What you see is what you get,” and his disdain for pretense, Leerhsen explored how Bourdain carefully revealed only the polite, polished tip of the extremely dark iceberg of his inner workings.

Although prepublication reviews hyped those final, fatal texts between Tony and his girlfriend AA [no longer named here because she lives for attention] right before his suicide, the bulk of Leerhsen’s research dealt with the “nobody” years before Kitchen Confidential changed Bourdain’s life.

Old friends and co-workers we’ve never heard of remembered more about Bourdain’s school and restaurant days than ever seen before.

Because Leerhsen had to rely heavily on unnamed “confidential sources,” at times it could be unclear what was fact and what was Leerhsen trying to connect dots.

And I did get confused about who actually spoke to him because he’d write, “Lydia [Tenaglia]” or “Chris [Collins] said, ‘Blah, blah, blah,’” as if ZPZ had cooperated, only to find out in the endnotes that their quotes were from third-party writings.

Tony’s brother Christopher has complained that Leerhsen muffed everything about early family life, but I’d say he confirms the more tactful version Laurie Woolever presented in her Definitive biography.

No matter how you slice Tony’s mother Gladys, she was monstrous. For example, what kind of mother doesn’t tell her kids for years that they’re half Jewish?

One factual error I did find was about Tony’s paternal grandfather, Pierre Michel, on page 38. According to meticulous genealogical research submitted to Cats Working, Pierre wasn’t immediately deported upon arriving in America as a boy, but adopted by an American.

To use a sports metaphor Leerhsen would appreciate, I think he dropped the ball on page 269, misstating that Bourdain paid Jimmy Bennett $380,000 in a lump sum to keep mum about AA’s raping him at age 17. The New York Times broke the story after Tony’s death in 2018 and Cats Working reported that he paid $200,000 upfront, with 18 monthly installments of $10,000 to follow.

I believe Bennett ultimately collected $250,000 before AA defaulted when Tony’s death permanently closed the Bank of Bourdain.

I mention this as potentially the gorilla in the room with Tony and AA. She may have dumped Tony the night he died, but he was still legally bound to continue paying for Bennett’s silence to save her face.

The burden of having his own duplicity/stupidity/hypocrisy in that mess exposed may have figured hugely in Leerhsen’s hypothesis (which I agree with) that Tony ultimately couldn’t stand who he had become.

Speaking of AA, Leerhsen’s descriptions of her beginning on page 229 are almost worth the price of the book. He begins with the understatement, “Her career had not exactly organized itself around a robust demand for her services,” and the smackdowns just keep on coming.

He writes that even Ottavia had to Google the fellow Italian and told someone, “One of the first things that came up was a picture of a woman making out with a dog.” (True; she did.)

On other fronts, Leerhsen did his homework, finding on page 205 the moment Bourdain’s evil alter-ego Vic Chanko was born (Hint: It goes back to episode 1 of A Cook’s Tour.)

He offers a fuller picture of first wife Nancy than we’ve ever seen, including Zamir’s memories of meeting her when she accompanied Tony to Russia.

But there’s a discrepancy on Bourdain’s current cremated whereabouts. On page 7, Leerhsen says Chris emailed the French authorities to send Tony’s ashes and electronics to Ottavia. But on page 277 he says, “As of this writing, Tony’s brother, Christopher Bourdain, still has Tony’s ashes.” [emphasis mine]

He includes unsubstantiated rumors that Tony had flings with handy fellow TV personalities, such as Nigella Lawson (which I’d applaud if he hadn’t been married to Ottavia at the time), and Padma Lakshmi (no doubt she’d have tried to get in his pants, but EEWWW!).

Much as I hate to believe it, prostitutes seemed to be an ongoing thing with him. Which explains why Tom Vitale went skeevy on me when I asked him about that.

Leerhsen included quite a trove of Tony’s earliest writing, including a poem. (Bourdain’s writing I’ll save for another post because I’m still processing.)

The acknowledgements were a Who’s Who of “Who?” but did include Tony’s old friend Michael Ruhlman and some who have been excluded heretofore, such as Zamir and AA. Absent was the loyal core from the Definitive bio who, as Eric Ripert put it, “want to control the narrative.”

The endnotes seem comprehensive in detailing what Leerhsen found where, but all the juiciest bits whose origins you’d really want to know invariably came from “confidential sources.”

I’m very pleased to add Leerhsen to my bulging bookshelf alongside Bourdain’s books, and hope he’ll give me an opportunity to interview him soon.


Bourdain’s Biographer Stayed in the Room Where It Happened

October 3, 2022

By Karen

In anticipation of Charles Leerhsen’s book coming out October 11, Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, I’ve contacted him about giving Cats Working an interview once I’ve read the book.

He hasn’t responded to that, but I have pinged his radar because he sent me this link to an article he wrote published Oct. 1, “Anthony Bourdain’s Last Days Revisited.” (It makes you give an email address, but once the site sends you something, unsubscribe, which I did.)

It doesn’t state the article is excerpted from the book, so Leerhsen may be providing additional information here. He discovered that Le Chambard, where Bourdain took his own life, is now squeamish about the whole subject. They refused to let Leerhsen reserve that room (he did get Eric Ripert’s room next door), but the next day, he and his wife actually finagled their way back in and stayed in Bourdain’s room.

Photo: Travelocity

The story ends on a supernatural note that reminds me of some months ago when Roc and I watched a book eject itself from my bedroom bookcase.

The article is definitely worth a read.

In other Bourdain news…

Here’s an interview with Leerhsen by The Guardian that offers some insight, if you ignore the reporting’s factual errors, such as:

  1. In the third paragraph, they mention a show running three seasons. A Cook’s Tour, or even The Layover, were two seasons each. If they’re talking about No Res or Parts, they’re WAY off.
  2. I’ve never seen anywhere that Tony was ever a co-owner of Les Halles. He was broke in his chef days, and he consistently said he never wanted to own a restaurant.
  3. He was 61 when he died, nearly three weeks before his next birthday.
  4. The Hong Kong episode wasn’t posthumous. I believe it first aired in the U.S. the same weekend the skank shacked up with Hugo and cavorted for the Roman paparazzi.

