Communal Table Podcast: Laurie Woolever
Laurie Woolever talks about life after Anthony Bourdain, embracing sobriety, and the value of naps.
Chefs and restaurant workers take great care of everyone else, but often they need a little help themselves. Each week, Food & Wine senior editor Kat Kinsman talks with hospitality pros about they manage their business, brain, and body for the long haul. Is there a topic you'd like to know more about or a guest you'd love to hear from? Tell us at email@example.com or tweet to Kat @kittenwithawhip, and subscribe to the weekly Food & Wine Pro newsletter.
Episode 14: Laurie Woolever
For nine years, Laurie Woolever kept Anthony Bourdain on schedule, she co-authored their book Appetites, and generally structured her life around his needs. On June 8, 2018, everything changed. In a raw, candid conversation, Woolever talks about life in the aftermath of his suicide, his cultural impact, her own journey to sobriety, and what a good self-care day looks like. Scroll down for the full transcript.
Learn more about Laurie: lauriewoolever.com
Read her book: Appetites
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. suicidepreventionlifeline.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. nami.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. samhsa.gov
The Giving Kitchen: During May and June, Giving Kitchen is partnering with QPR Institute to offer FREE QPR Suicide Prevention Training for food service workers to promote self-care in our industry. This simple one-hour course will prepare you to support a teammate contemplating suicide. It will be immediately impactful by making you feel more assured that you’re ready if one of your teammates needs help. thegivingkitchen.org
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Kat Kinsman: Hello, beautiful people. You are listening to the Communal Table podcast, part of Food & Wine Pro. I'm your host, Kat Kinsman, and my guest today wears many, many hats. She is the co-host of the Carbface podcast, which if you haven't subscribed yet, go ahead and do that right now. It'll just break you in all the right ways. She is the mother of a cat with terrible diarrhea, and she is the co-author of Appetites and a few books in progress that, well, she's writing with a coauthor who ... Let's just get to it. Here is Laurie Woolever.
Laurie Woolever: Hello.
Kat Kinsman: Hi. You've had a hell of a year.
Laurie Woolever: It has been a really intense year. Yes.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I was Tony Bourdain's assistant for nine years, until his death last year in June.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah, and we're coming up upon the one-year mark of this. You are working on a couple of co-authored books, basically.
Laurie Woolever: Before Tony died, we started working on a travel book, which was meant to be kind of a fun project. I hope that people will still have fun with it when it comes out, but it has been a very different kind of project. We had really just gotten started on it when he died. Very fortunately for me, I have this wonderful blueprint of what he wanted. We sat down for an hour one day, or more than an hour, and just went through, and he was very clear with what he wanted out of it. I have that conversation transcribed, and that's kind of my bible for making this book come to life, but-
Kat Kinsman: And it's not your first book rodeo-
Laurie Woolever: No.
Kat Kinsman: ... either with him because you did Appetites, which is an exquisite cookbook.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you.
Kat Kinsman: Oh my god, I love the writing in it. I love the recipes. I love the photographs of the people involved in it.
Laurie Woolever: Very wild.
Kat Kinsman: It's messy. It's a hot, beautiful mess in all the right kind of ways.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah.
Kat Kinsman: How long did you work on that?
Laurie Woolever: That was, from start to finish, a little under two years, and that was from first starting to write and develop to publication and promotion. That was a fantastic experience. Now, Tony and I had actually worked on a cookbook years and years ago together.
Kat Kinsman: Oh, right. You tested and styled for that?
Laurie Woolever: For the Anthony Bourdain Les Halles Cookbook, I did the recipe editing, which meant taking the recipes from the kitchen cookbooks that the chefs were using and made them into home-cook format, working with the publisher, and then also did the testing, which I don't recommend, actually. I think it's-
Kat Kinsman: Oh, testing is horrifying.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I mean, it's horrifying, but also I think it's important to have a fresh set of eyes and somebody who's completely outside the project actually do the testing, but I wasn't going to say no. I was in my mid-20s and needed the money. It was a great experience, but just in terms of the best possible cookbook, I think if you can get an outside tester, I think that's probably the way to go.
Laurie Woolever: As it turned out, I think that's a great book. I mean, the recipes were very solid because they were very well used and tested and already restaurant recipes that just had to be sort of scaled and written correctly. I think that's a great book. That was my first time with Tony.
Kat Kinsman: OK, so you worked together on that, because you all had a long history, because you did that and then there was some space in between, and then you were his assistant. Even while you were his assistant, you had to periodically re-introduce yourself.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Yeah. I mean, our whole relationship was characterized by really not seeing each other in person very much, which I think ... I can only speak for myself, but I think it suited us both really well. I mean, him because he obviously was traveling so much as part of his job, and me because it allowed me just to focus on the work. I'm somebody who can go down a rabbit hole of trying to interpret a look or a gesture or a tone of voice.
Kat Kinsman: I wouldn't know what any of that is like.
Laurie Woolever: It really just kept it clean. All of my insecurity and weirdness didn't really come into play as much, and so it really was just about the work. I mean, I enjoyed every minute I got to spend with him, and it was always fun and exciting to see him, but we didn't have a lot of day-to-day personal contact. That was the case back in 2002, 2003 with the Les Halles Cookbook as well. I mean, he already was traveling and had this life of a television host, so everything we did was by email. I met with him a few times, and then I did a one-off with him. We went to Montana in 2007 to cook at an event. He used to do these hybrid events.
Kat Kinsman: Oh, yeah. What is that? People go to Montana in particular and cook at ... There's some event that a lot of chefs ... It's like a plum gig for-
Laurie Woolever: Oh, I'm not sure about that. This was at the University of Montana Homecoming weekend.
Kat Kinsman: Oh, that's not it.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Yeah. He was out there for three or four days. He had to cook an event. We had to go to a cocktail party. I think he had to do a lecture. The real reason I was there was to cook dinner in the home of the football coach or something, and it was like this package that had been auctioned off for a huge sum of money that went to, I don't know, the the university, I guess. It was dinner cooked in the home of the football coach by Anthony Bourdain for eight people or something.
Kat Kinsman: Wow.
Laurie Woolever: It was this menu straight from the Les Halles Cookbook, and it was a breeze in that it was only for eight people, but it was in a home kitchen, which was beautifully appointed but a home kitchen. It was super fun and just this strange, little one-off. That was just because his assistant at the time, I think, was heavily pregnant and couldn't travel. Then we started working together in 2009. Yeah, I'd say in the first couple of years, I saw him so little, and my role was more limited than it ultimately became. He met so many people in the course of his travels and his work that I was just another nondescript white chick with blonde hair.
Kat Kinsman: You're very descript.
Laurie Woolever: I don't know. I mean, he was not the first person to not remember me after having met me before. There were, I think, at least two events where I had to go up to him and be like, "Hi. I'm your assistant," because I could see on his face that he had put the shutters down.
Kat Kinsman: He's trying to do the math. Yeah.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah, either just didn't know who I was or was just kind of like-
Kat Kinsman: Watching him at events was always such an interesting thing. I would hang back, and you see how he was reacting to the energy coming at him. Yeah.
Laurie Woolever: It's a skill, really, trying to give people the experience that they're looking for because they're your fan, but also trying to keep a little something of yourself just to maintain your sanity. You know?
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I would see him at events, once we actually established peace in our times, but I would see him at events, and I respect people's space and stuff. I knew that I remember he came into CNN when it was announced that he was going to be doing the show there. I worked there at the time, and they were doing a book giveaway. Like at CNN famous people from all over the world would come in, and nobody bats an eye. Kind of like, "Oh, cool. Look who's here." People were lined up for an hour or more to have him sign it. Always witness that happening, gracious to everybody, all this stuff, but I would be at a party, and I'd just sort of watch him, people coming up to him. I would think like, "I'm not going to steal his energy. I'm not going to do it." Every single time, he's sort of sidle up and be like, "You weren't going to talk to me?" I would feel like the prettiest girl in the room, because he chose to come over and say hi.
Kat Kinsman: Then, it was great because we'd have very directly focused conversations, and I tried to give him the emotional space to be like, "OK, it's safe here. I don't need anything from you. We can just be humans." It was really nice. It was sort of nice thing, but maybe he did that with absolutely everyone. I don't know.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I don't think it was so common that people would sort of think that way. It was more just like, "Can I get a selfie?" You know? "Can I get a selfie?"
