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If waiters or waitresses for that matter displeased me I would rail at the heavens, curse, scream. What made people uncomfortable is something I ask also. Did that level of discourse that was so familiar to me and that so many women were active participants in at the time, you know, the breed of women back then were fucking tough and spoke like sailors.
But I like to think I never made anyone feel uncomfortable, creeped out, or coerced, or sexualized in the workplace. And again, I came out of Vassar, where, my God, I was shocked.
I found myself in an environment where men and women spoke—gay men, gay women, straight men, straight women—we all spoke, people were speaking around me, mostly older, more experienced, in an incredibly frank way, usually self-deprecating way, about their sex lives. What was it about you that prevented women from coming up and saying, “Hey, this is what happened to me,” or, “This is what’s going on.” What is it, do you think? If I ever found myself, and I mean going way back, with a group of guys and they started leering at women or making, “Hey, look at her. It just felt, it wasn’t an ethical thing; it was that I felt uncomfortable and ashamed to be a man and I felt that everybody involved in this equation was demeaned by the experience. And this was such a mortifying accusation that I didn’t even understand it. Who thinks our discomfort, our squeamishness, fear and discomfort around matters sexual is funny. 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. 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.
Do you think it’s something about men and food culture generally, or do you think it’s some aspect of your personality? I was demeaned by standing there next to things like this. It’s like sitting at a table with somebody who’s rude to a waiter. But, look, I accepted when the book came out, that I was the bad boy. 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. They say something to me about someone I know, and maybe I would tell them.
; and became an internationally recognized television star.
But he is also known for his opinionated takes on other chefs, as well as the bad-boy image that his book enshrined in the minds of readers: the fast-talking, foul-mouthed guy who would take on all comers, eat all dishes, and pose with swords on the cover of his book.
I’ve certainly fired people, even back in the ’80s: If somebody was taking their personal business out on a female employee, or creeping on an employee, they were gone. I mean it was like being in the locker room with a football team. And from the get-go, this system that I was, let’s be honest, celebrating and bragging about surviving, we’re talking about a militaristic, male system that goes back in Europe back to the guild system, generally populated in the classic example by abused male children who were abused in kitchens, worked their way up through this sadistic system of hazing, became chefs and then abused those below them in the same way.
There are a lot of chefs still walking around who came up through that system. Even other male chefs, no one would have said anything. Look, I make fun of a lot of people in my career and I think it is entirely appropriate if others make fun of me. Has it raised any specific issues about the way we think about these things or complexities that you hadn’t thought through before?
Bourdain is currently dating Asia Argento, the Italian actress and director who told the Isaac Chotiner: What is it that’s gotten you so passionate about the issues of harassment and assault recently, and specifically what is it about restaurant and food culture that you think needs to change?
Anthony Bourdain: I mean, look, obviously I’ve been seeing up close—due to a personal relationship—the difficulty of speaking out about these things, and the kind of vilification and humiliation and risk and pain and terror that come with speaking out about this kind of thing.
I’ve seen that and I’ve really fucking seen it and of course it makes me angry.
I don’t know the facts of the case or anything with the Besh company, but the fact that it’s a company this size and that there was not a credible avenue, no trustworthy credible office or institution in this big company for women to report or to complain with any confidence that their complaints would be addressed, this is, it’s an indictment of the system.