I was luckily able to read the book review published today by Dwight Garner in The New York Times, subtitled “Light on Subtlety, Heavy on Grit.” A few snippets…

“Here are the prostitutes, a lot of prostitutes, and one-night stands, and rumors of affairs with other food-world personalities.”

He compares Leerhsen’s bio to Laurie Woolever’s “authorized” book…

“A previous book, “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography” (2021), compiled by Laurie Woolever, felt like an official Bourdain-industry product. It was worthy but dull.

“It was heavy on pontificating celebrities, from the food, television and journalism worlds, who tried to puzzle out what made this magnificent, pagan, literate, lantern-jawed beast tick, to put him on the couch.

“Leerhsen’s book, on the other hand, has a lot of people trying to join Bourdain on the couch, ideally without his trousers, and thus has more adrenaline and feels truer to life.”

On brother Chris: Here’s a Leerhsen interview with the L.A. Times where he describes what apparently was going on behind the scenes between the brothers, and how Chris tried to deep-six Leerhsen’s book.

[Fun Fact: Did you know there’s virtually no such thing as defaming the dead? They are considered memories, with no active reputation to “protect.”]

The skank vs. Ottavia: Here’s another article called “Everything We Know So Far,” which gives some info on Ottavia’s role and how the skank wanted to erase Tony’s family — at least on social media.

The skank’s reaction: After her last texts with Tony went public last week, she posted a photo of herself on Instagram — defiantly no-class as always.

A friend on Instagram sent me an Italian post from an interview on kikapressandmedia. Translated, it begins…

“Down and out in paradise, the unauthorized biography focused on the character of Anthony Bourdain, has sparked new controversy: once again in the media meat grinder there is AA.” [Abbreviation mine]

AA is quoted on the text messages…

“Those who made the messages public are vultures, and there are many around a famous person. Those who sold them will see it with their karma.”

[NOTE ADDED 10/5: Just noticed another point. Above, AA predicts bad karma for the “vulture” who “sold” her texts (before she did?). Even more ludicrous than thinking her vulgarity has monetary value is her delusion that Tony’s family sought anything beyond the relief of finally getting the truth in print. Or that Leerhsen paid people for cooperation. That’s not how biographers work.]

AA ends with belated recognition of Tony’s child, so she’s working hard for sympathy…

“His daughter, me, my children have suffered, we must transform this poison, I am turning it into my cure. With Anthony we shared being alcoholics, we supported each other with a sense of dark humor, we were very lonely, but two alcoholics together drown.”

Ottavia today? With the provocative click-bait title, “How Anthony Bourdain’s Estranged Wife’s Life Is Drastically Different Since He Passed,” I thought Ottavia had opened up to someone. Wrong. Writer Tara Dugan cobbled together a so-called profile of Ottavia without speaking to her, since there isn’t a single quote, nor providing any fact that isn’t publicly available and possibly dubious. I’m just sharing it as a glaring example of “lamestream” journalism.


Unauthorized Bourdain Bio Coming Oct. 11

September 29, 2022

By Karen

Since my last post about Max’s winter retreat is picking up Bourdain buzz comments about an upcoming book by Charles Leerhsen called Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, due out October 11, I’m doing this post to give us somewhere to post any further comments or intel.

I first wrote about this book with some details on Leerhsen back in April.

The New York Times this week published brief excerpts (may require a subscription to access). It must have given Leerhsen such a nice bump that Amazon is already tagging the book a “Best Seller.” In the article, Leerhsen says both Ottavia and Nancy (Tony’s wives) were cooperative.

The Bourdain estate (i.e., Ottavia as executor) apparently has no objections to the book, but Tony’s brother Chris tried a few times without success to stop publication until inaccuracies he cited were corrected. No word on Nancy’s opinion of it.

We shall see how accurate we find it when we read it.

Print and online publications have picked up the Times piece and rehashed their own versions without adding new content.

However, reader feijicha found a story in People magazine that has a bit more.

And here’s an article in Bon Appétit with some fresh information.

If Leerhsen is on the level, this book would answer many questions we’ve hashed out here for over four years. It includes material I’ve always said must have been on Bourdain’s electronics when he died — namely, texts with the girlfriend (whom we don’t name because she probably Googles herself).

Those texts could have only come from Ottavia, since Chris objects to the book.

I’ve hoped someone on Tony’s side would finally expose the girlfriend’s culpability, and if this book credibly does that, great. And, Ottavia, well played.

Eric Ripert, surprisingly, was one of few in Tony’s circle who actually spoke to the Times about the book, which he’s read. He said it contains many inaccuracies, as well as details he told to only a few people.

One ghoulish note: As research, Leerhsen and his wife traveled to France and stayed in the hotel room where Tony died.

I’m going to leave it there for now. I’ve reached out to Leerhsen twice this week (via Instagram and his website) asking for a Cats Working interview after I’ve read the book, but have had no reply so far. Stay tuned…


Review: Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice for ZPZ with “Nomad”

May 19, 2022

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain set the bar so high for travel series, I wonder if we should retire the format for a generation, like a super-athlete’s sports jersey, after watching Zero Point Zero’s Nomad with Carlton McCoy on CNN.

I feel sorry for Bourdain’s heir. Carlton McCoy is tracing incredibly deep tracks without the experience or maturity to either fill or reshape them.

Scheduling Nomad at 10 p.m. (ET) Sunday, CNN did McCoy no favors because he follows Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. After an hour of Tucci charm, sophistication, wit and easy Italian banter in gorgeous settings, McCoy barely stands a chance.

I’m speaking with generational bias. McCoy is 37, with a shaved head, one of those itchy-looking stubble-beards, and tats all over. His personality reminds me of Rick Steves, and not in a good way.

McCoy’s quick backstory: Father Black, mother Jewish, but raised in the Pentecostal church of his paternal grandmother. Grew up in Washington D.C.’s tough, underprivileged Southeast section. Bounced around high schools, but managed to graduate with a scholarship to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America).

