Home Recipes International Cooking and Recipes Who Knows Anthony Bourdain?
Who Knows Anthony Bourdain?

Who Knows Anthony Bourdain?


Who Knows Anthony Bourdain?

Man wearing black shirt sitting in front of bar at night, behind him wall readis “Atomic Liquors Entrance.”
Anthony Bourdain in 2013. | Photo by Isaac Brekken/WireImage

To remember somebody well isn’t necessarily to know them, as Laurie Woolever’s “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography” reveals — one conversation at a time 

Anthony Bourdain’s success, when it arrived, didn’t come gradually; it came in a blinding flash, with the publication of his memoir, Kitchen Confidential, when he was 43 years old. He remained ambivalent and suspicious of that thunderclap for the rest of his life. “Don’t get used to it,” he once told Mike Ruffino, his composer for No Reservations and Parts Unknown. “It’s gonna go away.”

But it never did for Bourdain, and the embattled relationship between the man and his fame is at the heart of the new book Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography, produced by his longtime collaborator and assistant Laurie Woolever. Precisely because Woolever didn’t approach her subject looking for the Real Bourdain, her book is the first to begin to reveal him: It’s the most splintered, fractal, and complex portrait of the star that has yet emerged, an enormous compendium of individual observations gathered from 91 people who knew him, including his mother, his brother, his ex-wives and his daughter, friends from school and college, ex-girlfriends, fellow chefs, writers, editors, and television colleagues.

Though Woolever’s observations appear only in the introduction, the biggest voice in the book is hers, deciding who contributes, what is left in or out — clarifying and amplifying the whole of her subject’s life. When I asked why she didn’t explicitly include her own voice among the chorus, she replied, “Since I was already deciding whom to interview, writing and asking the questions, and crafting the narrative based on the result, it seemed like a bit of overkill… I figured that, if there was something that I knew or recalled that no one else brought up, but that seemed crucial to telling Tony’s story, I’d include it, but that wasn’t ultimately the case.”

Woolever assembled the myriad fragments into 59 chapters, arranging them in a rough chronological order; each one focuses on a single aspect of Bourdain’s life and career, with titles like, “Such Was My Lust to See My Name in Print” (a Bourdain quote) and “Basically, He Kidnapped My Cat” (in the words of his second wife, Ottavia Busia). Rather than writing about him, the book is made of people talking about him, openly and freely, and the result is subtle and penetrating, sad and festive — like a literary wake, with people floating out and back in again, telling jokes, rethinking old grievances, remembering sad moments. Crucially, Woolever’s approach doesn’t fit into the regular celebrity categories; it’s neither a “warts and all” story nor a salacious expose (his one-time heroin addiction, about which he was open, gets fairly short shrift), and unlike the recent film Roadrunner, it doesn’t pull its punches in favor of a slickly commercial hagiography. Page by page, Woolever diminishes Bourdain’s celebrity in favor of the minutely observed, the subjective and contradictory, composing the story on a human scale and leaving the legend aside.

Cover of “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.”

The paradox that emerges so clearly from the book is that Bourdain, the most human and humane of storytellers, who taught everyone a humbler, more receptive way of being in the world, was simultaneously so tormented and so revered. After reading Woolever’s 400-plus-page Rashomon, one comes away without answers. But there are insights, a sense of the relentless tide of events, relationships, ideas, and sensations — a human helplessness, almost — in the face of the overwhelming forces that anyone may have to endure. Family pressures, feelings of inadequacy, long years of professional and personal disappointment. The images layer up and resolve into what you might have guessed all along: just a man, vulnerable and alone, straining under the terrible weight of a myth.

Bourdain’s celebrity takes on dimensions here that never appeared in public. There’s a scene that will make your hair stand on end, told by musician Josh Homme, where Bourdain yells at a colossally rude fan. (“Don’t you buy any [of my] books!”) This story would never have appeared in any of Bourdain’s own writing, because his manners as a public figure were so glossily perfect, gentlemanly and restrained; it’s almost a relief to see him stop playing the part, and finally lose it.

