French-born Chef Thierry Rautureau has been a pillar of the Seattle culinary for decades as the visionary of such seminal restaurants as Rover’s Loulay, and Luc. When we approached him to join our Culinary Coalition in support of blood donation, he eagerly agreed and said in his interview with Bill Harper, “without blood, there is no life.” Well said, Chef. À table!
Chef Rautureau: Well, here we go. It’s Sunday morning. Guess what? I couldn’t find anything better to do than going to give my blood. Why? There is such a high need. Come on. It’s free. It’s simple. Those guys are super nice, welcoming, and it takes five minutes to do. Just do it.
[foreign language 00:00:21-00:00:40] .
Bill Harper: Hi. I’m Bill Harper, and this is Bloodworks 101, an Anthem Award-winning podcast from the Pacific Northwest Primary Blood Center that’s designed to inspire you to donate time, money, or blood. Bloodworks is currently hosting a region-wide campaign to partner with the Pacific Northwest’s best chefs, brewmasters, and purveyors of delicious delicacies to inspire 10,000 new donors by June 30th.
We’re calling it “Savor Life, Save a Life,” and it is magnifique. And one of those chefs is Thierry Rautureau, the French-born James Beard Award-winning chef of such Seattle culinary institutions as Rovers, Loulay, and Luc. Known as “The Chef in the Hat,” he’s one of my personal heroes. And on a gray March Sunday, he came in to donate blood. And I sat down to ask him about his life, why food is like blood, and why now, of all times, he’s asking food lovers everywhere to donate blood. [foreign language 00:01:35] .
Chef Rautureau: And, you know, it’s like restaurants are just like anything [inaudible 00:01:42] . If it’s really good and really small, the guy at the helm eventually has to quit.
Bill Harper: Yeah. That’s…
Chef Rautureau: Nobody lives forever.
Bill Harper: Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: So it brings me back to the next subject. Nobody lives forever; however, in order to live, you gotta eat, you gotta drink, and you most definitely have to donate blood because your good blood is good for someone else as well. And it’s so painless to do it, so simple. Just need to take the time. Make the appointment. Come and visit. In 30 minutes, you’re in and out.
Bill Harper: [foreign language 00:02:18-00:02:57] .
Chef Rautureau: And in the middle of all this, you speak perfect French.
Bill Harper: [foreign language 00:02:59] .
Chef Rautureau: How does that work? How does that work? To translate what he just said, if anybody needs translation, he says reading the white lines on the bottom of the screen he was just mentioning how he had leukemia a few years ago. And you know what? That’s what saved your life.
Bill Harper: [foreign language 00:03:18] .
Chef Rautureau: All that blood collected from people donating, and it’s so easy. You can save one’s life so easily. One pint, one life. By the way, how you doing today?
Bill Harper: Great. Perfect. No problems at all.
Chef Rautureau: Wow.
Bill Harper: Just had recent surgery. So that’s why the crutches, but I had a stem cell transplant from a girl from Oklahoma, saved my life. And I got 267 transfusions of blood from Bloodworks. I was a patient at Seattle Children’s for eight years. And physicians there, they couldn’t have done the work that they did for me in chemotherapy and surgeries without the blood from Bloodworks. And so…
Chef Rautureau: 267 pints.
Bill Harper: Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: That’s 267 donation.
Bill Harper: Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: That’s so little to save one’s life.
Bill Harper: Yeah. This is…
Chef Rautureau: But it’s a miracle. I mean, you look like nothing has ever happened.
Bill Harper: Yeah. I mean, it’s just it’s so great to come back here and see people. And…
Chef Rautureau: No. Of course. Of course.
Bill Harper: Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: It’s like a family.
Bill Harper: Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: [crosstalk 00:04:11] .
Bill Harper: It’s good just to know that, you know, like, when I was in those hospital beds at Children’s, like, there are people out there coming in, taking their Sunday morning, Sunday afternoons, and taking time to save my life without even knowing my name or anything about me. So when was the last time you donated blood?