Kat Kinsman: I made a point of never getting a selfie. I have a picture actually of the night you and I met.
Laurie Woolever: OK. At that roast?
Kat Kinsman: It was a roast. Can we talk about this roast for a second?
Laurie Woolever: Oh my God. It's so good.
Kat Kinsman: Was it a roast of him or a roast of Guy Fieri, because it was both?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. It was meant to be a roast of him, but I think-
Kat Kinsman: For charity. I will say this was for a huge charity thing.
Laurie Woolever: Was it City Harvest or-
Kat Kinsman: I think so. It was so very good thing. Rachael Ray was there. Guy Fieri was there.
Laurie Woolever: Guy Fieri. Mario Batali.
Kat Kinsman: Oh God. Yeah. Bunch of comedians.
Laurie Woolever: That was great thing and so smart on who was ever part organized it was they brought in these really good New York comedians, because chefs are funny, we know this, but-
Kat Kinsman: This was savage.
Laurie Woolever: This was... The level was comedy was so... It was like Gilbert Godfrey and Artie Lange and Jim Norton. Just like really people that... Bonnie McFarlane who I mean-
Kat Kinsman: She was incredible. She just she blew me away. She just zeroed in on everything about everyone. I think Guy got it the worst. He was a great sport. He was a tremendous sport I felt.
Laurie Woolever: He just got a star on the Walk of Fame.
Kat Kinsman: I saw that.
Laurie Woolever: Like a kiss on the cheek from Matthew McConaughey.
Kat Kinsman: Who doesn't want that?
Laurie Woolever: Congrats man.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I met you that night. Just for background, you and I have talked about this on the air before, but when Tony and I met, it was not under great circumstances. He had written something... I was on the James Beard Journalism Committee, and he had written something. He was still working at Travel Channel and had written something on his blog about his problems with the awards and how it was a goat rodeo, and how basically all food journalists were grifters. I took tremendous exception with this. He was saying that...
Kat Kinsman: I was like, "You're damning Jonathan Gold," and sort of all of these other incredible journalists in the same breath as a few notorious grifters and stuff. What the hell? I was pleased with myself because I had done the whole thing as a giant elaborate golden shower joke. I woke up the next morning, and he was laying into me on Twitter. I was responding under the CNN Eatocracy account. We were going back and forth. He's trying to rope other people into the argument, rope in Mario. Mario was kind of like, "I'm staying out of this." We're going at it, and I got a frantic call from CNN PR saying, "You have to stop. You have to stop now."
Kat Kinsman: I got in trouble at work. I had to be spoken to about the official social media thing. I didn't know at the time that he was coming to CNN, and so that was the thing, because he could turn on a dime. The thing is, we had enough mutual friends who I think Eddie Huang stepped in. I think maybe Doug Quint and said like, "Y'all are on the same side, and you just don't know it."
Kat Kinsman: That particular night, I was having to interview people on the red carpet, and I was scared to death that... He came along, and as you know very tall, tall person. I interviewed him, and then he sort of leaned into me and said, "We're going to friends." I said, "OK." You were there. We all went to the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.
Laurie Woolever: That's right. Afterward.
Kat Kinsman: ... at the end of it. That was-
Laurie Woolever: The beginning.
Kat Kinsman: I got to meet you then, and then encountered you at parties throughout the year. Apparently you were at a party at my house-
Laurie Woolever: Yes.
Kat Kinsman: ... and I was unaware of this.
Laurie Woolever: Back in my drinking days. This was like a Kentucky Derby party I think?
Kat Kinsman: Yes. We used to throw this huge party every year.
Laurie Woolever: I had already been to a previous Kentucky Derby party where I availed myself of many cocktails, and then came to your house and then was, I don't know, shy? I guess shy. I feel like I'm pretty good at sensing other people's energy or whatever, and I was like, "This woman who I only met once before has a house full of people. She's cooking. She's hosting. I am not going to..." Sort of what you're saying about Tony. I'm not going to steal her energy. Also, for some reason there's nothing more terrifying in the world to me than an awkward conversation that I can't gracefully get out of, or there isn't some sort of hard stop outside of me, so...
Kat Kinsman: It's so hard.
Laurie Woolever: I was drunk. I remember sitting in the backyard talking to Allison Robicelli and Dana Cowin. That's when I met my now podcast partner Chris for the first time.
Kat Kinsman: It was there?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah.
Kat Kinsman: I don't know if I fully processed that that is the first time you met each other. Chris was there, and he was nervous about meeting Pete Wells, because he had talked at him on Twitter many times.
Laurie Woolever: Did they ever meet?
Kat Kinsman: They did, and it was fine.
Laurie Woolever: So funny. People think Chris is this like terrifying monster based on some of his Twitter activity, and then he's just like-
Kat Kinsman: He posts as @shitfoodbloger is his name on Twitter, which stands for Shit Food Bloggers Say, because it started out he was a food blogger.
Laurie Woolever: That's right. That's right.
Kat Kinsman: I hadn't realized that that was... Maybe you had told me that, and it sort of funneled away somewhere. I didn't realize that was where the magic happened was in my backyard.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. It was brief. I was drunk. I was just like, "Ah." I think I said, "You complete me," to him, and then I was mortified. Yeah, that's where. Actually you were saying about Tony and your early Twitter interactions, that's how I started talking to Chris is online because Tony had taken exception with some things that he was saying about, I think, Jose Andres. Tony was an incredibly loyal friend.
Kat Kinsman: Very. Once he's on your side, he's on your side.
Laurie Woolever: He was a fan of what Chris did. I think he loved the shit stirring, but then when he came for somebody that was on Tony's team, he was like, "Uh. Wait a minute," and sort of gave him some shit about that.
Laurie Woolever: To the point where I then reached out to Chris, who I thought was a woman, an unemployed woman living in somebody's basement.
Kat Kinsman: As a lot of people do.
Laurie Woolever: I was like, "I saw what happened. I hope you're OK." We began this correspondence, and it took me a while to realize like, "Oh, he's actually a functioning adult with a job and a family."
Kat Kinsman: Plays a character.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah, playing this character that was kind of tragic and insane.
Kat Kinsman: With the dead daughter-
Laurie Woolever: Lemonaise.
Kat Kinsman: Lemonaise. Lemonaise. Lemonaise
Laurie Woolever: Which I asked him about that one time, and he explained to me that there was this phenomenon among food bloggers that they would use their children shamelessly to forward whatever narrative they had until suddenly the child became not useful, and then you would never hear about the child again.
Kat Kinsman: Sort of the brother on Happy Days who all of the sudden was gone after the first season. Chuck.
Laurie Woolever: That's right, who went to war or something?
Kat Kinsman: I think so, and never came back.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah, and they never spoke about him. Oh my God. Happy Days.
Kat Kinsman: We're speaking about you now, Chuck. We miss you. We think about you.
Laurie Woolever: That's real.
Kat Kinsman: It's real.
Laurie Woolever: We just lost all of our millennial listeners.
Kat Kinsman: Sorry millennials.
Laurie Woolever: Happy Days. That's like one of the first TV shows I remember watching as a real little kid.
Kat Kinsman: TV. It's a funny thing, and now we have podcasts. Now we're all walking around with people's voices in our head, and people have your voice in their head. Tony was your producer.
Laurie Woolever: Yes, which I mean was he in there on the sound boards?
Kat Kinsman: Mixing with the headphones?
Laurie Woolever: What he doing editing? Not so much, but he really generously and totally to my surprise, when he heard that we wanted to do a podcast... I think I had mentioned it to our mutual agent, and he came to me and said, "I heard you wanted to do a podcast. Whatever you need me to do, if there's something I can do clearly that's not huge suck on my time, but if there's a way that I can be useful to you, please let me know, because I would love to get involved." I was like, "Are you sure?" He said this thing that always makes me laugh when I think about it now, because it was so uplifting at the time, but now I'm like, "Wow. That did not bear out," which was he said, "You're going to make a ton of money on this thing." He's like, "Do you know how much money Joe Rogan makes on his podcast?" I was like, "Oh yeah." As it turns out, I am not Joe Rogan.
Kat Kinsman: You're my Joe Rogan.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you. I mean, God bless Joe Rogan, but I never had a syndicated television show, and I'm just not Joe Rogan. Even with Tony's name attached... We decided to make him our executive producer, and he did in fact... We would record with him for maybe 45 minutes to an hour at a time, and then we would cut up those segments and attach one to each episode. Even with his name attached, and even with him on every episode, we have had to hand sell every person that listens. It's just the market is so saturated, so... What a wonderful thing and totally generous and unselfish of him just to say, "I want to do this." This guy did not have a lot of free time.
