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?”

Conversation with Tom Vitale, Part 1

October 15, 2021

By Karen

Tom Vitale is author of In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, published October 5.

We spoke by phone October 10. The full transcript of our wide-ranging convo runs 6,400 words, so I’ll be sharing it in a series of edited segments. First up…

Lingering (Now)-Solved Mysteries

Cats Working: Tom, thanks for doing this. How do you feel now that your book’s out and has a life of its own?

Tom Vitale: It’s weird and a bit surreal. It’s hard to be excited like I feel I should be, because it still means Tony’s gone. Overall, it’s becoming clearer that I needed to write the book to help process all the different crazy things going on inside my mind.

CW: I scanned back through the blog, and maybe you can tell me something about the Chase Sapphire incident. It was No Reservations, Season 6 —

TV: Yes, I know that quite well.

CW: Tony started using this credit card. In fact, I just rewatched Prague, and he flashes the card upside down, which I took as a “Fuck you, Chase.” What was that about?

TV: I worked on the Chase Sapphire integration in Harbin, China. He pays for a big meal at the end with his card. I remember Tony thanking me for that placement because it didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Chase paid him for product placement. Typical Tony, he hated doing it.

TV pays pretty well, but not that well. The real money comes from product placement or endorsements, which Tony resisted because his integrity wouldn’t let him sell out. But he was always looking for ways to do something pretty low-impact. Chase Sapphire was one. I think we had to use it five times in that season and work it in naturally. There was a Bing thing we had to do once —

CW: Yes! My next question is Bing.com. He did a commercial.

TV: I had to direct that. Bing was a Microsoft search engine, and I don’t even know if it still exists. We staged a faux-production meeting, and we actually had to use Google to find Bing. Microsoft was hoping it was going to be big, and they paid for a commercial. I don’t remember if it ever aired. Nari, and I think Sandy, were in it.

CW: It aired because I saw it, but I don’t remember it. At the time, I wrote that Tony said in it he made all this travel plans using Bing.com.

TV: [Laughs]

CW: There was some outrage over Chase Sapphire, particularly. We thought evil Travel Channel had forced him to do it. But thanks to you, now the truth is on the record.

TV: Travel Channel probably proposed those. They came to him to all the time with product placements. I remember one involving Cadillac he refused, but they did it anyway, and he was furious.

He didn’t want to do them, but he also needed to pay for private school for his daughter and so on. He rejected many things and would joke, “You endorse Imodium one time, and then for the rest of your life, you’re the Imodium guy.”

He had so many opportunities over the years that he refused. Making those shows was so hard, he was looking for income that didn’t mean 250 days a year traveling around the world.

CW: Here’s more trivia. In August 2011, Bill Maher had Tony on his HBO show, Real Time, and Maher was an asshole. Tony came on with a copy of his latest book, and it sat uncomfortably on the table. It seemed Tony expected to discuss the book, but Maher ignored it. At one point Maher even called Tony “Arthur.” Did Tony ever mention it? He never did Bill Maher again.

TV: Tony used a lot of unflattering words to describe Bill Maher, but I don’t remember him saying anything specific. I never saw it, but he did not enjoy it.

CW: I would wonder why Bill Maher would set a guest up like that, but he’s just a dick.

TV: It was funny how personally Tony would take things. I once read this book called Cockpit Confidential by an airline pilot who basically dispelled notions about fear of flying. I was talking to Tony about it, thinking there was no way he’d be aware of this book. Not only was he aware, he was quite angry that the author ripped off his title for Kitchen Confidential. I just couldn’t believe he knew or cared, because the two books couldn’t compete in any way.

CW: That is funny. I’ve got a Cruise Confidential, about working on cruise ships, on my bookshelf. Tony created a genre.

Now I’m going to share a story I’ve never told anyone. Once upon a time, I received an email from a woman, I think on the West Coast, who told me she had Tony’s cellphone number. She’d been calling him repeatedly and hanging up because she wanted to hear his voice. She felt badly about it and decided to confess to me.

I kept telling her she had to stop it. She finally sent me a number and said, “OK, now that I’ve given his number to you, I feel free of it and I don’t have to call him anymore.”

I never heard from her again. This is the number she gave me [XXX-XXX-XXXX]. Do you remember if it was his?

TV: I’m looking it up right now. Yes, that was it.

CW: So, she really had it. I didn’t know what to do with that information at the time. Did he ever mention getting those hang-up calls?

