Social media's impact on the world has been monumental. It has allowed for the generation gap to be bridged in a most efficient fashion, demonstrating that fifty-somethings can stay in tune with twenty-somethings with some degree of ease.
Anthony Bourdain was capable of bridging that gap long before social media was a thing.
Anthony Bourdain was capable of bridging that gap long before social media was a thing, though. His ability to keep a finger on the pulse of society seems to be something that he has always been adept at, and a gift that just might have been passed down from his mother and father, who worked for the New York Times and Columbia Records, respectively.
Bourdain is a jack of many trades and a master of all of them. As an accomplished chef who rocketed to fame with the publishing of his restaurant exposé in 2000, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he has gone on to see major success in a variety of other outlets. Bourdain has released a multitude of books, several successful television shows (with the most current being Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown for the CNN network) co-written a comic for Marvel Comics, started his own publishing line and had a television show modeled after his life.
His most recent endeavor is martial arts. At the age of 57, Bourdain has already earned the first stripe on his white belt under the tutelage of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Renzo Gracie. It's actually a very impressive accomplishment considering his hectic travel schedule. His wife, Ottavia, has been an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner for several years under Gracie and maintains a highly active schedule on the competition circuit. It was her passion that inspired Anthony to pick up the discipline seriously, and he too hopes to take part in an age appropriate division competitively.
Anthony is kind of like the Indiana Jones of the culinary world, constantly in search of the rarest and finest cuisine. He's an adventurous traveler that was once forced to hole up in a hotel in Beirut for days due to unexpected conflict. He and his crew were carefully led to safety by the U.S. Marines and a "cleaner" whom he called Mr. Wolf after the Pulp Fiction character. He has traveled the world and seen conflict and corruption in some of its worst forms. However, he states that the greatest threat he has ever faced was shady transportation. Rickety automobiles and planes have been part-and-parcel of his travel experiences in the more exotic locales, something that is still an unsettling part of the job.
Anthony's accolades are numerous and most recently include an Emmy award in 2013 for Parts Unknown. He's even been featured in the hit animated comedy Archer. To put it quite simply, he's a cultural icon. Ottavia is a very accomplished jiu-jitsu player, a laundry expert (her own words) and a very good writer herself. The Bourdains keep company with a variety of society's standouts that include actors, rappers, several world class chefs, martial artists, UFC commentators (Joe Rogan), musicians and more. Dos Equis beer has a commercial that features The Most Interesting Man in the World. I believe that man was miscast. Anthony Bourdain holds that title, and his wife Ottavia just might be the most engaging, friendly woman in martial arts.
I recently sat down with Anthony and Ottavia together in a joint interview just two days before Christmas. It was my second interview with them, and it was even more enlightening and entertaining than the first. Several topics were discussed, including their martial arts journey, his stance on seal hunting, take on Paula Deen, the downfalls of television cooking shows, philanthropy and the extreme care with which their holiday meals are planned. Here's your chance to get to know them both a little better.
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How often do you two roll together now?
Ottavia: I let him use me as his grappling dummy, and we drill. We don't really roll because we had a bad experience [laughs].
Anthony: No, we had two, and both rolling experiences have ended really, really badly. I caught an elbow to the face the first time, and I did something to her shoulder the second time. I'm too clumsy and large, and she's too dangerous. It's just a bad mix.
Ottavia: We can drill techniques, but we learned our lesson with trying to roll.
What's your favorite submission?
Ottavia: I love triangle chokes, so that's probably my favorite. I've been changing my game a little bit over the past couple of months and have started learning leg locks, so I'm really loving kneebars, toe holds...all that good stuff I wouldn't be able to do in any IBJJF competition.
It's just so much fun. It's a different universe once you learn a submission. You only learn submissions on the legs when you're a brown or black belt, but I started taking a lot of classes and doing privates with John Danaher, and I'm loving it.
When you're training, especially now that you've been doing the tournament circuit, is it hard being married to a guy who's in love with food?
Anthony: Our interests coincide enough. I mean, it's not that much of a challenge to stick with a 100 percent meat and protein diet in the lead-up to a competition.
Ottavia: Unless I'm coming off an injury where I can't do cardio, I don't have to lose that much weight. It's usually just four or five pounds, so it's not that hard.
When I spoke to you last year, you told me jiu-jitsu wasn't for you, that you weren't youthful enough physically to take up such a challenging activity on a regular basis. What changed your mind from then to now?
