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 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

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.

CDC Gives Coronavirus Great News

May 14, 2021

By Karen

Was I the only one who reacted with dismay yesterday when the CDC suddenly proclaimed, “Go forth bare-faced and cuddle up! If you’re fully vaccinated, no more masks or distancing. Coronavirus can’t touch you”? (Fine print: Unless you’re on public transport or in a hospital.)

WTF? This is bullshit. This freedom came the same day fully-vaccinated 65-year-old Bill Maher had to cancel taping of his HBO show, Real Time (which he’s been doing live for months before a reduced and distanced audience), because he asymptomatically tested POSITIVE for COVID.

The CDC says, however, that people who haven’t been vaccinated still need to mask up. Yeah, right. Like they’re going to start now. They must be thrilled to be able to mingle freely again because most businesses aren’t asking for proof of vaccination.

In fact, Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida is prohibiting businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, screwing the Florida-based cruise ships that want to sail again and stay disease-free.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says, “Vaccinated people need some sort of reward.”

I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous. What are we, two-year-olds?

The ones really getting rewarded are the holdouts who now don’t have to do a fucking thing while the vaccine they should get goes to waste.

The Washington Post reports as of today that only 46.8% of the total population has received at least one dose, and only about a third is fully vaccinated. That’s far below what they’ve been calling herd immunity.

Meanwhile, the anti-vaxxers become variant incubators. Nobody knows if current vaccines protect against variants, because they don’t all exist yet. But they WILL if we drop our guard with people thinking the pandemic’s over and they don’t need the shots.

Another thing we don’t know is how long vaccination protection lasts. And is the time different for two-dose Pfizer and Moderns versus one-dose Johnson & Johnson?

What most infuriates me is how we NEVER learn. The goddamn minute we see fewer cases and deaths (we’re averaging only 622 corpses a day, according to The New York Times, Yippee!), we throw caution out the window. Like we haven’t seen what happens after EVERY large event or holiday where people get sloppy.

I hope I’m wrong, but I expect the numbers to climb again over the summer as people who think they’re safe mingle freely with the diseased and vaccination protection wanes.

Not to mention the country’s not in a sterile bubble. People carrying variants can travel here from anywhere. Now they can walk the streets bare-faced and spike our numbers.

I don’t intend to give up my mask in public until I see vaccination stats much higher, infections much lower, and a CDC estimate of vaccine longevity.

COVID is nothing to play with and I’ll forego my “reward,” thank you, to stay alive and breathing without a ventilator.

PS: I’m glad I just bought a huge package of toilet paper.

NOTE: The cats threw in the towel on the Triple Crown. To quote them, it’s “FUBAR.” Even if Medina Spirit wins the Preakness tomorrow, he’ll most likely forfeit his Kentucky Derby win, thanks to the crooked humans around him. Medina’s record will always bear that stain as they go merrily on their way, doping and disgracing other horses.

Bill Maher Takes Posthumous Pot-Shot at Bourdain

June 30, 2018

By Karen

For his liberal, albeit cynical, voice, I generally appreciate Bill Maher. But when it came to Anthony Bourdain, I’ve thought he behaved like a weasely little dick. It’s probably height envy.

The only time I ever saw Bourdain on Real Time with Bill Maher was August 5, 2011, when he joined in mid-debate the panel, which included Neil deGrasse Tyson and Steve Bannon. Tony came onstage carrying a paperback book that was probably Medium Raw, apparently thinking he was there to discuss it. But it was never mentioned.

This clip shows a just a slice of the welcome he got from Maher and their somewhat wary body language…

Here’s Tony’s contribution to the general discussion, when he could get a word in…

Now, fast-forward to last night. It marked exactly three weeks since Tony died by suicide. It was also the last live episode of Real Time before a month-long hiatus. Bill Maher offered a series of “future headlines” to tide viewers over until he returns on August 3.

Among them was this headline about Bourdain…

Here’s video of the whole series of headlines so you can judge for yourself how the audience reacted to Tony’s…

They seemed to me to laugh and applaud as had been the pattern, but then they caught themselves. Maher quickly recovered by launching right back into another dig at Sandra Huckabee Sanders and regained their full enthusiasm.

