Bourdain Meets Another Cats Working Reader

April 28, 2010

By Adele from Chicago

“This is just like 1981 when no one could get Rolling Stones tickets and somehow you found them,” was how my friend Linda reacted when I told her I snagged last-minute VIP tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 24 appearance in Chicago.

Just after 8 p.m., Tony, wearing jeans, a tee shirt, blazer, and tan boots, took the stage to enthusiastic applause. He said we were one of his largest audiences yet and launched into his tale of meeting Sandra Lee, embellishing his blog account. His imitation of Ottavia’s stunned look was particularly funny. His wife took mixed martial arts, could throw a punch, has no problem telling other women to keep their hands off her man, and he’d have been grateful if she’d run interference. But Ottavia stood stock-still and let Sandra grope Tony’s waist, tug his ear, and say, “You’ve been a bad, bad boy.”

He talked about the Food Network getting rid of every trained chef except Bobby Flay. Tony imagined Bobby, whom he thinks has talent and some decent restaurants, getting called on the carpet by FN brass. They tell him, “You poll as cynical and inaccessible, so to stay here, you’ll have to go around the country having throw-downs, competing with local cooks on their specialty dishes.”

So now it’s OK for Bobby to stay in the FN family because yokels can brag, “Ah beat Bobby Flay with my chili.”

Then Tony gave us a look as if to say, “Yeah, and it’s not rigged at all.”

After a bit more FN-bashing, Tony observed that since Scripps Howard recently bought the Travel Channel, he was working for his former masters and feared if he didn’t stay in line, he might be forced to do a bikini wax on Paula Deen.

Mentioning Scripps brought him to their new product placement policy. “I know how much you all love that,” he said, noting how he was castigated all over the Internet for not keeping things real. Thanks to TIVO and DVRs, he pointed out that commercials aren’t watched much, so sponsors place products within shows to get consumers’ attention.

“What’s real, anyhow?” he asked. “Was I more real when I was selling books to get crack? Was I more real when I was hitting up my mother for cash to buy drugs? Was I more real when I was standing in a kitchen turning out meal after meal for people I didn’t care about?”

His implication was, I think, that we all have to serve somebody.

He urged people to get passports and experience other cultures, but cautioned on the necessity of showing respect and wondered why certain Americans pack their tackiest clothes to travel, like tee shirts with logos and slogans. He mentioned the 19-year-old American girl he saw in the Blue Mosque, wearing a tube top with “her jugs hanging out the bottom,” Daisy Duke shorts, that left nothing to the imagination about her nether cleavage, and 6-inch Lucite heels. She looked “more like she was ready to give hand jobs under the West Side Highway than visit one of the holiest places in Istanbul in the holy month of Ramadan.”

With regard to hospitality, Tony advised us to “accept indigenous beverages and local meat.” Although he draws the line at eating pets and has almost always had a shelter cat in his life, he said, “If the head man of a village has rolled out the red carpet for me and serves me a plate of puppy heads, I’m eatin’ the f*#%in’ puppy heads.”

Tony said he thinks food blogging is a good thing. But after his “Techniques” episode, bloggers complained that “Jacques Pepin used a fork in a nonstick skillet and left eggs runny in a omelet, and Thomas Keller didn’t wash a pepper mill after seasoning the inside of a chicken.” Since these guys are the best in the business. when they tell you how to make a French omelet or roast a chicken, “Shut up and listen.”

During the audience Q&A session, where my fellow Chicagoans kept the stupid questions to a minimum, someone asked how he had the nerve to pose with that bone in My Last Supper. Tony said it was the result of getting drunk with the photographer.

Asked to recommend a culinary school west of the Mississippi, Tony couldn’t and said there are too many culinary schools giving subprime loans and promising everyone they’ll become a chef. “If you’re 32 and decide to change careers by attending culinary school, don’t.”

He said he was grateful that Kitchen Confidential was such a success because at age 44, he was practically a dinosaur on the line.

The tattooed stalker was mentioned, and Bourdain admitted that when the guy showed up in Minneapolis, it really freaked him out.

Someone asked if Scripps told Tony and ZeroPointZero they had only one more episode to shoot, where would it be? After thinking a minute, Tony answered, “Spain,” and explained that when A Cook’s Tour ended, they had begun filming, “Decoding Feran Adria,” and Food Network thought the show was getting too cerebral. Tony and his crew finished the episode and used it as a calling card to get the No Reservations gig. It all began with Spain, and it should end with Spain.