Anthony: Ottavia bribed me and a few friends into doing...I don't know, it was some knuckleheaded article [laughs]. Whatever it was, she bribed me—I won't say with what exactly—but it was fair compensation for what I thought was going to be a pretty unpleasant experience.
"I suck, but I didn't suck that horribly."
I went in, and I did an hour private, and I guess this happens to a lot of people. I came out of it thinking, ‘I suck, but I didn't suck that horribly.' I started thinking about it a lot afterward. I was proud of myself, and other than the pain part initially, I felt pretty good. I just kept thinking, ‘How could I do that better?' I figured, ‘Okay, let me try another one.' I enjoyed that one and it went a little bit easier for me. I just kept doing it, and now I'm hooked.
Today was the hardest session I've had by far, but there's a big difference as far as cardio goes. I had to take minimal breaks today, and they were short ones at that. I'm pretty happy with it. It's weird, I find myself in bed falling asleep, thinking about kimuras. I certainly didn't see that coming.
Ottavia: He used to complain about me watching the instructionals for hours on end, and now he's right there with me, mesmerized.
Anthony: Nobody has been more surprised than me. I've really been enjoying it. I try not to be annoying about it at home, because everybody else is obsessed with it, but the fact is, I'm thinking about it a lot more than I ever could have anticipated.
How often are you in the gym now?
Anthony: I train at every opportunity, every time I'm back in NY and not traveling. Sometimes, even when I'm on location. In fact, I was out in LA shooting this network show, and we had a guy come out and teach us some stuff at the studio. I got it bad.
What do you do when you're traveling to get your workouts and rolling in?
Anthony: I'm at the point now where I will start thinking about training regularly even when I'm on the road. I've been training three to four times a month now, and worst case scenario, once a month. I'm not like Ottavia, who's doing this three or four hours a day, or my daughter who goes five to six hours a week. Basically, I'm trying to keep up with my six-year-old [laughs]. I have reasonable ambitions as far as my jiu-jitsu career.
Are there any gyms you're interested in training at while you're on the road?
Anthony: When I'm home, I train exclusively at Renzo Gracie's gym. I'm pretty comfortable there. I haven't really thought about other places. When Ottavia travels with me, she scouts out the local gyms, though. I'm going to be doing a Brazil show in a couple of weeks in Bahia, and I'm thinking of doing a session there.
Who do you want having your back in a dark alley fight, Ottavia or hired security?
Anthony: Gee, I don't know. In a bar fight, I'd definitely like my wife around, because no one would see it coming, and all she would have to do is get within arm's reach, and it's pretty much over. A woman in seven inch heels slipping up behind you...yeah, definitely in a bar fight, if someone takes a swing at me, I'd like to have Ottavia around [laughs]. In a back alley, I'm a big believer in bringing a bazooka to a gun fight.
What are your thoughts on the WMMA boom?
Ottavia: It's fantastic. I was so thrilled when they added the 135-pound division to the UFC, I didn't even see it coming when they added the 115-pound division. I never thought this would happen so fast. I remember giving an interview two years ago, and I thought this was maybe going to happen five or six years out.
We'll be going to UFC 168, and we planned on going just to see Rousey v. Tate, then they added Weidman vs Silva. We just love the women's division and seeing them fight.
Anthony: This last season of The Ultimate Fighter was the best one yet. The women always bring it and it's super exciting to see them getting the spotlight.
Ronda took a lot of heat for her attitude. Did you get a different feeling about her after watching the show?
Ottavia: A lot of people talked shit about her, but for me, I kind of always knew there was something a little crazy about her, and that's why I like her. I don't think it's necessary to be crazy to become a champion, but I definitely think it helps. There's just something about her that has allowed her to reach the incredible level she's at.
"I don't expect anybody to be like a U.N. Ambassador. I expect them to fight well."
Anthony: Yeah, I don't expect anybody to be like a U.N. Ambassador. I expect them to fight well [laughs]. I don't know why people expect that. Are we going to ask Nick Diaz to be lovable? Of course not. I don't have any problem with Ronda being unpleasant or difficult on the show. The question is, does she deliver in the ring, which she does.
Ottavia: I like Miesha. She came to the academy and trained, and she's a lovely girl. Nothing against her, and it might be fun to see an upset...
