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A Conversation With Anthony And Ottavia Bourdain: Part I

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Image courtesy of Ottavia Bourdain
Image courtesy of Ottavia Bourdain

When two separate walks of life cross paths, the resulting union can be either a disaster or an epic win. In the case of Anthony Bourdain and his lovely wife Ottavia, you have two extremely different paths melding together in exciting fashion. Anthony is a world renowned chef, author and television personality. Ottavia is a rising star on the Brazilian jiu jitsu circuit. In a recent TapouT Radio interview, the dynamic couple discussed how they've managed to intersect their career/life choices and answered questions about food, travel and combat sports. This will mark the first in a two part series, since the interview was a long one.

*Note: Interviewer is either my co-host, Evan Shoman of TapouT Radio, or myself. When I don't conduct these interviews by myself, I just put "Interviewer" to eliminate having to bounce back and forth between three different names.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Who runs the house?

Anthony Bourdain: God, I don't know. I'd have to say that we both have our areas of expertise [laughs].

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Is it kind of nice for you to be able to sort of take a back seat to let your wife forge her own spot in the limelight?

Anthony Bourdain: Yeah, it's great. If anything, she works a lot harder to do what she does. She's at the gym two and a half to three hours a day. Doing what I do is relatively easy. It's definitely nice to be able to fade into the background a little bit. I enjoy it.

Interviewer to Ottavia Bourdain: Are you enjoying the fact that you're finding your own recognition, independent of your husband's fame?

Ottavia Bourdain: Yeah, kind of. I mean, I'm not really used to it, but it's nice. When they ask to take a picture of me, I always tell them I can take a picture of them [laughs].

Interviewer to Ottavia Bourdain: How was your training experience in Brazil?

Ottavia Bourdain: I kind of felt at home in Brazil. I found many similarities between Brazilian and Italian culture. Because of the jiu jitsu, I was like a kid in a candy store. I trained at a local academy, and I think I could spend quite a bit of time over there, actually. The problem with traveling is that I need to find a place to train. If I cannot train, I'm not happy, and Brazil, for me, was just perfect.

We would wake up in the morning and go this academy where Igor Gracie used to train, so I could prepare for my match. The professor, Leo Teixeira was teaching us, and there were all these black belts and Renzo Gracie's little brother. You could breathe jiu jitsu in there. It was just amazing. The morning after my match (she won her match), I woke up, and I didn't have to train for the first time, and I was like, 'Oh man, what am I going to do with my day?' I could've gone to the beach, but I wanted to go back and train right away, so I definitely could see myself spending a considerable amount of time in Brazil.

Anthony Bourdain: As soon as we left, Ottavia was already trying to sell me on going there for Christmas, New Year's and seriously into the next year. We're not so sure about all that [laughs].

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: You don't sound as sold on the idea as Ottavia.

Anthony Bourdain: I travel for the better part of the year, and I'm having a hard time picturing myself with a Christmas tree in Rio. On the other hand, Brazil is a country that just about anybody would have a really good time in. It's really hard to be unhappy in Brazil. I've got a lot of friends there. It's a beautiful country. The food's fantastic. The drinks are spectacular. The whole lifestyle is enticing. Everybody is gorgeous. Even ugly people are gorgeous in Brazil. You could do worse than finding yourself in Brazil.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Do you find these trips to be the equivalent of what "eating out" is to regular people not in the position to travel as frequently as you?

Anthony Bourdain: One of the mysteries of Brazil is that so many people are in such good shape, yet all they do all day is eat like deep fried melted balls of cheese and pork products. It's such a starch heavy diet. It was kind of enjoyable torturing Ottavia with all this great food around.

Ottavia Bourdain: No, I actually ate in Brazil, for the first time. At the time, I was just a white belt, but I just got my first stripe, and my opponent was a three stripe blue belt. She had much more experience than me, but she was about 10-15 pounds lighter than me, so I figured being at a heavier weight was going to be an advantage for me [laughs], so I basically pigged out every day. I would order desert to the room and eat a second dinner, so I really enjoyed the food. I'm usually super restrictive with my diet, but this time, I just let it go.

Anthony Bourdain: Date night here is basically two options. It's steak or chicken on skewers. It's either meat on a stick or meat on a hoof. It's not really much of a stretch for me. I generally don't wake up and say 'I think I want some vegetables today or maybe a nice salad', that just doesn't come up in conversation a lot.

Interviewer to Ottavia: The last time we spoke to you, you mentioned that you eat large quantities due to a high metabolism. How much do you eat?

