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.


BOOK REVIEW: In the Weeds (with Bourdain)

October 8, 2021

By Karen

This book’s full title is In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain by Tom Vitale, who spent well over a decade working as an editor, director and producer on all four of Bourdain’s travel series: A Cook’s Tour on Food Network, No Reservations and The Layover on Travel Channel, and Parts Unknown on CNN.

When I first wrote about this book back in May, I dissed this cover…

But now that I’ve read it, I think the cover is just right.

We’ve had a Bourdain avalanche lately. Last week it was his Definitive Oral Biography by his assistant Laurie Woolever. And now we have the inside scoop on his TV life.

Both books add considerably to what we thought we knew about Bourdain. What sets Vitale’s book apart (and above, I would argue) Woolever’s is its sometimes almost painful sense of immediacy and intimacy. Vitale’s writing seems infused with Tony’s darkly funny snark. For example, in describing a furious exchange Tom had with a member of the security squad in Libya, he writes…

“Damien reminded me he hadn’t been just any old soldier, but one of those specially trained killy soldiers.”

Vitale also has a keen eye for description and paints vivid pictures of the countries they visited. Of filming in Naples in 2010, he writes…

“Tony walked across the pebble beach and sat on the gunnel of a bright turquoise-and-red-striped fishing boat. It was one of those overcast days that did something strange to the light, amplifying rather than muting color. Clouds obscuring the sunset glowed an almost cotton candy pink and reflected off the shore.”

If you’ve seen the shows (Vitale directed about 100 of them in total), he makes you want to binge-watch them again.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter, “Jamaica Me Crazy,” where they filmed Parts Unknown in 2014. It was one of the rare times that Vitale and other crew indulged in a zany adventure that Tony was largely unaware of. (I happen to know the Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Ocho Rios where much of the action went down.)

In the Oral Bio, we get recollections of those who knew Tony, as told to Woolever, as told to us. But Vitale was THERE, in the weeds. His is a firsthand account of working, often under ungodly pressure, with Bourdain, who had conflicted feelings about even being on TV, and it often wasn’t pretty.

For all of Tony’s empathy with the people he met in his travels, much of the time he seemed oblivious to, or even deliberately fed, the crew’s tension and frustration. While filming in Baja, Vitale recalls Bourdain saying to him…

“Jeez, you never give up, do you?!” he joked. “When I die, you’ll be there at my funeral, poking me with a stick, asking, ‘What are your first impressions of being dead?’”

But I don’t want to give the impression that Vitale is out to trash Bourdain. It’s the opposite. In spite of everything, Tom loved and was devoted to the guy and never dreamed it would end so horribly.

Vitale is unsparing in exposing his own personal phobias and weaknesses, and is probably unaware that his efforts to overcome (most of) them seems almost heroic. He was willing to sacrifice anything to serve what he considered a higher purpose: helping Anthony Bourdain tell his stories.

Another difference with the Oral Bio is the chronology. Weeds opens in the immediate aftermath of Bourdain’s death, then Vitale weaves past and present together in a seamless way that totally makes sense.

Cats Working even gets a shoutout, but no spoilers here.

Vitale’s research involved immersing himself in the vast trove of documentation he’d collected — logs, notes, video. As a result, he could vividly recreate that life in a way that makes you almost forget Tony is no longer wandering the planet.

In the first few pages, Vitale describes an incident with Bourdain in Manila that’s never explained, but it foreshadows what happened to Eric Ripert when he entered Tony’s last hotel room France.

Vitale also recounts a violent incident during their second trip to Borneo that also never gets explained, but it shows a side of Tony darker than anyone has ever seen.

Such was Bourdain’s life. His public persona was all about confidence, love and acceptance, but privately, he was filled with doubts, insecurity and possibly self-loathing. Vitale saw it all, and tried to alleviate the bad stuff when he could.

I’m grateful that Tom Vitale chose to work through his pain and regrets by putting them on paper, giving us a better understanding of the man who entranced the world while thinking so little of himself.

