The turning into Jean-Claude Van Damme has to do with jujitsu. And the couple broke up.
Bourdain had an earlier wife. He broke up with her because of television:
“She identified television early on as an existential threat to the marriage,” Bourdain said. “I felt like the whole world was opening up to me. I’d seen things. I’d smelled things. I desperately wanted more. And she saw the whole thing as a cancer.” If you watch episodes of “A Cook’s Tour,” you can sometimes spot [the first wife, Nancy] Putkoski hovering at the edge of the frame. She had no desire to be on camera. She told me recently that her ideal degree of fame would be that of a Supreme Court Justice: “Almost nobody knows what you look like, but you always get the reservation you want.”There are easier ways to get a reservation, but if you do use the become-a-Supreme-Court-Justice method, make sure to be one of the liberal ones.
And, also on the subject of television, I was interested in this:
“Parts Unknown” films two seasons a year. Even first-class travel can be punishing after a while, and Bourdain acknowledges that although he may still behave like a young man, he isn’t one. “I think you’re officially old at sixty, right?” he told me, soon after his birthday. “The car starts falling apart.” However, TV stars forge bonds with their audience through habitual exposure, and it can feel risky to take a break. “It’s a bit like ‘Poltergeist,’ ” Nigella Lawson, who was Bourdain’s co-host on “The Taste,” told me. “You get sucked into the TV and you can never get out.”By the way, I love Bourdain's book "Kitchen Confidential," and I was fascinated to learn that it was inspired by one of my favorite books, “Down and Out in Paris and London” (by George Orwell). The New Yorker quotes Orwell's statement that cooks are “the most workmanlike class, and the least servile.” Here's the whole passage from Orwell:
Undoubtedly the most workmanlike class, and the least servile, are the cook. They do not earn quite so much as waiters, but their prestige is higher and their employment steadier. The cook does not look upon himself as a servant, but as a skilled workman; he is generally called 'un ouvrier' which a waiter never is. He knows his power--knows that he alone makes or mars a restaurant, and that if he is five minutes late everything is out ofgear. He despises the whole non-cooking staff, and makes it a point of honour to insult everyone below the head waiter. And he takes a genuine artistic pride in his work, which demands very great skill. It is not the cooking that is so difficult, but the doing everything to time. Between breakfast and luncheon the head cook at the Hôtel X would receive orders for several hundred dishes, all to be served at different times; he cooked few of them himself, but he gave instructions about all of them and inspected them before they were sent up. His memory was wonderful. The vouchers were pinned on a board, but the head cook seldom looked at them; everything was stored in his mind, and exactly to the minute, as each dish fell due, he would call out, 'Faites marcher une côtelette de veau' (or whatever it was) unfailingly. He was an insufferable bully, but he was also an artist. It is for their punctuality, and not for any superiority in technique, that men cooks are preferred to women.
The waiter's outlook is quite different. He too is proud in a way of his skill, but his skill is chiefly in being servile. His work gives him the mentality, not of a workman, but of a snob. He lives perpetually in sight of rich people, stands at their tables, listens to their conversation, sucks up to them with smiles and discreet little jokes. He has the pleasure of spending money by proxy. Moreover, there is always the chance that he may become rich himself, for, though most waiters die poor, they have long runs of luck occasionally. At some cafés on the Grand Boulevard there is so much money to be made that the waiters actually pay the patron for their employment. The result is that between constantly seeing money, and hoping to get it, the waiter comes to identify himself to some extent with his employers. He will take pains to serve a meal in style, because he feels that he is participating in the meal himself.
I remember Valenti telling me of some banquet at Nice at which he had once served, and of how it cost two hundred thousand francs and was talked of for months afterwards. 'It was splendid, mon p'tit, mais magnifique! Jesus Christ! The champagne, the silver, the orchids--I have never seen anything like them, and I have seen some things. Ah, it was glorious!'
'But,' I said, 'you were only there to wait?'
'Oh, of course. But still, it was splendid.'
The moral is, never be sorry for a waiter. Sometimes when you sit in a restaurant, still stuffing yourself half an hour after closing time, you feel that the tired waiter at your side must surely be despising you. But he is not. He is not thinking as he looks at you, 'What an overfed lout'; he is thinking, 'One day, when I have saved enough money, I shall be able to imitate that man.' He is ministering to a kind of pleasure he thoroughly understands and admires. And that is why waiters are seldom Socialists, have no effective trade union, and will work twelve hours a day--they work fifteen hours, seven days a week, in many cafés. They are snobs, and they find the servile nature of their work rather congenial.