From March 3 until June 30 2022, Bloodworks Northwest will partner with dozens in the Seattle culinary community in hopes of recruiting 10,000 new or re-engaged donors. It’s called the Savor Life, Save a Life Campaign. As Bloodworks 101 producer John Yeager found out, for a couple of those culinary partners, James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson and his wife, Deborah Friend Wilson – co-owners of the Bellevue restaurant The Lakehouse – the reason they’re involved in a blood donation campaign is personal. Episode transcript below this short video from the Savor Life. Save a Life. campaign launch event at The Lakehouse on 3/3/2022.
Debbie: If we are able to give blood, we do that. It’s a sacrifice for love, for care for others. And the time is now, more than ever, that we’ve all heard that need that we need to come out of our shells, and give what we can.
John: Hi. I’m John Yeager, and this is “Bloodworks 101,” the Anthem Award-winning podcast brought to you by your friends here at Bloodworks Northwest, designed to educate or inspire you to donate either time, money, or blood. The voice you heard at the top of the show there belongs to Debbie Friend Wilson, the Wellness Director at The Lakehouse Restaurant in Bellevue. Debbie and her husband, Chef Jason Wilson, own the restaurant. Jason is a James Beard Award-winning chef. That’s the gold standard for culinary excellence. In 2010, Jason won the prestigious award for his work at Crush, the restaurant he ran in Seattle from 2005 to 2015.
You’ve no doubt heard of the James Beard Awards. They’re given to chefs, authors, and hospitality professionals, they’re given annually. Voting is done by past winners, journalists, foundation members. Every year there’s a handful of semifinalists, between 8 and 16, with 3 to 4 finalists being chosen, and one receiving the award in New York City. What does an award-winning chef and his wife have to do with blood donation? You’re about to find out.
This month, Bloodworks Northwest is reaching out to Seattle’s culinary community, and launching the Savor Life, Save a Life campaign in response to our region’s blood emergency. The goal is to secure 10,000 new and re-engaged donors by the end of June. Where does the Lakehouse fit into that? Well now, that’s where this story starts, but wait till hear why meeting a goal like this is so important to Jason and Debbie.
I don’t know about you, but my first job in high school was as a busboy at a local Italian restaurant in Milwaukee where I grew up. A lot of people got their first job that way, bussing tables. I remember how busy it was, but I also remember the yelling, waiters yelling at chefs, chefs yelling at waiters, waiters yelling at busboys, and busboys yelling at…well, you get the idea. Restaurants can be pressure cookers. Food has to be good. At the best places, way more than just good. But the really good restaurants need that something special, especially now that many of us are going out again, as the pandemic, hopefully, begins to loosen its grip. It’s been a tough two years for restaurants. When you hear my interview with Jason and Debbie, you’ll know why we’re so eager to be partners with them for this campaign. I spoke to them at The Lakehouse a little while back. When you have a chef like Jason Wilson in the kitchen, it’s going to be special, but there’s more.
What makes Lakehouse special in your opinion?
Jason: I mean, I would say, first, it’s what we offer. It’s the people that offer it, and it’s where we are. So, it’s the setting here, it’s our food, and beverage, and then the team that serves it,
Debbie: I think the Lakehouse is really…it was designed to be a retreat, and an escape for people. So, I think that what’s special about it is that the space invites that, the people who work here have that kind of attitude. And the food here is very much about wellness, surprise, creativity, farm-to-table, healthy, so it’s really a celebration for all of the senses.
John: How would you describe the atmosphere here?
Jason: You know, this was inspired by this idea about the Pacific Northwest Farmhouse. So, we have this reference to what is classic, and what is old and original, and then what is brought in to be a little bit modern as well. You know, it’s a very familiar, it’s a very, I guess, accommodating, but ultimately very comfortable place to be.
John: And it sounds like a comfortable place to celebrate birthdays.
Jason: It is. There’s a couple here today, it’s really fun.
Debbie: I would say it’s also a place that really fosters connection, and I say this looking at tables here, you know, building memories, people who are excited to come out again, and sit around a table, and rediscover themselves, rediscover each other, and rediscover a relationship, whether it’s sitting on one side of the room and connecting to the other side of the room through the floor plan here. Or if it’s just connecting back to the food, and where it’s from, and what country it’s from, and what time of year it is. It’s a really…it fosters connection here, and I think we’re really proud of that.
John: Jason and Deborah say that in-house wellness is important. So, they brought in an in-house wellness director to prioritize mental health, and to promote a safe and sustainable work environment. That’s Debbie’s job. So, how does blood donation fit into all of this?
Jason: I think naturally, it’s really about responsibility to those in our community, in wellness director and the program, it’s responsibility to the people on our team, and ultimately to the betterment of our business. You know, blood donation is social responsibility at its core.
