Chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain spoke with Slate about the recent sexual harassment scandals involving New Orleans chef John Besh and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and how they forced him to reflect on how he could have done better — and how he can continue to help.
Although Bourdain is now extremely vocal on social media and uses platforms like Twitter to take down “meathead culture” (his term for hyper-masculinity) and predators such as Weinstein, he considers it a personal failure that earlier in his career he did not appear to others, particularly women, as someone that they could confide in or feel safe revealing harassment to.
“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,” he told Slate.
Bourdain also remarked on how he feels troubled by his past behaviors. Bourdain is still known as one of the “bad boys” of the culinary world despite being out of the restaurant business for 17 or so years. His personal image — leather jacket, cigarette, bad language, and the drug-addled, masochistic behavior described in his bestseller Kitchen Confidential — perpetuated the kind of machismo that he is now taking pains to denounce.
“I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’” he said.
“If you read the book, there’s a lot of bad language. There’s a lot of sexualization of food. I don’t recall any leeringly or particularly, what’s the word, prurient interest in the book, other than the first scene as a young man watching my chef very happily [have a] consensual encounter with a client. But still, that’s bro culture, that’s meathead culture.”
Bourdain is currently dating Italian actress and director Asia Argento, who has accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in 1997 and has since faced questions about her character from the press in her native Italy. Bourdain admits to his own chagrin that this has heightened his emotions around the issue.
“I mean, look,” he explained. “Obviously I’ve been seeing up close — due to a personal relationship — the difficulty of speaking out about these things … That certainly brought it home in a personal way that, to my discredit, it might not have before.” But now that it is so close to home, and now that some of his own friends have come forward, Bourdain wants to better express his utmost sympathy, outrage, and support.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of really bad s---, 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?” he said.
“You understand why people don’t report these things. When you see what even now, today, what people say. What they would have said on Day One and what they are saying all these years later when women find the strength to be honest.”