Anthony Bourdain ended a 75-minute Q&A at the Produced By NY conference with a swipe at director Quentin Tarantino in connection with the torrent of allegations of sexual assault leveled against Harvey Weinstein.
Bourdain, the renowned chef and the star and producer of CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” is dating actress-director Asia Argento, who has accused Weinstein of rape. She is one of more than 60 women who have come forward in the past few weeks with allegations of sexual assault and harassment from Weinstein going back more than 30 years.
Bourdain’s reference to Tarantino came as he was discussing his decision to turn down a big-money offer that would have involved merchandising and other ventures because he and his longtime producing partners did not feel comfortable with the person offering the deal.
Despite the fact that “it was a lot of money,” Bourdain and his partners Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins decided immediately after the meeting that the deal “would have been a slow-acting poison that would have nibbled away at our souls until we ended up like Quentin Tarantino, looking back at a life of complicity, shame and compromise.”
Bourdain declined to elaborate on his statement after the session. When asked by Variety if his reference to Tarantino was meant in the context of the Weinstein scandal, Bourdain replied: “One might think.”
Tarantino has expressed regret for not taking more assertive steps after hearing troubling stories about Weinstein over the years. Tarantino has made most of his movies through Weinstein’s Miramax and Weinstein Co. banners.
Bourdain and Tenaglia spoke at length during the Producers Guild of America’s conference session about the evolution of Bourdain’s television ventures during the wide-ranging Q&A moderated by the New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe.
Tenaglia’s cold call to Bourdain after being impressed by his book “Kitchen Confidential” led him to his first TV series at Food Network, “A Cook’s Tour,” back in 2002.
Bourdain said it took some time to get comfortable being on camera. He expected that the crew would film him “over the shoulder as I ate,” he said. “The first time Lydia said ‘OK look at the camera, tell us where are we and what you expect to find,’ I was stunned.” Tenaglia added: “It was terrible, actually.”
Fifteen years later, Bourdain’s vision for the show has evolved well beyond “the obligatory bowl of soup on the table.” He emphasized his love of referencing obscure movies and favorite books as a storytelling device. He pointed to a black-and-white episode produced in Rome as a tribute to classic Italian films — to the chagrin of Travel Channel, his network at the time.
Bourdain cited his experience in 2006 in Beirut, when he and crew members got stuck when deadly violence broke out between Israel and Hezbollah forces. At first, Bourdain was determined not to exploit the tragedy in his “No Reservations” series for Travel. But he wound up writing a dark commentary for the closing segment that profoundly influenced his future work.
“From that point on it changed everything for me,” he said. He made a personal commitment “never again to ignore the elephant in the room.”
Among other tidbits from the session:
- Bourdain and Zero Point Zero are working on a scripted project. Bourdain said he enjoyed the experience of working with David Simon as a writer on the HBO series “Treme.”
- Bourdain’s globe-trotting productions remain a tight-knit effort with a small crew. “A Cook’s Tour” was filmed by Tenaglia and Collins “walking backwards through Asia with me,” he said. Today, there’s a core team of about five producers and five directors that rotate through various episodes for “Parts Unknown.”
- Tenaglia and Bourdain were effusive about the working relationship with CNN. “I’ve never received a phone call that began with the words ‘How about..,’ ” Bourdain said.
- Bourdain loves segments that have no dialogue and no voice-over, breaking the conventional rules of unscripted TV. “I think we’re up to three and a half minutes” as the longest dialogue-free segment, he said.
- Bourdain has no time for barbecue shows (“If you say I have to do a barbecue show next week I’m gone”) and he hates predictability in TV. “You’re 10 minute sin and you can see the hideous predictable trajectory of an arc,” he said. “I hate competent television.”
- Tenaglia revealed that producers have a nickname for Bourdain when he gets overly skeptical and dark: “Vic Chenko.”
(Pictured: Patrick Radden Keefe, Anthony Bourdain, Lydia Tenaglia)