Chef Rautureau: I donated blood when I was 17 years old in France.
Bill Harper: [inaudible 00:04:31] .
Chef Rautureau: So that was… It was a long time ago. Let me see. Seventeen, you know, in ’62. So you do the math.
Bill Harper: So we came to you. Now, what’s the “Savor Life, Save a Life” campaign? And so what’s really driving you to want to be involved in this program, be involved with us? What? Like, why now?
Chef Rautureau: Well, as mentioned before, you know, when we had the [inaudible 00:04:53] the restaurant industry is one of those industry for some reason you hear “I need,” and somehow they show up.
Bill Harper: Mm-hmm. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:05:03] .
Chef Rautureau: I mean, at the worst of day, broken down, you still show up. Why? Just because it doesn’t… I think one of the main reason is it doesn’t involve cash. It only involves time, and it involves spirit. And it involve belief in the community. It involve, you know, believing in the support of each other. Today, I’m healthy, and I’m joyful. You might be broken and hurting. You know, and that’s just the way life goes. Not everybody is all at once up, and not everybody’s down at one time. So when you’re up, you have to think of the people who are down because, just so because, tomorrow it could be you. You know, you don’t donate anything in life. That’s what donating means. It means you’re not thinking, “I’m gonna need it.” You’re thinking, “They need it.” Right? That’s what the word “donate” mean. “Donate” doesn’t mean you’re thinking, “What am I gonna get back for it?” That’s business. That has nothing to do with donation. Donation is when your heart says, “That’s the right thing to do for the people that needs it.” So you donate without thinking because you can. That’s all there is to it, not, “I have money so I can buy anything I want” because you can. That’s a different story. This one is donation. It’s from the heart, goes straight to the heart.
Bill Harper: Yeah. Donating blood is literally a gift from the heart.
Chef Rautureau: Yeah. Absolutely.
Bill Harper: [foreign language 00:06:31] .
Chef Rautureau: From the heart to the heart. I mean, from one heart to another. It’s like a little love story.
Bill Harper: It is a love story.
Chef Rautureau: Probably is love of life, for sure.
Bill Harper: Absolutely. Yeah. So how did Chef Rautureau from a small town in France who came to America on a newspaper ad with $14 in his pocket end up in Seattle?
Chef Rautureau: Started with 14 bucks in my pocket and never looked back. I was in Los Angeles for five years and then came to Seattle to see that same buddy had moved back up to Seattle with his wife, Caroline, and so went to visit Cyril and Caroline in Seattle and went to this place called Rover’s, had just got the little review in the LA Time. And little house converted into a restaurant, very small, 24 seats. Went into there. So bought the restaurant with a partner, and two years later, I bought my partner and never looked back. Been flying solo ever since, and it’s been an incredible career. You know, in the last two year… No, not two years. In the last six months, and I have no restaurant left. You know, been working, and just the paperwork needs to be wrapped up and all that. But in general, I don’t have to go to restaurant every day. And I start looking back a little bit, which I never done in my entire life. It’s a bit weird and scary to see how much one can do in a lifetime. That’s a lot of blood, as they say. You know, it’s like lot of sweat, lots of tears, and lots of blood is given into that life. I feel like I’ve already worked two lifetimes since 14 years old. You know, the average day is such a long day. It’s like I’m 62. So at 61, I worked from 14 to 61. I’m like, “Yeah. In terms of hours, that’s definitely two lifetime of work.”
Bill Harper: Yeah. Well, yeah. That summer that I was working in that French restaurant, it was 18-hour days 6 days a week. Yeah.
Chef Rautureau: And it’s not a joke. I was 14 years old. I was skinny like a green bean, like a small kid. I wasn’t tall. I was short on top of it. So that doesn’t help, but, I mean, I would work 7:30 in the morning. You would come downstairs. You have your coffee, your cigarette…
Bill Harper: [inaudible 00:08:52] .
