Anthony Bourdain — the guy who exposed and to some degree glamorized toxic chef culture in his memoir Kitchen Confidential — has some misgivings about his former self. Bourdain says he’s spent a lot of time recently thinking about abominable Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who sexually assaulted his girlfriend Asia Argento years ago, and nefarious New Orleans chef John Besh, who is at the center of a series of sexual harassment cases stemming from his restaurant group. And one thing the author/TV host is thinking about in particular is why he frequently hears awful stories about women in the food and entertainment industries second-hand, but never directly from the sources.
As Bourdain recently remarked during an interview with Slate:
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? I see this as a personal failing.
I’ve been hearing a lot of really bad shit, frankly, and in many cases it’s like, wow, I’ve known some of these women and I’ve known women who’ve had stories like this for years and they’ve said nothing to me. What is wrong with me? What have I, how have I presented myself in such a way as to not give confidence, or why was I not the sort of person people would see as a natural ally here? So I started looking at that.
One reason might very well be that for the last decade and a half, Bourdain has been the food world’s most high-profile “bad boy chef,” an image which he cultivated in his books and on TV. As Slate’s Isaac Chotiner points out, Bourdain used to say things like “pass the fucking turkey cocksucker” in the kitchen.
And according to Kitchen Confidential, a raunchy sexual encounter is actually the thing that makes Bourdain want to commit to a life in the kitchen in the first place. In one of the book’s seminal moments, young Bourdain watches a fellow chef “noisily rear-ending the bride” of a wedding party “over a fifty-five-gallon drum, her gown hiked up over her hips” in an alley behind the seafood restaurant. Bourdain writes: “And I knew then, dear reader, for the first time: I wanted to be a chef.“
That book was written in the late ’90s, before he was a big literary and television star. But now, 2017 Bourdain tells Slate:
You know, to the extent that I was that guy, however fast and however hard I tried to get away [from] it, the fact is that’s what my persona was. I am a guy on TV who sexualizes food. Who uses bad language. Who thinks our discomfort, our squeamishness, fear and discomfort around matters sexual is funny. I have done stupid offensive shit. And because I was a guy in a guy’s world who had celebrated a system — I was very proud of the fact that I had endured that, that I found myself in this very old, very, frankly, phallocentric, very oppressive system and I was proud of myself for surviving it. And I celebrated that rather enthusiastically.
I mean, I became a leading figure in a very old, very oppressive system so I could hardly blame anyone for looking at me as somebody who’s not going to be particularly sympathetic. They say something to me about someone I know, and maybe I would tell them.
The Parts Unknown host also cops to being “an asshole” during parts of his career, but insists that he never “made anyone feel uncomfortable, creeped out, or coerced, or sexualized in the workplace.”