Woolever also casts the question of Bourdain’s ambition in a new light with the casual mention of the late Gordon Howard, his roommate at Vassar College, who — according to their classmate and friend Helen Lang — had a hand in persuading Bourdain to write his first book, the 1995 crime novel Bone in the Throat. It’s an extraordinary anecdote: “Gordon gave Tony some money to just go somewhere and write, and I think Gordon was very invested in the whole thing,” Lang says. After the novel was written, Howard acted as Bourdain’s agent, and helped him sell it. But once it was published, Bourdain was ready to “kick [Howard] to the curb…. he didn’t want to be tethered by Gordon, he was more ambitious than that… I think Tony was ready for bigger things.” A fledgling writer, then, with ambition burning hot enough to push his old friend and benefactor aside on his way up?

The implication of careerism complicates the dumb-luck success story that Bourdain often told — as if everything about his fame had been casual, accidental. In fact, he was a striver. Conscious of the created effect, driven and hungry. Then, finally, he became the published author of a wise-guy crime novel with some culinary flourishes, for flavor. But sales of Bone in the Throat were disappointing, and the book’s editor, David Rosenthal, held his new author in somewhat low esteem.

I only vaguely knew that Tony was an actual chef. I had an amateur’s interest in cooking; I remember getting into an argument with Tony about how, in his manuscript, he had the hero making a beurre blanc, and adding cream to it, and I said, “That’s not how you make a beurre blanc.” The attitude I got was, he didn’t give a shit… He made it clear that he had some experience in, shall we say, low-rent Italian kitchens.

It’s a very rare thing, disorienting, to hear someone speak of Bourdain in tones bordering almost on contempt.

Later in the book comes the more familiar story from many of the luminaries who admired him, including chefs Roy Choi, Nigella Lawson, and José Andrés, about Bourdain’s humility; his loyalty and generosity; his steady, quiet support of colleagues and friends. A story everyone loved, and I think a true one; long before the publication of this book there were dozens of anecdotal accounts of how he used his power and influence to help others rise. Knowing that he was capable of impatience and unkindness expands the caricature of a saint into the image of a man, a good man, flawed and inconsistent like all good men. He championed Andrés’s DC Central Kitchen, helping to raise money for feeding the homeless, and for educating new restaurant industry professionals. He persuaded publishers to take a chance on books from Fergus Henderson and Ferran Adrià, and he helped Choi launch a TV career. “Once he liked you, or trusted or admired you, he’d do anything for you,” editor and collaborator Daniel Halpern says.

But Bourdain would tell you himself that he was vain and insecure, and that he suffered from a vicious case of impostor syndrome. He was as glamorous and charismatic as the Marlboro Man (in the words of Andrés, who admired Bourdain’s “voice tone, and hand movement, and long, thin legs”); “a bit of a nerd,” according to Homme, a longtime friend; and “Silly Dada,” the name he gave himself for his daughter, Ariane. He was also an addict, whether the drug of choice at any given point was heroin or travel or love or beer or cocaine or jiujitsu or work or plain hedonism.

The book conveys the inexorable weight of unforeseen consequences, unsought responsibilities, and the uncontrollable force of a final coup de foudre. Imagine him at the cusp of his success: an ex-junkie, an obscure, fair-to-middling chef with thwarted literary ambitions and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Kennedy assassination — who, at 43, was still struggling to make rent. Just one more of the many brilliant and talented middle-aged guys in New York who never made it. Suddenly, he’s the toast of the whole fucked-up, freakish, gorgeous, grossly disappointing world. For a man who felt himself conclusively to be a failure and a fraud, what did this say about the world? Maybe that his admirers were fools, for not seeing through the act. Still, he would have to face the consequences and put his self-loathing away, because he was called on now to lead, to set an example, to take responsibility for the livelihoods of dozens or hundreds of people. To help them succeed, to realize his own vision in ways he could never have imagined possible; to see himself, the man he’d so long despised, everywhere welcomed, lionized, celebrated.

