Former Producer on 'No Reservations' Recalls Working With Anthony Bourdain
"As much as he was a chef, I believe he was a writer first... And he was the most curious, gracious, grateful traveller I have ever met," recalls Myleeta Aga, who worked on the first three seasons of the Travel Channel show.
Myleeta Aga served as executive producer on the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations when the show launched in 2005. Recalling the first time she met Anthony Bourdain, who died June 8 at the age of 61, Aga tells The Hollywood Reporter, “The first thing that struck me was how tall he was. And reserved. Tony was always polite and engaged when you first met him. Not at all intimidating.”
While Singapore-based Aga worked more with Bourdain's longtime producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia, she “realized early that Tony had a very firm sense of what he would do and what he was less comfortable with. He was a real traveller. Not a host travelling to earn an income. And he would not be manipulated into anything for the “sake of TV”. It had to be real. And so much of my role was to enable that.”
The show had a successful launch, and Aga says that the first three seasons, during which she oversaw production, led the Travel Channel’s ratings while picking up a number of Emmys. The show’s first Emmy nomination was for an episode filmed in Beirut. Aga recalls that during filming, Collins called her one day late in the evening to inform her that Bourdain and the crew “had got stuck in a situation that involved gunfire and the city was in lockdown. The next two days were very tense. Tony and the crew were holed up in a hotel, unsure of how or when they could get out, and Beirut was hostile.”
Aga, now a senior vp and GM, South East Asia and India, BBC Worldwide, adds, “I remember from those days Tony being much more concerned about his crew than anything else. He was strident and vocal: “Get them the fuck out.” When they got back, we had to convince Tony to use the footage filmed to tell their story. He didn’t want to exploit the situation. He didn’t. The Beirut episode was poignant and compellingly honest."
In another instance, Aga says that for one episode a sponsor wanted Bourdain to feature their car. He offered to do so only if they could smash the car. As Aga explains, “He wasn’t going to endorse anything just like that. He didn’t suffer fools. He didn’t hold back barbs." The car was finally used without getting damaged.
"As much as he was a chef, I believe he was a writer first, who wrote easily with insight, humour and his characteristic turn of phrase," says Aga, adding, "And he was the most curious, gracious, grateful traveller I have ever met.”