Anthony: Not this time [laughs].
Who do you think is the next big female star?
Ottavia: I just saw Tecia Torres in Invicta, and she was amazing at 115. I was really, really impressed. I think she's going to be the one to lead the pack of 115-pounders, for sure.
Has training changed what you eat or drink?
Anthony: Uh, I'm thinking about it more now; I'm certainly not going to sit down and have a big bowl of spaghetti and white clam sauce or carbonara on Saturday if I know I'm training on Sunday, that's for sure. I do sort of eat strategically and I am thinking about what I'm going to be doing in training. I hate to admit it, but I have changed my diet a little bit, and I definitely plan for training.
I don't want to be crawling around on my hands and knees, gasping for air and struggling to not cough up my lungs. It feels good to make it through an hour of hard training in good order. It's satisfying, and I like that feeling. I'm taking it far more seriously than I could have ever been expected to.
Now that you've got the bug, has it opened the door for any other martial arts that might interest you?
Anthony: No, I like this. It's reasonable, and it's working out. We've been talking about amateur competitions, and I think my daughter might do the Pan-Ams. Can I compete in my age class?
Ottavia: Yeah, yeah. They have age-appropriate categories. I mean, nobody calls it ‘senior's category' or anything. I think they have different categories of masters, and the men have it easy because they have many age classes. You can definitely compete with people your same age.
"Maybe I could compete under my porn name, Vic Chenko or Mick Chenko."(Courtesy of Ottavia Bourdain)
Anthony: You know, I'm tall, so I will confess to harboring the secret, momentary fantasy of breaking some old dude's hip [laughs]. I mean, it's got to be the right old dude; he's got to be in really pathetic shape. Under the right circumstances, I would do competition. I'm certainly thinking about it, which is something that before, I would never have done. Maybe I could compete under my porn name, Vic Chenko or Mick Chenko.
Ottavia: He does like boxing, though.
Anthony: I do like boxing, but it's just something I wouldn't compete at. Look, I've got to be realistic. I'm 57 and not in great shape. If I hit somebody, it has to be a decisive blow, and in the first 20 seconds. I'm certainly not going to be duking it out for 60 seconds, much less three minutes, in an alley or a ring. That's just not going to happen.
Are you feeling and seeing the results of your training physically, aside from not coughing up a lung?
Anthony: Absolutely. It feels good, and I'm having fun. It's a family affair, a togetherness thing. I'm liking it, but I'm trying to be reasonable about it. My wife is serious about it. She's a competitor. I'm not. I'm a dilettante. I want to bring honor to my clan, but I have reasonable expectations. Let's put it that way.
Have you ever considered doing a Anthony and "friends" doing a jiu-jitsu video with Ottavia?
Anthony: Oh good lord, no. I'm sure others would find it hilarious, watching me get triangled by my wife, but I'm not so sure I'd like to have that video out there. I've already got to live it, I don't know if I want anyone else seeing it [laughs].
My daughter taps out our friends all the time. She likes to sneak up on them and slap on a rear naked choke, putting them into a shocked submission. I don't think I'd want that video shown around either.
[To Ottavia] Were you surprised when he finally picked up jiu-jitsu, or was this a process of you wearing away at his resolve?
Ottavia: I knew that he was going to like it once he tried it. For me, the hardest part was getting him to do the first thing, actually getting him to step on the mat. Because of the mental aspect of jiu-jitsu, I knew he would see it as a puzzle to solve, especially with all the things that go into a particular move. I just knew he was going to like it. Once I bribed him into doing it, and he actually liked it and decided to stick with it, I was not surprised at all.
Other than Urijah Faber, who are the fighters you are usually pulling for?
Ottavia: Carlos Condit, Lyoto Machida
Anthony: I love the Korean Zombie. Ever since I saw him against Dustin Poirier, I've liked him. It was the most mechanical, precise dismantling I've seen in a long time. It was really exciting to watch.
Anderson Silva and Jon Jones are also favorites. Jones had kind of a close call with Vitor, and Silva finally got beat and is now in question if he'll be able to pull off the win over Weidman. Things are so exciting now. These guys are so skilled and talented. They both have really exciting stand-up games and can beat you in so many ways. That's really fun, though obviously, I'm liking the ground game a lot.
Silva is pushing 40 and still talented. Jones is pretty much the most exciting guy out there, as far as I'm concerned. You pretty much never know which part of his body he's going to end up beating his opponent with.
