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.


Taking a Pass on 2022 Kentucky Derby

May 7, 2022

By Tony

Here’s a confession for all my peeps: Try as hard as I might, I’m just not feeling excited about Triple Crown season the way my predecessors Adele and Fred did. I’m sorry.

A month before I was born, back in 2019, the Kentucky Derby winner was Maximum Security. But he was disqualified for bumping into another horse in the stretch and they gave the win to Country House instead.

I joined the Cats Working crew that October. Roc and Max drafted me to fill Adele’s considerable paw pads as the 2020 Triple Crown prognosticator. But COVID screwed up the order of my first Triple Crown season and the Derby ended up being the LAST race, run in September, instead of the first one. My pick came in second, but he’d already won the longest and hardest race, the Belmont, so I couldn’t claim to know what I was doing.

Not like amazing Adele did back in 2011 when she picked Animal Kingdom and HE WON!

So, I tried again in 2021. When my top pick came in 16th, I began to wonder if I’m really cut out for horse racing. The winner of that Derby was Medina Spirit. But then HE was disqualified after they found some banned substance in his system after the race.

Sadly, Medina Spirit unexpectly dropped dead during a workout on December 6, 2021. But he died a winner, never knowing he was disqualified, because the humans took their sweet time and didn’t reach their verdict until February 2022.

As a result, Medina’s trainer, Bob Baffert, has been banned for two years from tracks on both coasts for doping horses. But for today’s Derby, Baffert managed to skirt the ban by transferring two of his horses, Taiba and Messier, to one of his former trainer associates, who was able to enter them.

After two Derby disqualifications in three years, I think The Triple Crown is morphing into more a series of rigged elections than fair races. It doesn’t matter how powerful or fast the horses are. Some human bastard with an agenda will be waiting like a spider at the finish line, hoping for some sign of “fraud” with which to take out the winner.

You can’t get excited or trust what you see watching these races anymore. If they don’t turn out the way some backroom gang of thugs planned, they’ll throw the thing into dispute until they get what they want, the horses be damned.

I feel really bad for thoroughbreds who train hard and run themselves ragged in qualifying races for the Derby. In the end, none of it matters. Their reputations and fates are in the hands of sometimes deceitful, greedy people who will dope or drag any horse’s good name through the mud to win.

Cats Working wishes all the horses a safe trip today, and we’ll be watching. But nobody’s got paws crossed for a winner, because any horse’s “victory” may be just a temporary illusion.


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.


Some Days, I Just Can’t…

March 24, 2022

By Karen

Does anyone else feel like they can’t handle one more scandal, disaster or war?

First, we had to endure four years of Trump’s firehose of lies and gaslighting — now five years+ and counting because the DOJ must secretly worship Trump at a shrine they’ve erected in the basement.

Bad as that was, it was overlapped by two years of coronavirus pandemic, which virtually wiped my memory of my existence during 2020 and 2021.

Those two slow-rolling nightmares made my hair thin and my skin break out in a full-body rash I’m still dealing with. (I took up meditation and the skin is much better, but scalp psoriasis persists, thanks for asking.)

Photo: New York Post

Today, you turn on the TV and it’s wall-to-wall coverage of Putin’s unjustified, illegal Ukraine invasion. I can watch only about 10 minutes of CNN before I have to turn off. That’s because I freak out knowing the world is just WATCHING — helpless to stop it — while Putin tries to obliterate a country and murder its entire population.

I abandoned MSNBC completely after Rachel Maddow swanned off to make the movie nobody’s waiting for about a forgotten asshole, Spiro Agnew, just when we need her to keep connecting dots and nailing Republican traitors until they’re brought to justice or voted out (or retire or die).

If I hear one more talking head say Putin “may have” committed war crimes, my own head will explode. We have laws defining war crimes. How many demolished civilian homes and public buildings, and bodies being dumped into mass graves, do we need to see before the gutless media admits and unequivocally states…

PUTIN IS A WAR CRIMINAL WHO MUST BE PUNISHED

Yesterday I heard Secretary of State Antony Blinken say the U.S. has determined that Russian forces “have” committed war crimes and they will be held accountable.

So, we round up and prosecute all the small-potato soldiers? Crush the little guys perpetrating death and destruction on the orders of a homicidal megalomaniac?

Why does this feel familiar? Oh, right. Merrick Garland’s massive “crackdown” on MAGA 1/6 rioters who stormed, vandalized and shit all over the U.S. Capitol.

Our leaders are essentially saying we must NEVER go after power-hungry madmen who launch heinous assaults against humanity to stroke their own egos and make their dicks feel bigger. It might upset them.

I feel like I expend all my energy trying to maintain my sanity while the people who are supposed to uphold justice twiddle. I’ve got no capacity left to cope with earthquakes, floods, mudslides, tornadoes and new COVID outbreaks.

