Happy Birthday Zamir from Stephanie Pyrzynski

Today happens to be the birthday of this article’s subject, who I frankly hope more people discover. Anthony Bourdain’s Russian fixer and comrade for 17 years. In this article I’ll be digging into everything you need to know about him before you see his new documentary and his memoir comes out.

Who Is Zamir?

Since the 1980s, Iazamir Gotta (Zamir for short) has worked on European and American film and TV projects as a freelance producer and consultant. A combination “Additional Crew + Producer + Location Management” are the most frequent roles listed on IMDb’s list of Zamir’s projects. With his notable projects bringing him in contact with the likes of Billy Crystal, Robert DeNiro, Tilda Swinton and Diane Sawyer.

Bourdain Note For Zamir To Read At Guts And Glory Tour 2012 - Tweet

But his in-front-of-the camera appearances on Anthony Bourdain’s tv shows and book tours, simply being himself, changed the trajectory of his life.

Ethos Of This Article

This article is informed by my years as a Bourdain fan, having been a viewer of all three of his shows and reader of the books he penned. As well as my studying the three books that have thus far been published about him since his death—including the documentary on his life, which was produced by the team that produced all his shows, Zero Point Zero Productions.

I also would like to call out Karen Wormald, who greatly informed this article (read about why she is: Anthony Bourdain and Tom Vitale’s Favorite Fan Blogger).

But my fortunate phone call with the subject of this article, was the piece of credibility I needed to feel confident in writing this article. And so please enjoy this deep dive before you see his new documentary 98 Degrees West, which premiered earlier this month at the Buffalo International Film Festival. And this weekend, is screening at the TRAVEL FilmFest International Film Festival, which is an ONLINE film festival. $10 to see Zamir? Heck yes!

A Little History On The Bourdain Sidekick Trope

The sidekick became a fixture of Bourdain shows out of necessity at the beginning of his first tv show A Cook’s Tour (2002). Bourdain’s inexperience and reticence towards the camera required his producers to find a way to coax him out of his shell and develop his hosting skills (see page 203 in Down And Out In Paradise by Charles Leerhsen for an expansion on this). They found a solution in having someone for Bourdain to bounce off of, rather than being the sole focus of the camera.

Asking the “fixers”, as they are called, to be a part of Bourdain’s scenes of discovering proved to be a key to the magic formula of episodes. Fixers are the guides and contacts at the different locations for a film or tv production. They are quite important behind-the-scenes, though unheralded and often uncredited.

The interaction between Bourdain and his sidekicks were the part of what made his shows improve the travel show genre in my opinion. And I think it’s because the final result on screen was a comingling of sitcom entertainment with serious subject matter. The combinatiobn made for award-winning television gold.

The sidekicks that stand out include Zamir Gotta chiefly, Nari Kye, and Eric Ripert. But many newer fans may be surprised to learn that the sidekick with the most appearances (from 2002-2018) was none other than Zamir, who also was one of the first.

How Zamir Became A Part Of Bourdain Shows

Bourdain described how Zamir came to become a part of the usual guests of his shows best during a clips episode of his second tv show No Reservations (2005).

”We pressed him into service on camera, and thus was born the weird, dysfunctional, much loved relationship.”

Anthony Bourdain

A niche group of world television viewers, like yours truly’s family, saw a Laurel and Hardy in the Zamir-Bourdain friendship. Zamir was the perfect foil for Bourdain, something that made him stand out amongst the other most frequent sidekicks.

Intrepid Fixer

Die hard Bourdain fans knew that a Bourdain episode intro with something like “accompanied by his longtime traveling partner,” usually meant it would be an episode where Zamir would make an appearance. And Zamir episodes almost always guaranteed an enjoyable episode.

Bourdain always had a colorful way of introducing Zamir, such as “my old crony” or “the ultimate fixer.” And quippingly would call him an “international man of mystery” because Zamir could always be counted on to break the ice for Bourdain’s crew in traditionally tricky locales, (such as Russia, Uzbekistan, Chernobyl). Including, gaining them access to notable people of interest to interview that seemed beyond possibility. Here are some examples:

Signed Copy of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Book
Why yes, I have an autographed copy. Freshman year college attended his book signing for this book in Chicago.

“..my friend Zamir, the ultimate fixer and a good friend. Is there anything Zamir can’t do? From St. Petersburg to Samarqand, he walks through walls and across the borders. Wanna meet the KGB officer who recruited Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen? Zamir’s your guy. Attend a traditional Uzbek wedding? He knows somebody. Dinner with Miss Russia? Zamir. Meet the Mafiya? Guess who can help?”

Anthony Bourdain, (2007) No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, page 96.

the sort of type one needs—particularly in Russia—when trying to make television. Someone had to arrange permits, navigate the bureaucracy, deal with any “non-official” bodies who might have had their hands out or who might threaten to make things “difficult”.

Anthony Bourdain on Tumblr, ‘The Return of Zamir’, October 1, 2014

But as the viewer, you wondered—how could this short and husky gent with a strikingly swarthy close resemblance to the actor Tim Curry be such a ginsu knife, who could parlay with so many different kinds of people and deliver opportunities and connections that defied audience expectations?

