The Reason Anthony Bourdain's Producers Thought He'd Fail At TV

To watch Anthony Bourdain's television shows is to watch a showman in action — someone who knows what to say and when to say it, and when to let the moment speak for itself. 

As the movie "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain" reveals, it wasn't always this way. Show producers Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins, who worked with the talented chef as his creative partners, revealed that when Bourdain set off to film "A Cook's Tour," production kicked off with a very bumpy start. Collins said that before they departed on their six-week production trip, they had only spent one day together. It was only after the road trip began that an unfamiliar image of Bourdain emerged — one of a person who was, as Collins put it, "unsure of what was about to happen," and had become withdrawn and quiet as a result.

"We didn't know what we were doing, he definitely didn't know what he was doing," Tenaglia recalled. "Tony immediately became uncomfortable and awkward." Collins added, "What we would find out very quickly was that Tony was a very shy human being, and to get him to make eye contact or to interact... it wasn't his natural state."

That apparent shyness and awkwardness, coupled by the fact that the trio had begun shooting in Japan, where formality abounds to this day, made Bourdain especially quiet — which is a death knell for a television show and its host.  

The mood changed when the crew arrived in Vietnam

Fortunately for the three-person crew, things began to shift. When they arrived in Vietnam, the Anthony Bourdain that viewers know and love began to emerge, and he became unstoppable. "We went from Japan to Vietnam," Tenaglia said, "[and] that's when things began to kick into a different gear."

Bourdain later described the feeling of first setting foot in the vibrant Southeast Asian country during an interview with Condé Nast Traveler in 2014. "Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure. Maybe because it was all so new and different to my life before and the world I grew up in," he said. "The food, culture, landscape, and smell; they're all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go." He would go on to film eight episodes in that country for "A Cook's Tour," "No Reservations," and "Parts Unknown," including one episode with former President Barack Obama (via Vietnam Coracle).