Kat Kinsman: I would imagine. If it's OK to talk about this?
Laurie Woolever: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kat Kinsman: You did an episode three days after his death, and it's raw, and it's angry, and it's all of the things. I was so grateful that you did that, because I remember you were one of the first people I reached out to. The day that I found out, I mean you probably found out just a little bit before the rest of us. I woke up. My phone was exploding, and I remember I screamed. My husband had just left, and I called him back. He said, "Do you need me to stay?" I'm like, "No," and I let myself break down briefly because then I knew that I was in a unique position that day because I already had established a couple years old, two and a half year old at the time, project about chefs and mental. This is, not to speculate anything about him or that, but I knew that there would be a ripple effect in the community because I had originally started the project because a couple of chefs killed themselves several years ago, and I realized that there was this monstrous crisis in the industry. I felt like, "OK."
Kat Kinsman: I had a Facebook group that I had started the year before on there, and all of the sudden I noticed there were all these members coming in there and stuff, and I felt like, "OK. I have to lock my feelings in a lockbox. I have to..." I wasn't working at Food and Wine yet, but they knew that I knew him, and that I was the person on staff who probably knew him better than anybody else on staff, and so I had to write a piece but then do like seven, eight TV and radio things throughout the day.
Kat Kinsman: I just had to lock my shit down tight and not let it go, and I held onto it for months and put it away and stuff. The fact that you were able to go on and articulate what you were feeling at the time is a tremendous generosity thing that you did.
Laurie Woolever: Thanks.
Kat Kinsman: I didn't know what to do for you, so I think I sent you a note and some Sharpies.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Yeah, and some candy. The Sharpies, it's like, "Yeah, who doesn't need fresh Sharpies in their lives?" I had actually just moved into a new apartment, so it was perfect.
Kat Kinsman: You were going through some shit already.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. About a month before Tony died, my husband and I split up.
Kat Kinsman: Girl!
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. That was tumultuous in its own way certainly. We have a son, and so I was sort of handling all of the logistics and all of the everything that goes along with that life change and had... I remember the night before Tony died saying to a friend on the phone, I was in my new place, and I was starting to get furniture, and I said, "You know, I feel like, OK, it's been a really awful month, but things are starting to feel a little less like I'm not on emergency level 10 every second of the day. I can breathe. I can sleep. I think I'm going to eat some dinner. Things are starting to feel..."
Kat Kinsman: Self care. You're a person takes care of a lot of people.
Laurie Woolever: I guess so.
Kat Kinsman: You and I have talked about care and feeding of difficult men in various ways.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Yeah. It was a strange thing to leave the home that I was in with my husband and my son and to not have that. I remember as I was kind of on my way out, and I was like, "How do I still... Who am I? What's my purpose if I'm not constantly thinking about the next meal for three people and laundry and all of this sort of just the stuff of taking care of a family? A small family, but a family nonetheless."
Kat Kinsman: A family. Yeah. With the cat with diarrhea.
Laurie Woolever: There's care taking. There was care taking involved with my job with Tony. It was more just like keeping all of the details of a life organized and accessible and transparent to everyone that was in the circle, so to lose the family life that I had known for 10 years, and then a month later to lose that person who I had really... I have said this before that Tony was kind of my organizing principle. It was like that who I felt most accountable to outside of my son. Just sort of how I structured my days, the decisions I made, everything, Tony was sort of the center of a lot of people's universe.
Kat Kinsman: That's a lot of gravity.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Yeah. A few days after he died, right after he died I think, Chris said, "Let's record. Let's just see what happens. If it's too painful, we won't do it, but let's just get in the studio and see what happens, and it can be as long or short as you want, because I worry that if we don't do it now, we may not do it. I want to keep doing it."
Laurie Woolever: It got to say, this podcast, like I said, I have not made a dime on it. It's absolutely a labor of love, and it's something that's definitely buoyed me for the past year, just the fun and silliness and ridiculousness of it. Also, a space to talk about some more serious things.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I've seen that space morph more and more into you talked about sobriety on it. I remember you had told me when you stopped drinking you told me. I remember being at a party with you. We're at a post-James Beard party. The last Lucky Peach party, and sort of trying to figure out how to be, because it's a different social negotiation when... That party was notoriously chaotic and nebulous-
Laurie Woolever: Was that the one at The Park?
Kat Kinsman: Yes. Yeah, which is weird because it's sort of decorated like you're outside, but you're inside at the same time. I think I maybe wasn't drinking right then too, because I was just getting diagnosed then with various gut things and endometriosis. I was on medication and trying to figure out what the hell about my diet, so I had actually gotten just that day some word about what my gut condition was and what I could and couldn't do. It was just in a sort of tailspin, so it was kind of nice to have...
Kat Kinsman: I remember we were on a quest to find water.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Yes. A scarce resource in those situations.
Kat Kinsman: Luckily more and more so any event that I'm involved in I make sure that there's water, there's non-alcoholic stuff, there's space to be a sober human being. For me, it's medical sort of going in and out of drinking just because like for gut stuff for me. You had made the decision at that point, and then you've sort of, as we're saying, some programming around it?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I decided to quit drinking in March of 2017, and I don't think I was really talking about this at the time, but I can say now that I was still smoking a ton of pot. It was like one thing at a time. That was the way that I needed to do it, because I was just really self-medicating a lot. I thought, "Well, let me start with drinking." That made a huge positive difference in my life. I knew at some point I probably should stop smoking pot too, but that was just my first love, and I just-
Kat Kinsman: Long term relationship.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. We're in this funny place now where it's becoming more and more legal in more states.
Kat Kinsman: I just started.
Laurie Woolever: Congrats.
Kat Kinsman: Medical. I have a medical card. I actually legit have a card from the state, and it's for pain and stuff. It's never gotten me like high or anything like that. Yeah, it is a funny space, and everybody's got different relationships with it.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. It's like anything. If you can use it responsibility, if you can use it without abusing it, and it doesn't cause harm to you, great. Go for it. I know it's got a lot of amazing benefits. For me, it made it hard... It had made it harder in a way, because it's like, "Well it's socially acceptable and more and more so. I can go to California."
Kat Kinsman: It doesn't have the smell anymore.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah, but I knew deep down that I was abusing it just like I was abusing alcohol. Now, the side effects are not the same, and I could maintain better, and it wasn't the same totally destructive force that alcohol had become, but at the same time it was not healing me get my work done or be a good parent or even really deal with all of the emotional upheaval of the last year. I mean, over the summer I was like... I just checked out for the whole summer pretty much.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I think that's entirely understandable, and I know that especially when somebody dies by suicide, it comes in waves. I've lost friends. I've lost very dear friends that way. I've had friends who have... I'm just going to by the way shout out, if this is too hard for people to listen to or whatever, check out, fast forward, do whatever. We can have it in the episode notes. Also, #741741. You can text it 24/7, and there's somebody there who will listen to you if you are struggling with thoughts or self-harm or whatever it happens to be. It's crisis text line, and it's really, really awesome.
Kat Kinsman: It comes in waves, and you never know when those are going to hit. I know for me, for this particular, I'm much outer circle than you. You're much further into it, but still I locked it for months, and it was really detrimental to me. I spiraled kind of, because I ended up going around the country for several weeks talking to chefs in small locked rooms about suicide. Just locked it back myself and didn't deal with my own stuff. I sort of did the opposite of the check out, which was not good.
Kat Kinsman: What did summer look like for you?
Laurie Woolever: Just a blur of... You know. I had a lot of anxiety for any number of reasons. I knew that at some point my job was going to end. I mean, it ostensibly ended the day that Tony died-
Kat Kinsman: You work for a person.
Laurie Woolever: I had a few months of severance and health insurance to sort of figure out the next step. Then I had this tremendous anxiety about how I was going to finish this travel book. As we worked together on the cookbook, I was expecting it to be the same with the travel book where there would be a lot of passing something back and forth and writing something and getting his input and refinement on the original blueprint. It was like, "How am I going to finish this book?"
Laurie Woolever: I just got my advance, and I don't want to give it back, because now I'm a single mom holding up my own household. Now, not only do I not have... I'm about to lose my steady income and my health insurance, but I also somehow have to write this book.