BONUS: Coming up next week is my interview with Tom Vitale.


Roadrunner, I’ve Seen It

July 16, 2021

By Karen

The documentary about Anthony Bourdain that we’ve been anticipating for at least two years finally hit theaters today, and I just returned from the first showing.

Besides me, only 11 other people, including four men, were in the audience. I sat in the top row corner in case I got emotional and had tissues ready, but I didn’t come even close to crying. Maybe all I’ve read about the content prepared me.

Context: I’ve followed Bourdain on Cats Working for so many years now, whenever I see anything about him, I approach it with the attitude, “Is this something I didn’t already know?” More often than not, it isn’t.

Here are a few tidbits I haven’t read in reviews and interviews about Roadrunner. For example, when Eric Ripert read Kitchen Confidential and first invited Tony to lunch to meet him, what Eric noticed about Tony was, “He has amazing good manners at the table.” I wonder what Eric expected?

(I took notes in the dark. They came out surprisingly readable!)

My favorite part of the film was early and was not director Morgan Neville’s work. It was all the footage I’d never seen of Tony shortly after KC made him famous. It came from a documentary being made about him at the time that was never finished.

There, we get several glimpses of Tony and Nancy when they were a couple. Their small apartment in New York City was filled with plants and books, and the walls were covered with pictures.

Ottavia didn’t appear as much as I expected, but Neville used some of her black-and-white scenes from the first Rome episode of No Reservations, which it happens I had just rewatched. It was so nice to see them joking and in love.

Later in the film, Ottavia explained that the romantic side in the marriage “dissipated when he started traveling intensely and we couldn’t follow him.” I’d assume that was when Ariane started school. But they always remained friends and even grappled together. She described jiu jitsu as “problem-solving under pressure.”

By the last year of his life, she said Tony was coming by to see her and Ariane only about once a month.

We see Ariane’s face as a toddler and small child. And there’s one quick scene where she looks about nine. She’s getting tall and she’s simply beautiful.

I was moved by the raw emotions and tears — still — when people talked about his death. His literary agent Kim Witherspoon, producer Lydia Tenaglia, artist David Choe, and of course, Ottavia, who has one great regret I won’t spoil for you. Eric Ripert, who was with Tony in France when he died, declined to discuss it.

But the reaction that grabbed me most was from Lydia’s husband, producer Chris Collins, who summed up the whole shitshow of Tony’s last year of life.

Chris was talking about filming the Hong Kong episode, which Tony hired his girlfriend Asia Argento to direct. Tony shocked everyone by firing his multi-Emmy-winning cameraman Zach Zamboni for daring to question Asia, and meekly let her interrupt and direct him in ways he’d have never tolerated from anyone else. Chris simply said, “In Hong Kong, we were trying to help our friend.” But his look said, “If only we knew where that was leading…”

As for Asia’s appearance in the film, I think the Parts Unknown footage Neville used was more flattering than she deserved, and he essentially handed her a pass, considering, although he did flash the paparazzi photos that totally unraveled Tony’s life.

My impressions are still roiling, and I know when I watch it again on CNN or HBO Max I WILL cry. If you want to see it in the theater, don’t wait. I’ve heard the run may only last a few weeks.

I just wanted to create a quick space here for comments.


Bourdain Would Be on Medicare Today

June 25, 2021

By Karen

Today would have been Anthony Bourdain’s 65th birthday and he’d have his Medicare card. Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it?

In 2019, Tony’s friends Eric Ripert and José Andrés began the tradition of June 25 being #BourdainDay to celebrate Tony’s memory, if you care to. Latestly.com proposed five ways to honor Bourdain that I like, so I won’t repeat them, but I recommend them.

Instead, I’ll share some new and personal tidbits I’ve gathered…

Tony’s Last Home – His apartment in the former Time Warner building, now called Deutsche Bank Center, is available again. Bourdain paid $13K a month, the next tenants paid $14.2K. The cachet has apparently worn off because the asking price has dropped to $12K. I immediately wondered if the place is haunted.

