When Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in France on June 8, filming for Season 16 of Bravo's Top Chef was underway. Padma Lakshmi described the mood on the set that day as a somber, professional effort to "muddle through."
Producer-director Dan Cutforth recently described to The Feast how the decision unfolded behind the scenes about whether or not to respond to the beloved chef's death as part of the season's material.
Among the executives, he explained, "We definitely had a discussion about, ‘Is this something we should address on the show?’ and we decided that we wouldn’t. We felt like it would feel like we were exploiting this horrible tragedy in some ways to make ourselves look good," Cutforth told The Feast.
"As much as we wanted to pay tribute to Tony, because he was such a great cheerleader for the show and amazing when he was on the show — he even stepped in and took Tom [Colicchio]’s role in one episode when Tom had something that he couldn’t avoid that he had to leave for," Cutforth said. "So he was a big part of the Top Chef story going back to Season 2, and had always really spoken very kindly about it. And it was a heartbreaking thing to have happen — what a terrible tragedy. But we just decided that it was most respectful to not address it on the show."
In real time, Top Chef paid what it considered respectful tributes. "Everyone paid their own tributes on social media and stuff like that. We wrote something on our social media to the extent that anyone would care what we think about it — it was important to us to say something because he was a true legend in television and a true legend in the story of American food, and it was an awful tragedy what happened."
Cutforth explained that the producers' decision in this case represented a somewhat rare step. "We try and put it all on the show," he said.
"If something happens, we try and tell that story. The approach of the show is to embrace what happens and embrace the real stories and what’s really going on."
—Reporting by Laura Rosenfeld
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