I just saw the rerun of the fight Silva had with the American Psycho, Stephan Bonnar. My God, what a total destruction that was.
Who are you guys picking to win in the Silva/Weidman rematch?
Anthony: This is a house divided now.
Ottavia: Chris has been training a lot at Renzo's, so I'm rooting for him. He's part of the family, so I'm not going to go against him. Same way I never went against Georges St. Pierre or Frankie Edgar.
Anthony: Ottavia will bet and pick with her heart, whereas I don't think like that. In this case, I'm going to root for the old dude [laughs]. I also think the old dude is going to win in this case.
There was an article last year on Fightland where you invited a bunch of restaurant owners to try a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. Did any of those people continue training after their first taste of it?
Ottavia: Other than my husband, Doug from Big Gay Ice Cream came for a second time, and is willing to come for a third time, but of those people, none have done anything regularly since. We have other friends that have tried it out and are still doing it.
Would you like to continue writing more on jiu-jitsu or other topics?
Ottavia: If something interesting in my life happens, I'll write about it. I'm not going to be an MMA reporter or anything like that, though. I like to talk about myself too much [laughs]. My favorite subject is myself.
Maybe you could write about how to do X amount of laundry loads a day?
Anthony: Actually, the gi always gets priority in this house. We have this big pile of gis that go right to the front of the line. No waiting on those.
My wife is also a germophobe, so whenever I come back from somewhere, Mexico or the Amazon...wherever, she's convinced that my clothes are teeming with some bacteriological time bomb, so those also get priority, and go right in.
When you travel with Anthony, is it hard to stay on your strict all-meat diet in the sketchier parts of the world?
Ottavia: In the past year I've kind of been relaxing my diet a little bit. I eat a lot, but it's mostly proteins and vegetables, but I haven't been as strict lately. Like this month, I don't have any competitions and he's home, so I've been eating a little bit of everything.
I pay a price when I eat carbs, especially when I eat wheat [laughs], it's inevitable flatulence around the house. I enjoy myself a little more now, and I've been cutting myself some slack; a little more sweets and a little more pasta.
With all the scientific findings about the dangers of red meat, cured meats, and basically ingesting too much meat, does that factor in to your consumption, or do you not consider it, because these days, just about everything is unhealthy?
Anthony: Consider your answer very carefully.
"I don't care if it's like radioactive monkey colons in my hamburgers. Does it taste good? If so, I eat it."
Ottavia: [Laughs] I'm very picky about my meat. I don't want to be a pain in the ass, but I try to stick with humanely raised, organic, antibiotic free meat from ranches I know personally. Since I did my two-week vegan experiment a few months back, I was really surprised, because I thought I was going to die without meat, but I actually survived fine. I don't know, I kind of feel that I do eat less meat these days than I did previously.
Anthony: You scare me [laughs].
Ottavia: Oh you know this stuff. Sometimes I order from the vegan restaurant, and my husband picks up the order, utterly horrified.
Anthony: I don't care if it's like radioactive monkey colons in my hamburgers. Does it taste good? If so, I eat it.
Out of morbid curiosity, when is the last time you guys went to a McDonald's drive thru?
Ottavia: We've never done that.
Anthony: Never, especially since my daughter was born. In-N-Out Burger is a whole other story.
Ottavia: I don't think we've ever been to a McDonald's at all, inside or drive thru.
Anthony: In-N-Out Burger actually pays their workers and treats them decently. They source their meat through their own supply chain. It's decent meat and they cook everything to order. It's not some piece of pre-cooked frozen cardboard, sprayed with beef flavor to make it taste like a burger. In-N-Out is real, fresh ground beef that's cooked to order. I think that makes a big difference. It's not only better for you, it's just a much more delicious eating experience.
Being in New York, do you eat Five Guys Burgers?
Anthony: No, I'm a Shake Shack guy. I have nothing against Five Guys, but I love Shake Shack.
Ottavia: It's right across the street from us.
Anthony: Yeah, that helps.
What are your best and worst habits?
Ottavia: My best habit...I do laundry a lot [laughs]. I'm struggling to come up with something here.
Anthony: Your best habit is abusing taxi drivers with threats of violence in a thick, Italian accent. Your worst habit is—
Ottavia: No! No! [Laughs] I have so many bad habits. I'm a mess. I leave a mess everywhere.
