In Memory of Jesse the Chef

Remembering Jesse ‘Woodie’ Johnson

This is the eulogy I gave for my friend on Tuesday. To honor his memory I’m sharing it here with the larger community. Please keep his family in your thoughts through this impossibly difficult time.

In the early morning hours of November 15th we lost our brother Jesse unexpectedly. Affectionately known as Woodie, or Jesse the Chef, he was a loving son and brother, a devoted boyfriend, successful entrepreneur, but maybe most importantly, a true friend to so, so many, his loss will be felt forever. He was only 29 years old.

It’s hard to summarize someone as complex as Jesse. While most people knew him for his incredible skills as a chef, or his larger than life internet personality, those who know him closely knew he was so much more than online banter and a great meal. Dude was a huge nerd too. Y’all know about the Pokémon tattoos, right? He’d dive down whatever weirdo rabbit hole with me, and somehow, he made even those cool. Dude has presence, and the confidence and humility to push his ideas to the next level, and to get us all to buy in.

Raised in Memphis – on the South side with his Mom but getting game from his dad on the North side, he was residing more recently in Los Angeles. Jesse was proof that you could take the kid out of the south, but that your home never really leaves you. But man, he loved where he was from. You could feel it in his energy as much as you could hear it in his voice. Anytime anyone from Memphis did anything we would hear about it. I can still hear him in my head saying ‘You know where he’s from, my boy?’ He played that ‘Memphis, memphis, memphis’ clip maybe 6,000 times. Sure he was doing what he needed to out West, but he celebrated where he was from every chance he got – and he made you want to go there too. I know I speak for all of his friends and followers when I say his stories from his trips back home made it sound better than Vegas. I’m heartbroken that he wasn’t here to see us congregate for him in his home town.

But in LA – LA’s not always the friendliest place, but somehow he made it his home. And in his presence it really felt like one for all of us transplants trying to make something of ourselves. He welcomed us in in a way I haven’t felt often in my life, let alone in the city. He cared. He supported. He uplifted whatever he loved, let alone his people. He’d raise hell for us…

And Maiya – their relationship was a model for us all. You don’t expect much to last in today’s world, but we were all sure they would. They were inseparable. They always matched. It was like you were watching a live action Rom Com – they we’re ALWAYS laughing.

And his parties – those were legendary. A who’s who of ballers from across the art, music and cannabis landscape would pull up to his house not just for a plate, but for the energy. To be around this magnet of cool. 

Truth be told, I just wanted to hang at his house any chance I got. Everyone I ever met there was the highest caliber of person, and I have so many more true, lifelong friends than I would have had I not known him. He’s the reason I started talking to Fidel, and Metro. He was like a cheat code for my coverage. But more than that, even those times where we would just watch whatever popped up on YouTube in his living room were somehow more special than your typical interaction with friends. There was a warmth there that him and Maiya fostered that I have only ever experienced in that house. You were going home every time you stopped by. That laugh. The commentary. The conspiracy theories. The incredible weed. Endless amounts of incredible weed. No one left sober or hungry, it was like an unspoken rule. It was a special combination of magic that hooked anyone fortunate enough to experience it. I know I speak for many of his friends when I say that I feel blessed I got to exist in his presence, and my heart breaks not only for our loss, but for all those that won’t get to experience it. So many people have reached out the last week to say they wished they got to know him, people who I’d told about him, and random strangers who watched him online, and honestly so do I. He was hard not to love.

But that was Jesse. He quantified the weird, and celebrated his love. He brought people together, and curated a life most could only lust after. We talked about hustling and how to make it – but the truth was, he had. Jesse was it. Yes he was an inspiration for so many that didn’t actually know him, but also for those truly close to him. He created his own wave and rode it with a confidence we don’t often see from even the greatest of showmen. He made Weed & Wagyu a lifestyle we all wanted to be a part of. Even some kid like me, who was fine just eating McDonald’s, was all of a sudden trying to play high end, and wearing Dior, because of Jesse. It was wild.

To his Parents, I hope you got to see how bright your son was shining. I know the internet is one thing, but believe me when I tell you that love was real. Dude was good EVERYWHERE. People would stop him in public for pictures, or just to tell him they loved his posts. And he would talk about you all the time, I remember how excited he was when his Dad was coming out. He wanted to show you off. He was so proud to be your son.

And to Maiya, girl he loved you more than anything. It is so clear that you two were soulmates – you were the dream for those of us who haven’t found our person. You gave us faith. I know nothing will ever replace that massive hole in your chest, but know this army Jesse built around himself is here for you forever, and his memory will live on through us all.

Selfishly, I am devastated. I never expected to lose my friend – we had so much left to do. He had so much still to share. We talked about doing an art show together, and I let my anxiety hold it back. I didn’t think I mattered, he was the guy. But he wanted to do it with me, and I never pushed it through. And I was supposed to see him the weekend before he passed. But I was tired, so I said ‘next time’. I thought there would be one. A next time… You always think you’re going to have more time. But let me tell you, you don’t always. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes it’s just over. And I know I speak for many of us when I say it breaks my heart that I’ll never get to see my friend again. Or call him. Or text him. Or get roasted in my DMs when I post something stupid. Or something that he thinks is Lemon Cherry Gelato. I hope he knows how much we loved him.

I will hold onto the last conversations we had. To the last night we saw each other, at the Montalban in Hollywood, seeing ourselves on the big screen for Fidel’s premiere. That was some bucket list shit, but it wasn’t supposed to be the last. I know I barely scratched the surface of what our friend had to share, but I feel blessed for the time I had. I will carry it with me. I will carry him with me, as I know the rest of us will as well.

Now, I don’t know what it is yet, but I know we have to do something down here [in Memphis], for Jesse and Memphis – a real celebration, not a mourning party, because it’s what he would have wanted. Putting on for Memphis was quintessential Jesse. 

And I know we need to support Maiya however we can, because she is what he cared about most. She was his world, as much as he was hers. 

And I think we all need to start cooking more, because it’s what he loved doing, and it will bring us closer to him – especially those of us who are terrible at it, if only so that we’ll hear that deep little chuckle over our shoulder from the master who we all know could make it way better than we were. I know it would have made him laugh to see us try. But most importantly because we all need to keep Jesse’s vision, Weed & Wagyu alive – however that works for you, I won’t judge if it’s American Beef. 

And finally, we’ve got to make sure we tell everyone we love that we love them as often as possible. If there was one thing Jesse was great at it was giving flowers. You never know when it’s going to be the last time. 

In Jesse’s honor, no more ‘next time’s.

I love you man, I’ll see you soon. Weed & Wagyu forever.

1 comment
  1. Got to meet Jesse, he was seriously a cool cat. He loved Memphis and his girl! He is missed dearly. My heart goes out to his family. Fly high Jesse.

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