I think I’ve been watching too much Paranormal: Caught on Camera.

If you’re interested, it’s a two bedroom, two bath, 1,200-square foot unit with a downright blah kitchen and no charm whatsoever except its panoramic river view. Photos.

Les Halles, the PopUp – Tony’s pre-fame employer, Brasserie Les Halles in NYC, is reopening as a popup from Friday, July 9 through Sunday, July 11 to serve a $95 three-course prix-fixe meal that includes French onion soup, steak frites au poivre and dessert. Reservation required. The restaurant has been closed since 2017.

Roadrunner Documentary – This film is out there now, having premiered June 11 at the Tribeca Film Festival, but it’s hitting theaters and HBO Max July 16. I’ve heard it may have a limited run, so it may be on CNN by this fall?

I get HBO Max, so I’ll probably watch it there in private in case I’m overwhelmed. But if you can’t wait, the American Film Institute is showing it TONIGHT only at 8 p.m. – midnight EDT online. I think admission is $15. Sign up here.

I don’t want to give away spoilers (not that I know many), but I’ve read some disturbing reviews of it. Director Morgan Neville gave this insightful interview to Firstpost.com.

I think it’s OK to share that three women in Bourdain’s life do not NOT have substantive roles. They are: 1) first wife Nancy, 2) Italian girlfriend, and 3) daughter Ariane.

Reasons: 1) relevance to the years covered; 2) we know this could have gone either way, but Neville realized she’s written her own script, and it wouldn’t have added clarity; and 3) privacy.

Upcoming Bourdain Books – Publication of Laurie Woolever’s Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography has been advanced from October 12 to September 28. That gives you two weeks to read it before Tom Vitale’s book, In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, is published on October 12.

I wrote about both of these back in May, and I’ve learned a bit more about Vitale’s book. It’s a memoir of his many years filming with Tony, so behind-the-scenes stories galore, probably many we’ve never heard. The cover that currently appears on Amazon, which I dissed in May, is actually THE cover.

Almost forgot: Cats Working gets a mention in In the Weeds. In what context, I don’t really know. Apparently, my years-long coverage got Tony’s attention more than I ever imagined.

To finish on a personal note with the books, I’m almost finished with World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, and when I got to Trinidad and Tobago, a line Laurie Woolever used from Parts Unknown made me put the book down for a week to process it. Tony is quoted as saying…

“Tobago is what you hope for when you waddle away from the buffet on the SS Norway [bold mine] cruise ship. Lazy beach days, boat drinks, villas, all set to a calypso beat.”

Except that I just watched the episode on HBO Max (with earphones) to write this and what he actually said (at 37:18) was, “SS Norwalk.” Close enough to be suspicious, but I’m taking it as random.

Context: the Norway was “my” ship from 1988–2003. I sailed 23 times and had life-changing experiences, but I’ve published almost nothing about them. It stunned me to think that he could have read enough of my work to mention the ship because it had been long destroyed by then.

But as it turns out, he didn’t.

Tony presumably on Tobago

Medina Spirit on Trump: “He’s Wack”

May 11, 2021

By Tony

Trump, desperate for a social media fix after getting banned everywhere for lying, created his own website, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” (No link. Cats Working is dedicated to stamping out ignorance.)

Trump spews gibberish that people may ♥ or repeat on Facebook or Twitter. We hope journalists don’t scamper after Trump down his new rabbit hole, fouling the media with his garbage.

But on Sunday Trump called Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit a “junky.”

That’s because after the Derby, Medina failed a drug test. It showed too much betamethasone, a steroid horses are given for pain or inflammation. It’s forbidden when they race. Medina’s trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended at Churchill Downs, and the world waits for results from a second test on another portion of Medina’s sample to find out if Medina has to forfeit his Derby win and give up his Triple Crown dream.

Max and Roc helped me “borrow” Karen’s phone and call Medina Spirit to get an opinion straight from the horse’s mouth…

I caught him just before he hit the road to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Tony: Hi, Mr. Spirit? Do you have a few minutes to talk to Cats Working?