Though there is still a lot left unsaid about Bourdain’s childhood and early years, this book wouldn’t be what it is without the presence of his mother and brother, Gladys and Christopher Bourdain, and his first wife, Nancy. (Pierre Bourdain, his father, died in 1987.) Gladys’s remarks are weirdly and tellingly detached. (“Part of the reason he got into the private school was that he did a long composition about some French voyager who discovered the western part of France. I forget the name.”) Still more significantly, her death in 2020 freed Christopher — a formidable raconteur in his own right — from the filial piety that had always drawn a curtain around his brother’s volcanic relationship with their mom, which involved intense mutual disappointment, silences of months and years, and the favor that made him a star: Gladys asked Esther Fein, a work colleague who happened to be married to New Yorker editor David Remnick, to read a story Bourdain had written. The story was duly published in the New Yorker, and grew into the bestselling Kitchen Confidential. In other words, the charmed life of Anthony Bourdain was three-dimensional, tempestuous, and stressful. Not the slightest bit effortless, not ever.

To judge from reviews and from Twitter commentary, a lot of readers are going to approach this book, as they did Roadrunner, looking for answers about Bourdain’s last days; there has been a lot of public conjecture about the role of the Italian actor, director, and #MeToo activist Asia Argento in his death, and, inevitably, the book ends with their fiery romance.

As producer Jared Andrukanis and others tell it, in his final year, Bourdain betrayed and hurt people he’d been close to, such as his longtime cinematographer Zach Zamboni, at Argento’s evident behest. Though Zamboni declined to be interviewed for the book, former colleagues do not mince words regarding his dismissal. Argento had fallen out with Zamboni on set in Hong Kong, where Bourdain had arranged for her to direct an episode of Parts Unknown. According to Andrukanis, Bourdain ordered him to fire Zamboni, “and I could hear [Argento] in the background, just screaming, ‘It’s me or him!’ Pressuring this guy to [fire] one of his friends.”

Woolever did not interview Argento directly, her reasoning being that Argento is a public figure who has spoken on Bourdain in public, and she has written an autobiography. But strikingly, though the diplomacy of their testimony on the subject varies, there isn’t a single person quoted in the book who approved of the relationship, or of how Bourdain’s character changed when he became involved with her. (Argento has been accused of sexual assault, and posthumously implicated Bourdain in the cover-up attempt, further complicating the narrative around herself and their relationship.)

But all this testimony, taken with the hundreds of pages that come before — woven in with the knowledge of Bourdain’s compulsive, mercurial nature, his lifelong tendency to depression, and the long, strange isolation of a professional traveler who for years spent most of his life on the road — ultimately shades the story with more, not less, complexity. Other readers may come away with a different impression, but for me the torrent of grief-stricken detail regarding Bourdain’s suicide answers the question conclusively: There is no one to blame for his death but his own inescapable nature, “the world, the flesh and the devil” inside him.

It seems clearer to me than ever that the real Bourdain never appeared on TV, and few ever knew him. He was uncomfortable with his stardom — hated it, even, much of the time, and hated what it did to the people and places he loved, however much he enjoyed the process of writing and making his shows, however proud he was of the many extraordinary things he’d been able to achieve. This secret was hidden in plain view; he talked about his misgivings openly, with many interviewers.

Some years back I read all of his books for this publication. A few days after it ran, Woolever forwarded me a note from Bourdain. It said: “Please let Maria Bustillos know that I thought her piece was the most insightful, careful and thorough thing ever written about me, and that however uncomfortable it made me, I’m flattered by her attention to detail.” This was profoundly touching and meaningful to me, obviously, but I’m mentioning it to clarify that what he’d praised was a portrait of himself as an intensely melancholic man with very deep, very old private regrets. On reflection, if I was able to conjure an accurate image, it’s because I started at the beginning of his story, before he had serious responsibilities outside himself and his own family, or a brand to maintain. Woolever takes a similar approach, in a far more expansive, more intimate way.

