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Anthony Bourdain’s secret obsessions unveiled

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New interviews with friends and family of Anthony Bourdain reveal a hidden side to the late TV chief that many have never known.

A few months after Anthony Bourdain died in June 2018 at the age of 61, his longtime assistant Laurie Woolever began interviewing friends and family.

Woolever first met Bourdain in 2002 when he hired her to help him write a cookbook. After working with him for so long, she thought she knew pretty much everything there was to know about him.

But she quickly realized she was wrong.

There were “stories I had never heard and ideas and observations that were new to me,” Woolever told the Post. “I learned something new from every person I spoke with.”

These moving and sometimes shocking anecdotes and memories form his new book, Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography. Some 91 people, from journalist Christiane Amanpour to restaurateur David Chang, shared their thoughts on the late writer, whose dark final days were recently recounted in the documentary Roadrunner. The revelations include never-before-shared memories and disturbing common themes.

One surprising common thread that kept coming back, Woolever said, was that many of Tony’s friends had had the experience of wanting more – and not being able to get close enough to him.

“They always felt like he was on his way somewhere,” she said.

“It was a shark, always on the move,” recalls Unknown parts director and editor Nick Brigden. “He had to move to survive.

Even those of equal or greater fame than Bourdain expressed such sentiments.

“Every time I was with him, I wanted it to last longer,” says Anderson Cooper, who worked with Bourdain at CNN. “And I wanted to be friends with him. I wanted him to really love me.

Woolever also learned of Bourdain’s odd obsession with tanning, which began in his early days.

“I remember he joked that he would be competing in the George Hamilton Olympic tanning games,” his brother Christopher Bourdain told him.

“He was tanning, I think in large part to hide the heroine’s pallor,” recalls James Graham, who has worked with Bourdain in various New York kitchens. “He was playing hooky… and tanning aggressively. It looked like a Versace bag.

While Woolever was a producer on “Roadrunner,” and her book features many of the same interview topics, there are several who weren’t in the film, including his daughter Ariane and his high school sweetheart and first wife, Nancy Bourdain.

“I didn’t like how it looked for the past two years,” Nancy says. “He looked like he had ridden hard and put away wet… he didn’t seem to care about being tanned anymore.”

His second wife, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, expresses similar thoughts. “He was a lot darker in the last year of his life. I stopped watching the shows towards the end because I couldn’t really recognize it.

Others note that Bourdain’s romantic relationships with women have always been strained.

“He had a very nervous relationship with women,” said writer Bill Buford. He claims Nancy was almost like his mother.

When he and Ottavia were first dating, Buford remembers Bourdain being too eager for disgraced chef Mario Batali to “see” his new girlfriend. “It was almost a teenager… He was deeply, darkly vulnerable.”

At the beginning of the book, brother Christopher even remembers that Bourdain had seen prostitutes after the dissolution of his first marriage.

“He was emotionally immature,” says longtime producer Lydia Tenaglia. “He became that great cultural anthropologist that everyone loved so much, but basically he was like a teenager with his emotional development.”

Unlike the recent film, which begins when Bourdain publishes his memoirs Confidential Kitchen and rockets to stardom, the book begins in his childhood.

Brother Christopher notes that they didn’t know their mother was Jewish until they were in high school. Details of his Jewish faith have been “completely buried,” he says. It wasn’t until after his death in 2020 that he realized his parents’ wedding photo was outside a synagogue.

His mom, Gladys, remembers how Tony showed his talent with words early on. “Tony always had a fabulous vocabulary and he read early,” she says.

In fact, a key myth about Bourdain that the book dispels is that he went from a lowly boss to a successful writer and TV personality overnight, with the release of Confidential Kitchen in 2000. While this book was certainly a success, Bourdain had always wanted to be a writer. He had previously published two novels, taken a course with publisher Gordon Lish, and met Robert De Niro’s production company on screenplays. “[The idea] that he sort of completely formed himself at the age of 44, as a brilliant writer, you know, that’s a wonderful myth, ”Woolever said.

Gladys was an editor who worked for the New York Times and even went so far as to call her son’s editor behind her back to make corrections to one of her cookbooks. “For a long time Tony has had his life run by women. I think that’s a big reason he’s been so successful, ”Nancy said of the incident.

Scott Bryan, a New York chef who appeared around the same time as Bourdain, states that “Tony saw himself more as a writer than a chef.” He tended to take higher paying jobs at random restaurants rather than choosing to earn his stripes at serious dining establishments, which Bourdain himself admitted in “Kitchen Confidential.” “He never went through the rigors that I did. I worked at f ** king Gotham. I worked at Bouley, ”says Bryan.