While working in restaurants, he studied wine and became a master sommelier. Only 5% who take it pass that exam, and there are fewer than 300 master sommeliers in the world.

He brings to the show a chef’s knowledge of food and what makes a good wine pairing. So far, that’s about it.

Remember Bourdain’s voiceover opening to No Reservations?

“I’m Anthony Bourdain. I write, I travel, I eat, and I’m hungry for more.”

This is McCoy’s…

“I’m a nomad, driven to move in and out of different cultures, different worlds. We celebrate diversity by embracing what makes us both unique and the same. After all, we carry our travels with us to our next destination. That’s what life is all about. Let’s do this.”

OK, wake up, I’m not finished!

Like Bourdain, McCoy’s voiceover is clear (more on that in a minute), but the content is as personally insightful and humorous as a book report about the dictionary.

Nomad’s inaugural episode is Paris, a place McCoy has visited before. The B-roll included all the usual tourist sights. The show wraps at Elysée Palace (the French White House), where McCoy talks to one of President Emmanuel Macron’s chefs.

But to its credit, for most of the episode, McCoy is in the seedier outer arrondissements, the banlieues parisiennes or No Go zones.

Nomad emphasizes the new, the next generation, with little acknowledgement of origins. Cultural context was Bourdain’s forte, thanks to his insatiable study of literature and film.

Nomad feels like early No Reservations. The camera work is safe and competent, and scenes tick the usual boxes…

  • Bowl of noodles at hole in the wall
  • Famous chef cooking in Michelin starred restaurant
  • Host strolling the streets

In the second episode, Korea, McCoy meets up with an old CIA classmate, and they immediately hit Seoul’s open-air market, including a meal of blood sausage and chicken feet washed down with local booze and beer.

Has your déjà vu alarm gone off yet?

When McCoy leaves Seoul for the countryside, they load the car with hard-sided, unscuffed luggage.

OK, that’s something new.

I can’t remember ever seeing Bourdain’s luggage. He wanted us to think he could and did go anywhere with just a carry-on. Stanley Tucci probably has steamer trunks for his impeccable wardrobe, but he’d never show them.

In the third episode, McCoy travels back to D.C. and hangs out with old friends, relatives and teachers. It seemed far too early in the series for him to be showing us his roots.

At the end, I expected to see Bourdain’s crew all over the credits, but there were only Chris and Lydia as executive producers. On second thought, new names mean Tony’s crew has moved on, and I’m glad. They reached the Emmy pinnacle for cinematography and writing, so going back to scratch with a noob would have been unthinkable.

With time, McCoy will probably grow into the job. But if he gets a second season, ZPZ must address his sloppy diction. His conversations almost need subtitles. His voice isn’t distinctive and he speaks too fast and slurs his words.

One other beef: He needs to lose that ridiculous New York Yankees baseball cap that screams, “I’m a dumbass American tourist!”

In the remaining season, McCoy travels to Ghana, Toronto and Mississippi. If you want more details on his early life, I found this excellent article by Amiee White Beazley.


Got a Bit of Bourdain News to Share

April 18, 2022

By Karen

Found: His Chef’s Knife – If you’re in Singapore, stop by the display at The English House by Marco Pierre White, which is where you’ll find Anthony Bourdain’s beloved Bob Kramer chef’s knife, that chrome duck press he bought after seeing one in the Paris episode of The Layover, as well as a few pieces of his art collection.

Photo: AntiquesandtheArts.com

I believe Tony originally paid $5,000 for the knife. The English House got it for a cool $231,250 at the 2019 auction of Tony’s belongings. At the time, I don’t think we knew who the knife’s highest bidder was. But now the truth is out there.

The English House is also serving, in Bourdain’s honor, his favorite Italian pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe.

Unauthorized Biography Postponed – Publication of Charles Leerhsen’s unauthorized biography of Bourdain, Down and Out in Paradise, has been postponed from June to October 11 for reasons unknown.

I’m lifetime-banned from Twitter, but I was able to stroll through Leerhsen’s Twitter feed to see if I could find out more. From his retweets, Leerhsen is undeniably liberal, but his bona fides include being Donald Trump’s ghostwriter from 1988-1990 on Trump’s second book, and he wrote an article about how he is no fan of Putin’s greasy orange sock puppet (my description, not his).

In February, I found this pair of tweets…

What “intimate sources” on EARTH could he be talking about? And how would Bourdain’s “personal files” be in anyone’s custody but his family’s? And since the book is “definitely unauthorized” (according to the Amazon blurb) Tony’s family’s lack of cooperation is admitted.

I’m not attacking Leerhsen’s credibility here, but he seems to raise his own bar extremely high for delivering trustworthy, significant new facts.

From other tweets I found, he did some genealogical digging into Tony’s late mother Gladys’ ancestry. He could find the scoop on Tony’s paternal forebears right here at Cats Working — and maybe he did.

Brasserie Les Halles Has Moved On, But Not Too Far – Bourdain’s last kitchen workplace in New York City closed in 2016, but its darkened front instantly became a makeshift memorial site after his death in 2018, entirely covered with notes and flowers from fans.

It reopened recently under new ownership as La Brasserie, still with a French bistro vibe. As a remembrance of Bourdain, the signature dish of steak frites remains on the menu.

Bourdain Market Idea Revived, in a Fashion – Bourdain regretfully pulled the plug in 2017 on his vision of founding a Singaporean-style food court in NYC, to be called Bourdain Market. But the James Beard Foundation has picked up the baton and is working with the same developers Tony partnered with to transform Pier 57 into a food hall and community gathering place. It sounds like it may lack the international flair Tony was hoping for, but it proves his idea wasn’t such a pipe dream, after all.

Where Are the Crew Now? Helen Cho – While recently watching season 2 of the HBO series, Painting with John, I noticed Helen Cho’s name listed in the credits. “John” is artist/musician John Lurie, one of Bourdain’s last acquaintances. Remember Helen from Roadrunner? She seemed the one most ferociously willing to “go there” when it came to acknowledging who probably pushed Tony too close to the edge.