I’ve deliberately kept SCOTUS developments off my radar since Biden confirmed his pick would be a black woman. I knew he’d pick someone vastly more caring and competent than Trump’s cruel, subversive ideologues, Kavanaugh and Barrett. I don’t need to watch the confirmation hearing to know Republicans will act like the hateful, ignorant, misogynistic, racist hypocrites they all are.

As with Putin and Trump, we already have mountains of evidence proving beyond doubt that many Republicans in Congress are corrupt, treasonous scumbags with zero regard for decency or human life. What we don’t see is anyone who should be confronting and punishing them doing it.

That’s what’s depresses me most. The brave Ukrainian people will succeed in repelling Putin from their country because defeat is not an option for them. But victory will come at the steepest imaginable cost.

Meanwhile, the U.S. sticks to its goal of letting all the bad guys win — at least, the ones who are politicians.


Just Got to Vent About Our Vet(rinarian)

January 14, 2022

By Karen

I won’t name them, but CW cats and this veterinary practice go back to the 1990s (with one prolonged breakup midway until our defection practice began going downhill). We have seen at least two generations of these vets.

They made life hell during the late Cole’s kidney failure, needlessly costing me hundreds of dollars on prescriptions by limiting the sources to their extortionately priced selves (like $5 a pill vs. 30 pills for $10 online) or one pricey online pharmacy they “partner” with (i.e., probably skim a cut from).

I fought the drug price battle until Cole’s last breath, and recall one day driving to their office THREE times because their dumb-as-doorknobs staff was incapable of producing a correct written prescription and refused to fax it anywhere. I had to snail-mail it to my supplier while the clock ticked down on Cole’s waning life. Their blithe obstruction would have made Mitch McConnell proud.

After Cole died, I went full Karen on the practice administrator over their failure to cooperate. But nothing has changed. The pandemic made it worse. Much worse.

Cole’s prescription issues resurfaced with Adele’s subsequent kidney failure battle, although they did allow me to use Sam’s Club, right down the street. Since they knew I could — and would — drive over and raise hell within minutes of any prescription screwup, that went smoother, although it still cost me much more than it should have.

What I’ll never forget about their treatment of Adele was that they were in a new building (the same move that doomed the alternate practice I mentioned in the opening), and it had a special area for euthanasia. On Adele’s last day alive, they told me to call from the parking lot so we could arrive through a private entrance.

I called, and got a recording that they’d gone to lunch and to call back in a few hours.

THEY had set the appointment to kill one of their patients and just FORGOT it?

So, Adele’s last trip was right past the dogs in their damn lobby.

Max, Roc and Tony haven’t had major issues, so our contacts have been mercifully infrequent.

However, the practice does periodically annoy me with their comical mass emails. They call us “Family” and share new policies to inconvenience us from the tone-deaf perspective that our primary concern is the happiness, safety and well-being of their staff. (Examples on request.)

So, yesterday I took Roc in for his annual checkup, this year a mere courtesy call because he’s fine and doesn’t need any shots.

They let me choose sitting out in the parking lot or accompanying him. I chose the latter. I was double-masked; the vet wore only a blue paper mask, like the one I had on under my triple-ply cloth mask.

As their policy dictates, I sat across the exam room while Roc rested calmly, facing away from me, in his carrier on the exam table, which was inexplicably retracted so it only fit the carrier and the scale.

Full length requires too much extra wiping down between patients perhaps?

Turns out their new “procedure” is to dismantle the carrier, which looks like this, with seven fasteners…

Roc is a most congenial cat and has ridden drama-free in this carrier since he was a kitten. I told the vet to tip it slightly and he’d walk right out. She ignored me, mumbling about “an article saying this is better” — because she knows Roc SO well.

Roc, for the first time ever, felt his safe place taken apart by strangers. Think it bothered him?

Well, when I took out the carrier today for the photo, I set it down beside Roc and he bolted. So, thanks a lot, Vet, for Roc’s new carrier phobia.

During his exam, Roc stood like a thoroughbred while the vet and her assistant pawed him from head to toe. The vet said a cat earlier had put up a fuss.

MY cat didn’t. He was a pro. But you treated him like he was a problem.

Bottom line: These few stories I’ve shared just scratch the surface. We need a new vet.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Ready for some Cats Working Christmas videos? Their big surprises this year (which Tony almost sniffed out prematurely as I was charging them in the bathroom) were Floppy Fish!

Tony and Roc were immediately intrigued (you’ll see Roc’s tail go by when he loses interest)…

Then Tony decided to show Floppy who’s boss while Max looked on…

Roc’s attack strategy is total domination…

Max didn’t quite know what to make of them and seemed more interested in the rest of Christmas (you get to see everyone in their celebratory mess)…

Tony and Roc enjoyed their annual viewing of Video Catnip, and here’s just a snippet. It’s 25 minutes long and they watched it TWICE…

Here’s the gang relaxing after toys, treats, and ‘nip…

BONUS: Tony watched the snow fall in the backyard last week from the Man Cave window…


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.


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.


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