OMG, it’s True. ‘The Taste’ Will Return

June 14, 2013

By Karen

I’ve been hoping it was just a rumor, but ABC really has renewed Anthony Bourdain’s wretched cooking competition for a second season. They’re even churning out fantasy hype like it’s “America’s greatest new cooking show” and the contestants will be “mentored by the biggest stars in the business.”

Hellooo?? What “business,” exactly? ABC, do you have any idea when Bourdain last worked in a kitchen? Or what talent(s) his current celebrity is built on?

(Hint: It ain’t cooking.)

The official casting call has gone out for the next batch of hopeful, hapless schmucks.

The dates aren’t set yet, but they’ll audition victims in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville — that last locale undoubtedly to snag a trailer-trash token for diversity, à la last season’s Lauren, who turned out to be surprisingly adept.

They’re still clinging to the faux-democratic approach of giving everyone from “college students to restaurateurs” a shot. It just virtually guarantees wildly varied results and unfair outcomes.

But I detect maybe two rays of hope for this train wreck:

1. Tony and Nigella Lawson alone appear in the promo (below), with no mention of Season 1 judges Ludo Lefebvre or Brian Malarkey. Have they dumped the dick and the dead weight?

2. Tony and Nigella say the show is “all about the food.” Does the food have a hope of showing up on PLATES this time?

I’ve lately been following Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef (the latter of which I soon loathed as much as Top Chef for its stupid gimmicks and one cold, bald, prick of a judge who thinks he can see into men’s souls).

But the thing Ramsay’s machine excels at is selecting cooks with personalities, and then giving them the screen time to make viewers care.

Let’s hope Season 2 of The Taste brings the cooks off the back burner and lets the show be about THEM.

Not about judges hanging out for fun and profit, fulfilling their ABC contracts by throwing out offhand assessments of morsels so small they often couldn’t identify them, and disappointing a gamut of celebrity chef wannabes who made the mistake of thinking The Taste’s absurd format gave them a prayer of being discovered.

In case you missed Season 1, want to know who won it? Not one of the earnest, talented home cooks, or even a restaurant worker. No. The winner was Charlie Sheen’s personal chef.

So much for diversity.


Screwed Myself on Bourdain Ticket

November 19, 2012

By Karen

Tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 23, 2013, Guts & Glory appearance in Richmond, Virginia, went on sale Friday, Nov. 16. While trying to coordinate with a small party, I waited until Saturday morning, intending to purchase a VIP ticket.

ONE. FREAKING. DAY.

VIP tickets were sold out. But I was able to get a good seat (alone, I stopped caring where anybody else sits). I’ll be in the Orchestra, 7th row, undoubtedly within spitting distance of the VIPs.

Not to belittle Bourdain, but find it unbelievable that one nondescript mention of him at the end of a long, unrelated story in Wednesday’s food section in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and a few other bits in local outlets caused this box office stampede.

I smell a rat and wouldn’t be surprised if some corporate entity bought the VIP seats as a bloc.

So I won’t have another Bourdain encounter after all, but Cats Working will report nonetheless.

Here’s a nicely done recap of Tony’s sold-out G&G appearance on Nov. 16 at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Can’t say that I’m seeing him cover any new ground here, but maybe it wasn’t included.

I caught 2 more episodes of The Mind of a Chef on PBS, which aired at 3 a.m. here. (See what I’m saying about Richmond lacking the foodie gene?)

One episode was called “Rotten,” and included an hilarious demo on how to make kimchi:

In the other, David Chang traveled to Denmark for a lesson in how Scandinavians will eat just about any flora, and even the yukky skin that forms on hot milk.

And in the Tony’s Friends Dept.…

May 11, 2013, Tony is making a joint appearance with Andrew Zimmern in Minneapolis. Even though Tony will be a distant memory at Travel Channel (and possibly in litigation over the Cadillac commercial) by then, Zimmern still seems eager to bask in the fading glory. It’s kind of sad.

Eric Ripert is on a merchandising rampage. Now he’s launching his own line of Imperial Select Caviar. A 4 oz. tin sells for $525.