The finale came when Tony summoned some guy up on stage, who went up with a woman. He got partially down on one knee and proposed, citing NR as what brought them together.

Tony wished them well and said he’d accept no responsibility if things didn’t work out. He said when he married Ottavia 11 days after Ariane’s birth, the Manhattan city clerk who droned the words looked up once to ask, “You’re on television; aren’t you?” and then resumed the ceremony.

Linda and I got in line to meet Tony at the VIP reception. When I introduced myself and gave him a children’s book for Ariane. He said, “Ah, Adele from Cats Working,” and inscribed my copy of No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach to “Adele” with “Cats Working” inside his signature knife drawing. He graciously thanked me for Ariane’s book and posed for pictures with us.

A bit later, while Linda and I were having a glass of wine, I checked my camera and discovered the picture of Tony and me hadn’t come out. The crowd was thinning and I caught his eye. I must have looked rather pathetic because he asked, “What’s wrong, Adele?”

I told him about the photo, and he posed with me again. We stayed to talk and I asked Tony about the Cuba shoot.

He said that for the last three years, something always went wrong, either in Cuba or or the U.S. NR segments need to be set three weeks in advance, so thanks to bureaucratic snafus, the plug got pulled every time.

Of Liberia, he said he had a hard time figuring out how to write about it, being honest without conveying overwhelming despair. And he got really sick there. He thinks Liberia has the beginnings of what it would take to make things right, but it’s been so messed up for so long, it’s hard to know when they’ll make real progress.

Someone else asked him about endangered sharks, and Tony said it was almost strictly due to the market for sharks’ fins throughout Asia, where they’re valued as aphrodisiacs. He’s tried shark’s fin and said it was OK but has an odd texture, and seemed to dismiss it as a love drug. He hold us he’d used back channels to contact Paul McCartney, urging him to invest a few million in Viagra and Cialis, send it to Asia, and save the sharks. He didn’t say if he’d received a reply.

Linda and I left soon after that, and Chicago’s wind and rain couldn’t dampen our happiness as we kept asking each other, “Can you believe this evening?

(Note: Adele misplaced her camera cord. We’ll post her photos when she finds a way to send them.)


Bourdain was Big in the Noughties

January 4, 2010

By Karen

If you have Comcast cable and want a jump on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Season 6, the Panama episode is On Demand. No such luck with Verizon FIOS.

You may remember a debate we had back when No Reservations Hawaii aired. Winnipeg Bob thought Tony’s wife Ottavia was sitting in the background during Tony’s closing monologue after the tourist luau.

I have received confirmation from an unimpeachable source that Bob was right. It was Ottavia, and she was sitting with a crew member. Ottavia-watchers can also see her in the Tuscany episode, and she and her whole family were featured in Sardinia.

And the kudos keep rolling in…

Toronto-based Indigo Books & Music, Inc., compiled a list of 75 books of the past decade that had greatest impact on booklovers, and Kitchen Confidential made the cut.

A panel of leading British food writers also placed KC in the top 10 of the best 40 food books of the decade.

The Buffalo News named Bourdain 2009’s “Visitor of the Year” for filming a segment of his Rust Belt episode there. Poor Zamir didn’t even get honorable mention.

Journal Squared predicts 23 original thinkers who will shape 2010, and Bourdain makes his list at No. 12.

North Carolina Public Radio has posted audio of, I believe, the entire talk Bourdain delivered in Durham, NC, on February 19, 2009, when I drove 6 hours round-trip to hear him speak and meet him. Enjoy!

And since you’ve probably been dying to know (yeah, right) if I ever attempted béarnaise sauce from scratch, the answer is yes.

I used the dumbed-down 3-ingredient “Never Fail” recipe and was able to eat it, so it didn’t totally suck. But as Bourdain predicted 10 years ago in his cookbook, I fucked it up. In the time it took George Foreman to cook my rib-eye steak, the béarnaise assumed the consistency of lumpy custard.

But what pissed me off the most was that with only 3 freaking ingredients, I ended up with a sink full of pots, bowls and utensils, and congealed butter EVERYWHERE. Such a big mess for such a little bit of sauce!

But I will try again…

I’ve also got my eye on Bourdain’s cassoulet recipe because Hermione Gingold made it in Gigi and he says anyone who can make good chili (me, me!) can make cassoulet.