Medina Spirit: Cats? Working? Are you kidding? The cats prowling our stable hunt purely for sport. But they’re cool, so sure. Make it quick, though. My trailer’s almost ready to go. Call me Medina.

T: Thanks. You were amazing in the Derby. I’m so sorry they might disqualify you for doing drugs.

M: That’s some crazy shit, right? I can’t believe it myself.

T: Did you realize your people doped you before the race?

M: It comes down to this. When they show up with a big horse needle before a major race, you can either kick their balls off and earn a trip to the glue factory, or you can trust that they’re not SO stupid, they’d kill their own meal ticket, so you take the shot.

T: I get it. Why do you think Baffert would let that happen?

M: We call that guy “Baffling” around the stalls. One day he loves his horseys, the next day, we hear he’s shooting them up and getting suspended. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

T: What do you think about Donald Trump calling you a “junky.”

M: To be honest, I’m more pissed that Baffling keeps calling me a “little horse.” What’s that mean? A Shetland? A Falabella? I’ll tell you, I’ve got one thing I’d like to show Baffert any day that makes his own look downright puny, and that’s my —

T: — Horses put cats to shame in that department, too. Speaking of mushrooms, back to Trump.

M: Oh, yeah. What does Trump mean by “junky”? Was my saddle tatty? Was my jockey wearing rags? I don’t get it.

T: I think he meant “junkie,” like drug addict.

M: Oh, right. That clown never could spell. But he knows junkies. He sees one every time he looks in a mirror. And he’s not seeing an orange horse with a fucked-up mane. What a washed-up wack job. It doesn’t take even a lick of horse sense to see that. Why isn’t he in jail yet? People need to muck out his worthless opinions. When it comes to crime, Trump makes Baffert’s horse-rigging seem trifling.

Hey, look, kid, I gotta run. Literally. In the Preakness on Saturday. Against Mandaloun again. He almost beat my ass in the Derby.

T: OK, Medina. I’ve got paws crossed you win again. I hear Baffert’s watching the race from California, so it’s all on you at Pimlico. Best of luck!


Bourdain News Updates

April 29, 2021

By Karen

Dates for the CNN/HBO Documentary…

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain will be shown June 11 at the Tribeca Film Festival (which runs June 9–20 in New York City), then July 16 it will open in theaters. After its theatrical run peters out, it will be available on HBO Max and eventually shown on CNN. As of today, the trailer isn’t available yet. Hypebeast.com reports that the film will include unaired footage from Parts Unknown.

I wonder it that could be bits of the never-finished Florence episode Tony made with his soon-to-be-cheating girlfriend the week before he took his final, fatal trip to France with Eric Ripert.

World Travel: An Irreverant Guide Hits Bestseller Lists…

Work has kept me from diving into this book, but it came out of the gate strong.

Its first week, it was No. 1 on the Washington Post Nonfiction Hardcover Bestsellers list.

Surprisingly, it did not make The New York Times’ corresponding list that week at all.

It’s No. 1 on the Los Angeles Times Nonfiction Hardcover Bestsellers list this week.

At Amazon, it ranked No. 3 for all nonfiction its first week and seems to be holding steady.

And in Canada it debuted at No. 1 in International Bestsellers among Canadian independent booksellers, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Author Laurie Woolever continues her media blitz with a dedication that would make Tony proud. She did a Texas Public Radio podcast that went online April 23.

On April 26 she talked to Anthony Mason on CBS This Morning. Chef Daniel Boulud also appears in the interview and remembers his jitters filming Parts Unknown in his French hometown with Tony.

Finally, My Post-Mortem on the Reelz Autopsy Episode…

I’ll just hit what got my attention. If you’re unfamiliar with the details of Tony’s passing, dip into the Cats Working archives for June 2018 and find my series of posts as the story unfolded.

Dr. Michael Hunter didn’t seem to have any more information than we all had. The show did include one lovely photo of Nancy as a teenager I’d never seen. (I didn’t capture it because I’m respecting Nancy’s privacy as atonement for outing her identity on A Cook’s Tour years ago.)