Laurie Woolever: Then sort of the anxiety of not doing it every day, of just not being able to sit down and do it. It was like somebody had said to me early on after Tony died, somebody from sort of the inner circle such as it is said, "Well, my advice to you is to just get busy right away," which I think could work for some people.
Kat Kinsman: Works for some people.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. For me, it was not something that I was able to do. I know in part it was because I would get up, and then maybe I would have breakfast, and I was like, "Well, time to hit the weed pen." It doesn't... I needed some numbing, and that's what it was giving me, but at some point it was not serving me. I have a child who had started to connect the dots. You can't walk around anywhere New York City and not smell weed at this point. He's a smart kid, so it was like, "Some point he's going to realize-"
Kat Kinsman: That's what Mommy smells like.
Laurie Woolever: "The smell in my room and the smell in the street is the same thing." Yeah, my summer was just... I mean, it was a blur. I did get to go to Paris with a friend for a week, and that was a wonderful escape, and I was researching the book.
Laurie Woolever: I mean, the only thing I really could do reliably was travel. I kept trying to sort of run away. I was like, "Well if I'm not in my home, and I'm not in my space, then I'm at least..." Then I'm like working because I'm research... I would go to some of the places that are going to be in the book and revisit some of the things that Tony did, which was surprising less painful than I... The things that you would think would be painful, some people would be like, "Oh, don't. I hate to bring it up," it's like there's this misconception that if somebody brings up the name of the person who has died or something about it that it's going to remind you and open up a fresh wound. It's like, "That wound is open. I haven't forgotten about it because nobody has said his name in five minutes."
Kat Kinsman: The person is present as hell. The first friend of mine who died by suicide, Dave, he had tried before. He was one of my best friends in college, and luckily his girlfriend at the time found him. Then this next time it finished him. People were tiptoeing around me, because I wasn't around people who knew him anymore. I had graduated college. He was depressed and and drank a lot, so it had taken him a while longer to be in college. I had gone away, and I was around people who didn't know him. I was craving mention of him.
Kat Kinsman: My friends around me did warn me if there was suicide in a movie or something like. They'd kind of pre-screen everything for me, especially if the methodology matched up and all that, because they were looking out for me there, but I craved other people's stories. I was in a lot of touch with our group from college.
Kat Kinsman: I know it's a different thing for you, because this had to be such a strange thing for you and for all of the people sort of in the center, because he had this incredible ability to make everybody feel like they knew him. Very few people in the world in possession of that kind of thing where I was talking with a lot of chefs who were saying like, "I didn't know him, but I felt like I did." You did. Do you get mad? What is the feeling?
Laurie Woolever: I knew him, and then I realized through the process of talking to the other people in his life and doing interviews for this other book, the oral biography project, that you can never... It's sort of like something that he would talk about a lot. The more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. Every single person I've spoken to, some of whom I worked with for years, I've learned some new facet of Tony or some story.
Laurie Woolever: I knew him. I knew him to an extent. Definitely I knew where he was every day, and I knew a lot about him, but certainly not everything. He was a very, very private person in a lot of ways. Yeah. I've never lost anybody to suicide before. There was a girl I knew that I was friendly with in college, but I wasn't close with her. It still was very sad, but this was certainly the closest of that type of death.
Laurie Woolever: I mean, yeah. Like you said, there's sort of a range of emotions, and they come in waves. There's certainly some anger. There's a lot of... What I found helpful, and I think some of the people around me felt the same way, was for the first few months just kind of telling each other sometimes the same stories over and over again, or the same sort of accounts of the days and weeks leading up to it, and just sort of getting a sense of where he was, and I think what we were trying to do... You know, there's such a sense of... There can be such a misplaced sense of guilt or of regret. Things not said or actions not taken. I think there's a sense of trying to put the pieces together and figure out a way in which to really come to understand that this was one person's decision. This was an adult making a decision about their life, and as much as it hurts, and as much as it makes us angry, and as much as it makes feel that we have failed, that's not really the case.
Laurie Woolever: That all of us that knew him loved him as best as we could, supported him the ways in which we could that we knew how, that we were allowed to, and ultimately this was a decision that he made. You know? That it wasn't because this person didn't say that, or this person wasn't there. There were some of his closest friends that were with him, and there's degrees of more or less sense of... I mean, I feel lucky in a sense I was isolated by a continent. I did not have the kind of relationship with Tony where I would expect him to call me in the middle of the night and say, "I'm having a hard time."
Laurie Woolever: If I can call myself lucky, I was kind of relieved of that burden of like, "If only." I still, it didn't stop me from going back over timelines and talking to all the other people. What couldn't, should've, would've, you know? Because I think that's part of the process of trying to accept what has happened. I would end a lot of conversations saying like, "Well, it doesn't fucking matter because he's dead anyway." You know? Which-
Kat Kinsman: The funny is like I know other people who are close to him, and there was that immediate hard thing, but it's self-preservation. It's one particular person in those first few days was numb or flip or whatever. I thought like, "Let's see where that goes." The thing is everybody reacts how they need to right then, and then months later I saw the sinking in of that and the processing and like the, "Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit", that sometimes is years later. Sometimes it's... There's no right reaction, and it's so complicated.
Kat Kinsman: I will say there's nothing, no one thing, anybody can say that's going to change it. No magic thing. No magic number. There's just it's a decision that happens, and it is irrevocable, irrevocable. Irrevocable. Whatever it is. The thing is no one person's going to be able to flip that.
Kat Kinsman: I understand that guilt from having lost people that way. You can internalize it. I think the way I sort of dealt with things. I was thinking like, "Oh." It was not a dire DM. My last exchange with him was he was super angry about not anything I did, but there was some reporting around a bad man. He was trying to get me to go bulldog after that. I was like, "I love you. I'm not your henchgirl."
Laurie Woolever: Good for you.
Kat Kinsman: He was trying to bait me, and I reached out to another friend. I'm like, "Ah. Tony in your DM today?" She was like, "Yeah." I was like, "You got to work that one out on your own, hon, because it's..." I'm like, "I see that you have all this anger that is placed in this one particular place." He was super vocal at the end about a whole lot of stuff. I was thinking like, "I'm not going on the attack for you as much as I adore you." I think he respected the boundary.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. It's not easy.
Kat Kinsman: You know, the thing like there's no magic thing in there. There's nothing. That's sort of when some of the sadness sets him because you think like, "What haven't I done? What have I done?" It's hard to accept the futility of some things.
Laurie Woolever: I mean, I will say I also I've been seeing the same therapist for 20 years now.
Kat Kinsman: Yay, therapy. It's really good shit.
Laurie Woolever: I used to go every other week just because it's expensive. Then once my marriage fell apart, I started seeing her every week. That actually hasn't changed although it's got to, because it's very expensive.
Kat Kinsman: It's really expensive.
Laurie Woolever: I can't say enough good about having a therapist every week. Just by terrible coincidence, she had her own unexpected loss at the same time, like a few weeks before Tony died, so it's really enhanced our therapeutic relationship because we're in some ways going through a similar feeling of loss and disconnection. That's been great.
Laurie Woolever: I grew up sort of in a family that was suspicious of therapy. It just wasn't something that people did.
Kat Kinsman: Self care not at the forefront necessarily?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I think it was just a combination of culture, of place, of time where it was extremely... If somebody was in therapy, it was because they had a real bad problem. You know?
Kat Kinsman: Right.
Laurie Woolever: I also grew up in a town where you couldn't conceive of that anybody would be gay, and that of course turned out to be not true.
Kat Kinsman: Where did you grow up?
Laurie Woolever: Upstate New York. Outside of Syracuse. A small village called Chittenango. Again, it was like time, culture, and place where you didn't go to therapy, everybody was straight, all of these sort of myths that we know not to be true. Like I said, I've been in therapy for 20 years, and if you can figure out a way to afford it, or if you can get yourself, I think that is just can be so tremendously helpful.
Kat Kinsman: I think I'm at 32 years on and off of therapy, but I will honestly say it saved my life. When I was 14 and feeling suicidal, I was super depressed, and my parents got me into therapy, and it absolutely saved me life. It's constant. It's work. It's constant work to be OK. I feel like in the food community, in the chef community particularly...
Kat Kinsman: I had started this project Chefs with Issues January 1, 2016 because there had been some deaths, including Homaro Cantu in Chicago. That was very sudden and surprising to a lot of people. Then there were some that are off the record. It happens a lot. It happens a lot in the community, and people don't talk about it, and they don't call it suicide. It just doesn't get reported.