As it always seems to happen in life, soon after seeing her name, Helen did an interview with Eater that crossed my radar. She’s gone the freelance route with her work and seems to be making good connections. I wish her every success.

Cats Working PS – That earlier tweet by Charles Leerhsen about Bourdain’s world beginning to “shift and fade,” reminded me of one of the things I miss most about having Tony on the planet — discovering new people through him.

For example, John Lurie is a person I’d never heard of until Tony bought one of his paintings and had him on Parts Unknown. Now I absolutely love that guy and the quirks of his boundless imagination. He makes me want to dust off my watercolors and try again.

Come to think of it, Marco Pierre White is another one. When it came to celebrity chefs, Gordan Ramsay and Emeril pretty much comprised my repertoire. Bourdain introduced me to Jacques Pépin, Eric Ripert. Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefevre, Marcus Samuelsson, David Chang, Gabrielle Hamilton, I could go on and on.

Not to mention Nancy, Ottavia, Ariane, his brother Chris. Zamir. Crew member Tom Vitale.

When Bourdain’s world stopped spinning, my world stopped expanding, in a way. No one else has been opening new doors to new people and places the way he regularly did for me, just by waking up every day and letting his curiosity lead him.


Larry David Milks Asia-Jimmy Story for Laughs

December 8, 2021

By Karen

Watching the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Episode 11:7, “Irma Kostroski”) my jaw dropped when one of the story lines was the statutory rape accusation against Anthony Bourdain’s last girlfriend, which we learned about in August 2018, after his death in June.

If you’re not into Curb, here’s how it goes: It’s a sitcom starring Larry David playing himself as a curmudgeonly semi-retired TV writer/producer living in California. The show isn’t fully scripted. The actors know what’s supposed to happen, but ad lib much of the dialogue.

This season, Larry has been developing a sitcom based on his early life as a Jew in New York, casting an actor named Asa to play “Young Larry.” Asa is a pretentious jerk with many ridiculous demands for his character’s “authenticity.”

The thinly fictionalized Asia-Jimmy angle first comes up between the prop master Stan and Larry (I’ve cut lines that don’t add context)…

Stan: Larry, I can’t work with that kid [Asa]. He’s driving me nuts.

Larry: You know, like I told you, he’s a fucked up kid. He got sexually abused, I hear.

Stan: Oh, well, about that. I did my research. And it turns out, little Asa there, when he was a 17-year old kid, was “taken advantage of” by the beautiful 37-year-old Adriana Amante, the Italian actress. Fucking smokeshow, stunning.

Larry: That’s the trauma? I read about that.

Stan: Not only that, but he got 400 grand as a payoff. Formerly known as Andy. Were you as lucky at 17 to be taken advantage of by a supermodel?

Larry: Yeah, right. I was traumatized because I couldn’t have any sex at all.

Stan: Same here. I couldn’t fucking pay a woman to touch me.

Next scene, Larry confronts Asa…

Larry: You’re really giving Stan a hard time. You’re acting like kind of an asshole. There could be a justification for it, because I know how traumatized you were from that horrible incident you had when you were 17 and sexually abused by a beautiful, luscious, voluptuous Italian movie star.

Asa: You heard about that, huh?

Larry: Oh, my God, I can’t even imagine how horrible that must have —

Asa: It was so hard.

Larry: How did that work, exactly? Did she get you in a headlock?

Asa: It was a mental headlock.

Larry: All right, cut the shit, OK? You were 17 years old. If a cactus touched your penis, you would have been thrilled at that age, OK?

Asa: Ow, wow, wow. What if you were in high school and you slept with an older, famous actress? How would people treat you?

Larry: They would have named the high school after me.

Later, Larry lunching with the guys at his country club, and here the truth gets altered a bit…

Larry: So, it turns out he [Asa] did this movie when he was 17 and had sex in her trailer. He claimed that he was abused and got a $400,000 settlement. Now he’s playing the victim.

Larry’s friend Richard Lewis: It was the luckiest day of his life.

Larry’s roommate Leon: He’s ungrateful. This little motherfucker got a piece of ass, which is priceless. Then he got $400,000 on top of that shit? And the movie paid him. He got paid three fucking times and he’s still complaining.

Larry: Exactly.

Now it’s local Election Day and Larry encounters Asa outside the polls, where Asa makes a demand…

Larry: Get rid of Stan?

Asa: Yeah. He’s very difficult.

Larry: You know what? You’re driving him crazy.

Asa: I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make art.

Larry: Yeah, well, he’s going to have a nervous breakdown, and it’s going to be real trauma, not like the fake trauma that you went through.

Asa: Oh, that’s where you’re going to go. It was real trauma. I suffered very… Hey, what are you doing, Larry?

Larry approaches a boy in line while Asa looks on…

Larry: Can I ask you a question? How old are you?

Boy: 18.

Larry: If a woman who looks like this (pulls up picture, presumably of the actress, on his phone, but not you-know-who) was interested in you, what would you say?

Boy: Yeah, I’d like that.

Larry: And what if she touched you down there?

Boy: Down there? Fuck, yeah.

Larry: And what if she invited you back to her apartment to have sex with her, and then she gave you $400,000?

Boy: Who wouldn’t take that?

Larry: Yeah, who wouldn’t take that? Thank you.

Boy: Is she here? When’s this happening?

Larry: Don’t be an idiot, no. Of course not.

By making the kid a schmuck and smearing compliments all over the actress with a thick knife, Larry David presumably is trying to avoid any backlash in the real world. But what I’m wondering is, what in hell made Larry think to exploit that still-unresolved situation as comedy fodder? And to go on and on about it? In the process, he essentially applauds the woman for committing statutory rape.

This Cats Working post from August 2018 provides details of what really happened, according to The New York Times, as well as subsequent posts as more information came to light.

And here’s a full recap of that Curb episode.

PS: Cats Working avoids using the woman in question’s full name because we don’t want to come up in her Google searches on herself or contribute to statistics on mentions of her.