The cascade of admiration and love that came with fame, freighted with expectations, was dangerous for someone like Bourdain. Underneath the polished, friendly, elegant public persona, his aesthetic and moral standards, his hopes both for himself and for the world outside, remained as unreachable as they’d been at age 42. His was a disappointed heart almost from the first, and the multitudes he contained tore him apart, despite the truth, the childlike willingness, of his single-word Twitter bio: “Enthusiast.” Remembering him should take all the chaos and grief in his nature into account, as Woolever has, and not remain limited to an idealized view. As his own work so often suggested, the truth is the only worthwhile point of departure.

A woman and a man sit in green bleacher seats.CNN
Laurie Woolever and Anthony Bourdain at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York in December 2016.

Reading Laurie Woolever’s book made me want to know more about the author and her career, and about why and how gifted women may choose to withdraw behind their work — and behind the men they work for. In this interview, the voice that never appears in the book speaks candidly of her career and relationship with Anthony Bourdain.

The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Maria Bustillos: How old were you when you started working for Bourdain?

Laurie Woolever: I first met him in 2002 and did this project with him, editing and testing recipes for Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. So I was 28 years old. I worked on that project as a part-time thing for about a year and a half. When I became his assistant, it was 2009 and I was 35 years old.

So from the time you were 35, for nine years.

Until I was 44.

I had been Mario Batali’s assistant, and then I left because I felt like I was aging out of being an assistant, and I wanted to do more of my own work. I had worked as a freelance writer, I had worked as a catering cook and a private cook, and then I spent a number of years as a magazine editor. I was at Art Culinaire magazine and then I was at Wine Spectator, and that was the track I was on, to be an editor and writer.

And then I had a baby, and like so many other people, I found it really difficult to work full time, and schlep back and forth to Manhattan every day with bags of rotting breast milk and getting zero sleep. And so, out of a sense of desperation, really, I thought, well, let me just take a few years and work part time until I can get back on this editor track. It was just very lucky timing that Tony offered me the job. I had a moment’s hesitation, because I thought, this feels like a little bit of a step backward, but I’m going to do it because it’s Tony and I know it’s going to be great, even if I only do it for a couple of years, until my kid’s old enough to go to pre-K or whatever.

And then there was no reason to leave, because it was great. The nuts and bolts of making plane and restaurant reservations and doctor’s appointments, that was not thrilling, but also, it was; I was good at it, I was efficient and I kept Tony’s life together in a way that made him happy and grateful and he paid me well, and he wanted to keep that around, so he was really generous with finding opportunities for me to do more, beyond the assistant work.

So that started with line editing some of the books on his imprint, and then it was co-authoring a cookbook, and then it was co-authoring a travel guide, which we’d started work on when he died. He had almost limitless access to opportunities, and he made it clear that he wanted to keep me on, and that there would be a lot of really cool projects for me to do.

So it’s a symbiotic relationship, where you’re working for this really famous person who’s looking out for you, but also trying to protect his own comfort — somebody is really taking good care of me and I cannot give this up, somebody who knows me and knows my habits and what I need — so that there’s a sensation of entourage to it, and that is not pleasant for a woman who has any kind of ambition of her own, when you were on this path to be like, a Ruth Reichl kind of figure. Right? That’s where you were headed.

I mean… in the best possible scenario, yes, but I also felt like maybe not, you know? There was a lot of competition. And I knew that I wasn’t necessarily cut out to play that game… I had gone on a number of interviews with some of the big food and lifestyle magazines, and in two instances I took myself out of the running because I felt like, I cannot fake it well enough to make it in this culture. Even if they deign to hire me to be an assistant editor at XYZ famous food magazine, I will be fucking miserable. I think in a way Tony kind of saved me from having to jam myself into that world that part of me really wanted. And I did, I wanted to earn that place in the glossy magazine world.