TV: I don’t remember that specifically, but he was paranoid, and I’m sure that contributed. Very early in No Reservations, they put his phone number on the schedules. For some reason, there was a big kerfuffle and it was taken off. I don’t know if those things could be related.

He definitely would have done some thinking, like, “Where was my number left out? I was just on a shoot, and it was on the schedule.” He might have had some idea who it was.


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.


REVIEW: Bourdain, the Definitive Oral Biography

October 1, 2021

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s assistant Laurie Woolever has pulled off another remarkable feat with Bourdain: the Definitive Oral Biography, although I wonder how “definitive” it will ultimately be. I still have 100 pages to go, but I can’t wait to tell you about this book.

Woolever interviewed 91 people Tony knew throughout his life. Some are his famous friends or career-related contacts whose names I recognize, but many aren’t.

Most notably, Woolever spoke at length with Tony’s first wife Nancy (who also contributed touching never-before-seen photos) and his now-14-year-old daughter Ariane. Cats Working readers who have always wondered about these two important females in his life will be gratified by how openly they share their memories.

The book’s format surprised me in the best way. I expected 91 straight interviews, which risked becoming dull and redundant. Instead, Woolever pulled off the Herculean task of breaking each interview down by topic, then reassembling those pieces under 59 page-turning chapter headings into a miraculous chronological narrative.

Instead of picturing each person sitting across from Woolever with a tape recorder between them, it’s more like she gathered a room full of people to casually share notes on Tony topics like, “I Absolutely Always Saw a Talent in Him,” “I’m Not Gonna Censor the Guy,” “He Was a Man of Extremes,” and so on.

This, coming on the heels of her previous project, where she stitched together World Travel: An Irreverent Guide from Bourdain’s vast trove of published materials, makes me think Woolever does 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles for fun, like those geniuses on YouTube who solve Rubik’s Cubes in 5 seconds.

Tony’s brother Chris and mother Gladys (who died in 2020) are included, and they sketch out the most complete picture yet of Tony’s father, Pierre Bourdain, and Tony’s relationship with him. The closest I’ll come to a spoiler is to say that you’ll see Tony’s parents in a whole new light, particularly Gladys.

Of course, Ottavia pops in throughout, although Nancy naturally dominates the early years when she and Tony were together, and we learn some of her side of that story for the first time. As the person who “outed” Nancy online back in 2008 in an old episode of A Cook’s Tour, I was stunned (and chagrined) by her revelations about traveling to Spain with Tony.

Nancy connected Woolever with friends who knew Tony in high school and at Vassar, but the one period where there seems to be a hole is during his CIA years (the culinary school, not the spy agency), and what kind of student he was there.

With 100 pages still to go, I haven’t quite gotten into his final years and what I know is coming, although late last night I touched the edge of that on page 330 when someone said, “And then fucking what’s-her-name entered his life…”

Woolever, keeping the wagons circled, didn’t interview “fucking what’s-her-name,” nor, I’m curious as to why, Tony’s most notorious “fixer,” Zamir.

My next observation isn’t to fault Woolever in any way, because I’m gaining (and confirming) many insights into Tony’s behavior and events.

Weirdly, many people speak of him in present tense as if he were still alive. But even so, because they and Woolever are two layers between the reader and Tony, I feel like I’m in one of those dreams where you’re searching for someone. You keep meeting people who say, “Oh, he was here a minute ago, and he did this…” but he’s always just around the next corner and out of sight and you wake up without finding him. I guess there’s no escaping this detached quality, given the secondhand material Woolever’s working with. But the people she talks to tell myriad great stories about him.

The other thing that surprised me physically about the book is the rough paper, which seems destined to turn yellow. You’d think anything with Definitive in the title would have some archival quality, but I’m guessing it was a cost decision.

Bottom line: If you’re still curious about Anthony Bourdain, this is a book to read sooner rather than later.

PS: On Tuesday, October 5, we have another Bourdain book coming out, In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind-the-Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, by Tom Vitale, who directed 100 episodes of Tony’s various travel shows. I’ve already read it and will have much, much more to come on it, so stay tuned.

Trust me, there’s virtually no overlap between these books, even though Vitale is interviewed in the Biography. I found Tom’s to be the more satisfying book because you can call it anything but detached. However, both are must-reads if you want answers to many (not all) of the questions Tony left us with. I hope we’ll have conversations here about both books, so get reading!


How the Media Could Rid Us of Trump

July 23, 2021

By Karen

When I watch TV pundits, I’m infuriated when they say things like, “If Trump runs in 2024,” or, “If Trump wins re-election,” or, “Trump’s making noises like he wants to run.”