How Anthony Bourdain Came to Be an American

November 11, 2021

Researched by James McNiff

Veterans Day feels like the fitting occasion to share the story of Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandfather, Pierre. Jim McNiff originally submitted this as a comment, and Cats Working has edited it for clarity and length. He found his facts and photos at Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com.

James McNiff is a health care industry retiree who now does genealogical research on famous people for fun. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe and the Irish Echo (New York). He also self-publishes some of his findings and makes them available on Amazon.com.

Now, let’s learn about Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandparents. But first, Jim sets the scene…

National WW1 Memorial Debuts in Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian Magazine, April 16, 2021

President Biden delivered a speech virtually, saying…

“More than 100 years have passed since WWI ended, but the legacy of those doughboys sailing off to war, and the values they fought to defend still live in our nation today.”

& & &

From The Stars and Stripes: American Expeditionary Forces Newspaper,
November 29,1918…

“One of the most heartening and cheering things about this whole business is the infinite capacity for mutual friends that exists between the children of France and the soldiers of America.”

* * *

On July 19,1919, the U.S.S. Kroonland sailed from Saint-Nazaire, France, with Army personnel onboard. The Treaty of Versailles had ended the Great War a few weeks earlier. Over 9 million soldiers would never return home. Another 21 million were injured, some beyond repair.

As soldiers streamed up the gangway, Quartermaster Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy waited until the last minute to personally escort a 13-year-old boy dressed in military garb. The child seemed to become invisible as he ascended the ramp; officers overseeing embarkation turned their backs as if he didn’t exist.

Next stop: Hoboken, New Jersey.

This is the U.S.S. Kroonland’s manifest for that sailing…

Officers294
Army Field Clerks3
Nurse, A.N.C.1
Civ., Q.M.C.1
Enlisted Men3,213
Total3,512
And 1 French boy

The New York Tribune reported the story of “doughboy” Pierre Michel Bourdain:

“The Kroonland had the distinction of bringing the youngest number of the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force). He is Michel Bourdain, 14 years old [his 14th birthday was actually two weeks after the article], dark-haired and blue-eyed. He stands 5’2” and wears the Sphinx head on the collar of his blouse, denoting a civilian interpreter. He says he speaks ‘Amurican,’ not ‘Engleesh.’ He was accompanied by Sergeant A.A. [sic] Murphy, who said he had the permission of the lad’s parents to adopt him.

“Bourdain helped his aged parents on a little farm at Maine-Loire, in Brittany.

[Pierre’s actual birthplace was a commune in Trelaze. The farm was on the outskirts of Angers, a larger city in western France. The Loire River was a few miles south. Trelaze is 440 miles due east of Port Saint-Nazaire.]

“When the 52nd Ammunition Train camped at [the farm], Pierre thought they were the finest soldiers he had ever seen and immediately started to help them in their marketing, using the little English he learned in school. The 52nd Ammunition Train moved on and was followed by the 54th Coast Artillery. Now called “Mike” by the soldiers, Pierre had accumulated quite a vocabulary and made himself invaluable to the new arrivals, none of whom spoke French. Soon they found that they could not do without him, so he was given a uniform and put on the payroll as a civilian employee interpreter at 225 francs a month.

“His parents moved to Bordeaux… The[y] opened a grocery store with Mike’s savings, which they realized was much more profitable than farming. Sergeant Murphy said that he is going to give Mike a good education.”

[Pierre’s father (Anthony Bourdain’s great-grandfather) is portrayed differently in various newspapers. Some say he died at Verdun. His birthplace quite frequently documented was Sao Pedro, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil).

Pierre’s American Guardian: QMC Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy

Arthur Murphy was born in Duchess County, New York, in 1888. His father was from Virginia and his mother lived in New York.

By 1910, Arthur lived in Poughkeepsie and worked as a candy salesman, according to the census. He was single and never married. At age 29 he enlisted in the Army at Fort Slocum in New York.

He was promoted to sergeant in 1918 while overseas, where he spent 14 months and made a stop in the commune of Trelaze, where he met young Pierre Bourdain. By his discharge in 1919, he was a Quartermaster (QMC) Sergeant.

Upon returning to New York, Arthur, and presumably Pierre, lived in an Allerton House (later renamed Tatham). The Allerton Company rented homey apartments to young men to provide “a safe, stable and economical arrangement,” according to their owner.

Pierre’s Future Wife Arrives

When Pierre was 9 and still living in France, Gabrielle Riousse [Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandmother] crossed the Atlantic on the Lafayette and passed through Ellis Island on December 6, 1915. She was 22, 4’11”, with chestnut hair and eyes, and her occupation was milliner [dressmaker]. She was visiting her older sister Berthe Corr, who lived with her husband James at West 91st Street in New York.

Gabrielle was born in Paris on February 25, 1893, to Alfred and Ernestine (Loret) Riousse.

When Gabrielle arrived in New York, her parents still lived in Paris. Alfred was from Alençon, Orne, home of Alençon lace, “the Queen of laces and lace for Queens.”

Gabrielle eventually returned to Paris, but came back to New York in February 1920. Her height then was recorded as 5’4”, and her profession switched to teacher.

Arthur Murphy Adopts Pierre

The New York Herald of September 9, 1919, provided this update…

Yank Adopts Lad He Met in France. Ex-Interpreter to Rear son of Verdun Defender

“There was something in the wistful face of little Pierre Michel Bourdain which haunted Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy of 143 East Thirty-ninth Street, on the occasion of their first meeting in France. From the time the eyes of the big sergeant, who was an interpreter in the American Expeditionary Forces, and little Pierre met in Bordeaux there developed a mutual attachment.

“Every opportunity found the doughboy and the French lad together, and little Pierre told his story. He was a half-orphan; his father having been one of the thousands of French poilus who defended Verdun against the German onslaughts at the cost of their lives. His mother, Mithilde Belliard Bourdain, was in poor circumstances, scarcely able to support her children and herself.

“When the time came for his departure from France, Sergeant Murphy obtained permission from the boy’s mother to have Pierre follow. There was a lot of trouble in getting this permission, but it was only the beginning of Sergeant Murphy’s difficulties. There was the official red tape to be untangled, and that also took time.