Ottavia Before Anthony Bourdain

November 14, 2009

By Karen

Morgan gets full credit for putting me in the right place at the right time to meet Ottavia. We were in a cavernous ballroom of the Ronald Reagan Building. The Food Fight stage was on a high platform with two small tiers of seats before it, off to either side. Morgan staked out the second row, house right. I think Ottavia and I spotted each other simultaneously.

Before I knew it, she and Tony had joined us. Ottavia greeted me with a big smile and a hug. Tony kissed my cheek. I apologized for basing my first impression on the Miami Ink clip. She laughed, agreeing that she looked like a “grinning idiot” (my description) because of how they cut the episode. She was dressed to relax in Miami, not be on TV, and understood how people got the wrong idea from her bare midriff.

She told us reading Cats Working is part of her Internet routine, and greeted Morgan and Cindy like old friends.

Tony brought up Winnipeg Bob’s recent visit to Les Halles, and told us waiter Tim, depending on his mood, will tell customers outrageous “revelations” about Tony, like he’s undergoing a sex change.

Before Tony left us to host the Fight, we got this group shot:


(L-R) MorganLF, Karen, Anthony Bourdain, Cindy (Photo - Cindy)

Ottavia graciously posed with me to prove there are no hard feelings with Cats Working:


Karen with Ottavia Bourdain (Photo - Cindy)

We were pleasantly surprised when Ottavia asked us to save her a seat because she was “alone.” She and I chatted for the next several hours.

Now, I must sincerely thank Ottavia for her company. I’ve said before I’m not a foodie. If she hadn’t kept me distracted, I’d have found some gourmet delicacies on toothpicks and poked my eyes out.

Watching people cook on stage is the PITS. Camera people constantly stood in front of the chefs to project their actions onto a big screen behind them. The judges, who included some of my faves, chef Eric Ripert and past Top Chef contestant Carla Hall, were seated far upstage, hidden from our view.

Three hours of watching smoke rise live from pans, with the actual food on TV, is not my idea of entertainment.

Now back to Ottavia…

She grew up in a small rural community of about 2,000 in, I believe, Italy’s Lombardy region. She loves animals and had chickens, rabbits, and “usually about 10 cats and always a lot of kittens,” and explained that spaying and neutering weren’t priorities then.

After high school, she began to study medicine and would have pursued it after moving to the States, but we require an undergraduate degree first. Her credits didn’t transfer, so she took a new direction in the restaurant business.

She met Eric Ripert working for him at Le Bernadin.

When she learned her favorite cat in Italy had died, Ottavia happened by one of those adoption events held by the North Shore Animal League. She saw a black kitten cowering “back in the corner of the cage” and decided they needed each other. She named him Lupetto.

Ottavia said she would love to have more cats one day when they move to a larger place, but she doesn’t know when that will be.

At age 28, Ottavia was working 14-hour days at the Geisha Restaurant in New York City and felt she didn’t have time for a relationship, but she didn’t want to be alone either.

She’d read Kitchen Confidential, saying, “Everybody did, it was like the Bible for us.” And she caught Tony once on No Reservations, “in Morocco or somewhere like that,” while she and a girlfriend were looking for another Travel Channel host they liked (sorry, I didn’t catch the name).

But Bourdain was still nowhere on her radar. She said, “I never thought I would get mixed up with a celebrity.”

Tony and Eric Ripert were good friends, and Ripert’s wife thought Ottavia and Tony might be a good casual match because Tony was on the road so much.

Ottavia made it clear to me that when she met Anthony (she uses his full name), he and Nancy were long separated, although not divorced, and he’d been dating. There was no overlap whatsoever with their meeting and his first marriage.

It took Tony a couple of months to follow up and contact Ottavia, and he did it via e-mail around Thanksgiving 2005. Their first date was that weekend, a very late night of drinking and smoking (she also had a 2-pack-a-day habit), so Ottavia was feeling rough the next morning and declined when Tony called and asked her out again that night.

He didn’t call again for about a month, but when they finally had another date, something clicked, and they became a couple.

While Ottavia and I were talking, Tony kept casting worried glances our way from the stage. At one point, he stood downstage in front of us and signaled her to button her lips, but she ignored him. I wonder what he was afraid she’d tell me?

Next: Becoming Mrs. Bourdain

Bourdain, Ray & Lee – Together Again

November 9, 2009

By Karen

Scripps Networks Interactive, owner of Anthony Bourdain’s first cruel TV master, the Food Network, bought a 65% controlling interest in the Travel Channel for $181 million, bringing Tony back into the fold. I hope all the FN butts of his jokes are kind to him.