But part of me thought, I might not be good enough for this; I might just not be able to hack it. Like I don’t give a shit about clothes and all of the surface stuff that is really important at some of these publishing companies. It was going to be this whole other job for me to like, dress appropriately for work, and to get along, in certain ways… It’s not like I fight with people, but I have a limited tolerance for the bullshit that was standard in the mid-2000s, when things were still pretty buttoned-up and image-conscious and very white. Though I think magazines have changed quite a bit since I started working for Tony.

I will say, though, that there was a point, probably in the last year to 18 months, where I was starting to get a bit tired of the more mundane aspects of my job, and that coincided with Tony’s being a little more frenetic, and manic, especially when he was in New York; sometimes I would roll my eyes a little, like: Really? You want me to get you a taxi, but you’re in a hotel with a very fancy concierge. But okay, it’s my job. Yes of course, I will get you a taxi to dinner.

Maybe you were a source of comfort, and he was suffering, I think. I’m just making this up, now. But I think he was afraid, and things weren’t going well. And if he could call you to get a taxi, then he wouldn’t just be isolated in the luxury world all by himself with his girlfriend.

Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think that’s probably true to an extent. I mean, I didn’t necessarily see it that way at the time.

You’re like, “Oh my god, go downstairs and get a taxi.”

It was my job, I’m happy to make sure he gets the taxi. But this was a change from how things had been; the slightly ridiculous requests were more frequent at the end. And I think you’re right — that’s a very kind reading of it that I think is probably correct. Also maybe a little bit of flexing, like, Hey baby, I’ll just get my assistant to do it.

The life of women. Oh boy. He was very charming — he could get anybody to do anything, I’m sure.

If he were a bore, if he were a jerk, I wouldn’t have stuck around for as long. But even when he asked me to do slightly ridiculous things, it was like well, it’s for Tony, of course I’ll do this. I would gladly go above and beyond.

I had oriented everything in my life around making sure that I was meeting his needs. My phone was never off, and I never wanted him to feel like if he reached out to me for something that I wasn’t always there, and listening. And sometimes that means that you’re not paying as much attention to your family as you should be, or your own sleep hygiene or your friends or whatever else it is.

He was the priority.

My career. Right? Because all of that mundane stuff, the restaurant reservations, etc., it’s not rocket science but it does take time and energy.

Everybody liked the idea of Bourdain being this happy, fearless, perfect person. But you went through a lot of time with him where you knew that that wasn’t the case.

To an extent. I knew that there was a shyness, and an awkwardness, and a restlessness, and certainly in the last two years, that there was some level of tumult in his personal life. But I don’t know that I truly understood how serious it was until after his death. We did have conversations at times, not often, about anxiety and depression and loneliness. But I was as surprised as anyone else when I got that phone call, letting me know that he had taken his own life. I hadn’t seen that in the realm of possibility.

There was part of me that really wanted to believe the best version of things that were going on with him, like when he was madly in love and ridiculously happy, at certain points, for example… I wanted to think that that was the entire story, even though I knew in my gut that things might not be great. I want to stop short of diagnosing him posthumously. But he was, I think, a master of managing his own image; it seems very clear to me now that Tony approached everything in his life that he loved — work, romance, jiujitsu, film, literature, his substances of choice — like an addict.

I think everyone fell for his mythology, to some degree… I don’t even want to call it an image, or anything like that. More that he was a person who was living life as if he were a child playing, with this sort of purity of intent, like — I get to do all the fun things, and so I’m going to do all the fun things — and everything is balls to the wall, everything.

He made so many throwaway suicide references that it became a shtick, sort of a shorthand for his frequent hyperbolic reactions to things. I never believed that getting a mediocre hamburger in an airport restaurant was going to make him feel suicidal. It was just an easy joke.