“Finally, however, young Bourdain arrived in New York and was welcomed by his doughboy friend Murphy, an accountant, who had returned to civilian life.

“It was fitting that the day on which Gen. Pershing returned to America should be made one of the happiest in little Pierre’s life. Surrogate Cohalan signed yesterday the papers of adoption for which Murphy had applied, and Pierre Michel Bourdain became Pierre Michel Murphy. He will reside with his foster-father and the latter’s widowed sister.”

[CW Note: This account contains some unverifiable factual discrepancies from the earlier New York Tribune story.]

1924 was the last year Pierre was noted living in New York before returning to France to visit his mother, now in Bordeaux. It’s unknown if Pierre had a falling out with Arthur Murphy, but when he returned to the U.S. on the Rousillon, his name was listed as Pierre Michel Bourdain, not Michel or Michael Murphy, and the person he knew in the States wasn’t Sergeant Murphy, but a neighbor named Mr. Wilgus.

Gabrielle Returns to New York While Pierre Sails to France

Gabrielle traveled to Paris twice between 1924 and 1926. Gabrielle lived at 57 East 58th Street, NYC (the Hotel Claredon), and her occupation was professor.

It’s unknown how or where Gabrielle and Pierre met. On October 3, 1928, she married Pierre M. Bourdain in Manhattan. She was 35, he was 23.

Anthony’s grandfather, Pierre Sr. Photo submitted by Thomas, Ancestry.com

Their son, whom they named Pierre [Anthony Bourdain’s father], was born December 12, 1929.

Gabrielle and her son Pierre made many trips over the years to Paris to visit Gabrielle’s father Alfred and her mother-in-law Mithilde, who had moved to La Teste de Buch in Gironde, France.

The 1930 census listed Pierre M. and Gabrielle as married and living at 675 West End Avenue in New York with baby Pierre. Pierre Sr. was then working as a merchant in a department store. Gabrielle was again a dressmaker.

Sadly, Pierre Sr. would die at age 28, when Anthony’s father was only 3 years old. Cause unknown.

From the records of “New York City Municipal Deaths”…

Name:Piere Bourdain
Sex:Male
Address:317 West 95 Street
Burial Date:1 Jan 1933
Death Date:31 Dec 1932
Death Place:Manhattan
Birth Year:1904
Birthplace:France
Marital Status:Married
Occupation:Manufacturer
Race:White
Spouse Name:Gabrielle Bourdain
Cemetery:Fresh Pond Crematory

PS: In the Oral Biography at the bottom of page 3, Christopher Bourdain mentions how their father would take him and Anthony to visit their grandmother Gabrielle in New York [presumably in the 1960s], but remembers only that she was very old and crippled by arthritis.

If not for whatever inspired Pierre Sr. to drop his adopted surname and reclaim his birth name, his grandson, who became an international phenomenon, would have been Anthony Murphy. Somehow, it just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?


Conversation with Tom Vitale, Conclusion

October 27, 2021

By Karen

Tom Vitale is author of In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain. Days after the interview excerpt with him that follows, I was watching the Roadrunner documentary DVD and had another “Cats Working May be Haunted” moment related to today’s post.

In the same instant the video shifted to Asia the girlfriend, the table lamp blew its bulb. My light bulbs always fail when I first switch lamps on, not after they’ve been burning a few hours. Maybe it was coincidence, but it creeped me out.

Commenters here have discussed Tom’s treatment of Asia in the book, so I had to ask him about…

Anthony Bourdain’s Last Girlfriend

CW: On page 217, you wrote…

“Tony’s ethic of relentlessly pushing the envelope — the very drive responsible for getting us where we were — had reached such a fever pitch, it felt like the pace was becoming unsustainable.”

It seemed you felt this while you were making the 2016 Rome episode with Asia. Why then? Was she trying to direct? What was the dynamic?

TV: A lot of scene ideas, like the boxing and pasta, and the stornellis [Italian street songs] that were so beautiful, were her idea. Those Roman folk songs are dirty and hilariously dark. She made a lot of creative contributions, but she was definitely not directing the episode. But it was very high stakes because Tony wanted to not fuck it up.

I think that period in general was particularly tough. The shoot with President Obama was coming up and completely top-secret. Constant battles with the accounting department were grating. Tony wanted to do fancier, more expensive things just as they were clamping down on the spending.

CW: Were you on the shoot with Tony and Asia in Southern Italy?

TV: I did do that one, yes.

CW: How were they together then? It seemed joyous. He was in love, and they were having fun at the beach, on the boat. Was the vibe good? Putting it in historical perspective, they had come out as a couple, right?

TV: I think we were in Portugal when they became public in February 2017. And Italy was June 2017.

CW: They were in their honeymoon phase.

TV: But it was an incredibly difficult shoot for a host of reasons. Italy is one of the greatest countries to visit, but also the most difficult and stressful from the production standpoint. For example, we set up this whole scene for a big party at a farm, then at the last minute the police shut us down because the location was being used as refugee resettlement area and it didn’t have the right permits. We lost an entire day of shooting due to some stupid bureaucratic miscommunication. Things like that were happening.

On the other side, I don’t think Tony was ever so nice and happy, to me, as he was on that shoot.

CW: Something we’ve debated at Cats Working is how you went to Rome seeking answers and met with Asia. She asked about his will and supposedly missing fortune. In the book, it seems like the first thing out of her mouth, but was it really further into the conversation?

TV: No, she pretty much opened with that.

CW: So, in so many words you conveyed her priority. Some seemed to fault you because they felt you were giving her a pass. Did she ever take any responsibility at all?

TV: I certainly don’t think she wanted Tony to kill himself. That probably screwed up her life in a lot of ways, too. I’m not saying she handled things the right way, by any stretch of imagination. But in my book — I wasn’t in Hong Kong or Florence — I only write about things I saw.

It was really difficult for me in that when Tony got together with her, he became a lot nicer to me. She was always very good to me. I think it’s unquestionable she played some role in his downfall. I guess I was blinded to the fact that something wrong was happening, whether it was her fault or not, because he got nicer to me.