Scripps also plans to launch a Cooking Channel, which Bourdain mocked in “Robo Chef,” the first episode of his Alternate Universe Web series.

Last week, Winnipeg Bob withheld one New York City photo from us. He snapped Tony on the wall of Katz’s Deli. Unfortunately, this was as close as they got.


(Photo - Winnipeg Bob)

On November 18, Bourdain is appearing in Denver, and Tony’s Market there is running a 50-word essay contest. The winner gets to make dinner for Bourdain and meet him face-to-face.

Confirming the opinion of Cats Working’s Finnish reader, Fanfromfaraway, here’s a bit about how Bourdain wows ‘em in Helsinki.

Domestica saw Tony in Des Moines on November 5, and her husband thinks Bourdain’s a misogynist. Could it be all those Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, and Alice Waters digs? Domestica also has something interesting to say about Andrew Zimmern.

The Michigan Daily caught up with Tony before his appearance in Ann Arbor on November 7 and had him suggest a resolution to the Pakistan/Afghanistan problem (it involves Chicken McNuggets) and name his favorite album (The Stooges’ Fun House).

Tubefilter considers Bourdain’s writing in Kitchen Confidential and Alternate Universeoverseasoned.” If it is, I like whatever spice Tony’s using.

January 14-18, 2010, marks the 3rd annual (Grand) Cayman Cookout. Tony will be there, hosting a beachside BBQ at Calico Jacks, which Eric Ripert calls, “the best dive bar in the world.” Seems fitting.

And of course, Cats Working readers Morgan and Cindy and yours truly are having our own brush with Bourdain on November 11 when he co-hosts the Capital Food Fight in Washington, DC. Stay tuned…

Anthony Bourdain Spawns Literary Trend

June 9, 2009

By Karen

The LA Times thinks Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential has inspired a new generation of chefs to try topping him with their own outrageous memoirs. Sadly, they only come off as lackluster imitations of the original. As all Bourdainiacs know, Tony’s book broke that mold.

Speaking of Kitchen Confidential, journalist Carl Bernstein (Remember him? Watergate?) gives the book a belated plug at The Daily Beast.

Angela at Foodicles not only attended Bourdain’s May 28 talk at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, CA, but had a chance encounter with him in the bar (are you surprised?) at his hotel afterward. See her photographic proof and find out what he was drinking.

Cats Working reader Bob found this clip at TMZ about yak penis during Bourdain and Batali’s visit to Seattle on May 30. I’m thinking these road trips and endless repetitive and/or stupid questions are wearing thin. Obviously, the questioner trying to be cute and shocking is unfamiliar with Tony’s alter-ego, Vic Chanko.

Here’s a full account of what Tony and Mario did after their joint appearance. It comes straight from Batali’s father, Armandino. It also answers the question of whether Tony dined at the Mexican restaurant where he was spotted earlier that day.

And Toronto Life is trying to start a rumor that Bourdain “hates” cupcakes because, when inanely asked about them during an interview with the Seattle Times, he answered, “Enough.”

I see no fire under that smoke. Tony’s just not into sweets.

Cats Working reader Ayala supplied this link to Slashfood, which reported on Bourdain’s list in the June issue of Men’s Health on the “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”

Don’t forget to cast your vote for Tony in Yumsugar’s “Love Him or Leave Him” poll.

Paperback Writer calls Bourdain a “black-hearted thug,” but actually means it in a good way.

And Malaysian blogger Ellie, who now lives in Sydney with her Dutch husband, has the audacity to call her blog Almost Bourdain. She occasionally makes recipes from the Les Halles Cookbook. Check out her poulet roti.

I haven’t found any June engagements for Tony, so I hope the Bourdains are finally enjoying some family R&R.

Anthony Bourdain’s Doing Fame the Hard Way

April 7, 2009

By Karen

Rachael Ray’s fruit basket caper got me thinking about the relativity of fame. When Cats Working first rattled the blogosphere with several Bourdain posts, the reaction from almost everyone I told was, “Anthony Who?”

Nobody would have drawn a blank on Rachael Ray.

Bourdain may be king of the Travel Channel but, let’s face it, it’s cable. Ray’s on network AND cable AND a gazillion cookbooks AND products (including dog food). AND she knows Oprah.

Bourdain doesn’t come close to such recognition, and he readily admits it.