WTF is wrong with them? Have they seen or heard that fat orange asshole lately? He’s a mess.

Every time CNN, MSNBC or any of Trump’s other “enemies of the people” give Trump a wisp of validation that his current grift is working, it’s fuel to him. It’s like feeding a Gremlin after midnight.

To destroy Trump and his delusion of regaining the White House after losing it by over 7 million votes, let’s follow Michael Cohen’s lead.

Remember Cohen? He was Trump’s lawyer/fixer who once said he’d “take a bullet” for the boss. Then he got three years in prison for a crime Trump made him commit and regained his senses.

Cohen’s under home confinement now and hosts a great podcast called Mea Culpa. It’s the only podcast I make time for because Trump always gets bashed.

(I also appreciate Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word because he heaps scorn and insults on Trump nearly every night. It feels like the next best thing to dancing on Trump’s grave.)

Cohen is sure Trump won’t run in 2024 because he’ll never risk the humiliation of losing again, and he never wanted the job in the first place. These days, he’s only stringing the MAGA cult along to keep wringing out campaign donations.

For some reason, Cohen never talks about Trump’s mental deterioration, so I’ll add that Trump continues his disintegration. Listen to some of this audio captured by reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker when they interviewed Trump for their new book, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.

Trump babbles the same old lies, delusions, exaggerations and boasts in disjointed fragments and nonsensical tangents. Afterward, Anderson Cooper says it sounded like “Nixon, drunk, rambling,” and it’s “stunning” to think Trump was ever president.

Perfectly put, Anderson.

The media MUST stop normalizing Trump and heed its own eyes and ears. Don’t clean up his quotes to be coherent for print. Reproduce the babbling as-is.

Listen to him for five minutes and realize it’s ridiculous to think he’ll be a factor in 2024.

And that’s without considering all the investigations into myriad felonies that — if there’s any justice left — will send him to prison.

Talking heads need to embrace that any next move for Trump other than bankruptcy, incarceration, or incapacitation is patently absurd. Because it is.

Any commentator who says, “If Trump runs in 2024,” should get a hearty laugh. Incredulity and ridicule must be our blanket response to Trump as anything but a political has-been who’s finished.

It would CRUSH him.

Inspired by Joseph Goebbels, Trump likes to say, “If you say it enough and keep saying it, they’ll start to believe you.”

How about we start speaking the whole truth about Trump enough, and keep saying it, until even his cult can’t ignore it?

When he turns on the TV, Trump needs to see himself belittled, mocked and dismissed on every network. His media outlets will shrink to Fox and OAN until they can’t stand listening to his delusional kvetching another minute and cut him off.

Then we can stick a fork in Trump. He’s done.

As for those clowns in Congress who still prop Trump up, like Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, they get the same treatment — derisive laughter until they STFU.

Just a thought.


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

Wish Prince Harry Would Stuff a Sock In It

May 25, 2021

By Karen

His mouth, I mean. I’ve been fuming over Republicans trying to block a January 6 commission because they’re scared shitless of exposing their role as insurrection mentors and enablers. But the other nasty story that keeps pinging my radar is Harry and his terrible, horrible, beastly, nightmarish, very bad childhood.

The bulk of this tale has come out since Harry went to his grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral. There, he had to face William and Charles after letting his wife Meghan call the Royal Family a pack of racists, to Oprah’s everlasting faux-shock, on national TV.

Harry’s lucky Aunt Princess Anne and Uncle Prince Edward just cut him dead, when they probably would have liked to drag him out behind the castle and beat the snot out of him.

On a side note, Harry just showed an equal lack of respect for his adopted country during his Armchair Expert podcast when he called our First Amendment “bonkers” (44:54). Now Fox and Trump’s cult are pissed at him, too.

He followed that up by taking more whacks at the Windsors on an Apple TV+ series he’s producing with Oprah called The Me You Can’t See. As her subject for one episode, he nailed Charles as a terrible father who believed his sons should grow up as miserable as he’d been as a child.

By the way, the Queen is Charles’ mother. She’s still alive, 95, and freshly widowed. But Harry didn’t think twice about outing her by inference as a negligent parent.

But I’m most intrigued by what he unwittingly reveals about Meghan. He compares Meghan to Diana’s Egyptian boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, taking it no deeper than race. I suspect their motivations in hooking up with a royal is the more apt parallel to draw.