Chef Rautureau: …non-filter first thing in the morning. I mean, talking about the worst health ever. Most importantly, the heart was definitely taking a beating because you were pumping really hard all day long. But anyway, yeah. I mean, you start at 7:30 in the morning. The chef would come at quarter to eight. We had an 1897 coal stove, all beautiful porcelain and metal and, of course, iron. But every morning, we’d have to fill up the… Three times a day, we had to fill up from the pile of coal and then fill up the stove, taking the rings off, filling up the stove. I mean, looking back, I’m like, “That’s pretty cool. Looking in, absolutely horrible.”
And the chef would walk in. He was just like, oh, you wouldn’t believe this. This person was a monster, but he would walk in and be like, “What are you guys, not awake this morning?” Like, anyway, shaking all day long, smoking bad cigarettes, and eating chicken wings for dinner. You know, it’s like whatever. It’s like it was just horrible.
Bill Harper: Chef certainly has come a long way from those days, with three beautiful restaurants in Seattle winning the highest accolades in the culinary world. After the pandemic shut down his last two, what’s next for Seattle’s “Chef in the Hat”?
Chef Rautureau: I think I’m in a stage in my life where consulting, you know, doing jobs like that perfectly, I’ll use my experience to help, you know, to input into other businesses. But physically being on the line, now way. I can’t do it no more, and this is not a weak person talking. This is a smart person talking. I’ve already spent 60 years, most of my 60 years, working. Is this a goal of me to die in the kitchen? Never. I am not that guy. I wanna see the world. I want to see more of the diversification we have offering on this planet. I’m not the kind of person that just want one thing. I’m not monochromatic, I hope. I mean, I love what I do. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been my life. It’s been so fun. You know, having the chance in a lifetime to have a restaurant like Rover’s where you can just play every single day at your craft is one of the biggest wish anyone should have.
Bill Harper: [crosstalk 00:11:19] .
Chef Rautureau: I never knew this was gonna be like that, but I’m glad I walked that life. You know.
Bill Harper: You contributed to the entire food culture in the city and, I think, well, the country too. I mean that’s…
Chef Rautureau: And I’m glad I was part of that movement or part of, you know, helping or part… I don’t even know if it was any help. I think it was a… You know, restaurants are like blood. You need them. You need that blood to be part of your community. You know, it’s part of us. What would life be without a restaurant or a bar? It’d be pretty sad. I mean, it would be very sad. We saw that during COVID where you couldn’t get out of your house or you couldn’t go into public places. How much was that missed? Tremendously. It changed our entire life.
That was a very sad… I don’t think people do well without the social part of life, you know, which brings back the whole thing to what we started with. We live in a community. We are sensing each other.
You definitely need to have and donate blood because, you know, without blood there is no life.
So, you know, that great campaign that’s happening right now, “Savor Life Save a Life,” is such a great momentum because all those restaurants everyone needs to eat. And the saying is if you go out and you’re gonna go into a restaurant and you’re gonna give life to that restaurant.
The same thing is true for blood. You go to the Bloodworks, and you just donate your blood. And you save a life, and it’s such a simple, simple thing to do. Make an appointment. Show up. Give your blood. Save a life. I mean, in four steps, you just saved someone’s life. It’s very simple.
Bill Harper: Many thanks to Chef Rautureau and all the other participants in our “Savor Life Save a Life” blood donation campaign. I like what Chef said there, “from the heart to the heart,” like a [foreign language 00:13:20] or [foreign language 00:13:22] or the last blood transfusion before a child reaches remission, the best things in life really do begin in the heart. Merci beaucoup for listening, and please remember to subscribe.
I’m Bill Harper with Bloodworks 101 asking to please go to bloodworksnw.org and make an appointment to donate blood. Make that donation by June 30th, and you can enter to win a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. [foreign language 00:13:50] .