Kat Kinsman: I remember the month after I started this, there were three prominent ones. I started and in February 2016, three in a month. I couldn't necessarily get people to talk. Some people were really ready to talk about mental health. Some people were like, "Hell yeah. Let's go." Some people were like, "No." In August of 2016, I gave a keynote at MAD Symposium in Copenhagen. I got up. This was the scariest thing I'd done.
Laurie Woolever: I bet.
Kat Kinsman: I got up in several hundred of the most prominent chefs in the world at René Redzepi's conference, and said like, "Yeah. People are dying, and people are suffering, and we have to talk about this." It was such a split reaction. Then we had breakout sessions after that, and I couldn't believe I was sitting in a tent with like 80 hardcore well-known chefs from around the world wanting to talk about it. We had a breakout the next day too, and then finding that there were other people who were very much opposed to it. Like, "Why are you trying to make us wusses? Just shut up and cook. Why are you trying to destroy our culture?" My take was always like, "I'm not telling you you have to do anything. I'm just saying there's help here if you need it."
Kat Kinsman: I went back and spoke this last summer, and it was not on the main stage, but I did two breakout sessions. Not a single person argued with the fact since June 8th of this last year. Not a single person has argued that this something that we have to talk about. The membership of the Facebook group that morning was 828 people. It's very close to 3,000 now, and much of that growth happened in the month after.
Kat Kinsman: The conversation opened up. The ripples also opened up, because I saw a lot of people thinking like, "Well, if he wasn't happy being alive, what the hell here?" We've had a lot of conversations like... Luckily the community takes care of its own in some ways that maybe it didn't before.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Wow. Yeah, it's a really hard... I think it's a hard thing for people to face in this industry, because it's like already there's the talk immediately goes to like, "Well, our margins are low. How can we take care of... Taking care of people involves money, and we're already scrambling for the last dollar." I spoke about this at Women Chefs and Restaurateurs last month.
Kat Kinsman: A friend of mine was in the audience and said it was incredible. I think you've spoken a couple of times recently. You spoke at something in New York.
Laurie Woolever: I spoke at Bitten last fall.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. That had a huge effect on a friend of mine who was absolutely just blown away and stuff. We talk, people are really, really listening when you talk. You're a very powerful and effective speaker.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you. Tell that to my son.
Kat Kinsman: I'll tell your son. I'll tell your agent. I'll tell anyone you need. You out there having these conversations, it matters a lot.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you. Yeah, I want to be very careful not to speak for Tony or to speculate too much, but the fact that his death was this kind of organizing catalyst to get people to face it, but I think it's like anything else that's like a scary reality. It's like, "Let's." I think I knew deep down that I had a problem with alcohol for years, but it's like, "Well, I'm just going to not talk about it." I think if it's an industry-wide problem, and there's something inherent to the way that we're doing business that's really causing people to have mental health problems, or to exacerbate, or to at least not address-
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. Not go to therapy because then you're... Put your head down and cook.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah, or you can't afford it, or you don't have time.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. There's some systemic stuff. People don't have any money to deal with this.
Laurie Woolever: I think it's just a hard... It's easier. It makes people angry because they're afraid, and that was kind of the key part of my lecture. It wasn't a lecture. My talk at Women Chefs and Restaurateurs was, and I've really realized this in myself, is that a lot of anger is just sublimated fear.
Kat Kinsman: People are terrified. People are absolutely like... David Chang did a podcast pretty soon after, and he's been on this podcast. I saw him go from that MAD in 2016. He was talking to me about some stuff, but then we did a podcast with Daniel Patterson where Daniel was super open about stuff, and David just yelled at him. We actually erased the podcast because Daniel asked the producer to erase it.
Kat Kinsman: David, he did a podcast pretty soon after where he was just like, "Shit. I should've been talking about this." He's since come to me and said like, "Hey, I should've been talking." I'm like, "You weren't ready, so it manifested." I can say this stuff openly because he talked really openly on this podcast about it. He would just yell at people and be angry because he was scared of his own head. Having stuff locked in your head is hard shit.
Laurie Woolever: I realize that the ways in which I get angry, like at my son in particular, is if I'm angry about something, it's because of... Not so much anymore, because he's 10, and he's a little more... When he was like a little kid, I would get angry because he would run into the street or do something that was putting him in danger.
Kat Kinsman: You're afraid.
Laurie Woolever: It's like it's easy to see that. It's like, "I feel afraid, and that's making me so uncomfortable that it makes me angry." I think that that is just... If we can sort of keep that in mind, and then it's like, "Well, then what do we do about to give people a better sense of security in this business and make them feel less afraid?" I talked about Kelly Fields at-
Kat Kinsman: I love her so much.
Laurie Woolever: ...at Willa Jean in New Orleans. She's not the only one, but she's someone that I interviewed for the James Beard publications about her employee assistance program.
Kat Kinsman: Your writing there is wonderful too, so if you go to James Beard, it's the blog there. Yeah.
Laurie Woolever: That was the first I had... I think I'm not in the industry anymore, so I don't always know exactly what's going on, but to hear about that, that her employees have health insurance, but they also have this employee assistance program that's where they can call. They have numbers they can call for various crises and get referrals to mental health or legal advice or just various life crisis stuff.
Kat Kinsman: She had to set that up in the wake of some stuff in that particular empire and offer care to people. For people who don't have the background on it, she owns a restaurant with John Besh, who was accused of a whole lot of misconduct and various other bad behaviors. They had to really scramble into place and get HR in place and safe communication channels. I think that's a thing that happens. People don't feel safe in a restaurant, especially if it's a small business, going right to the owner of it. There's got to be a safe way to report things and taking care.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah, Kelly's done some really... We actually recorded a podcast with her, which we will release at some point. Yeah, and talking about like, "OK." Figure out what was wrong with the system, and trying to course correct for that and really make sure that people felt safe and open and all that.
Laurie Woolever: Apart from that, and then money obviously is the-
Kat Kinsman: Oh, God terrifying.
Laurie Woolever: You feel fearful because you don't... "Am I going to be able to pay my rent?", or, "I'm not saving anything for retirement," or, "How am I going to pay my taxes?" All of these things. I don't know. I mean, it's becomes a global issue. It's like, "Well, there's all this wealth in the world, and how is it that more and more of us are feeling financially insecure?" These are problems that I am not equipped to solve, but I think about them.
Kat Kinsman: Laurie, actually fix it.
Laurie Woolever: I'm going solve wealth inequality worldwide. I don't know. I don't know what the answer is really except that just these small things, and the chefs that are able to change over to a tip included model so that their cooks are making a salary that's commensurate with what the front of the house is making. That's a very difficult thing. Amanda Cohen, who I also shouted out at WCR, has committed to it. She's doing it.
Kat Kinsman: She's had it baked in since the beginning. The way that she set up Dirt Candy was really with her people in mind in a deeply meaningful way.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Then you're retaining people. Again, I'm not a restaurant operator, and I know that the challenges are many. I'm close with a chef who runs a big kitchen in New York, and we talk all the time about just... He'll tell me a story about one personnel issue or one supply issue, and it sounds incredibly stressful. He's like, "Well, that's one percent of my day." It's just a constant like, "Who's showing up to work? Are they drunk? Did the carrots come in? Oh, now the sink is leaking." Now that I'd people... Obviously, if you know, you know. The level of stress is... I'm somebody who works from home. I feel very lucky to not have to... I still feel scared a lot of the time and insecure and anxious about the future.
Kat Kinsman: I mean, you and I have bonded over anxiety before. I think I sent you one of the first copies of my book about anxiety along with a squishy bunny.
Laurie Woolever: Yes, yes. Yeah.
Kat Kinsman: The thing with the squishy bunny, there's a rabbit on the cover of my book. Originally, the marketing team, they were saying, "What is a little thing we can send out to people with it?" They originally wanted a pill bottle with candy inside. I said, "Did you not read the chapter where going off medication very nearly killed me?" I said, "How about a stress toy?", because I really love stress toys, and got them to make a squishy little bunny thing.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I've spent a lot of time squishing little things over the last year. Yeah. After it happened, actually the next day I had to go to Charleston for the FAB Conference, which is really fantastic.
Laurie Woolever: What's that?