CW: It sounds like she didn’t feel you were any threat, like maybe she did Zach or Helen.

TV: I knew how important pleasing her was to Tony. I moved mountains to make things happen, whatever he wanted, as I always did for Tony.

CW: Maybe she thought you were her ally. Perhaps you can confirm or debunk a rumor that circulated after he died. Did he ever buy her a house in Rome?

TV: No, he didn’t.

CW: In hindsight, that now makes sense. Where your book made my eyes Boing! out like a cartoon was when Tony told you she would be moving to New York in fall 2018.

TV: That was the plan.

CW: We dodged a bullet there, in a twisted way. The mess it would have created for everyone related to both of them. And to promote her “career,” he’d have found ways to get her in our faces every day.

TV: He was in love. He acted like a teenager about it. But he reacted to a lot of things like a teenager. That was part of his magic. He was really a romantic.

CW: He did have a certain boundless child-like enthusiasm. When he found something he really loved, a place a food, a person… That’s what made him inspiring for so many people. He pulled out all the stops.

TV: Back to the topic of giving Asia too much of a pass, in the book I don’t try to judge. It’s up to the reader, in the same way it was to me, to try to derive meaning from those things. It wasn’t always clear.

CW: I think you were even-handed. The Oral Biography seems more damning.

TV: I’m sure everything in the Oral Biography is true. What I include in my book is what I saw directly.

CW: That’s what sets your book apart. The Biography puts several degrees of separation between Tony and the reader. Your book is firsthand. Plus, you’re fair to the point of being too hard on yourself. Tom, the fact that you could go toe-to-toe with Tony for so many years and survive, while creating amazing TV, is proof that you’re much stronger than you probably think you are.

TV: Tony used to talk about how your greatest humiliations are most entertaining or funny for other people to read. I don’t think I 100% consciously set out to do that. But after having been steeped in Tony’s storytelling process for so long, I see the book is definitely a collection of my biggest fuckups and worst moments and failures. He was right, again. Those do make the most interesting stories.

CW: On page 282 you wrote…

“I’ve struggled with persistent questions of whether he actually cared enough about me to give me his best.”

I think if you can’t picture what his best would have looked like — had it been even better than what you got from him — that answers your question. I believe he did give you his best.

TV: He did.

CW: And I think a lot of people would agree.

BONUS: Tom loves cats.

Tom back home after a shoot, sacked out with the late Frida, aka “Mr. Whiskers”

CW: Being Cats Working, I have to ask about the many random shots of cats on your B roll that made it into the shows.

TV: Tony would joke a lot about my cats and my relationship with cats. I adore cats. So, the camera guys knew whenever a cat was around they would film it, and I’d use it in the edit.

CW: Do you have any cats currently?

TV: I do, Lucy and Tabby.

CW: Are they both females?

TV: They are. Both Tabby and Lucy are tabby white, which is half white, half tabby. But I think Lucy, because of her very distinctive meow and incredible elegance, is actually at least half or mostly Siamese. They’re rescue cats.


Conversation with Tom Vitale, Part 3

October 22, 2021

By Karen

Tom Vitale, author of In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, published October 5, talked with me at length on October 10 and graciously expanded on some things he brought up in his book that left me with lingering questions about…

Anthony Bourdain, “The Talent”

CW: Throughout your book, you mention getting walkie-talkie notifications, “One hour till Tony,” “Five minutes till Tony.” What was he doing? Who was with him?

TV: Tony would be at the hotel, and we had a rough idea of what the day’s schedule was. I would call him about 30 minutes before he was supposed to leave his location. There would be a PA [production assistant] or his driver waiting for him in the lobby. The driver would send us updates on how far away they were.

The reason was that by the time Tony arrived, in an ideal scenario he’d be able to walk right out of the car into the scene, sit down, and not be distracted by setting up lights or any of the artifices of making television.

CW: What’s your theory on Tony’s reluctance to speak on camera? Do you think he was having sensory overload, or was he afraid of not being brilliant enough before he’d had a chance to process everything? Was he just being an asshole?

TV: He wasn’t being an asshole, at least, most of the time. I think the whole convention of the host talking to the camera was something he didn’t like. But when he found something particularly inspiring, he would talk to the camera.

In the first episode of Parts Unknown in Burma — I probably neglected to include this in the book — but there was a time when he thought there just wouldn’t be any more direct talking to the camera. That was a No Reservations thing. But he was so good at it and such a natural, there was no way that was ever going away, whether he wanted it to or not.

CW: Can you tell me anything else about his room service phobia? Did he have that same reluctance talking to airline ticket agents or desk clerks? Or was it specifically a room service thing?

TV: Tony was shy overall. The room service phobia I discovered a bit later. I wish I knew more about it. It seems very strange to me, too.

When we went to hotels, they definitely knew who we were and who he was. We weren’t just regular guests. Sometimes they would have the head chef and other prominent people from the food and beverage department of the hotel lined up to greet Tony when he arrived. Sometimes there would be crazy things left for him in his room from the hotel staff, like I remember one time a giant marzipan sculpture of him.

So, he was aware that they were aware of him. He must have thought, “Here’s this traveling chef guy who’s famous for liking to eat all the local food. Why would he be ordering room service?” That’s my best guess.

With a lot of things with Tony, if they seemed emotionally troubling, the best way to deal with them was by not confronting them. If I’d asked him about it, I don’t know exactly what he would have said, but he would have had some snarky, condescending answer and an eye roll, as a way to protect himself from whatever was causing the issue in the first place.

CW: In so many shows, Tony talked and made jokes about death. It was often really funny. Now, in hindsight when we see him doing that on a show, we go, “Oh, shit, if only we’d known.” Did you use most of his death talk or cut a lot out? I’m wondering how great that obsession was.

TV: It was pretty constant. “I’m going to hang myself in the shower stall,” was very common. But like everything with Tony, only about 1/70th of whatever we recorded made it into the finished show.

CW: I wondered if the editors would roll their eyes and say, “My god, he’s talking about death again. Let’s take this out.”

