Celebrated chef Anthony Bourdain, who died Friday morning, emerged as an unlikely advocate for the #MeToo movement this past December.
On a Sunday evening that month, rumors swirled that a famous chef would be the subject of an upcoming story about sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement had been going strong for about two months at that point, having reached the restaurant industry shortly after its October resurgence in Hollywood. Eater published the story the next morning, around the same time Bourdain confirmed his disgraced peer’s identity.
“It’s Batali,” he tweeted. “And it’s bad.”
By his own admission, Bourdain had unintentionally contributed to what he often called the restaurant industry’s “meathead culture.” Before hosting CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” he was introduced to the public as a skilled, foul-mouthed chef with a knack for writing. His first book, “Kitchen Confidential,” a revealing look at the intense and sometimes dangerous world of restaurant kitchens, cemented his bad-boy status.
Bourdain said he never wanted to be a part of bro culture. In October, he told Slate that he had become a “leading figure in a very old, very oppressive system,” one that he wanted to help change for the better. The interview was published weeks after Harvey Weinstein exposes appeared in the New York Times and New Yorker, the latter of which included allegations from Italian actress Asia Argento, Bourdain’s partner. Bourdain had worked for years in an industry riddled with misconduct, but he said almost no one had opened up to him until those two stories broke. He began to question his own behavior.
“I had to ask myself, particularly given some things that I’m hearing, and the people I’m hearing them about: Why was I not the sort of person, or why was I not seen as the sort of person, that these women could feel comfortable confiding in?” he said. “I see this as a personal failing.”
Bourdain admitted that there was a period in his life in which he had been the loud, angry chef in the kitchen. In a November interview with CNN, he said his first book “validated the worst instincts of meathead bro culture and certainly didn’t help women’s situation.”
“I do think what has changed is that people, for reasons of self-interest, have to consider what they see and how they behave,” he added. “People who stood by and observed harassment, coercion, what we’re learning now is that to stay silent has a real cost. You will be called to recount for that.”
During an appearance on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” in January, Bourdain credited Argento with introducing him to other women “with extraordinary stories.”
Bourdain was familiar with several accused chefs but told Noah that it didn’t matter at the moment whether he admired someone or respected their work. The statement echoed what he tweeted the night before the Mario Batali accusations became public — “It’s where you stand when the people you care about and admire do awful things that matters” — and a Medium piece he posted soon after.
“In these current circumstances, one must pick a side,” he wrote. “I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with these women. . . . Right now, nothing else matters but women’s stories of what it’s like in the industry I have loved and celebrated for nearly 30 years — and our willingness, as human beings, citizens, men and women alike, to hear them out, fully, and in a way that other women can feel secure enough, and have faith enough that they, too, can tell their stories.
Three weeks ago, Bourdain tweeted a story about a powerful speech Argento delivered at the Cannes Film Festival about Weinstein, calling it an “absolutely fearless off-script nuclear bomb of a speech to a stunned crowd at #Cannes.”