On a Sunday evening this past December, 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 this point, having reached the restaurant industry soon after its October resurgence in Hollywood. Eater published the story the next morning, around the same time chef Anthony Bourdain confirmed his disgraced peer’s identity.
“It’s Batali,” he tweeted, referring to Mario Batali. “And it’s bad.”
Bourdain, who died Friday morning, had emerged as an unlikely advocate for the #MeToo movement in those two months. By his own admission, he had unintentionally contributed to what he often called the restaurant industry’s “meathead culture.” Before hosting CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” he had been 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.
But Bourdain said he never wanted to be a part of bro culture. He told Slate in October 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 a couple of weeks after Harvey Weinstein exposés appeared in the New York Times and New Yorker, the latter of which included allegations from Italian actress Asia Argento, Bourdain’s partner. Though Bourdain had worked for years in an industry riddled with misconduct, he said almost no one had opened up to him until those two stories broke. It made him 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.”
Unlike other prominent men, Bourdain didn’t just proclaim his innocence and walk away. He admitted that there was a period in his life in which he had been the loud, angry chef in the kitchen.
Bourdain also addressed this issue during a November interview with CNN, in which he commented on how 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 account for that.”
In January, Bourdain appeared on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and credited Argento with introducing him to other women “with extraordinary stories.”
“To the extent that I ever woke up, that certainly had an effect,” he said. “So I think, like a lot of men, I’m reexamining my life. … I look back, like hopefully a lot of men in that industry, and think — not necessarily, ‘What did I do or not do?’ — but ‘What did I see, and what did I let slide? What did I not notice?’ ”
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 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.”
Bourdain devoted many of his tweets to the #MeToo movement, especially regarding Argento. When the New Yorker story first appeared online, he commended her for doing “the hardest thing in the world.” Three weeks ago, he 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.”
The chef publicly supported other women as well, including actress and Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan. McGowan tweeted a video of herself crying Friday morning and wrote to Bourdain, “You were so loved, the world is not better without you.”