Zamir looks like the opposite of an international man of mystery—but that serious and mysterious side of his personality coupled with the humor he brought to every episode is what made him the equivalent of an Oreo cookie for viewers. A loveable wheeler-and-dealer, with a drinking constitution that rivaled Bourdain’s. Goofy and gregarious. Shameless but savvy.

Zamir’s First Appearance

Bourdain described Zamir’s first appearance best:

“My local contact, translator and fixer in Russia was the amazing Zamir, a genial, funny, well-informed guy with a dark mustache, a three-day-old growth of beard much of the time, and a fur-lined hat with earflaps. Worldly, experienced, fatalistic about the way things were going in his country,”

Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour (book), 2001, page 83

We first meet Zamir in the two Russia episodes of Bourdain’s first tv show, A Cooks Tour (first aired on the Food Network in 2002), which capitalized on the public interest in Bourdain for his surprise bestselling book Kitchen Confidential. Zamir also helped produced those episodes, which started filming in January 26, 2001.

He would go on to appear in a total of 11 episodes out of the 380 episodes aired in Bourdain’s lifetime. And Zamir wasn’t just relegated to only appearing on episodes of Bourdain tv shows. Between 2011-2013 Zamir was also on Bourdain’s Guts and Glory roadshow tour, as his introducer before going on stage.


Although there was a running joke of Zamir being a bit of a schemer, opportunist, mendacious even, Bourdain showed a loyalty that hints at Zamir having a better character than he is given credit for. Psychics could attribute Pluto figuring in his natal chart as a culprit in people’s prejudgment of him. And not to sound morbid, but Zamir does bare an interesting resemblance to Bourdain’s dad Pierre and I wonder if there was a soul recognition of a familiar sort of kindred soull; a dreamer as Pierre has been described in books on Bourdain’s life. I know I sometimes feel attracted to get to know someone who resemblance a family member I loved. But I digress..

Russians have always held stereotypes against them, so that might have something to do with the standoffishness towards Zamir by Bourdain’s inner-circle. The situation between Russia and Ukraine these last almost 2 years certainly has not helped public opinion of Russians in the United States unfortunately. A possible factor in his documentary unable to get the kind of support fans would expect I speculate.

Part of my interest in writing this article is a fact that seems overlooked—something Bourdain fans online on forums like Reddit and Facebook have expressed surprise over as well. One can’t help but get the sense of a double-edge sentiment towards Zamir from the people closest to the Bourdain brand, from his lack of inclusion in things like the official approved biography on Bourdain compiled by long-time Bourdain assitant Laurie Woolever, the 2021 documentary on his life, and so forth.

Karen Wormald pointed out from the Leerhsen book, documentation about a “want to control the narrative” from the close Bourdain circle. And that rang a bell for me from my interview with Zamir, in which he said it’s natural for people to have agendas and a desire to manage narratives because it’s part of human nature.

Zamir was mentioned in the memoir of long-time Bourdain producer, director, and friend Tom Vitale, called In The Weeds (2021) though. As well as interviewed for the unauthorized Bourdain biography Down and Out in Paradise (2022) by Charles Leerhsen. But the plain fact is that to fans, Zamir’s lack of inclusion is equivalent to not inviting Kramer or Newman to the reunion of Seinfeld.

Zamir’s presence in Bourdain’s life may not be as big and deep as his friendships with people like Eric Ripert, etc., but I’ve learned that it’s more common than not for friends to regard one another’s signifance in each other’s lives differently.

Zamir’s written tribute to Bourdain published in the respected Hollywood Reporter (June 10, 2018) could be perceived as opportunistic, another grab for the taste of fame he received from his contributions and a fact made fun of in episodes like the 2009 Buffalo episode of No Reservations (which inspired Zamir to move to Buffalo, NY!). However, playing devil’s advocate— if you were the odd man out from a friend’s main circle, would it seem wrong for you to steal a moment for yourself to show what they meant to you.?Sometimes the excluded are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

“Tony’s presence in my life will remain with me; five years ago he encouraged me to begin work on my autobiography — he suggested I call it Strictly Zamir Life of a Fixer — and promised to write an introduction. Alas now that shall never be, but I plan to finish the book this year and dedicate to his life and memory. As we say in Russian vechnaya pamyat —everlasting memory. Rest in peace Tony.”

Zamir Gotta, Hollywood Reporter June 10, 2018

I don’t there’s any drama between Zero Point Zero, Bourdain’s family, and Zamir—but from an outsider’s perspective, it’s probably just a classic case of natural lack of things in common, with no malice intended.

Fan Favorite

Like many I suspect, Zamir’s underdog appeal transcends his swarthy characterstics—like his sometimes questionable instincts for entrepreneurship as evidenced in the Buffalo episode of No Reservations, where in which one sequence Zamir was greeted like a rockstar by locals in a night shot.