Top Chef co-host Padma Lakshmi has done a spread for Playboy because it seems there’s nothing she likes better than being naked or nearly so. And you know the world’s clamoring to see a woman who gave birth at nearly 40 in the altogether.

Padma credits her svelteness, which does appear to be waning, to a “fast metabolism.”

I’m thinking it’s that — and lots of quality time hunched over a toilet bowl.

And this just in… Padma never watches Top Chef.


May Be the Company Bourdain Keeps

September 13, 2011

By Karen

Once again, Anthony Bourdain was nominated for an Emmy, for Outstanding Writing on No Reservations: Haiti, only to lose to some guy named Stanley Nelson who wrote Freedom Riders for PBS.

No Res did take home the statue for best Cinematography (well-deserved and Congratulations!), but lost as Best Nonfiction Series to American Masters on PBS.

Maybe it’s just me, but are you beginning to see a pattern here? Could it be that Tony’s getting no respect because being Travel Channel’s “biggest star” is a dubious achievement? After all, he’s shining among such stellar programming as Truck Stop Missouri, Man v. Food Nation, Mancations, Sand Castles, Ghost Adventures, and Bizarre Foods.

Bourdain has just been named a consulting editor who will acquire 3-5 books a year for for his publisher, HarperCollins, under the Ecco imprint (check out the new logo). Presumably, he’ll also be writing for Season 3 of Treme, and that chef he had working for all his NYC buddies in Season 2 will stop being irrelevant and return to New Orleans.

Bourdain’s career seems to be taking a decidedly literary turn, so he may have to stop treating his writing so dismissively. No longer playing that balls-and-bug-eating Andrew Zimmern’s role model can only be a good thing.

On September 11, Tony did a relaxed, beer-fueled 2 ½-hour podcast with Joe Rogan. Among many things, Tony said he still wants to go to the Congo, but Mozambique is in the cards sooner.

Finally, in the Tony’s Friends Department…

Marge Simpson dreams of being on Top Chef in The Simpsons’ season premier on September 25, and Tom Colicchio makes an appearance. No word on Padma.

And I read this insightful opinion piece at SeaCoastOnline.com about celebrity chefs who pretend to be actors.


A Case of Bourdain Burnout

July 11, 2011

By Karen

My waning interest in Bourdainia has been a long time coming. Travel Channel stomped on my last nerve with this one-and-a-half-page ad in Entertainment Weekly for the new Cuba episode of No Reservations, which airs tonight…

Season premiere? Season 8? What happened to Season 7, which disappeared after 8 episodes nearly 3 months ago? Was Tony’s trip to Haiti just filler?

And what’s suddenly so fucking special about Cuba? Andrew Zimmern was there for the first episode of Bizarre World — in 2009. Here’s the dramatic full page of Tony’s EW ad…

 

And there’s another one floating around, with Tony sitting on a curb in Havana.

Anyway, TC, you win. Figuring out when No Res will air is a game for your ideal demographic — young males who think road trips to BBQ competitions contitute “travel.”

The Bourdains themselves now run a slick PR machine on Twitter @NoReservations and @OttaviaBourdain, and most of Tony’s friends and crew tweet. Tony regularly tweets pictures and links to articles about himself. Eater.com does regular posts about him, with his cooperation.

I feel as if Cats Working’s job is done.

Several years ago, I asked Tony for a Cats Working interview. He declined, saying he didn’t want to endorse a blog that discussed his personal life.

That was long before he embraced the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, but I’ve never seen him utter “Cats Working” to a soul unless he was talking to me.

I’ve grown wary of much of his hyperbole. I thought chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, was spottily disingenuous and certainly not a book Tony should have wished he had written.

I just watched both seasons of Treme, the HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans that Tony has called one of the greatest shows ever, if not the greatest. In Season 2, he wrote the scenes for the chef character, Janette, who moved to New York and worked for Bourdain’s network of BFFs: Colicchio, Ripert, and Chang. They all had cameos.