I’m still scratching my head trying to make any sense of the Bourdain joke. Pairing the destruction of Asia with Tony’s death seemed like a random dig to get in a gratuitous last word. It was a punch below the belt by Bill Maher, IMO.

PS: OMG, OMG, how did I miss the OBVIOUS??!! I just got the “joke.” Comet destroys ASIA!!

UPDATE LATER JUNE 30 : Bourdain had the last word. Lenora contributed this quote to the comments on this post from an interview Tony did on December 29, 2016…

Bisley: A few years back you were on Real Time with Bill Maher and part of the discussion was about people living inside their own bubbles. What do you think of Bill Maher?

Bourdain: Insufferably smug. Really the worst of the smug, self-congratulatory left. I have a low opinion of him. I did not have an enjoyable experience on his show. Not a show I plan to do again. He’s a classic example of the smirking, contemptuous, privileged guy who lives in a bubble. And he is in no way looking to reach outside, or even look outside, of that bubble, in an empathetic way.

That’s our Tony.

Checking in On Bourdain

August 8, 2011

By Karen

Even though I stopped logging regular reports on Anthony Bourdain, I’ve been casually keeping tabs. I’ll confess I miss our old debates about Tony, so here’s some dish on what I’ve been seeing lately and I invite anyone to weigh in.

First, a round of applause to Tony, who seems to be pulling through his hair gel phase. His mane seems to be slowly returning to its original lushness.

I adored No Reservations in Naples. Maybe it’s because I can relate to the food, or maybe it’s Tony’s love for all things Italian, but his episodes in Italy are always sumptuous and highly rewatchable. And, of course, it’s a joy whenever Ottavia shows up and takes him down a few pegs, which she did when he and his crew crashed a wedding they happened upon. It was truly a gauche move, even for Vic Chanko.

The El Bulli episode? Meh. Yes, I know. The end of a culinary era. I should be wearing black. However, watching Bourdain & Friends consume the highlights of 52 one- or two-bite courses did nothing for me, although the sheer bizarreness and utter impracticality of what was shown was impressive and, I’m sure, delicious.

There’s no doubt Ferran Adria and David Chang are geniuses at what they do. But I think their notion of dining out is akin to a theater producer bankrolling some full-scale, avant garde musical and allowing only one row of seats for an audience. He sells a dozen tickets per performance, max, and eventually everyone’s claiming he’s got the hottest thing on Broadway and keeps the show “sold out” forever. But do I want to keep hearing about how wonderful, yet impossibly exclusive, it is? No.

On August 4, Tony visited the Colbert Report and didn’t quite seem to be getting the joke, playing straight his usual schtick on the evils of restaurant chains. After spending 28 years in restaurant kitchens, he said he now “boils with rage” at chains like Chili’s or Applebee’s, and claimed Cinnabon to be the most “grosteque” thing ever.

Was he implying he was cooking haute cuisine all that time? We know better.

Yeah, it’s a crying shame all Americans can’t hop a plane on someone else’s dime to grab a fresh bowl of pho in Hanoi or a pizza in Napoli when we want a nosh.

Colbert managed to make Bourdain sound even more elitist and out of touch by asking Tony to describe the rite of eating ortolon whole, as he described in the opening of Medium Raw.

On August 5, Tony appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, and food consequently got shoe-horned into the political discussion. As the show wrapped up, Maher thanked “Arthur Bourdain” for being there.

The camera caught Tony’s nonplussed reaction. Sorry, I couldn’t find that bit anywhere online.

This clip is from the “Overtime” segment without Maher, where the guests discuss viewer questions. I’m guessing Maher apologized, saying he meant “author Anthony Bourdain” but it got jumbled.

Ep. 223: August 5, 2011 – Overtime

Tony’s a smart guy, and he’s branching out beyond food TV. I just wish he’d tap into his his worldly experience and talk about things other than food.

Technical PS: I’ve given you the links to the videos two ways, in the text and separately, as a WordPress experiment just to see how “embedding” from those sites would work.

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