Inside Anthony Bourdain and Ottavia Busia's 'Unconventional' Split
The pair have never been a traditional couple, even from their first date
It was just a week ago that she was congratulating him via Instagram for an Emmy win, and her statement on the split reads, “We love each other. We respect the decisions the other has made. And we’ll always consider ourselves a family.”
But it’s the first part of her statement that may be the most telling: “Because of professional decisions we both have made, my husband and I have been for years in an unconventional relationship.” What does that mean, precisely?
In a lot of ways, the pair’s relationship was unconventional from the beginning. Ottavia Busia grew up in a a small town in Lombardy, Italy. She was studying to be a dentist when, in 2000, she abruptly fled to the U.S. with just $300 to her name, following an Irish rock musician she was infatuated with. She worked her way up the chain of command at various New York restaurants, including Le Bernardin, before becoming general manager at Geisha. It was there that famed chef Eric Ripert met her and thought she’d be a good match for his friend, Anthony Bourdain.
The couple’s first date was a cigar bar. In 2013, he wrote of being “enraptured” by watching her eat a six-pound lobster on another date. Within a few dates, they had matching chef’s knife tattoos. Over the course of two weeks in 2007, Bourdain was divorced from his first wife, he and Ottavia were married, and he became a father. (Bourdain and Ottavia’s daughter, Ariane, is 9.)
“Working in the restaurant business was definitely what brought us together,” Ottavia recalled to MarriedToAChef.com in 2011. “We used to meet after my shift was over and we would stay up for hours drinking beers, talking about my day at work. Anybody else would have been bored to death, or horrified, but for him it was enjoyable and it would bring back memories of his days in the business.”
The pair’s age difference (Bourdain is 60; Busia is 38) didn’t make much difference initially. Rather, it was their respective workloads: Busia continued to work literally until she started having contractions, and as Bourdain’s celebrity increased, his work started taking him further from home. In 2010, she told the Miami New Times that “my husband’s insane schedule” was her biggest challenge. “The holidays are the only times when he’s home,” Ottavia told MarriedToAChef. “I remember once waking up in the middle of the night terrified because someone was in my bed. That someone was my husband, I had just forgotten that he was home.”
But, she added, “I completely support everything he wants to do.” However, she never had an interest in being a part of the celebrity side of her husband’s life. “I hate being on TV,” she told The New York Times in 2012.
Any mention of Ottavia these days is likely to be focused on her passion for Brazilian jujitsu, which she progressed into after starting kickboxing to get fit again after Ariane was born.
Ottavia started training at the world famous Renzo Gracie Academy, and quickly ditched most of the habits that brought her and Bourdain together: She started training heavily seven days a week and in May wrote of her desire to have her own academy.
“Date night is pretty much going to a fight,” Bourdain joked to Ottavia in a 2013 column for Vice’s MMA section Fightland. “In between we watch tapes of guys wrestling each other. Romantic? Not.”
“I like that you have your own life,” he added. “I respect that you found something you love that you want to excel at. That’s something I understand and very much admire. And I’m tickled by the notion that if we are in a bar and someone gets lippy with me, I’m pretty sure you could take them. That’s pleasing to me.”
Ottavia even succeeded in pulling Bourdain into MMA (“I bribed him with Vicodin,” she joked at one point) and Ariane joined them for training sessions as well. But, he conceded in 2014, “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. … 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.”
In August 2016, writing for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, Ottavia wrote, “I have changed. My husband half-jokes that he married Sophia Loren but ended up with Jean-Claude Van Damme. But there’s something to that. I’m not the same person now.”
“Jujitsu has become my life,” she finishes the piece.