TV: We started rolling eyes over the “What would you have as your last meal?” thing, because it came up all the time and became a little less interesting to use.

The “My hotel room’s so awful, I’m going to hang myself in the shower stall,” kind of thing automatically would get cut without too much discussion because it didn’t reference anything in the show.

But it was always very funny, and I think it was funny to him at the time. It’s in retrospect that those things are particularly painful.

CW: Lately I’ve been watching reruns of No Reservations because I like seeing him when he seemed happier than those last two years of Parts Unknown.

TV: The stresses and pressures were greater during Parts Unknown, but he was not unhappier, I’d say, across the board. Clearly in that last six months, things got a bit more out of control.

But the difference between Tony No Reservations and Parts Unknown has more to do with the seriousness of the locations and the subject matter than it did with the general overall personality shift.

The people we’d spend time with were in more seriously precarious positions than they had been over the years. No Reservations was definitely a lighter time in general. The stakes just were lower. There was more room to screw up. And screwing up was an important part of the magic recipe. The space to risk screwing up was a very important space for Tony.

Final installment next week: The Last Girlfriend.


Conversation with Tom Vitale, Part 2

October 19, 2021

By Karen

Continuing my chat with Tom Vitale, author of In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, published October 5. Tom filled me in on one aspect of Bourdain’s career that no one ever seemed to ask him about…

Anthony Bourdain’s Creative Process

CW: I’ve always been fascinated by writers’ habits. When Tony wrote at home, he worked first thing in the morning. With the volume he constantly put out, I was surprised when you told me he was a two-fingered typist. The documentary Roadrunner showed him in action a few times…

Tony’s early writing in his NYC apartment (from old unfinished documentary footage used in Roadrunner)
Years later, his typing technique hadn’t improved

CW: Since Tony always knew he’d have to write a voiceover, or edit one, did he write when he traveled? Did he carry a notebook for taking notes? How did he collect his material?

TV: He did have a notebook. A couple times he asked me to procure one for him when we were on shoots. He liked black Moleskins and would use whatever ballpoint or gel pen was handy.

All his writing was handwritten in first draft, always early in the morning, as far as I know, or late at night. Sometimes those times were the same.

Voiceover scripts we had to print out for him, regardless of where we were. He would rewrite them longhand, either on the script or in a notebook, and retype them. He was always very fast unless he didn’t like it and rewrote and typed the whole thing. It was a laborious process he’d go through, even when he had the electronic file.

CW: In the Hong Kong episode, when I first saw that now-classic shot of him sitting on the ferry with a notebook, I went, “Aha! He’s writing!”

Tony scribbles his now (in)famous “Asia” lines in what appears to be an unlined Moleskin with a black gel pen.

TV: He was really a big notebook guy.

CW: Did he ever write in airports during layovers or on planes?

TV: No, I wouldn’t see it that much. I think he needed to be in a zone, some kind of private space without distraction.

CW: I never saw him talk about his writing process.

TV: We had a lot of conversations about writing, because it was up to me when I was the director and the editors to write discretionary shit for the shows. He would tell us things over and over again. One was this “Kill your darlings” thing he’d learned from his writing teacher. Something about hacking up your favorite piece with a bleeding axe because it’s probably too over the top.

He also said that if you write 10 pages and two are even usable, that’s a really good day.

CW: So, you usually did the rough draft for his voiceovers.

TV: Yes, and our scripts he’d return then required a lot of editing. He’d turn a sentence into a paragraph. Sometimes the whole paragraph worked because his writing was so wonderful, and so was his delivery reading it.

But generally, his writing required quite a bit of work. He would make a powerful joke or statement and keep going with it, which then had to be edited for length. That was painful, because it was all really good.

I’m dyslexic myself and have trouble spelling. I imagine Tony must have been somewhat similar because his rewrites were horribly misspelled, with very strange grammar. He didn’t really worry about grammar, at least when he turned things around fast. Sentences would go on for paragraphs.

CW: When he recorded voiceovers, did he just read his script through, or was he watching a rough cut while doing it? From what you’re telling me, he didn’t make any effort to match what he said with the final footage.

TV: Quite often, he would do the exact opposite. He would watch a cut, put it away, and then write. They were very disconnected. He definitely was not writing to the cut. We either had to change what he’d written, or recut to film to match what he had written.

CW: Wow. Now I’m amazed that the finished episodes always meshed so beautifully.

Tom, I think you’ve got enough untold stories for another book. I came up with a title for you. Tony wrote Medium Raw. Your next book could be Raw, but Well Done. Feel free to use that.

TV: I was with him when he was writing Medium Raw. That was a horrible time for him, a lot of pressure. He saw it as a follow-up to Kitchen Confidential, and he was convinced he couldn’t live up to that. He suffered from writer’s block.

CW: I totally understand writer’s block. I started this blog in 2007, after publishing How to Work Like a CAT. Publishers expected authors to do our own marketing, and probably still do. But once I started blogging, it took so much out of me, writing for publication ceased. I’ve got half-baked book projects all over the house now.

I think Tony began doing so many interviews and putting out so much content, it dried up his well and sapped his creativity, too. You sit down to write and realize “I got nothing left.”

TV: That’s the sense I got from Hungry Ghost (title of Tony’s as-yet-unpublished manuscript). That writing was stuff he had not shared yet. It was a new thing to write about, very different, so he wouldn’t have had that problem.

CW: He found another vein to tap into that he hadn’t already used up.

During COVID, which I didn’t expect to drag on so long, I posted seven days a week for 142 days straight. That attracted a group of regular commenters, which was rewarding while it lasted. But the effort burned me out even more than I thought possible.

TV: Tony struggled with the blog posts he had to write for each episode, and it was exhausting for him. It’s hard to keep going at that speed.

CW: Sadly, he didn’t.

BONUS: Roadrunner the documentary came out on DVD October 12, and our own Tony B. was waiting. He hopped up on the TV stand during the first scenes and gave me this rare opportunity to catch him with his namesake…

“OK, you can tell me the truth. Who’s got the most animal magnetism?”

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