Anthony Bourdain: It's quite terrifying actually.

Ottavia Bourdain: I eat tons of ham, coldcuts, cheese...I basically eat constantly.

Anthony Bourdain: It's like a wolf's lair. I'm just constantly throwing meat in her direction.

Ottavia Bourdain: People that don't know me that go out to dinner with us for the first time are horrified.

Anthony Bourdain: We go to Japanese restaurants and ordering yakitori, and we're ordering these things on skewers like 16 at a time. They're doing double takes, especially when she says, 'The chicken hearts were good, I'll have 12 more.' There's this look of mute horror, and this expression that polite Japanese get when they're trying to conceal their shock and disgust at what's happening. It's a lot of fun [laughs].

Ottavia Bourdain: I always get checked out and make sure my cholesterol is fine and my blood sugar is ok. That's always really low. My blood pressure is also super low, so I haven't encountered any problems with my crazy diet. I wouldn't advise it to anybody else, but it works for me.

Interviewer to Ottavia Bourdain: Do you eat vegetables at all?

Anthony Bourdain: I've heard rumors that there might have been one in the house. She goes on these weird benders where it's like tuna every day, and then the tuna disappears, and suddenly she's on a cauliflower jag, with these big, nasty bags of frozen cauliflower. I try not to pay attention, because I figure by the time I figure it out, she'll be on to something else.

Ottavia Bourdain: Then it was brussel sprouts with bacon every day for weeks.

Anthony Bourdain: Now she's on an egg jag. An hour before we go to dinner, she'll be cooking eggs.

Ottavia Bourdain: This is my thing. I always have to have a pre-dinner, because otherwise, when we went out, I would have to eat two dinners.

Anthony Bourdain: We were at a food and wine festival in the Cayman Islands with a whole bunch of other chefs, and the very well known chef, Jose Andres was joining us for dinner. The expression on his face when Ottavia ordered a filet mignon for an appetizer, followed by a porterhouse for the main course, was absolutely priceless.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Does she eat anything that is completely appalling to you?

Anthony Bourdain: She buys this really high test tuna from Italy or Spain that comes packed in olive oil in glass jars. It costs like a boat load of money, and she takes that, pours it into a bowl with these nasty pickled onions and then sort of mashes them together. The stench from this stuff is so vile, and it looks like chunky cat food. I don't approve.

Ottavia Bourdain: And I eat it in bed [laughs]. We're watching TV and I disappear for two minutes and I prepare my wonderful snack, and I tell him, "Give me a kiss baby.'

Anthony Bourdain: That's hot. As if the tuna is not enough, the sharp acidity of the pickled should be used as a tactical weapon.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Being a world renowned chef, do you ever feel like your talents are lost on her?

Anthony Bourdain: It's funny, when we met, Ottavia ate everything. She was fearless. She's a very adventurous eater, so our tastes in food are actually pretty similar. It's just that I'm married to an athlete, and that's the way it is. Basically, where our tastes intersect, is that we both like big hunks of meat, and that's a good basis for understanding.

Ottavia Bourdain: We also love organ meats. I was raised that way. When I was a kid, we had animals in the back yard, and my grandmother taught me how to kill chickens. We would kill the chicken, open it up and cook everything inside, so for me, it's normal.

Anthony Bourdain: Very early on, shortly after we met, I remember Ottavia saying, 'I know a very good Hungarian butcher shop, and they have wonderful tripe goulash', and I remember thinking, "Wow, you've been in this country maybe five or six years. How would this woman know this?' I'd been living here forever and had no clue that such a thing even existed. I just thought it was amazing that A) She liked tripe goulash, and B) knew where to find it. I thought it was just so awesome.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Did you ever think that as a kid growing up in the New York City and New Jersey areas, that you would ever be where you are today?

Anthony Bourdain: Twelve years ago, at 44, I was standing next to a deep fryer with no hope and no expectations. I would never have dared to dream that life would turn out as it has.

Interviewer to Anthony Bourdain: Where are your favorite spots in the US to visit and enjoy the culinary offerings they provide?

Anthony Bourdain: I love San Francisco, Austin, TX, Livingston, MT. There are a lot of really great places to go, and there's something I love about each place. It's really hard to give just one answer.

*Be sure to look for the conclusion of this interview tomorrow. Will we see Anthony in a gi? Will we see Ottavia traveling to learn other martial arts? Check tomorrow to find out!*

Follow Ottavia via her Twitter, @OttaviaBourdain and Anthony via his, @Bourdain