Bourdain was asked to write for Treme so those marginally relevant scenes would be authentic.

Here’s a news flash: Only the tiny fraction of the population who actually works in restaurants knows (or cares). And if they’re as poorly paid as Tony says, it’s unlikely they get HBO anyway.

Sad to say, I found Tony’s work kind of lifeless, except for the scene where Janette tosses a drink in Alan Richman’s face. Some of his dialog was even retread.

If Bourdain writes for Season 3, I’m taking a miss. Not because of him, but because too many of the characters have such terrible diction, I’ve spent, literally, hours watching scenes where I caught one word in 10 with the volume maxed out, and had no idea what was happening.

Ditto for Top Chef, where Tony sometimes guest-judges. Watching hard-working chefs sabotaged so their dishes can be pooh-poohed by nitpicking snobs is not my idea of entertainment. Host Tom Colicchio seems like a nice guy, but I’ll never take his opinion seriously until he sheds the bimbo sidekick, Padma.

I knew my disaffection was complete when saw that Tony’s getting a new Travel Channel series, 24-Hour Layovers, and thought, “Now they’re sweeping the cutting-room floor.”

But apparently not. Tony tweeted he went to Singapore and Hong Kong for new shows.

If TC ever actually airs it, I’ll watch, just to see if Tony & ZPZ really can put Samantha Brown to shame. Poor Samantha. She’s like TC’s Rodney Dangerfield.

From now on, I’m letting Tony do his own thing and expanding our horizons here. If there are any interesting Bourdain developments that he doesn’t totally scoop me on, I’ll share them. But you can better get the latest news straight from him — and tweet him directly @NoReservations.

Bourdain fans, I hope you’ll still stick around, but if you don’t, the cats and I thank you for stopping by.


Bourdain’s Buddies Unscathed in JBF Feud

May 9, 2011

By Karen 

Anthony Bourdain’s still lobbing grenades at the James Beard Foundation via Twitter, including a link to the 2010 financial report that seems to bear out his contention that the organization is largely self-serving, with more than four times as much money devoted to “in-house events” as to scholarships and education.

But, fortunately, nobody held it against his friends and colleagues, who raked in plenty of honors at the still-prestigious annual JBF Awards last week. Most notably, Tony and Ruth Reichl’s Twitter love child, Ruth Bourdain, swept the new humor category, which was most likely created solely to recognize her brilliant tweets. 

However, Ruth Bourdain didn’t lose her head and let the Beardies “out” her by luring her to the awards ceremony. Her identity remains a mystery, which is as it should be.

Tony’s BFF Eric Ripert’s PBS series, Avec Eric, won for best on-location program. And Top Chef won for best studio program.

Here’s a complete list of the honorees.

Tonight’s No Reservations is a rerun of the Ozarks. Tony has been filming in the Ukraine with Zamir, which isn’t a location I had on my list for Season 7, so I wonder if some other plan fell through. If so, I hope it was his idea to do the Graham Greene thing in the Congo.


Bourdain’s Food Fight Sparks a Cat Fight

November 15, 2010

By Karen

I can’t often report on Anthony Bourdain from a personal encounter, but…

On November 11, Cats Working readers Adele, Cindy, MorganLF, Zappa’s Mom, and I met in Washington, DC, for the Capital Food Fight, a charity event that Bourdain has co-hosted with José Andrés for several years to benefit the DC Central Kitchen.

Before the festivities began, Tony spotted our crew in the crowd and came over to greet us. Unfortunately, there was no time to chat because he had to get right to work. I will say that for someone who just weathered Hurricane Tomas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and entertained fans in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the previous night, Tony looked amazingly fit, well-rested, and gel-free.

You got it, Tony. Women know the secret: If you think your locks are feeling skimpy, go for fluff and volume, not wet Persian.

On stage, Tony was José Andrés’ comic counterpoint, trading insults with Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and ribbing Eric Ripert, who both served as judges.

Washingtonian rates some of the evening’s highlights.

