Meet the Secret Ingredient to Anthony Bourdain’s TV Success

The beginning of Bourdain's food shows began with one couple's dream.

May 20, 2017 5:00 am

Lydia Tenaglia was in the emergency room, covered with blood, when she realized she needed a career change—or at least a new muse. The veteran videographer and television producer was then filming the television series Trauma: Life in the E.R. at the time.

There was “lots of blood and guts,” she told Vice.  “I was feeling like, I gotta get away from this medical s—. If I do another year of watching brain surgery or someone’s leg get cut off, my soul is going to collapse.”

That’s when Tenaglia set off on her next life pursuit—food journalism.

The first generation Italian American was already a bit of a foodie. So, after reading Anthony Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential, Tenaglia and Trauma colleague Chris Collins decided to pitch Bourdain the idea of doing a show that incorporates food and travel.

Lydia Tenaglia and Anthony Bourdain
Director Lydia Tenaglia and Anthony Bourdain attend the Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent Screening during the Hamptons International Film Festival 2016 at UA East Hampton Cinema 6 on October 8, 2016 in East Hampton, New York. (Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival)
Getty Images for Hamptons Intern

After a few negotiations, the trio was off to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

In the process, Tenaglia and Collins had become not just professional partners, but a couple. The love-struck twosome decided to get married. The first trip to Asia, in fact—with Bourdain in tow—was their honeymoon.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Turning a writer into a television personality was no easy task.

“That first episode, you can see Tony’s like a deer caught in the headlights,” Tenaglia said.

Soon enough, however, the threesome found their groove.

“With Tony we found ourselves in tiny kitchens or in a small hut or in some rice paddy,” Tenaglia recalled. “And we took that unobtrusive style of shooting and applied it to the food genre.”

In 2003, Collins and Tenaglia formed their own production company called Zero Point Zero, producing three more of Bourdain’s shows. This spring she produced Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary Fermented, made with chef Edward Lee, was recently accepted into the Seattle Film Festival. Tenaglia has also worked on shows for PBS and CNN.

And, as if her plate wasn’t already full enough, Tenaglia added feature director to her resume with the debut of Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, which opens in theaters across the country this month.

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