Kat Kinsman: Food and beverage it turns out. This woman, Randi Weinstein, runs it. It's all women at all different levels in the industry get together, and there are panel discussions. It's just a really, really smart, thoughtful conference. I was on several panels about self care, where I was thinking... I mean, I flat out said, "I suck at it. I have no idea how to do this. I'm a fraud up here." Luckily, there were a lot of other people up there saying like, "I don't really know how to do it too, but let's just have really honest conversations about it."
Kat Kinsman: It was around community of people, but right as I was there I get a call from my now boss here at Food and Wine who said, "Can you go to Aspen?", because it was a week after. Actually the week before, I'd been in Atlanta, and we had closed door sessions for people in the restaurant industry just to talk through mental health stuff. Kim Severson ran one panel about recovery, and I ran one about mental health.
Kat Kinsman: It's amazing, and I think it's probably OK to say this, Seamus Mullen, who's been a guest on this podcast, was so open and fantastic about everything he's gone through. This was the week before, and then right after I went to that, and then I went to Aspen. We were thinking like, "What do we do? What is the thing to do?" Sort of came up with a model of like, "Let's just get people together to talk." I thought, "Who do I really trust to be part of this to kind of guide a conversation with me?"
Kat Kinsman: Andrew Zimmern, who has been an absolute rock for me and for my mental health. Hugh Acheson, same. I can text him whenever, and he is there. Jen Hidinger-Kendrick, who runs the Giving Kitchen. She's been through loss and stuff from illness. We just kind of put out the word to the people in the industry who we knew were going to be there, found a restaurant that was not open yet, and got a bunch of boxes of tissues, and had people just talk. It was people at all levels of the industry, and just had an open conversation about it.
Kat Kinsman: I think the thing that came out of that was that people brought it back to their communities, whatever city they were in, and had conversations from there. Then I traveled for the next few weeks. I was booked to go to different cities anyway, and then other people were booking me to speak just about mental health stuff after this. Again, can't say this enough, don't want to speculate about the why's, the wherefore's, whatever, because it's somebody else's head, somebody else's life, and all that stuff, and it does no good. It does zero good to speculate.
Kat Kinsman: I set up a model where I would go to other cities and just sort of put out the word. Sometimes it was in front of a bigger audience. Sometimes it was closed door and be like, "Whoever wants to talk." Actually, the night of I already had dinner planned with the people from Olympia Provisions, Eli Cairo, who I've known. I went through did all these seven or eight interviews and wrote a story and stuff. I was like... Ended up having dinner with him. He said, "Oh, if you're ever in Portland, we can get people together there." As it turned out, I was going to Portland in a few weeks.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I just went through a sort of a few weeks of doing that. You were saying you traveled to get away?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Yeah.
Kat Kinsman: I traveled, and I got too far into my own head. I ended up going on medication at the end of the summer, which was a great thing for my head. I also, and I think I've talked about this before, but I screamed. I kept making jokes about getting in my car and screaming, and it was throughout the Brett Kavanaugh hearings where every woman I knew wanted to scream, and I finally... Douglas and I have this church upstate, this deconsecrated church with great acoustics, and I said, "It's time." He took the dogs out, and I cranked up some music, and I screamed from the bottom of my stomach, and I screamed for Tony. I screamed until I almost threw up on the carpet.
Kat Kinsman: Then my entire body rebooted. My head, my body, everything, and I was able to sort of move forward and take care of myself. How have you taken care of yourself? What is your thing? I know going through recovery, going through a new life, all the-
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. I was so grateful I was already not drinking when this happened-
Kat Kinsman: Yes. That was in place.
Laurie Woolever: ... because I feel like had I been... I saw some other people around me were drinking, and it's just that's for them to do.
Kat Kinsman: You do what you do.
Laurie Woolever: For me, I was glad I didn't have that to turn to. Like I said, weekly therapy. I had been on antidepressants.
Kat Kinsman: Yay. Meds.
Laurie Woolever: I continued to do that and continue to do so. At some point, I realized that I had to... The only way I was going to feel better about this work was to actually start it. One of the ways I needed to be able to truly start it and to commit to it was to quit smoking pot. If I'm being very honest, what really got me to quit smoking pot was I needed to get a life insurance policy as a condition of my divorce. I went to speak with the agent and was very transparent about my situation and that I smoke pot. He said, "Well, they're going to do a blood test and a physical. If it comes out that you've got THC in your blood, then you're going to be charged the same rate as a cigarette smoker. That's significantly more expensive." This is coming out of my own pocket. It really came down to I want to save money.
Kat Kinsman: Economics. Sure. Good reason as any.
Laurie Woolever: I think I was really primed to quit, but I needed some external impetus.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. Sometimes that other excuse and you can put it on. "I'm doing it for my kid."
Laurie Woolever: I was like, "Well, I'll quit for three weeks, I'll have the physical, and then maybe I'll see how I feel." Right away, I was like, "Oh. Yes. This is what I needed. This is what I've needed to do for a while."
Kat Kinsman: What does it feel like? Is it a veil lifting? What's the physicality of it?
Laurie Woolever: It just, I mean, I don't know that I felt... Honestly, it's that I wasn't so tired. It was something that would just make me tired. That's not a surprise really, but my energy levels were more consistent throughout the day. Sort of counter intuitively, this was a drug that I was using I thought to manage my anxiety, and once I stopped using it I became much less anxious.
Kat Kinsman: It's amazing. Wow.
Laurie Woolever: For me. I mean, I had just turned a corner where it was like it was having the opposite effect that I intended it to have.
Kat Kinsman: That's amazing.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Taking that out of the equation, I felt on so much more of an even keel, and I didn't feel guilty. I didn't have to feel like, "Oh, what a fucking loser I am. It's two in the afternoon, and I'm stoned, and now I'm like useless. I'm going to go eat a bag of chips." Just like cardiovascularly. This time last year, I was smoking cigarettes.
Kat Kinsman: That's a huge thing to give up too.
Laurie Woolever: It's something that I had gone in and out of. As my stress levels ramped up with the divorce and Tony's death, I was just like all in. I was like, "This is so fucking stupid and gross." It's like if you had told me last year at this time that I would not be smoking cigarettes, nor would I even been chewing the nicotine gum, which was something that I also was big into, and I wouldn't be smoking pot, I'd be like, "You're crazy."
Kat Kinsman: Again, it's been a bitch of year for you.
Laurie Woolever: It's been a bitch of a year.
Kat Kinsman: Title of your memoir.
Laurie Woolever: Then there were a lot of voices in the 12-step rooms. I would hear people say things about, "I'm not drinking, but I'm still smoking pot," or, "I'm really mad because I'm not drinking, and my partner's not drinking, but he's still smoking pot." There was a lot of disparagement or a lot questioning around, "Is it or is it not OK to smoke pot or to do these other drugs if we have quit drinking?" I would always be kind of defensive. I would never talk about it. It would never admit to my own pot smoking in the rooms, but it definitely stuck with me.
Laurie Woolever: I can think of the faces of the people that said specific things about pot, because I was like I didn't want to hear that even though I knew it to be something I would have to sort of reckon with.
Laurie Woolever: Already being on a path of recovery and getting to go into the rooms, and getting to actually truly engage with the program, because I felt I was just kind of circling it for a year and a half of so because I felt, "Well, I'm not being honest. I'm not really sober. I'm just not drinking." I didn't get a sponsor. I didn't start to work the steps. I didn't do any of the things that are suggested as a course of true recovery really engaging with it because I felt like, "Well, I'm not there yet. I'm not ready yet." It still was very helpful to me, but now being all in on it is a whole... I'm just getting started. I've been working on step one for months, and I'm not sure when I'm going to move to step two. I'm not in any hurry.
Laurie Woolever: There are so many cliches, and it's so easy to kind of dismiss, and I certainly have rolled my eyes at some of the cliches, but, like they say, "It works if you work it." It's not for everybody. I didn't know if it was for me. There's more than one way to recover, but for me it's been a tremendous source of support.
Kat Kinsman: I'm so grateful that you're talking about this, because you don't necessarily outside of rooms, hear a lot of women talk about it. In the food world, there's this sort of great arc of redemption of hedonists doing this, but you don't hear about the women, and it affects a lot of women. It probably looks like a different thing in women than it does. Especially since we're leaned on for care taking in all different kinds of ways, even if we're not parents or whatever it is, which is why I'm just extra grateful. Especially when you started talking about it on your podcast, I remember you had told me, and then I sort of figured you were going along with it and stuff, but then there was just one particular episode where you were it was just all in. I appreciated that so much. I sort of feel like if I had a friend who wanted to go into that, I would have them listen to that episode of it because you're also funny as hell.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you.
