PATHS UNKNOWN WITH LAURIE WOOLEVER
National Geographic Traveller India|September - October 2021
ANTHONY BOURDAIN’S LIEUTENANT ON CO-AUTHORING A BOOK WITH HIM AFTER HIS DEATH, THE TONY LEGACY, AND SPONTANEITY V/S PREPARATION IN TRAVEL
PRANNAY PATHAK
For someone who has been a close associate of world traveller extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, Laurie Woolever has a no-fuss travel philosophy. She swears by his formula of treading the line between spontaneity and preparedness. Follow the U.S. military motto, ‘Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance,’ but also adapt if you meet jammed streets, closed borders, and inclement weather. She also says something called the “Serenity Prayer,” devised by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Anyone who has watched their share of travel and food TV in the past decade will have scant trouble rattling off the crème de la crème of the genre, and the late Bourdain almost always tops the list. Three years after the widely-adored chef, writer, and TV personality died by suicide, we reached out to Woolever, his assistant and editor, better known as his lieutenant and gatekeeper—a person who shared Tony’s scooter seat through narrow Vietnamese lanes when the cameras were off. World Travel: An Irreverent Guide came out earlier this year, a book Tony began and Laurie completed, composed of Bourdain’s commentary as heard on his television shows, trivia and tips on travel, along with heartfelt pieces by the man’s close confidants.

What is it that you exactly did as his lieutenant or gatekeeper when Tony was making those shows?

I handled Tony’s schedule, which was very complicated, made sure he got to where he needed to get to in the time he needed to get there comfortably. I did a lot of coordinating with the pre-production people who worked on his TV shows to make sure that the flights, hotels, and locations all worked for him, and made sense with his schedule. I also did a lot of communications gatekeeping. If there were people who wanted his time and attention, to request an interview or to request help with something, or his participation on a project and so on, I was the first person that a lot of that correspondence came to. I would provide answers to people, (and) communicate their requests to Tony. After a while, I started to help out with some line editing on the books he published under his imprint, and eventually, he offered me the chance to co-author a cookbook, which I was very happy to accept. We wrote and co-authored Appetites, which was published in 2016. The book was a personal reflection of the way that Tony cooked for his family, along with some things that he had picked up as a restaurant cook and chef.

When did you realise that what he was doing with travel, food, and writing was perhaps revolutionary?

Probably from the time when I read Kitchen Confidential, which was published in 2000. I was working as a food writer, and also as Mario Batali’s assistant for a few years at that point, and had really immersed myself in the world of food and travel writing, and was aware of who the major voices were. And Tony’s voice was so different and so irreverent. There was so much truthtelling and personal storytelling in a way we hadn’t seen—it was very warts-and-all. The only book that I could compare Kitchen Confidential to, in my knowledge, was Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. It was the closest thing along with Hunter S. Thompson and his style of journalism. I think with the publication of Kitchen Confidential, Tony really revolutionised food and travel media.

You earned your bachelor’s at Cornell and then moved to New York and “dicked around for a few years,” says your website. What’s that all about?

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