Anthony: Except laundry. She keeps current with the laundry. The rest, it's pretty much like somebody blew up a landfill. She likes cats and puppies. So did Hitler [Both laugh heartily].
Ottavia: I was doing a routine yesterday when he came home from Mexico. The cat and I rehearsed a welcome home routine, but he totally didn't appreciate it, and I'm really sad about that.
Anthony: I was a little frightened.
My best habit is that I'm always on time. I'm punctual to a fault.
Ottavia: That's true. I have the same habit. We are both always on time or early.
Anthony: Worst habit, I don't know, I'm a little over-organized. Christmas dinner, I've written a list a month in advance. I'm a little Type A when it comes to planning meals and recreational activities. If you would imagine Ina Garten, but sort of psychotic, that would be me.
Ottavia: That's not really a bad habit except for the people close to you, because it annoys the shit out of us.
Anthony: I'm a pretty tidy guy, too.
Ottavia: You're super tidy. Really, annoyingly tidy [laughs].
Anthony: Yeah, I keep lists, and if I see a wrapper on the ground, it really eats at me until it gets picked up. Some people would find those good habits, others would find them really annoying.
Ottavia: I actually love those habits because he is after me, cleaning up my mess left and right.
Anthony: Well, if not, it would be a quick descent into Hell.
What was the one thing you saw Tony doing on No Reservations that really stood out to you as a moment you wished you could've shared?
Ottavia: Hmmm...I think when he was in Bali. It was just so beautiful.
Anthony: Saudi Arabia. You know you wanted to rock a burka.
Ottavia: Not a burka, a bahia. I've been to Rio with him and to Japan, so I don't know. I think I'd like to go to the Middle East with him, for sure. I would like to see Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, but because of the political situation, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking my daughter with me, or leaving her behind, but eventually, it's a place I would like to go.
Does your daughter have an interest in cooking?
Ottavia: Oh yeah, she and Anthony cook together all the time. It's the cutest thing. I leave the house to go train and they stay behind to cook. When I come back, there is a nice meal waiting for me.
In your comic Get Jiro! you present a food war between internationals and hyper-locals. If there were no middle ground available, which side would you be a part of?
Anthony: That's a tough one. Probably the locals. I guess my sympathies are toward the local model. I like to think that I would be more local minded, but in real life, practical terms, I'd probably be one of the international dudes.
I can tell you here that we're actually going to do a second Get Jiro!, a prequel.
If you were a ronin like Jiro, what would your food medium be?
Anthony: In much the same way that I can only hope to ever get my blue belt, I can only hope to make sushi the way one should. That's seven years just learning how to do the rice. Obviously, that's something that appeals to me. I'm in real awe of the masters, the artists, the craftsmen that really know how to make sushi. I think it is a beautiful and admirable thing.
What was it like doing voice-over work for Archer?
It was so much fun. I mean I love Archer, it's one of my favorite shows. I'm friends with Aisha Tyler, so I basically hounded them to do the part. I half-jokingly told them I would write for the show for free. Anything to do with the show, I was happy to do. I just think it's brilliant. They called me up and said that they'd written a part for me and would I do the voice-over. It was a whole Hell of a lot of fun. Everybody on that show is funny. I'm in a position where I can collaborate with people I really respect and have a good time while doing it.
Tell me about the time you took Alton Brown to the strip club.
Anthony: That was one of my prouder moments. I managed to convince Alton to come out to the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta. It's not just a strip club, it's the lost luggage department of strip clubs. It is truly an amazing place, so I'm really proud of that moment [laughs]. I think the average stripper's age was like 55 or something. His discomfort was exquisite.
I saw your comments on the current trends for TV chefs and it seems kind of bleak. What would be your ideal vision for the way TV chefs are put across for public consumption?
Anthony: I don't even know at this point. I'm sure that whatever my vision is for that would not sell and people would hate it. I think my version would look like Taxi Driver [laughs]. That would be perfect, a cooking show based on Taxi Driver. Bleak, dark monotone psychotic hero with mass murder at the end. I'd watch that show.
What one dish do you think everyone needs to try before they die?
Anthony: For me, a really good, high quality bowl of Vietnamese pho. I think that's an essential experience. Everyone should try that, and everyone should know how to cook an omelet. Then the world would be a better place.