Kat Kinsman: With this podcast, it's like this world of characters who they have created. A sort of sleazy man named Cliss. There's the references to going "Full Dinty" that actually is a sort of story of depression.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. It's been a nice thing to have that outlet. I think that there's a couple of reason that people don't talk about it that much, or women don't talk about it certainly. There's the word anonymous is in many 12-step programs. I think sometimes there's a misconception that it means that there's a veil of shame, or there's a veil of secrecy. I think the anonymous part more comes from what gets said in the room stays in the rooms, and we're not talking about other people's recovery. I think that any time there's more light shed on it...
Laurie Woolever: I, myself, before I ever even really considered getting sober, I remember distinctly listening to interviews with other people on Julie Klausner's podcast and certainly on Marc Maron's podcast and him talking about his own sobriety. It was just so helpful to hear a funny, creative, flawed person just talk about their experience with it in a way that wasn't... I mean, I think my understanding of recovery was very was wrong, and I thought it was sort of like church and sort of like a... I heard somebody say yesterday at a program, or at a meeting, it's not a program of don'ts. To understand that it's a suggested course of recovery, and here's things you can do, and it's not about punishment. I grew up Catholic-
Kat Kinsman: Same.
Laurie Woolever: It's like the whole structure of-
Kat Kinsman: I've called myself "recovering Catholic."
Laurie Woolever: You have done wrong, and here are the things you need to do to make it right.
Kat Kinsman: 10 Hail Marys. Three Our Fathers.
Laurie Woolever: It's not that. I think for some people it dovetails nicely with the Catholic faith, but it's not certainly not a requirement, and it's not the way that it's administered.
Laurie Woolever: I'm always happy to talk about it and talk to people about it. I've had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of meetings where you sort of tell your story. It's hard. You have to sort of keep yourself from trying to make it too funny. It's like it's not about, "Let me tell you all about the crazy, awesome things I did when I was drunk." Sort of your story from what it was like, and then how things have changed.
Laurie Woolever: I've heard hundreds of other people's stories, and sometimes they are really funny. That's great too, but what you realize after hearing so many of them is we're all kind of the same. It's like no addict is so special and unique that their problems can't be address if they're willing my this fellowship.
Kat Kinsman: What does a good self-care day look like for you in addition to going to a meeting? If you're brought up not talking about stuff and maybe not for self care, and you're doing a project that's got to be pretty emotionally grueling, what are the things you do to take care of yourself?
Laurie Woolever: I'll tell you, that's the perfect question, because I just came off of a couple of really good days where-
Kat Kinsman: Oh good. I'm so glad to hear that.
Laurie Woolever: I have a new project that's not related to Tony, and I was nervous about taking it on, because I thought, "Do I have time to do this one but also finish the Tony stuff?" What I realized in starting it is that feels... I guess it's sort of like swinging two bats in the on deck circle, or lifting a bunch of weights and then just lifting up your own arms. To do this non-Tony related project, it feels incredibly light and joyful and fun, which really what it did is help me realize like and acknowledge that, the stuff, it's hard and heavy to be co-authoring a book with a ghost, and to be interviewing the people that he was closest to about a man that's no longer with us. I think just being able to feel that I deserve whatever it is the space to see, "This is hard, emotional work," has been really great in a way.
Laurie Woolever: That sounds counterintuitive, but it's like, "Oh, there's a reason why I've felt like a rain cloud over my head for the past year." In terms of a self-care day, I've had a couple of days where my son was with his dad, and so I had just... I was very conscious of not making any plans.
Kat Kinsman: That feels so good.
Laurie Woolever: It's just me alone in my apartment. The weather has been beautiful, and I've given myself a lot of time to write, to work on this other project which I find very pleasurable. I've been taking naps.
Kat Kinsman: I love a nap.
Laurie Woolever: Sometimes I feel really guilty about that, but I am at my core I'm a nap person, and so I'm like, "If I'm tired, I will take a nap. I will wake up when I'm done sleeping, and then I will keep working." I just had this couple of days of... I know it's an absolute luxury. Not everybody gets to have three or four days over a holiday weekend to just be alone and do their things, but that was... I knew this morning when I woke up, "Now I'm ready." My son will come over after school, and I'll have him for a few days, and I'm ready to be a good parent to him. I've gotten a ton of sleep, and I got good work done, but I didn't kill myself.
Laurie Woolever: I went and I bought a bag of candy, and I ate it. There are times in my life where I have been incredibly neurotic and restrictive around food, for better or worse, and mostly worse. Even though it's like, "Maybe I think I look good in a photo, but what it takes to get there and the amount of negative self talk to get there, is it worth it? I don't know?" I decided yesterday like, "I want some candy. I'm going to go fucking buy it, and I'm going to go eat the whole bag."
Kat Kinsman: Did you say candy?
Laurie Woolever: Why, yes I did. Oh my God. What? What? Oh my God.
Kat Kinsman: Would you describe for the audience who is listening what I have just presented you with.
Laurie Woolever: I feel like this is a cubic foot of individually wrapped Hi-Chews.
Kat Kinsman: It is a piece of art if you look at the back, and it is signed on the side. This was actually donated by a coworker who was given this by the Hi-Chew representatives, who I did send your way at some point, so the podcast, the Carbface podcast, has frequent mentions of Hi-Chew on it is a great snack, and you share candy with your guests. I think they reached out to me, and I said, "Do you know about this podcast?", and you interviewed them. This appeared on my colleague's desk, and I asked if I could give it to you.
Laurie Woolever: That is outrageous. It's a plexiglass frame that is stuffed with individually wrapped Hi-Chew Sweet and Sour Watermelon, Lemon, and some other flavor. Grapefruit. It's beautiful.
Kat Kinsman: There's a weird print on the back of it too. There's like sort of if you look under the candy, there is pretty-
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. There's sort of a water like a wallpaper of the same. Yeah, and it's signed by the artist. Robin Blair. Amazing. Wow.
Kat Kinsman: I wanted you to have that as a candy fiend.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you. Oh my God.
Kat Kinsman: I don't know if it fits your home décor or whatever.
Laurie Woolever: It does.
Kat Kinsman: I knew you that you had a new apartment.
Laurie Woolever: Yes, and I have mostly bare walls. I just haven't had the head space to really deal with getting art, and I've just started to buy art. I bought this beautiful painting of a woman with no shirt on happily eating Cheetos.
Kat Kinsman: Was that on your Insta? That was on your Instagram, and it was really-
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Yes. This young artist Kat Giordano based in Massachusetts, and she's doing great work. Yeah.
Kat Kinsman: This also, to me, I wish it said, "Sweet and Bitter" on it. You're a person who is one of the funniest, funniest humans and stuff, but you also have the deepness within.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you.
Kat Kinsman: You've been so kind as to you have an uncanny sense for when I need somebody to reach out and say, "How are you doing?" You've popped into my inbox in some really dark moments when it really mattered, and I appreciate that so much.
Laurie Woolever: Back at you, man.
Kat Kinsman: What is the thing that you want people like a thought you want to put in people's head about Tony that they might not know that's...?
Laurie Woolever: That's a tough one. I mean, he shared so much of himself in his writing and on television. I think that, and people started to call him like The World's Most Interesting Man or-
Kat Kinsman: The Dos Equis guy.
Laurie Woolever: He himself would say like, "I've got the best job in the world, and my life is amazing." I think, I guess, and I know that there was a sense of like you said it, "If this guy with this life and this amazing story didn't find life worth living and the world worth sticking around in, what is there for me?" I guess I would just ask people to sort of think a little beyond that and just know that he was a gifted performer and a gifted storyteller, and that there were ways in which that things were not great. He was a flawed human being. He also was very transparent about his struggles in some ways, so just to kind of remember that that he was a full human being and that just because you have a wildly successful television program and 10 million Twitter followers or whatever, if there's some other thing that's fundamentally lacking, if there's a structure that's lacking there, it doesn't matter.
Laurie Woolever: I don't know. I'm not really summarizing this so eloquently, but just that there was more to it than just the surface glamor and brilliance. That he was a flawed human being like anyone else.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah, and that is a gift. There is a question I ask of everybody, because I think it helps to say it out loud. You have taken care of so many people, as we have established. What is the selfish thing you want for you?
