One afternoon in the spring of 2018, Anthony Bourdain sat down at his dining table in the Manhattan high-rise apartment he’d lovingly styled after a bungalow at one of his favourite hotels, the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, to begin work on his first travel guide. Across the table, armed with a longlist of every country the former chef had visited since 2000 while making his acclaimed gonzo travel shows A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations and Parts Unknown, was Laurie Woolever, Bourdain’s longtime assistant and co-author, whom he often referred to as his “lieutenant”.
Woolever and Bourdain first met in 2002 when her former employer Mario Batali recommended her to him as a recipe tester and editor for his first book of recipes, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. They next worked together in 2009, after Woolever had a child and decided to leave her job as a magazine editor. An optimistic email looking for part-time work sent to various contacts brought just one reply: from Bourdain, who empathised as his own daughter was just a year older, and offered her a job as his assistant. Her role grew over the years and after co-writing the best-selling 2016 cookbook Appetites, Bourdain and Woolever were looking for another project. A travel guide seemed a natural next step. “We wanted to bring together some of the best and most interesting places that Tony had seen in all his time travelling the world,” remembers Woolever. “He was extraordinarily busy, so to get that hour [to work on the book] felt very, very precious. I had no idea at the time that that would be it.”