Ottavia: I think seared Otoro sushi. It's one of my favorite things to eat, so I think everyone should try it.
Anthony: The big piece of the fatty underbelly of an endangered fish?
"Any time you're talking about bro-food, you're lurching into the Fieri zone, and that doesn't reflect well on the male species."
What is the most overrated food trend in America?
Ottavia: Are they still on about that truffle oil, because I hated that.
Anthony: That's not a trend, that's an airborne toxic event.
I think ‘bro-food' is something I'd definitely like to see the end of. I don't even know what it is, but I'd like to stop it. I hate that whole idea that there's male food and female food. Any time you're talking about bro-food, you're lurching into the Fieri zone, and that doesn't reflect well on the male species.
What is the most underrated?
Anthony: Well, Korean is awesome. People know of Korean food, but soon it will be just as popular as Italian or Mexican or French food, as it richly deserves. It's been an obsession lately, and not just for me, but for a lot of chefs. It's sort of a date night or family night for us, as well. Korean BBQ is a regular event.
With many dishes or food, the first bite is the best. Which food or dish is the best example of an incredible "first bite"?
Anthony: Uni. Sea urchin roe sitting on top of some perfect, crumbly, fresh-made sushi rice with some perfect tokido lightly toasted seaweed. That's about the best single mouthful you could ever imagine.
Ottavia: You read my mind. When I was a kid, we would find them on the beach in Sardinia. We would open it and eat it with a spoon, fresh. Just delicious.
Which food or dish gets better as you eat it?
Anthony: I don't know, that's more of an alcohol-related thing [laughs]. When you've got a really good wine, it just gets better and better.
What would be your last meal request if you were on death row?
Anthony: I would like for Jiro Ono from Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo to come over and do a full omakase menu of sushi for me. After that, you could pretty much shoot me in the back of the head, hang me, give me a lethal injection, I wouldn't care. You could pretty much bludgeon me to death after that and I'd be pretty pleased.
Ottavia: For me, it's my dad's spaghetti with lobster. It was my favorite thing to eat when I was a kid and it would be the last thing I'd want to eat before I die.
What 'delicacy' actually tastes disgusting?
Anthony: The rotten shark, Hákarl in Iceland is one. You know, I've eaten a lot of rotten food to be polite, but really, if you examine what goes into a chicken McNugget, what actually goes into it, I think you'd have a really hard time finding anything more disgusting.
There have been times when I'm in places where the food is so bad, for so long...you know, badly cooked, stanky goat, every day. I'm cold and lonely and miserable. Then I end up on a transfer at an airport in Germany or someplace, and there's a KFC. Oh man, I am all over that. Are you kidding me? I'm like weeping with joy.
If there was no stigma attached to it, would you ever try human flesh?
Anthony: Not knowingly. I mean, I'd really like to avoid that, but look, if we're in a lifeboat, and you're not pulling your weight out there, and we're three weeks at sea, I've got no problem [laughs].
What's the best way to cook a steak and which countries have the best beef?
Anthony: The United States of America has the best beef, without a doubt. You want a mix of organic, grass fed, up to a point, but then finished with grain to make it nice and fatty. You want it hung for about 30 days.
To cook it, you want a perfect, smoldering coal barbeque, or in a searingly hot pan, just rubbed with salt and pepper. You want to cook it medium rare or rare, remove from flame and allow it to rest, so that the internal temperature carries over cumulatively, bringing it to a point where it's medium rare. Resting a steak is the most important thing to do.
There's no improving on that. Bleu cheese, truffle oil, sauces will almost never ever improve on a good steak. Salt and pepper is the only way to go. I would go with a rib cut, like a ribeye is the perfect piece of meat, in my opinion.
What do you think of the trend to cook steaks sous-vide style?
Anthony: I'm old school. I like the texture and the flavor of the pan. I like that sear, whether it's obtained from a pan or over wood or coal or just over gas. I like the taste you get from flame or searing from hot metal. I think those are actual components of the flavor.
In traditional Chinese cooking, the chefs talk about wok hei, which is the residual taste from the wok itself. It carries over into the food. I think it's the same with a steak. Sous-vide cooking give a nice texture, but that style is not what represents a pleasurable steak eating experience for me.
Ottavia: I like it raw [laughs].
What was it like when you were filming in Beirut with a war going on literally right outside your door?
