The chef was fiercely protective of his girlfriend.

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The late Anthony Bourdain had a whirlwind relationship with his girlfriend Asia Argento, who has now been accused of sexually assaulting 22-year-old actor Jimmy Bennett when he was 17.

In a new statement responding to the New York Times report, the actress denies any sexual contact and says Bourdain was the one who paid Bennett off.

“I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article,” she says in a statement to journalist Yashar Ali. “I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”

Instead, Agento says the two only had a friendship which ended last fall when Bennett “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me” following her public accusation of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein. The actress says Bennett reached out knowing her boyfriend Bourdain was “a man of great perceived wealth” and the late chef decided to handle the matter quietly.

Before Bourdain was found dead by suicide in June, the chef supported Argento both creatively and personally. The pair collaborated on his hit CNN show Parts Unknown, having met on set of an episode set in her native Rome in 2016.

“She’s a really accomplished director and writer along with being a longtime actress and a real sponge for culture, music, literature,” Bourdain told PEOPLE in 2017. “She’s enormously helpful and inspiring.”

RELATED VIDEO: Asia Argento, Who Accused Harvey Weinstein of Rape, Allegedly Paid Off Male Accuser: Report

Bourdain also stood by Argento as she became a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement. Most recently, when Argento spoke out against Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Bourdain called it an “absolutely fearless off-script nuclear bomb of a speech.”

The TV host gushed about Argento on Instagram as well, sharing a glimpse inside their rendezvous in Italy and around Europe in between his travels for Parts Unknown. “Just a perfect day,” Bourdain wrote on an Instagram of one of their meetings in April. “You made me forget myself.”

His love for her was evident among the people who worked with him. “He would rave about Rome, where his girlfriend lived,” Bourdain’s longtime photographer David Holloway told PEOPLE. “He would say it’s an amazing city to fall in love in.”

Bourdain himself admitted he was lighter around Argento. “Oh, yeah. I’m happier for sure,” he said. “It’s nice to be with somebody who I see as a peer.”

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Credit: Asia Argento/Instagram

However, their relationship also caused some concern among Bourdain’s friends, a source told PEOPLE in June following his death.

“Like a teenage boy, [he was] just absolutely lovestruck,” the insider told PEOPLE of Bourdain’s feelings for Argento. “He would have done anything for her, and that was a little red flag for some of his friends.”

While dating the actress, Bourdain was estranged from his wife Ottavia Busia but the two had never finalized their divorce. In February, though he told PEOPLE he would never marry Argento, he said he “wouldn’t hate” moving in with her.

“Look, I like being around her as much as possible,” he said.

“She’s like me, in a lot of ways. We’ve both been married twice,” he added. “So that’s not something that’s ever, ever going to happen. That’s the death of everything. I think we both respect each other’s work. Nobody’s ever going to say, ‘Oh, but you promised we were going to go to the beach.’ No, you know, you get a gig, that’s it. That’s it. Nothing else matters. Work first.”

In one of Bourdain’s final interviews before his death, the chef reflected on a low point in their relationship.

“The worst thing Asia ever said to me, she’d had a bad day, she was doing a play in uh, Turin? Somewhere in Italy. And she was rehearsing and she’d had a really bad day with the director. Dude, of course. And she comes home and she’s f— furious,” he remarked during a February interview with Popula. “And we’re texting back and forth, cause we only argue by text. She’s like, f— angry. F— you too! You always wanna win! You always wanna win!” he continued, adding that “I was really offended by this. I was so hurt by this.”

“I do not need to win,” Bourdain explained to writer Maria Bustillos. “I am not a competitive person. I need to survive.”