I don’t believe that his suicide was a premeditated act. I believe that it was a spasm of grief and a terrible, spontaneous decision.

The book is an account not just of Bourdain’s life, but the lives of the dozens of people who made up the culture around him; the ship that Bourdain wrote about in Treme, in the speech he wrote for Emeril Lagasse. You’re like the [Samuel Johnson biographer James] Boswell of this kaleidoscopic document.

But before we talk about that, I have to ask you the obvious, terrible hard question. In the three years since his death we’ve seen no explicit confrontation, until now, of the fact that so many of this man’s colleagues and friends appear to blame [Argento] for his death.

Well, if someone goes into reading this book with the idea that [Argento] was responsible, and then reads the book, my hope is that they’ll have a more nuanced understanding of how and why Tony alone chose to end his own life. Some people have insinuated that it was her specific actions that led to his suicide; my conclusion is that it’s more complicated than that. People get humiliated, and people suffer breakups or romantic disappointment all the time, and they don’t kill themselves.

I mean, if you want to talk about the fact that she’s not interviewed in the book, which she isn’t—

I do. Yeah. You knew her, I thought?

I did know her; I only met her in person once. We had a cordial, professional relationship, because there were times when I was arranging for her to travel to the States or for Tony to go to her.

She is a public figure, someone who attracts a great deal of interest and attention, especially in Italy, where she lives; she gave a number of interviews shortly after Tony’s death and in the years since, and she’s written an autobiography. She has had plenty of opportunity to tell her story, and she’s taken that opportunity to give her version of events.

He ascribed characteristics and power and gave so much of himself over to this person who wasn’t going to look after it, clearly.

Tony had a way of idealizing lots of people. I mean, this wasn’t the first time that we heard him being absolutely hyperbolic about whoever he was into. At one point it was Ottavia. And even the way he managed to graduate high school a year early, so that he could follow his high school girlfriend to college; he was a deeply romantic man, and I think that having a romantic partner was maybe the most important thing to him.

What did you think of the recent film, Roadrunner?

I loved it. I’m not impartial; I was a consulting producer on it… but the first time I saw it, it broke my heart open. It was really beautiful and touching and also just devastating to see footage I’d never seen before of him in France days before he died, and in Florence about two or three weeks before, and being so happy and so engaged in the process of making television; it is very painful to know how quickly things changed for him.

And everybody who knew him is saying, I should’ve paid more attention, I should’ve done this and that.

It’s maddening, because the truth is that there’s nothing we can do. We did what we thought was best in the moment. For me, in my position with Tony, I think one of the things that was always valuable to him was that I didn’t ask a lot of him. He didn’t want advice or help unless he asked for it, and that wasn’t just on a personal level, but in everything. He didn’t want extra fussing.

I did what I thought was the right thing to do when the paparazzi thing broke shortly before his death. I heard about it because one of the tabloids came to me and said, we intend to run a story about this, after it had already broken in the European press. So I, doing my job, reached out to him and said, “These guys have stated their intentions, they’re giving you a chance to comment, how do you want to play this?”

And then we had a short conversation where I just said, “Are you okay? I hope you’re okay.” Just… trying to acknowledge that this was painful but without fussing over him, because I knew instinctively that he didn’t want that from me, or anyone as it turned out. He really didn’t want people going, “Oh my God, are you okay? This is so terrible. What can I do?” He was very short with anybody who offered comfort to him.

I feel like I’ve been in his shoes in this kind of situation, where you know someone’s bad for you, but you’re just not ready yet to give up on it because you know how good it feels when it’s good, and the idea of giving it up in order to save yourself just isn’t conceivable. I think that’s where he was at.

In studying his work, the trajectory of my reading went through the crime novels first, and I came to realize that he’d written his parents into the crime novels. And so I went and looked at his dad’s obituary, and realized only then that his parents had split up. For a person of such candor to have somewhat concealed that his parents had split was surprising. Or that his relationship with his late mother was troubled — this, too, is evident from the crime novels.