Laurie Woolever: What is a selfish thing I want for me?
Kat Kinsman: This is so if you say it out loud, other people can help you get this thing?
Laurie Woolever: OK. All right. We're talking like a career goal or an object or...
Kat Kinsman: It can be anything.
Laurie Woolever: Anything? Wow. I've always really wanted to, and I haven't quite figured out how to manifest it... I've thought that a cruise might be like the worst thing in the world. I love David Foster Wallace's "Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" and sort of set my expectations for, "OK, that's not something I want," but there are these smart cruises, or sort of like evolved cruises that go to some of the most interesting places in the world. There's one to the Galapagos. I have always thought... I've tried to figure out for years like, "Can I do a story?" I don't think the food of the Galapagos is really like the thing, but if I can figure out a way to get myself, and maybe my son, on one of these Galapagos cruises, that I feel like would be...
Laurie Woolever: I don't know. I mean, and it may be one of those things where I get there and go, "Oh yeah. No. I do not want to live on a boat as it turns out. I hate this, but I feel like that is something I've always come back to for years is I want to get myself there.
Kat Kinsman: Dear universe, send Laurie to the Galapagos. My version here of your "lots of likes" or sort of questions you do at the end. These are rapid fire. Don't think too hard.
Laurie Woolever: Oh boy.
Kat Kinsman: What's your comfort food? You can sip your coffee.
Laurie Woolever: Coffee is one of them, but gummy candy.
Kat Kinsman: Oh yes. Yeah. I think I sent you some Haribo or something like... Yeah, Yeah.
Laurie Woolever: Yep. Yep.
Kat Kinsman: Do you have a particular favorite gummy?
Laurie Woolever: I'm really into the Fizzy Cola, the Haribo Fizzy Cola, but Hi-Chew also makes a Fizzy Cola Hi-Chew that I think is fantastic. I can take down a bag of those with no trouble at all.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. Universe also. Maybe, God, if Hi-Chew had a cruise. A Hi-Cruise.
Laurie Woolever: Oh my God. So many possibilities.
Kat Kinsman: So many. What is the last meal that you had that made you emotional?
Laurie Woolever: I had a beautiful meal in Paris with somebody that I'm dating that was exactly kind of what we had both wanted for the trip that was just... Yeah. It was sort of this perfect moment of happiness, and a high point of the trip, and it was at Brasserie Lipp in Paris, where I had never been before. It was like Tony would have called it Dinosaur Era Food.
Kat Kinsman: Was it creams and butter and quenelles of things?
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. Big plate of fries. I'm not even remembering the specifics of the food itself. It was like choucroute. That's what it was. This beautiful snappy service. Just one of those things where you feel like you've traveled back in time, and yet it's very much 2019 and so wonderful that people are still doing things the way that they're doing. The guy put the fries down and he said, "Do you want ketchup?" I said, "No, thank you." He said, "That's right that you do not want to ketchup." He was so thrilled that a dumb American didn't want ketchup for her fries. It was a really, really happy time and a great memory.
Kat Kinsman: I'm so glad you got to have that. That was lovely. What was the last meal that somebody cooked for you in their home?
Laurie Woolever: Oh. Gosh, it's been a while honestly. I don't find myself going to people's homes. I can't remember. Somebody needs to invite me to dinner.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. I think so.
Laurie Woolever: I honestly feel like it's been months. Is that weird? As soon as I leave, I'm going to remember, and I'm going to be like, "Oh, sorry so and so. I totally forgot about that thing." I feel like my memory is a little bit, even though I don't smoke pot anymore, I feel like my memory has become a little bit porous.
Kat Kinsman: This last year, I am sure there are pockets and holes. Please somebody. This is a Food and Wine Pro. There are chefs who listen to this, and you know a goodly amount of them.
Laurie Woolever: Actually, I take that back. It wasn't in my home, but it was in an Airbnb. I had a beautiful risotto cooked for me with chorizo, and then the steamed leaves of kohlrabi that were then pureed with the chorizo broth, and it was fucking delicious.
Kat Kinsman: Who cooked it?
Laurie Woolever: This was my same friend that I went to Brasserie Lipp with.
Kat Kinsman: Oh. You have a friend. It's nice to have friends. That's lovely.
Laurie Woolever: A friend who's a very good cook.
Kat Kinsman: What living musician would you want to... You know what? I ask this of chefs, but you're a cookbook writer too, so I will say it. What living musician would you want to cook for, and what would you cook for them?
Laurie Woolever: Neko Case.
Kat Kinsman: Yes.
Laurie Woolever: Whose music I have loved for so long.
Kat Kinsman: She's so great, and she's great on Twitter too.
Laurie Woolever: So funny.
Kat Kinsman: Oh, she's so delicious.
Laurie Woolever: I'm pretty sure she's a vegetarian. If she's not, I apologize, but if I had to guess I'd say she's a vegetarian, so I would do... I just did this pasta the other day for me and my son, and I loved it. It was lentil pasta, because we're not eating gluten right now. Gut stuff. I had leftover riced cauliflower that I mixed up with a beaten egg and put it in with the hot pasta and kind of let the egg cook. Then put nutritional yeast on it. It sounds so hippie whatever-
Kat Kinsman: Nutritional yeast is amazing.
Laurie Woolever: It was delicious, so I felt proud enough of that dish that I would want to serve that to Neko Case.
Kat Kinsman: Dear Neko Case.
Laurie Woolever: Come over.
Kat Kinsman: She is phenomenal, and that's an excellent, excellent choice.
Laurie Woolever: Thanks.
Kat Kinsman: Last question. You have five uninterrupted minutes for self care. What do you do?
Laurie Woolever: I put this dumb mask that I have. It's called like Temporary Lifting Mask. You put it on, and it's a clay mask, and it dries, and then for a day you look slightly I don't know what it does really, but it makes me feel good when I do it. I would put that mask on and let it dry. While it dried, I would listen to one of my favorite podcasts which is called Retail Nightmares.
Kat Kinsman: It's so good.
Laurie Woolever: Yeah. So good. These two brilliant women in Vancouver have guests on. They talk about retail nightmares or retail dreams. They talk about animals a lot. They're really funny, and I've sort of formed a little friendship with them although we've never met in person. We have a Twitter DM thread going, and we send each other little gifs. I mean, it feels sort of very young girl-ish in a way to have these little pen pals.
Kat Kinsman: No. I totally have those, and I love it so much.
Laurie Woolever: I would let the mask dry, I would listen to retail nightmares, and then I would rinse it off.
Kat Kinsman: I really hope that this next year is filled with joy for you, and-
Laurie Woolever: Thank you.
Kat Kinsman: ... goodness and calmness and good meals with your friend.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. Yes. I hope so too.
Kat Kinsman: I just can't say enough. Thank you for putting it out there and making life a little easier for so people don't feel like freaks so people feel like they're together. I just thank you Laurie Woolever.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you. Let me talk about myself for 45 minutes? I'm in.
Kat Kinsman: It's generous and lovely, and people can hear more of you on Carbface, which is this fantastic podcast that I highly recommend people listen to. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll feel very uncomfortable at various point.
Laurie Woolever: Subscribe. Five stars. Don't listen with your kids.
Kat Kinsman: Very much don't listen with your kids. It's such a great thing. They can find you on socials @LaurieWoolever. Then you've written Appetites, and then you have books coming out.
Laurie Woolever: Yes. It's pretty far in the future to talk about dates or any real specifics, but I have a travel book that should be coming out next year, and the oral biography coming out some time in the same general time span. Got to be sort of general with these things, but they are in the works and hopefully you will enjoy them and learn a little bit more about Tony from them.
Kat Kinsman: Yeah. Laurie, thank you so much for that.
Laurie Woolever: Thank you.
Kat Kinsman: Thank you to our producers Jennifer Martonik and Alicia Cabral. Thank you to Douglas Wagner for our delightful theme song. If you like what you heard, please tell a friend, write a review, or rate us. As you know, that matters. The stars, the ratings. If there is something you would like for us to talk about or a guest you'd like to hear from, please let us know. I'm going to shout out Crisis Text Line one more time. Text #741741 24/7. Someone will be there to listen. You can find me on Twitter @kittenwithawhip, where I am all the dang time. Find out more about the show and catch up on all the episodes at FoodandWine.com and Food and Wine's YouTube page. Thank you so much for listening, and take good care of yourself until the next time.