However, the show failed to mention Tony’s 20-year marriage to Nancy and gave the impression he was single until Ottavia. It also implied that Parts Unknown was his only TV show.

The biggest “get” was Tony’s friend Michael Ruhlman on camera, but he didn’t say anything remotely revealing. He did confirm that Tony seemed tired and unhappy his last few years (i.e., girlfriend years), and seemed to become more insecure as his fame grew.

Dr. Hunter called this “Imposter Syndrome.”

Hunter discussed and dismissed Bourdain’s well-known habits as suspects, drugs and drinking, except as substances that would make someone more prone to depression.

He homed in on jet lag, and speculated that Tony was using Ambien, another depression trigger, but also discounted that as a contributor. (An appropriate dose of prescription medication was found in Tony’s bloodwork, but never named.)

Where Hunter really screwed up was saying several times that autopsy results were “never revealed.” No autopsy was ever done.

The show skirted right up to “rumors of an affair” involving the girlfriend days before Tony’s death, but only as another reason he’d be depressed, not a contributing factor.

The one bit of homework that impressed me was that Hunter claimed to find 19 instances between 2005-2017 where Tony had joked about hanging generally, or hanging himself in the shower.

I suspect the recreation of Eric Ripert charging into Tony’s room to find him in the bathroom was inaccurate. I believe a hotel worker entered first, and I’ve never seen any mention of exactly where Tony did it.

Hunter finally attributed Tony’s death to emotional pressure from the girlfriend situation, traveling and being away from his family, and long-standing suicidal ideation linked to depression. Hunter concluded that Tony “thought his depression was unworthy of treatment or insurmountable.”

Bottom line: Autopsy, The Last Hours of… filled in no blanks for me.

BONUS: I just came across this good article at Mashed about Bourdain that’s a pretty accurate, comprehensive glimpse of him.


Special Report: Bourdain News

April 22, 2021

By Karen

I’ve got four new items if you’re a Cats Working reader who’s still interested in Anthony Bourdain’s evolving legacy.

Autopsy Episode on Reelz…

The episode of Autopsy: The Last Hours of… filmed in November 2020 premiers Sunday, April 25, at 8 p.m. ET on the Reelz channel. Here’s their blurb (redacted for length because CW readers know the backstory)…

On June 8th 2018, the world was stunned by the news that award-winning writer and TV presenter, Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life. He was the punk rock chef who found fame as the hip new face of food and travel television… But suddenly, at the age of 61, he hung himself in his hotel room, while filming in France. So what happened? World renowned forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Hunter needs to analyse every detail in the limited available information to piece together what exactly caused the well-loved TV host to take his own life. 

I’ve been watching some of Autopsy for months, waiting for this one to emerge, so I’ll dare to make a few predictions based on what I’ve learned about this show.

Dr. Michael Hunter is going to delve into Bourdain’s drug use, smoking, drinking, diet, and possibly chronic jet lag/sleep deprivation as potentially the REAL reasons behind the suicide, but in the end he’ll go along with what the French coroner concluded on the death certificate without performing an autopsy.

Hunter will never come close to citing the most likely actual cause.

The mention of “limited available information” indicates that neither Tony’s family nor friends cooperated. They know what went down, and they’re not saying. To this day, we don’t even know the final resting place of his ashes.

The show cast an actress to play Bourdain’s last girlfriend, but I would be surprised if they reveal anything we don’t already know about “the last hours of” that situation.

I’ll be watching just to see what they do with what little they have to go on, with fingers crossed that it’s not anything upsetting to Tony’s daughter.

World Travel: In Irreverent Guide

On Tuesday, April 20, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain was published by his imprint, Ecco, but his longtime co-author, Laurie Woolever, really made it happen.

I’ve got my hefty copy. As an owner of every book Bourdain wrote, I can say with “no reservations” that World Travel is — even with line drawings, not the full-page, full-color photos of previous books — THE MOST sumptuous, elegantly produced volume ever to bear his name.