Interestingly, she’s quoted in your book. (“A difficult teenager,” she said. Also, “a fabulous vocabulary.”)

I never met her in person.

Oh, really?

Yeah. That’s a function I think of the alienation that Tony was experiencing from her for most of my time working for him. When I first started, I remember arranging dinners occasionally for him and his mom. And then at some point, that stopped. And we didn’t talk about it. I didn’t ask about it. I figured if he wanted to have dinner with her, he would ask me to make a reservation.

There would be the very occasional, just very cryptic comment about how they weren’t close, or that I didn’t need to worry about asking her for this or that. It was clear that there had been a schism there, and it was definitely not something that I would ask about, because it was a source of some tension. So I just left it alone.

I don’t believe I ever spoke with her until after his death; I think she and I had exchanged a couple of emails. She gave us some photos to use for a Bon Appétit story about Father’s Day at some point. And the same with Tony’s brother; I’d had very little occasion to interact with him, and we never met in person until after Tony died.

The one time I talked with him in person, Bourdain did not mention his parents or his brother; they seemed compartmentalized, separate from the rest of his life. He showed me his trepanning tools, and did not mention that they had been a gift from his brother Christopher.

Christopher gave such great interviews for this book, revealing a lot of things that I just never knew about Tony’s family.

As to why Tony would be so secretive — not secretive, that isn’t quite the right word. His family was not part of his public narrative, I think.

In the book, one of his kitchen colleagues from the ’80s says that Tony was always playing with his image and how he looked. Even when he started to dabble in heroin, before it got to be a more serious habit, it was in this very self-conscious way. The image of the heroin addict really was appealing to him.

He had a literary affinity with it.

His idols were in some ways a cliche. Hunter Thompson and William S. Burroughs… the standard starter pack of disaffected male writers who behaved badly and then made great art out of it. His very straitlaced family didn’t really fit into that narrative. Especially his mother, who had had very specific expectations for him as a bright, promising person who failed to live up to what she saw as his promise.

I really love the singer Neko Case, and there’s this line, “The most tender place in my heart is for a stranger.” And it just floored me when I first heard it, and then the follow-up line is, “I know it’s unkind, but my own blood is much too dangerous.”

That was something that Tony subscribed to, I think, this idea that you make these chosen families and chosen tribes out of kitchen colleagues or television colleagues, and they’re your family that aren’t quite as threatening to you, because they didn’t know you when you were a 5-year-old, a 12-year-old. They don’t know all your secrets or vulnerabilities.

So what is next for you, Laurie Woolever?

I’m co-authoring a book about bread with the baker Richard Hart, who was for a long time the head baker at Tartine. And now he has his own place in Copenhagen called Hart Bageri, which is under the umbrella of the Noma world. He’s great. He’s just a brilliant, gentle, funny, really gifted baker, and he’s got a lot to say about making bread. I am also starting to do a lot of public speaking, which is terrifying to me in some ways. I mean, it is not something I ever saw myself doing, but for now, I am very happy to talk about this book, and about World Travel. The other piece of it is that a few people have asked me to get involved with these other projects, possibly involving scripted television, possibly an interview-format show; for now those are in early stages.

So going almost on the same trajectory that you would’ve been if he were alive, it seems.

Tony really loved to see people grow and thrive, and if somebody was ready to leave a position, he wasn’t the kind of guy to make it impossible; he would never be jealous or resentful if somebody outgrew their role. But as I said in the introduction to the biography, I would gladly do all of that work again. I mean, as much as it was sometimes mundane or tedious, I would, in a heartbeat, continue to make his hotel reservations till the end of time, in a world where he’s still around.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.

Maria Bustillos is a writer and founding editor of The Brick House Cooperative.


Follow us on Instagram