Anthony: It was more heartbreaking than it was frightening. It was so surreal. I think I was most worried about communications completely failing, that I would be completely out of touch with family and with Ottavia. It was not so much terrifying as it was discouraging and heartbreaking. To see a wonderful place like Beirut, pounded back 20 years for what I thought was not a particularly good reason. I've been in far scarier places.
Would you mind elaborating on those?
Anthony: Libya is a place, when I was there, where everything is going fine until it's not. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is another place where everything is fine and then all of the sudden, it's really, really bad. Both of those are places where multiple times a day, you find yourself in positions of real uncertainty.
Have you ever genuinely feared for your life while you've been filming?
"That's the closest I've actually come to death."
Anthony: Yeah, sure. Generally though, those are driving experiences. That's the closest I've actually come to death, being driven around Vietnam, or mountain roads in Punjab. Some of the flying machines we've been in have been pretty dicey, as well.
There have been roadblocks and drug militias and things like that. If I'm honest with myself, it was probably a lot more dangerous to drive Highway 1 in Vietnam.
When are we going to see an Action Bronson collaboration with you, a cook-off or something?
Anthony: He was on my show, The Layover. That's been on my mind actually, and I'm definitely looking for an opportunity to do something like that with him. He was on the show much too briefly. I like him very much; he's a very funny guy. We should do something together, for sure.
Last year when I interviewed you, you gave your opinion on Paula Deen's dishonesty to her fan base regarding her diabetes. What are your thoughts on her about face with her honesty about some racist terms she used in her past?
Anthony: Well, testifying under oath tends to do that, make you tell the truth [laughs]. It was a legal deposition, you know.
Honestly, I thought the whole thing was pretty horrendous. The same people who were enabling her two minutes earlier, suddenly dropped her like a rock. I may not like her act, I may not think much of her, but I thought the way that everybody was so happy to be doing business with her one minute, and then to see the mob fall upon her and kick her in the street, so to speak, it's not pretty. I thought it was pretty ugly, and it gave me no satisfaction at all.
I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the seal hunting situation in Canada.
Anthony: If you find the seal hunt repellent, don't buy seal products. Demonstrate against them, or whatever. People of conscience can have different opinions. What I do object to here, is a bunch of cynical activists convinced a bunch of well-meaning chefs to boycott the entire Canadian seafood industry. A seal isn't even seafood. By putting pressure on the many, they extorted from the few. I just thought it was in extraordinarily poor taste.
Look, these are people who live far from the situation. I just think there was a lot of dishonesty and misrepresentation in the process. I saw good-hearted chefs being used to ill purpose. I think there's plenty of room for honest people to disagree on this issue, I just really didn't like the way it was done. I'm not an advocate for seal hunting, but I'm definitely against the cynical use of my former colleagues to extort honest fishermen who have absolutely nothing to do with the issue, especially when it's done by people that are far away from the situation. If these numbnuts want to stop some animal cruelty, let them go after the Colonel.
What's your favorite vacation destination not named Brazil?
Ottavia: [Laughs] Japan. It's one of those places, especially when I was in Tokyo, where I just didn't want to leave. I was ready to abandon everything and just move there permanently. I've always been a fan of everything Japanese. I think there is even a name for that, Wopanese. I've been obsessed with Japan since I was a little girl.
I'm a big fan of Manga, Anime... I have toys, dolls, magical wands. I just found myself surrounded by people who didn't think my obsession was weird. I love it, and I could live there, for sure.
I love the food, and the people, and their culture. I would live in Tokyo, I think. I found a great jiu-jitsu school that's affiliated with Rickson Gracie, so that's it. I don't need much else.
Since both of you are writing now, do you find it difficult to put time aside to just write, or is it something you have to do on the fly when the moment presents itself?
Anthony: I'm not a man of regular habits, so if I have to write, it's mostly writing voice-overs and writing for the shows. I wake up in the morning and I do it first thing. I just do it until it's done.
Ottavia: I enjoy writing if I have something interesting to write about. I don't like to have an assignment and I don't like to do things on a regular basis. If it's not fun for me, it's just a struggle. If I have a fun, interesting story, then it just flows.
You told me last year that you like oddball foods and will try almost anything. Have you taken to any new strange delicacies?
Ottavia: Um, not really, that I can think of.
Anthony: These big bags of frozen, microwaveable cauliflower that stink out the entire apartment.