Woolever, after just one hour-long brainstorming session with Tony in March 2017 on what places and points he wanted to include, worked from those notes to craft chapters from literally hundreds of hours of episode transcripts from No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, his interviews, articles, notes, blog posts and books. The sheer breadth of her research makes my head explode.

It’s organized alphabetically by country (43 of them), and the quoted Bourdain sprinkled liberally throughout is in bold blue, which makes his voice literally jump off the page.

I’ve just begun it, but I already feel that it’s going to be like having Tony back for a while.

To promote the book, Woolever has done phone interviews with everybody. I’ll share some links, but warn you that they’re similar. She probably knows how Bourdain felt when he got asked for the 100th time how he liked eating a cobra’s heart.

Eater.com

WashingtonPost.com

Fodors.com

Esquire.com

TravelAndLeisure.com

CNN/HBO Documentary Finished at Last…

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain will debut at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City from June 9–20. It was directed by Morgan Neville, who did that Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and produced also by Focus Features. At some point it will be available on HBO Max and shown on CNN, I presume. Here’s the blurb…

The nonfiction chronicle of Bourdain’s life will brim “with the same energy, curiosity, and deep humanity that made Anthony Bourdain the superstar whose life touched so many” in the years leading up to his 2018 death.

This film DID have the cooperation of Bourdain’s family and friends, but I expect the focus will be on his amazing life and leave the many still-lingering questions about his end unanswered.

I found this video interview with Morgan Neville from May 27, 2020, episode #35. He must have been working on Roadrunner then, but they don’t discuss it until 29:30. Neville says basically nothing, and the interviewer does no follow-up, but you’re welcome to check it out.

Last, But Most Exciting, One More Woolever Book…

Laurie Woolever is also compiling a Bourdain biography from interviews called Bourdain: The Oral Biography to be published on October 12, 2021, by Ecco. She mentioned it during her current media blitz, but provided the most detail to Barron’s

I did about 100 interviews with people from all different aspects of his life, from family members to colleagues back in the old kitchen days of the ’80s and ’90s, high school friends, his first wife, plenty of television colleagues, publishing colleagues, friends he made along the way, just a real array of people who knew him really from birth until the end of his life. He was someone who shared a lot about himself, and his whole story is out there of course in Kitchen Confidential, but what I found in working on the book is that there was a lot that I didn’t know. Every single person I spoke with I learned something surprising. And I was pretty steeped in all things Tony for a long time, so my hope with that one is that people will learn more about what motivated him.

PS: In researching this post, I came across other Bourdain “biographies” on Amazon that I wasn’t aware of by people I’ve never heard of. I’ll do some digging on those and report back.

BONUS: Bourdain has this new tribute mural at The Grub Shop on Long Island.

Photo: Yelp/AndaluzTheArtist

Cats’ Answer to “Pooch Perfect”

April 5, 2021

By Roc

I’m being a blog hog for another day because over the weekend I brainstormed with Max and Tony and we came up with a cat version of Pooch Perfect in case NBC or CBS is interested in giving ABC some competition that’s real entertainment.

Our show’s title is CattyGories. Let that sink in a minute, because it sums up the concept perfectly.

The human contestants would be people who claim they’re pet psychics or cat whisperers. You know, people who live under the delusion that they can get cats to do stuff.

The kitty contestants may be temporarily captured ferals, shelter cats or even cats who have good homes. Since this show is so NOT like Pooch Perfect, cat owners might WANT their cats on it to get their 15 minutes of national TV fame.

Why? Because it has an intriguing twist. The usual premise of these “game” shows is for humans to exploit animals for their own amusement. With CattyGories, humans must depend on the kindness and mercy of the cats, and their goal is to stay in the cats’ good graces to keep from bleeding out.