But I do think Tony has more fun because he’s himself most of the time. I could never see him standing in some stage kitchen, whipping up glop while chit-chatting with guests who bore him.

As a novelist in the ’90s, Bourdain started conquering fame one reader at a time — until Kitchen Confidential put him on the map.

That led to TV, which spawned the demand for personal appearances, a time-consuming, arduous pursuit of fame that now keeps him away from home and family a lot.

It’s moot to ask if Bourdain could ever be as big as Rachael Ray because I don’t think he wants to be. In his special niche of food and travel, he hasn’t resorted to shilling for products he doesn’t use or believe in, although he probably could. You won’t see Anthony Bourdain cookware stacked beside Emeril’s at Bed, Bath & Beyond, or his face smirking from jars of his secret spice blends on grocery shelves.

That’s just not his style.

Bourdain’s main attractions — his persona and his thoughts — can’t be so easily packaged. But thank God he writes, so we’ll always have his books.

Latest Tidbits:

The Knoxville News Sentinel uncovered in an interview that Tony graduated from high school a year early and he takes a hard line toward addiction, saying:

“I see it as a character flaw, not an illness.”

At The Question Club, Bourdain beat Gordon Ramsay in a recent popularity contest.

Noodlepie has video of Tony talking about Vietnam, but what really got my attention was this fan e-mail from Bourdain, calling Noodlepie his “go-to” blogger on Vietnam.

Tony was in Tennessee on April 4, and Geography 2.0 had an interesting take on that.

Play Groups Are No Place For Children was there, too — and she got pictures.

OhNoTheyDidnt also had a recent up-close-and-personal Tony encounter when he visited her unspecified college campus.

So far I haven’t seen his reaction to Michelle Obama digging up part of the White House lawn for a vegetable and herb garden as if she’s working on orders from Alice Waters, but Alice was certainly pleased.

And finally, Cats Working reader Joanna provided a photo that appears to be Ottavia with the famous Bourdain knife on her right shoulder. Now we know why she had no problem with Tony getting that skull tattoo.


(Photo - Josh Ozersky - Grub Street: NY Mag)

And here’s a writeup and more photos of Tony and friends (including Rachael Ray) at the event in South Beach last year where this pic was captured.

A Bourdain Gallery

January 19, 2009

By Karen

After showing Zamir the frigid Rust Belt, Anthony Bourdain undoubtedly made the most of his weekend at the Cayman Cookout, where the festivities kicked off January 16 on beautiful, balmy Seven Mile Beach.

(Photo - Travel Channel)

(Photo - Travel Channel)

Tony’s event on Sunday afternoon was sold out. But when the guest chefs prepared a 7-course gala dinner for the attendees, I was surprised he wasn’t among them. He’s no shirker. Does he fear his kitchen skills are too rusty, after seeing buddy Eric Ripert tame the grill station at Les Halles?

Cats Working readers uncover Bourdain pics everywhere. The links are scattered throughout the comments, so I’m bringing some to the fore. Don’t want you to miss anything.

Bob provided a great peek into Tony’s youth, including the whole Bourdain family.

I found this interesting account of Bourdain in Seattle in June 2008. You’ve got to admire his ability to speak off the cuff to 1,400 people.

If you’re an author, Tony’s the man to write you a killer book blurb. That’s more than I can say for humorist Dave Barry, who pleaded being too famous and busy to blurb How to Work Like a CAT, even though it complements his own book, Claw Your Way to the Top.

Nickole found Ariane facing the camera for once, with Ottavia and proud papa Bourdain.

This album is huge, beautiful, and mostly irrelevant. I flipped through nearly 500 pics to find the best Bourdain. Here’s Ariane again on the left in a group shot, held by a stranger. What happened to Ottavia?

And a refreshing variation on “Tony posing with female fan” at the Florida Film Festival.

Tony with Ottavia on his left. Her hair looks a lighter and longer than usual.

And suave Tony — at a black-tie event in Charleston, South Carolina.

He’ll be in Santa Barbara, California, on February 27 to discuss Kitchen Confidential, which seems odd, since he’s written many other books since.

Top Chef must be feeling the absence of snark at the judges’ table in Season 5 because they added Toby Young to fill the void left by Bourdain — if he were short, bespectacled, bald, and British. Young seems to strain to be clever. He makes me wish for Tony to breeze through unannounced, lay a big wet one on Padma for shock value, drop a few verbal bombs, and leave Toby in his dust.

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