Yours truly pointed out the big deal that was made of him in said episode, which Zamir was surprised to learn. And then Zamir shared the following photo I took of my television screen.


According to /NorthPolePosition on Reditt Zamir’s memoir may be released at the end of this year.

Throughout the years Zamir Gotta has mentioned he was working on his autobiography with a title provided by Anthony Bourdain himself: “Strictly Zamir: Life of a Fixer”.

Here for example:


I was listening to the “Friends of Anthony Bourdain” podcast today and in the Zamir episode around the 43 minute mark it was mentioned the book might be finished and released this year. Listen here: https://friendsofanthonybourdain.com/episodes/zamirgotta

I really enjoyed recent books like “In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain” by Tom Vitale. “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography” by Laurie Woolever was great too. Especially the audiobook versions. So I’m looking forward to this one!

/NorthPolePosition on Reddit (April 30, 2023)

In a tweet made on July 28, 2023, Zamir shared that the release of his memoir will shoot for spring 2024. Here’s hoping because it’s taken more than 12 years to get the support for it.

In my phone interview with Zamir, he shared the travails of finding a legitimate publishing house and co-writer. One hard blow came when a publisher got divorced and his wife took over his publishing house and booted a bunch of projects on its roster, which included Zamir’s memoir. And the co-writer search was beyond weird—scammers who took his money without delivering and writers with false promises.

Bourdain promised to write the foreword, but his unexpected death means the forword won’t have that special seal on it, which may have also cost Zamir in being able to win backing for his book.

Zamir is saving the title to reveal later on, but he shared that one title that was bandied about to him by a publisher was “Where In The World Is Zamir?” No doubt inspired by his many travels around the world for his work and business ventures. But Zamir is Where’s Waldo?, which may have made it hard for him to sell. Zamir’s memoir is more on the hard hitting side, an autobiography because he really has had an interesting life. Everyone has a story to tell. And of course, his 17 year friendship with Anthony Bourdain figures greatly in his story.

In an October 25, 2018 interview with CNN’s Emily Marinoff for the Parts Unknown’s Remembering Anthony Bourdain Director’s Cut corner, he shared:

Marinoff: Can you talk a bit more about how Bourdain affected your own work?

Gotta: I learned from Tony that all people we meet—from different cultures, different countries—are unique. As long as you understand that and want to show it in a genuine way, you have told a story. It’s all about the storytelling. 

He urged me to write a book about my transformation from a Soviet English-language teacher to a passionate filmmaker after [the USSR] collapsed. I worked on the book all summer, and thanks to Tony I knew that it should be my voice. It should be a very authentic journey. I know he would be proud of it because I know he’s still looking at me and showing me the way. He always said, “Zamir, be your own man. If you want to do a show, find your story and tell it.” 

So that’s my inspiration for this book, and, hopefully, the proceeds will go to the Suicide Prevention Center. That’s another mission I got from Tony, whether he intended it or not.

Zamir Gotta (October 25, 2018 Explore Parts Unknown – Director’s Cut)

Komrades (a.ka. Comrades)

Komrades - Comrades - Travel Channel Show Trailer Pitch - Nari Kye and Zamir Gotta

Bourdain would joke that Zamir wanted his job (see such as the Parts Unknown Georgia episode from 5/22/16), and from my interview with Zamir I learned that there had been talks at Travel Channel of a possible spin-off with Bourdain travel sidekicks Zamir and Nari Kye called Komrades with a ‘K’—but it never went past a fun blooper teaser produced by Bourdain’s Zero Point Zero production team.

Itinerant Philospher

From this article you may be noticing a pattern of these behind-the-scenes possible opportunities Zamir that never panned out, but Zamir is still trying just like every one who is inspired to transcend where they have been placed.

With a shared slavic heritage and us both being born-abroads, I may have softened receptors to Zamir’s story. He was briefly travelling through the Midwest when we had our call—unfortunately being a busy mom and business owner kept us from meeting officially on his layover in Chicago. But I’m excited to see his 4 years in the making documentary finally come into the spotlight.

What’s been evident for decades now, is that Zamir is a perserverer and his social media is full of positivity, philosophical encouragement to live life to the fullest, and of course self promotion. And like Taylor Swift, he is very accessible to his small legion of fans.

Very much the itinerant philosopher and Don Quixote, Zamir travels a lot, a disciple of Bourdain’s gospel of experiencing as much of this world and its people as one can afford. And Zamir is very good at using the meaning of his name playfully to spin the Bourdain philosophy of openness into a call-to-action for PEACE. And his last name, injected for good measure to encourage that we all GOTTA go for it! Whatever that may mean for you. Be it travel or taking more chances in life.

Vodka Brand

And for fun he has his own vodka brand: Zamir Vodka—which produces small batches. A new batch is now available by the looks of Zamir’s website: https://zamirgotta.com (my agency didn’t design it).

That’s Zamir. And now you know who this seemingly random but totally relevant guy is one to watch.

You can follow Zamir as he travels the world for his mysterious projects on the follow social platforms:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/zamirgotta

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zamir.gotta

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zamirgotta/

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