Local chefs, including former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, competed in cooking competitions that required using unexpected secret ingredients (don’t ask — I’m no foodie). The most interesting matchup for me was when Bourdain and Ripert teamed against Colicchio and Andrés. By audience applause, Team B&R’s dish won.

The evening was a cocktail-party-style grazing occasion with 60 restaurants disbursing tasty morsels. Seating was scarce and coveted, but Morgan snagged us all chairs, which resulted in the cat fight…

Morgan was off grazing when a skinny, aging blonde had the audacity to take Morgan’s seat. Trying to dislodge her, I made the mistake of jokingly threatening that she’d have to deal with a Jersey girl when Morgan returned.

How was I supposed to know the bitch was from Brooklyn?

Morgan did assert her ownership of the seat politely, for a Jersey girl, only to be called a “f**king asshole” by Brooklyn and shoved almost off her feet when Brooklyn gave up the seat.

The next few seconds passed in slow motion, with white wine sailing through the air toward Brooklyn as she sidled past me. What didn’t hit the back of her head fell in my lap. The spray also christened Zappa’s Mom and an unsuspecting guy sitting beside me.

Immediately, a burly female Food Fight rep was on the scene to head off further violence. While she was piecing together what happened, Brooklyn had the nerve to come back, determined to have the last word with this catty put-down:

Leaning across me, she hissed at Morgan, “You must be a Democrat, with your sense of entitlement!”

Only in DC.

The night went without further incident (we got a last wave to Bourdain, Colicchio, and Ripert from the sidewalk as they left the building together), but I firmly believe some things — like horse races and cooking competitions — are best seen on TV. I’d rather watch mildew grow than chefs making steam, which was all the spectators could really see.

If you want a taste of being there, basically the view from our “entitled” vantage point, these videos capture it well. To fill the big screen above the stage for the sold-out crowd of 1,000, guys with cameras blocked virtually every possible glimpse of the live action.

Politico snagged a brief video interview with Bourdain before the Food Fight, and he revealed political leanings Brooklyn would find despicable.

Rather than trying to share the lousy shots I captured on my new Sony digital, here are many clear photos, probably from the guys who kept me from getting any.

This year’s event raised $501,000.

And now on the Bourdain awards front…

Eater recently bestowed 2010 honors. Bourdain was nominated for Television Personality of the Year, but lost to Eric Ripert.

The 2nd Annual Tasty Awards has nominated No Reservations for Best Food Program and Best Food Travel Series. Best Male Host in a Series nominees will be announced later today, and I’ll update here if he’s nominated. The awards ceremony is in Hollywood on January 13, but Tony’s supposed to be at the Cayman Cookout.

Seattle Weekly asked the burning question, “Bourdain v. Ray?” Guess who won as fan favorite?

In the “What do Tony and Elvis have in common?” Department…

An interview with Tony before his November 12 appearance in Charleston mentions that he was recently in Nicaragua. Was that during his trip to Haiti? I can’t keep up.

And Asheville’s (NC) Citizen-Times reported from Twitter many unconfirmed Bourdain sightings the weekend of November 6. I’m going out on a limb here to declare them bogus because Tony was really in Raleigh, NC, for an appearance on the 13th.

Sku’s Recent Eats discusses Medium Raw and offers Tony a few writing tips, which would carry more weight if Sku knew the difference between everyday and every day.

I just found out that a 9-hour audiobook of Medium Raw, read by Bourdain, has been available since July.

And while checking that out, I unearthed A Chef’s Christmas, a forgotten one-hour audio short story written and narrated by Bourdain in 2002. You can listen to a sample before you buy.


“No Reservations” Season 6 Not Quite Over

September 27, 2010

By Karen

One new episode does remain of No Reservations this season. It’s a holiday special and Anthony Bourdain’s pal, Michael Ruhlman, is a guest. That’s all I know. I assume Travel Channel will air it sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Wife Ottavia recently tweeted that Tony declined an invitation to appear on Dancing with the Stars a few years ago, so Eater.com ran with it and did some hilarious PhotoShopping of what “might have been” with Tony burning the floor.

