Stanley Tucci Says He'd 'Never' Try to Take Anthony Bourdain's Place with His Food-Travel Series

"He made us all a lot happier," Searching for Italy host Stanley Tucci said of the late Anthony Bourdain

Stanley Tucci has drawn comparisons to the late Anthony Bourdain with his acclaimed, award-winning CNN food and travel series, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. But the Oscar-nominated actor says that while he's flattered by that, Bourdain is in another league.

"He was an amazing guy," Tucci, 61, tells PEOPLE, while opening up about his new collaboration with S.Pellegrino. "I knew him a little bit. He was a true talent, not only as a writer but certainly also as a guide through the world of food and people. He was hyper-intelligent and also hyper-cool, too. And I don't have that. I don't know if I have either of those things!"

Bourdain — the celebrated American chef who hosted his own CNN food-travel series, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknowndied in 2018 at the age of 61.

"I would never try to take his place," Tucci adds. "He made us all a lot happier."

Stanley Tucci Anthony Bourdain
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images; Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Searching for Italy follows Tucci exploring his Italian roots, putting the spotlight on the many little-known delights of Italy's diverse culinary culture. The six-episode first season premiered last February, and won an Emmy months later for outstanding hosted nonfiction series.

It's success that even Tucci didn't see coming.

"It became this thing that I don't think any of us really anticipated," Tucci recalls. "I was really flattered that CNN came to me and said, 'Hey, do you have any ideas?' And this was an idea I had for a very long time. And then they said, 'Yeah, okay, we'll make that,' " Tucci recalls. "It's a great production company in London, and we started making it, and we made it. But did we expect it to become a big hit? Honestly, no."

"Of course, the timing, we had a captive audience because people were locked down, and they couldn't travel. That, without question, helped a bit," Tucci adds. "But now that people are, for the most part, free to go out and about and they're still rewatching the show and loving it again? That's a great thing. I'm really happy about that."

Stanley Tucci

With all its popularity, it's no surprise that Searching for Italy was renewed for a second season. After visiting Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany, and Sicily in the first season, Tucci tells PEOPLE he'll be continuing to explore areas not yet traveled.

"Obviously, we're going to do the rest of the regions in Italy," he says. "We'll do five or six — people always say, 'Don't tell anybody what you're doing next,' but it's like, 'It's not that complicated to figure out! Look at the regions we did and look at the other regions. We'll do those!' In what order they'll come, I have no idea, but we will do them. Will we do every single region? Not necessarily, because some of them are so tiny. We might sort of combine some and all that. But at any rate, we're proceeding ahead and trying to cover as much as possible."

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Overall, Tucci says he's just happy to bring the Italian culture to the masses.

"I'm obviously obsessed and in love with Italy and its history and people," Tucci says. "It's a fascination that came from obviously my Italian heritage, from my parent's pride in that heritage, and a year that I spent in Italy when I was 12 and 13 years old which was really significant for me. Ever since then, I've become more and more interested in it and particularly the food, but also how the food and drink is connected to all the other aspects of Italian society, perhaps unlike any other society in the world."

And with his love for Italy, it only makes sense Tucci would partner with S.Pellegrino to support the brand's line of Italian sparkling mineral and flavored waters.

"It's the perfect water," Tucci says. "It's an amazing brand that I've been drinking for years, and it's been around for over a century. It's just great stuff, and I was really flattered when they came to me and asked me to help represent them."

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