Debbie: I think that one of the mindsets that we all got familiar with through the pandemic is one of scarcity. I think that the pandemic introduced a lot of fear, and urgency, and loss, and change to so many people, and therefore, people started working, and living, and relating in a very emotionally scarce mindset. And as that relates to blood donation, scarcity, in that case, can mean death, quite literally.
John: Tell me about your involvement. Well, I guess, in a personal way, why are you a blood donor? You’ve got an appointment coming up?
Jason: Yeah, I have an appointment coming up, and I have donated blood in the past, both here in Seattle and San Francisco. I had a heart procedure, gosh, now 15, 16 years ago. I was born with a hole in my heart, with an ASD, an atrial septal defect. So, it was a hole between the top two chambers, and blood would recirculate, and the risk there is stroke. So, my doctors at a young age took a picture of it and said, “This will go away.” Many years later, I’m 33, I think it was. I know I was opening Crush, my first restaurant. And I said, “Let me get a physical.” One physical led to another, a trip to the cardiologist led to some in-depth photos and X-rays, and so on, and testing. And so, turned out I had atrial septal defect, a fairly large one, and a very angled one. So, we went in, after opening the restaurant, met with a cardiologist. That’s its own special story. And we did the first procedure. Because of the angle of the defect, so if you imagine that hole had an angle to it, they set off my heart into AFib. And so, it went from…I think it was 110 beats a minute to 186 in about 3 seconds.
So, all of the sedation I was on, that was gone. And so, went through that. They had the catheters in for 12 hours, real painful procedure. But we revisited it three months later. And in about two and a half hours of the similar thing with a different deployment, they fixed the defect. And it’s a pretty fascinating device they use. Both of those procedures, you know…I knew this at the same time, there was an opportunity for it to fail, and there was an opportunity for the closure to fail. And if the closure failed, I had to go right to the OR, to the operating room. So, at the same time they were doing my procedure, they held a live operating room with backup for four bags of blood, they had all of the procedures ready to go all set out. So, to prepare for a cath lab, they had to prepare an OR as well. Both times I went and they said, “Okay, this doesn’t work, you’re going right to the other room, because we have to fix this.” So yeah, here I am 15, 16 years later, and, you know, loving life, and being very active and all that but I look at it like, you know, definitely part of social responsibility. But definitely, it affects more people’s lives than we would know.
Debbie: Blood donation has truly helped to save my life. And I’ve seen it save the lives of others. I received blood when I delivered my first child. And it just really…as I think about that, in hindsight, we can’t plan when, or why, or how that need for blood is going to come up. But if it’s not there available, we run the risk of significant harm and loss in our society, and the real deal is, it’s not necessary. We can all step up and integrate and come together to help one another and keep us healthy.
John: I’m looking at the National Blood Emergency that the Red Cross declared. And now for a lot of reporters, the people that I deal with in my job, but also for a lot of donors, it’s on their radar for the first time in a while because it’s a national blood emergency. I mean, this campaign couldn’t come at a better time.
Jason: Why now? I mean, I think why now answers the most impending question of the need. And it’s very true that we haven’t heard about this for a while. I mean, I think all the past two-plus years, all we’ve heard about is the crazy pandemic, the things that have happened to have upheaval in our lives. And this is…the time for this is now.
Debbie: I’m thinking of the notion that we give what we can and we take what we need. I think that in the pandemic, in the last few years, we’ve really gone back to basics in terms of knowing the important resources that we all need to survive and to thrive, and feeling that responsibility to do something and give. So, if we are able to give blood, we do that. It’s a sacrifice for love, for care for others. And the time is now, more than ever, that we’ve all heard that need that we need to come out of our shells, and give what we can.
John: Then we started talking cooking shows, you know, where chefs like Gordon Ramsay scream at restaurant staff and restaurant owners. If you watch shows like “Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef,” “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back,” you know the guy.
Gordon Ramsay: The meat is stinking. You are now a walking liability, you’re costing this restaurant thousands. Do you have any standards? Who cleans this? Your kitchen’s a warzone. Oh, my God, look at that. What’s wrong with you?
John: They scream in the kitchen, they use those for the promos that…you know, about him dressing down somebody?
John: And that, for a long time, for a lot of people has been the restaurant business, at least when it’s in the kitchen. And sounds like you guys are addressing that, right? Systematically.
Jason: Systematically, we address this. It hurts having seen, I think, what is promoted through those shows, that it’s a degradation of a team member, or that it’s, you know, putting someone down, making someone…you know, ridiculing them. That is how the show is sold, as that is excitement for people, and they see that could be what life is like in the kitchen.
Gordon Ramsay: The most disgusting kitchen ever.