“Frienemy” Ruhlman reviewed Medium Raw and provides some of his history with Bourdain, including a link to Tony’s New York Times rave review of Ruhlman’s book, The Soul of a Chef. Ruhlman managed to get off a few great lines of his own, such as describing Tony’s reverence for Fergus Henderson as a “little too close to fellatio for my own comfort.”

Cats Working reader Cindy first told us that Bourdain is returning to Top Chef as a judge next season, alternating with Gail Simmons — just when I’d vowed to swear off it forever. Guess I’ll have to eat those words. The cheftestants are all runners-up from previous seasons. I’m happy to see Fabio and Carla get another shot.

Bourdain talked to Jennifer Bain of The Star in Toronto before his appearance there on September 22 and confessed to feeling like he bombed in Houston 2 days earlier. It was sold out, but the audience knew too much, he said…

“Three minutes into it, I realized they’d heard it all, between interviews, articles, blogs and the books. It was an awful moment for me. This audience was very wired in and this is the world we live in now. If you write about food too long, you run out of adjectives and, more importantly, you lose the sense of wonder. It’s a terrible thing.”

Houston Press confirmed it, accusing Tony of regurgitating his books. But he’s apparently already booked there again next year for a joint appearance with Eric Ripert.

The Toronto Sun offers a poignant description by Rita Demontis of Bourdain as a person that’s worth reading.

While in Toronto, Tony announced that he plans to film an episode of No Res there in Season 8 (2 seasons from now).

Sorry, Winnipeg.

Bourdain came within spittin’ distance on September 23, appearing at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, VA. Local blogger RVA Foodie attended and provided the low-down.

On September 24, Bourdain was in Springfield, Massachusetts, and A La Carte quoted some of his best lines. I got a chuckle from his remarks about Japanese porn and Dick Cheney.

And I just discovered that Bourdain is returning to Virginia on February 13, 2011 — in Norfolk. I just might show up for that appearance.


Bourdain Hits 100… and Counting

September 6, 2010

By Karen

Tonight, No Reservations returns to Paris for the 100th episode. I’ve been very eager to see this one, yet Room214 didn’t make it available in advance. But I caught the new special to air right before it, and Travel Channel has been running a 36-episode NR marathon that began yesterday.

The new special, “What Were They Thinking?” is very funny. Another glimpse of regular Tony talking about many of the show’s most memorable moments, with a generous segment on Zamir. Well worth watching. Here’s a promo he filmed in Paris for it. I noticed that he didn’t mention any countries where they eat everything with their hands.

To go with my rant about Top Chef, TV Squad thinks Bourdain should replace Eric Ripert as a guest judge. For me, Ripert is the least objectionable element of the whole show. Of course, it would be silly for Tony to become more involved. He doesn’t need it.

Cats Working reader Adele observed on Twitter that Tony’s choice of tie when he judged on Top Chef last week made him look like Padma’s prom date. Heaven forbid!

(Photo - Bravo)

Last week, Bourdain was touring the U.K. for Medium Raw. He appeared on the BBC, where he called his own book, “vicious, nasty, evil, and ugly.”

Hale and Hearty reported that Bourdain appeared with Fergus Henderson in Manchester, England, where Tony apparently took a bizarre swipe at writers. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t think writing is good for anybody. They’re nasty, angry people.”

Maybe he’s just upset because Medium Raw has begun its inevitable fall from the top 10 on bestseller lists. Don’t worry Tony, the paperback’s coming.

In England, Bourdain also did a live online chat for The Guardian. I couldn’t find a complete transcript, but The Village Voice captured one testy exchange where Tony verbally throttled, with a reference to cat hair, the guy who apparently helped coin the word “foodie.”

Irish Times interviewed Tony, and he mentioned that Ariane starts pre-school this week, speculating on her lunchbox contents: ‘‘I’m guessing it’ll be Italian — proscuitto, a little cheese, maybe some cold pasta.”

I hope the kids are kind. They used to make fun of me when I showed up with stinky salami or anything on pita bread. I prayed for my mother to discover peanut butter and Wonder Bread.