For example, after less than a year in the “Firm,” pregnant (manipulative value), Meghan chose right before she and Harry had to appear in public at a glittery concert to tell him she was considering suicide and how she’d do it. Then she apparently cried quietly during the concert, lest his memory fade.

The upshot was that Harry gave up his life and bought Meghan a mansion among the rich and famous in Montecito, where she’d be comfortable.

Then he described being awakened one night by Meghan right before the big Oprah CBS interview. He thought she was crying softly into her pillow so as not to wake him. This time, although separated by a continent and an ocean, Meghan was distraught over the royals’ and media’s “smear campaign” against her.

I wouldn’t put it past Meghan to have waited until Harry fell asleep to play this scene for maximum impact. She was bent on using Oprah to exact revenge on her in-laws and had to ensure that Harry wouldn’t back out because his grandfather happened to be lying on his deathbed.

Now Harry says he’s going around “telling his story” to help others. Our hearts all go out to 12-year-old Harry over the tragic, senseless loss of his mother. But no matter how Harry spins it, we saw him grow up with palaces, privilege and a devoted older brother, and party his way through life until he joined the army. Now he’s revealing that he has no sense of history, and no respect for his grandmother, who has dutifully lived the role history thrust upon her.

Harry wants the wealth without the responsibilities. The fame without the exposure. Total privacy while baring all in every media outlet that will have him.

Harry keeps lobbing these “truth” grenades at his family like a passive-aggressive chickenshit, knowing they can’t wallow in the muck trying to defend themselves.

I hope Harry and Oprah are over-milking this mental health cow and soon have people saying, “Enough already. We get it. You had horrible childhoods. But you’re rich and famous now. Stop acting like a pair of greedy ingrates and go away.”


Derby Leaves Cats Kentucky-Fried

May 3, 2021

By Roc, Tony and Max

Roc here… When I was a tiny kitten out west in Abingdon, Virginia, my mom always told us never to trust — or stand under — horses. “Freaks on stilts with rocks for feet” she used to call them. Since we’d never seen a horse, my littermates and I had no idea what she was talking about.

But once I came to Cats Working and learned from Adele about the Triple Crown and sat through all those races with her for years, now I know exactly what Mom meant. You never really know what’s cooking in those tiny horse brains in those ginormous bodies.

And humans think CATS are unpredictable!

Adele must be laughing her ass off in Kitty Heaven over the crappy job we did of picking Kentucky Derby winners. Karen remembers all the way back to when the late Fred used to pick the ponies. She says she doesn’t think he or Adele were ever more off the mark than we were.

Max cutting in… Speaking of Adele, I bet she’s up there on Seattle Slew’s back, whispering in his ear, “Your great-grandson Bourbonic came in 13th. Not your proudest moment, huh?”

Curlin, Bernardini and Afleet Alex, who are all living the studly life in retirement, have probably been hearing horsy guffaws around their stables over their descendents running like their shoes were on backward.

Tony… OK, OK, since I’m the new designated prognosticator here, I should be the one to tell you how it went down. In case you missed the race on May 1, you can watch the whole disgusting spectacle right here in a minute. But let me tell you a few things to watch for.

First, we are grudgingly happy for the winner, Medina Spirit, and congratulate him for his amazing race. But we were all hissing right after the race when his trainer Bob Baffert kept calling him a “little horse.” Hey, Baffert, that “little horse” made you the most successful trainer in Derby history with a seventh win. Show some respect!

On Derby Day, two of our picks were getting a lot of promising attention: Known Agenda and Rock Your World. In the end, Agenda became the relative leader of our pack, coming in ninth.

Rock Your World, who went in with second-best odds of winning, was another story. Directly out of the gate he was crowded out by Essential Quality (14) and Highly Motivated (17) and pushed to the far outside, where he remained. Rock did try to recover, but must have started thinking, “I could be in my stall with a big icy bucket of carrot juice, watching this shit on TV,” because he fell back and crossed the finish line 17th.

But by far the MOST bizarre run was by that whitish horse, Soup and Sandwich. He started from post position 19, surged to the front and maintained a steady second place behind Medina Spirit. Then something weird happened. At about 1:35 on the video, it looks like Soup starts running BACKWARD. He lets ALL the other horses pass until he’s dead last in 19th place. (Only 19 horses ran because King Fury, pp 16, got scratched). See what I mean…

Kitty hope springs eternal, so we’ll try to do better with the Preakness. We haven’t heard of any mishaps from the Derby, so at least all the horses made it in one piece, and we’re thankful for that.


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