The competitions are tailored around things cats might — or might not — want to do normally. Without using brute force or cruelty of any kind, the humans must attempt to complete simple tasks like:

  • Give the cat a mani-pedi, or apply fake adhesive covers to the cat’s claws
  • Teach the cat to use a people toilet
  • Put the cat in a carrier
  • Train the cat to fetch
  • Get the cat to come when called by name
  • Keep the cat off a countertop where there’s a freshly roasted chicken
  • Walk 10 feet with the cat on a leash
  • Get the cat to sit on their lap for 5 minutes

Each week, nobody gets kicked off, but one human is declared that week’s loser based on how badly they failed to get their cat to cooperate and the total dimension of spatters on bloody tissues they accumulated in the attempt.

On the final show, the judges add up the total inches of scratches and count how many puncture wounds each human sustained. The one with the lowest number of both “wins.”

The performance of the cats is never judged in any way. On the final show, EVERY cat is declared a winner. Because with cats, there’s no such thing as losing.

And maybe dogs will watch CattyGories and learn something. Such as, if they’re ever conscripted to be on a TV show like Pooch Perfect, they don’t go down without a fight bite. At the very least, every human on the set should get one leg humped and the other one peed on.


ABC’s “Pooch Perfect” More Like “Dogs Dissed”

April 1, 2021

By Roc

On March 30, ABC launched Pooch Perfect, a new dog groomer unreality competition hosted by former dog-shower Rebel Wilson (who looks fabulous, Karen adds).

I could be catty and say that Max, Tony and I love seeing dogs humiliated on national television, but we’re bigger cats than that, so I’ll stay on the high perch. Also, I know that some Cats Working readers love both cats and dogs, and we don’t hold it against you.

(This isn’t to say that Tony and I wouldn’t be thrilled to give Max a break from our teasing if Karen ever brought home a “teacup” something we could kick around instead.)

PP follows a well-worn formula. The groomer contestants are pairs — mother-son, couples, BFFs, mentor-mentee — and they’re mostly weirdos, as humans go. Every week, one of them gets the boot for not defacing grooming a dog to the three judges’ exacting standards.

The only judge we know is Lisa Vanderpump because Karen forces a lot of lot BravoTV on us. We’re familiar with the ever-present posse of cute-but-spoiled mutts she uses to make herself seem less plastic.

The dogs on PP first show up unkempt and filthy. I don’t know if they come that way or if the producers rough them up backstage. Then the groomers have to give them makeovers according to themes.

In the first round, the groomers had dogs whom they were supposed to transform into versions of their own personal “heart dogs.” This was obviously an attempt to humanize the groomers so they don’t seem so much like frustrated graffiti artists. Most of the dogs came through that challenge relatively intact, although I think some got fake gems and sequins glued to their fur.

Then the elimination round was the Unleash the Beast Ulti-Mutt Challenge. The groomers had to turn another set of dogs into OTHER ANIMALS. This is where it turned cruel.

Things were done to those poor dogs that will take months — if not years — to grow out.

One dog was dyed black and white to look like a skunk. Another one was dyed fifty shades of pink to look like a flamingo…

Some of the dogs were even turned into cats — lions and leopards. You get the drift…

The dog named Best in Show was turned into a fish!..

The judges goaded Fish-Dog’s groomer into this by telling him in the first round that he wasn’t extreme enough. In addition to dying his dog clown colors, he shaved “scales” into the dog’s back. This was a technique several groomers used, shaving heart shapes down to the skin and then dying the hearts pink.

I must say, the dogs were incredibly good sports about it and nobody got bit — at least on camera. If they were shelter dogs, maybe they saw it as their best shot to get adopted. I can’t imagine any responsible owners would have volunteered their dogs for this ordeal. Lisa Vanderpump certainly didn’t let any of them lay a mitt on the dog she had with her.

Let me just state for the record that this show would NEVER be made with cats.

The groomer who got kicked off first “only” turned her dog into a fire ant by dying it red, shaving its legs and putting antennas on it…

PETA is already pissed about the whole concept, and we’re afraid of what’s coming next for more dogs as the groomers feel increasing pressure to outdo each other.

PS: We send Major Biden our thoughts and prayers. He’s taking a lot of heat at the White House just for doing his German Shepherd job. Max is working on a story now.

Major Biden

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