Jason: You know, I think, I’m not perfect by any means and, you know, I’ve had my share of growing up in that level of industry, or the industry when it was like that, it’s changed, thus I’ve changed too, and kind of grown with the profession. What we address here, and the way we work here is ultimately about, you know, having the respect of each other, about having the ultimate respect for our guests, and the food that we work with. And recognizing that we’re not out saving lives, you know. We’re here talking about Bloodworks Northwest and the campaign to raise more awareness around the need for blood. That’s saving lives. So, I think about it in this contrast of, you know, here we are, chefs, thinking that we’re making this wonderful food that’s going to take care of our ego, and, you know, make us as popular as Gordon has been. And so, as a result, we get to treat others poorly. I would think that, you know, in reflection, we’re saving lives by donating blood. Maybe we should get heated up about that versus, you know, hamburgers and fancy pasta.
John: I then asked Jason, what’s harder to do, win a James Beard Award…remember, there’s only one given out each year. What’s harder to do, win a James Beard Award, or run a restaurant during a pandemic?
Jason: It’s such a difficult question to address that without saying that the James Beard Award is definitely an outward-facing challenge or achievement, and surviving the pandemic, running a restaurant through it is both internal and external. You know, for the longest time I’ve been in this state of optimism and so forth. And pandemic hits, and we watch what we’ve built and what we’ve grown, and a lot of my confidence, a lot of my abilities, and identity, and who I am, the rug and the floor was just pulled right out. So, you know, it’s really…it’s dealing with, you know, a sense of scarcity with unknowing, with the obligations that we have, all of those things become an internal struggle as well. So, I think it’s two challenges, and I feel fortunate and grateful that I’m able to do both.
Debbie: Winning a James Beard Award, having not won one myself, is an external validation of an achievement. And it feels good. It’s a title and we love… And Jason has earned it, and it’s impressive, and it’s an external thing. What we learned in the pandemic was, the real work is digging deep in hard times, I think the pandemic and hardship introduces us to ourselves, it’s sort of the feeling of who are we really inside? And how do we rise through challenges? And where is our resilience, and what is resilience? So, I could never make that comparison with what’s harder, or whatever, but I do know that the deep digging that’s been involved through the pandemic, and face-to-face with industry ruin that nobody saw coming, really was an exercise in humility and leadership.
John: The Lakehouse is a warm, inviting, you know, Pacific Northwest, inspired by design farmhouse. And for me, it’s got a little bit of old, a little bit of new, but it’s a restorative place.
Debbie: The Lakehouse is all about innovation, and Jason’s career has largely been about innovation in food. I think now it’s time to really look at the industry in terms of innovation from a human perspective, and how can we make the industry more sustainable in terms of the people. So, we talked before about the Gordon Ramsay phenomenon, and the spectacle of the chef shouting, and what have you. We’ve learned that the issue really is in education. We have intensive training programs here where we actively talk to everyone on our team about boundaries, about active listening, about how to deal with burnout, about substance use, and therefore…and multicultural issues. We have whole seminars about bias and diversity, so that we can understand the language that we speak, the emotional literacy that’s going on here. And I…
You know, change takes time. And we learn from what we see, not from what we hear. So, if we have a restaurant here, that even in a few generations, if we have a young person working here and goes on to make their own restaurant one day later, after we’re gone maybe even, they know that there’s a better way to lead, and to listen, and to inform, and treat each other. And frankly, it’s for the sake of restaurants in general. Everybody wants to be able to come out to a nice place to eat. We need these restaurants to be a functional integrated environment that is culturally sound, and humble, and skilled in basic leadership. And it’s a lonely road sometimes, but we’re really working hard to innovate and elevate the people that make this restaurant possible.
John: And here I thought this was just a place to eat. We’re so excited to have you guys at this campaign. I mean, it’s just…it’s a real honor to have you as partners. And I think we’re going to do great things. I think the 10,000 new donors is going to be done. I think we’re going to do it.
Debbie: I think it’s amazing to be part of this coalition of people in the restaurant industry and the food scene in Seattle. One thing we learned, boy, did we come together as a group, as an industry during the pandemic. We need each other, we are more connected peer to peer than ever. And it’s really exciting to take those new-found and re-energized relationships into programs like Savor Life, Save a Life, and really, really make something good happen together, locking arms as a community to help people learn more about donating blood.
John: Thanks, you guys. Thanks so much.
John: The Savor Life, Save a Life campaign, includes restaurants and local stars like The Lakehouse, Cafe Juanita, Misha, The Cricket Club, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, The Intentionalist, Brandi Carlile’s wine XOBC Cellars, Ben’s Bread, DRY Botanical Bubbly, Savor Seattle, DOMO Collective, Tarra Plata, and finally the Pike Place Market.
One last thing, throughout this campaign if you donate blood, you’ll have a chance to win a one of a kind culinary experience. More about that soon. The Savor Life, Save a Life campaign goes until June. Well, that’s just about it for this edition of “Bloodworks 101.” I’m your host John Yeager. See you next time.