Tony’s hopping all over the U.S. in September making appearances, including one in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the 23rd I’ll be missing because I’m not a stalker.

The Outside Blog printed a 7-question interview with Bourdain where he says he’s not an outdoor kind of guy. There’s a longer podcast version I had no luck opening, but maybe you can hear it and see if he says anything interesting.

Sacramento’s NewsReview.com interviewed Bourdain before his September 17 appearance there. He weighs in on the city’s efforts to eliminate street food.

San Diego Magazine got a phone interview before Bourdain’s September 18 appearance in Escondido. He shares what he thinks of the new Cooking Channel.

Bourdain spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about reality shows and proclaimed Fox’s new Gordon Ramsay vehicle, MasterChef, “dreadful.”

At the end of an otherwise ho-hum interview, the Omaha World-Herald got some scoop out of Bourdain on a graphic novel he’s publishing with DC Comics next year, tentatively titled Get Gyro. Tony says it’s about “ultraviolent food nerds. It’s a gourmet slaughterfest, sort of like Fistful of Dollars meets Eat Drink Man Woman.”

And he said his next novel is about “displaced New Yorkers in the Caribbean doing bad things to each other. Food will be involved.”


Are You Up for Bourdain’s “Medium Raw” Challenge?

June 28, 2010

By Karen

Publisher HarperCollins has created a Web site called “Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw Challenge,” and has him asking for 500-word essays that answer the question, “What does it mean to cook food well?” Readers will be able to vote for their favorite, but Bourdain will select the winning piece, and it will be published in the paperback edition of Medium Raw.

Top Chef began its 7th season in Washington, DC, two kicked-off chefs ago, and Bourdain clearly shows up in a promo, seemingly with Buzz Aldrin, so it looks like fans’ prayers for his return have been answered, and the cheftestants will be feeling the sharp edge of his tongue again.

Medium Raw is sweeping the country. It sits at #4 on Publishers’ Weekly bestseller list, #2 with the NY Times, and #3 with the LA Times.

Tony got a nice write-up in the July 5 issue of People magazine. It includes a family portrait with Ottavia and 3-year-old Ariane. Ariane is adorable, but what happened to her curls? In the table of contents, there’s a picture of Tony in his kitchen, and I was blown away by how tiny it is.

Bourdain continues to do lots of interviews to promote the book, and the book is getting widely reviewed, but unless I come across some new or particularly entertaining slant, I’m not going to keep going there.

In the “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery” department…

Food Network has launched a book club. Their first (and probably last) book is — Medium Raw. Now, if you’ve ever doubted Bourdain’s contention that FN’s dumbed-down programming may be beneath the intelligence of its viewer base, check out the comments and the forum. Cats Working readers kicked their ass when it came to discussing the book because we actually read it.

Maybe some day they’ll tear themselves away from watching Rachael, Sandra, Paula, and Guy to peruse a few pages and stop fixating on FN logo merchandise giveaways.

Seattle Weekly has a great 8-picture slideshow of Bourdain’s appearance there on June 22, revealing the playful side we don’t often see. Don’t miss FrankenTony in #3.

Jackie Writes did an excellent illustrated run-down of Bourdain’s Seattle appearance.

Diabetes Care would like Bourdain to add some disclaimers about unhealthy eating when he overindulges on No Reservations, and for Emeril to perhaps provide fat and calorie counts on his dishes. I can’t speak for Emeril’s audience, but I’m thinking NR viewers already get that Tony makes no claim to being health food’s poster boy.

Bourdain turned 54 on June 25, and The Village Voice thoughtfully supplied a list of 10 gift ideas, as well as the infamous “boner” picture of Tony in his birthday suit. Their #1 suggestion? “The street cred he pawned off in the last two seasons of No Reservations.” Ouch.

Cats Working reader Pegu in Canada provided a link to a radio interview Bourdain did on “Q” for CBC. Go to the June 16 broadcast.


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:

Bourdain-CapFoodFight09-Cindy2

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

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

Bourdain-CapFoodFight09-Cindy3

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


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