Ottavia: I also eat a lot of squash. I order it from the vegan restaurant around the corner. I eat pounds and pound of it while I watch TV.
I know you guys issued a challenge to chefs to roll, but have you also considered getting Renzo, Igor and any of the other jiu-jitsu guys to cook for an episode on Anthony's show?
Ottavia: Oh yes!
Anthony: We've been talking about that for a while. I definitely think I'd like to collaborate on that. Renzo and I have talked about it over Twitter, about us doing a feijoada.
Ottavia: The school just had our annual Christmas dinner at the Brazilian steakhouse, and those guys just love to eat.
Anthony: More and more chefs are doing [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu], too. Dave Chang is doing it and Mark Vetri rolls now. I think I might have gotten Ludo Lefebvre interested, so I suspect we'll be seeing more chefs involved.
You compared your holiday meal planning to the taking of the beach at Normandy. Describe that in a little more detail.
Anthony: We're totally squared away. I have a plan and plenty of prior preparation. I take that beach and I take it well. Everything will go perfectly.
"I make a stunt turkey, okay? I'll roast a whole turkey just for presentation, so when I pull it out of the oven, everyone will go, ‘Ooooh, look at the nice turkey.'"
I make a stunt turkey, okay? I'll roast a whole turkey just for presentation, so when I pull it out of the oven, everyone will go, ‘Ooooh, look at the nice turkey.' In fact, I've already prepared another turkey, taken it off the bone, and it's sitting there in breast and thigh and drumstick sections, waiting for me to slice into perfect, paper thin domino slices, shingled across a mountain of stuffing, which has also been cooked separately and pre-positioned. I basically attack my home holiday dinners like I did when I worked in restaurants on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Old habits die hard.
Ottavia: And I'll be cleaning. He cooks like he was in a restaurant kitchen.
Anthony: I'm used to underlings.
Ottavia: But there is a dishwasher there. He's throwing stuff around, and at the end of the day we have to clean the ceiling and everything. He cooks with the abandon of someone who knows there is a dishwasher ready.
Anthony: I need somebody mopping my brow like a surgeon, periodically.
With the holidays right around the corner, do you both make the menus, or is "taking the beach of Normandy" strictly an Anthony project?
Ottavia: Oh no. That's his thing. I wake up Christmas morning, go to the academy and train. I come back, shower, set the table and eat. I don't even want to see what he's doing there.
Anthony: My daughter and I will be taking charge of this operation.
How did you come to be involved with the Live To Fight charity?
Ottavia: I was doing a seminar for the late Frank Edge at Renzo's. Kristen Brown, who is the CEO of Live To Fight came by, and when she heard what we were doing, she was very enthusiastic and wanted to help. We kind of bonded, and she had this idea and wanted to know if I would like to get involved. Her enthusiasm was contagious, so of course I said yes. We got together with a bunch of other people; Chris Weidman is on the board of directors. She created Live To Fight with our help. Right now we have an IndieGoGo campaign going now with some great perks.
People have been very reactive, UFC fighters and people in the MMA community in general. We are here to help people in the MMA community that are suffering from life-threatening illness. Fighters, training partners, families, children...it's great. More and more people are asking for our help, so we really hope more people will be willing to help us to help those in need.
What's something we can look forward to in 2014 from the two of you?
Anthony: [Laughs] I hope I can get my second stripe on my white belt before 2014 is up.
Ottavia: I'll keep competing. I just started going back to Muay Thai again, and I'm doing both now. I might take a Muay Thai fight just for fun.
I started watching a lot of kickboxing with Glory. I missed a little bit of the show the other night because my husband came home from Mexico. I watched both live shows in New York. It's a fantastic production and it's such an entertaining, fast paced, knockout filled event. It kind of made me want to go back and do a little bit of kickboxing, and maybe, maybe, maybe I will take like an ammy match just for fun.
Obviously, my main focus will always be on jiu-jitsu, and I'll be competing at the Pan-Ams in March. Then I'll just see what happens and take it from there.
Anthony: I'd also like to mention that Mark ‘Fightshark' Miller's first book, his memoir titled Pain Don't Hurt, will be coming out from my imprint, Bourdain Ecco Books, sometime early in 2014.
You can follow Anthony via his Twitter account, @Bourdain and Ottavia via her Twitter account, @OttaviaBourdain