Others attack the mystique surrounding Bourdain’s junkie days. “His addiction has always been strange to me,” explains Robert Vuolo, a former colleague in the kitchen. “It was often part of who he wanted to portray himself.”

But childhood friend Jeff Formosa remembers Tony and Nancy getting high and sitting in their apartment, not answering the phones, spending all the money they got on drugs. “When Tony’s dad died, they got the money, and it just ran into their veins.”

No one disputes that he was an extremely talented writer who required little editing.

“The stories were so good and they were so refined,” says editor Panio Gianopoulos of Confidential Kitchen. “The rhythms were there, and the moments were all there. Editing was fun.

David Simon, the legendary creator of Thread and co-creator of the New Orleans-based drama Treme, talks about having Bourdain in the writers room on the post-hurricane Katrina show.

“He was so good. Prose, dialogues; you know he crushed scenes. ‘Tony, I can’t do four and a half pages in the kitchen scene. It should be a page and a half long. We need to get there faster. But he’s always been there.

There were also lighter, random revelations about Woolever’s friend and former boss.

Director Alex Lowry recalls filming an episode of No reservations in Prague, Czech Republic. Bourdain hadn’t liked the food or his sidekick in town and was in a very bad mood. They were shooting the final scene, a meal with locals. The travel legend was sitting there, cranky, when the hosts’ dog ran and jumped on him. The puppy was not spayed and she left a huge blood stain on Bourdain’s pants. “He didn’t go off with a bang; he didn’t get angry, ”Lowry says. “He bursts out laughing. ”

Other memories revel in Bourdain’s quick-wittedness. Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson talks about the shooting of the cooking competition show Taste in Los Angeles with Bourdain. He stayed at the infamous Chateau Marmont and often ordered room service, despite the food being mediocre and platters not being taken out quickly. When she complained, he told her, “Nigella, you’re wrong about the Castle. Obviously, they can’t do the room service cleaning, but if you accidentally kill someone, they’ll remove the body, no questions asked.

Around this time, during an address, a fan asked why he was doing Taste, what many thought was terrible.

“I have nothing to say except that my daughter is not going to community college,” Bourdain joked to the crowd.

Some of the city’s most legendary chefs reflect on their close friendships with Bourdain.

Eric Ripert du Bernardin fondly remembers their first lunch together and is delighted that he was not made fun of by Confidential Kitchen. They had something of a strange couple – “he’s from a ship with pirates, and I’m from the kitchen of [Joël] Robuchon, which is like the army, ”says Ripert – but has gotten pretty close.

They were “extremely comfortable” being together in silence, and Bourdain liked to compete with him, whether it was chopping garlic or playing pétanque. One thing he couldn’t compete with Ripert for was skiing, but for an episode of Unknown parts shot in the Alps, Bourdain had pictures edited on the slopes to give the impression that he was a much better skier than him.

Chang says some of the best times and best meals of his life were spent with Bourdain. “I think all I wanted was to take from Tony; I never gave Tony, ”he says, but also notes that there was a darker side. “There were times I should have spoken, and I didn’t, because he cut you out of his life.”

In his later years, Bourdain considered resigning as he struggled with his fame and the rigors of his job. But he just didn’t seem like he could stop doing TV, despite his longtime producers telling him it was OK to quit. His second marriage – to Ottavia, with whom he had his daughter, Ariane – couldn’t resist his busy schedule. But things ended amicably, and Bourdain was in good health, thanks to a passion for jiu-jitsu.

“There was that peak period where he seemed happy. This addictive personality was simply focused on jiu-jitsu, ”explains Michael Steed, director of Unknown parts and No reservations. “And then f ** king what’s his name comes into his life, and he starts smoking again, and he sort of came back into that negative energy that matched this weird fantasy character that he felt he was.”

“What’s-her-name” is, of course, actress-director Asia Argento, whose volatile relationship with Bourdain, many say, estranged him from close friends and contributed to his depression and ultimate suicide. . (Argento was not interviewed for the book and has denied that problems in their relationship contributed to his death.)

His issues with women and emotional immaturity aside, Bourdain was a loving father to his now 14-year-old daughter Ariane. He would sneak up to Papaya King with her, or they would watch Ratatouille and make the French vegetable dish, like they do in the Pixar animated film. His reflections close the book.

“He was always trying to show me the world around me, by [helping] I experience new foods and new things, ”she says. “I want people to remember my dad as a person who would just open people up to a world outside of their apartments.”

This story originally appeared on Page Six and is republished here with permission.