The Gung Ho Food Race

At this moment, I am sitting on six… no, eight different bits of Toronto restaurant news/gossip that I cannot share. I can’t share them for a number of reasons, either because I’ve specifically been asked not to until the restaurant is ready to formally announce their news, or because what I know is unconfirmed gossip and I’m still working on fleshing out the story.

It is my job to find out (factual) restaurant news. And I love my job; I love the excitement that chefs and customers have when a new place opens, I love watching the buzz spread, I love seeing the reviews roll in. What I don’t love – and this is why I’m sitting on all of these secrets – is when we all jump the gun, or get way too excited about a potential new restaurant or project before it’s even opened.

Case in point: the David Chang thing. I’m as enthusiastic as anyone for a David Chang restaurant; he’s considered one of the best chefs in the world. But didn’t we all look pathetically desperate a couple of months back when gossip spread and then the news was confirmed that Chang would be opening restaurants here… in late 2012? Standing back and watching the frenzy from a safe distance, anybody would think that Torontonians had never eaten anything fancier than Kraft Dinner and bagged salad, so desperate were we for Chang’s noodles and pork buns. Could we even be trusted in a fine dining restaurant? Were we familiar with those crazy things they call “utensils”?

Today’s article was actually supposed to be about the delays surrounding the opening of The Depanneur, a pop-up shop turned cafe/supper club on College that had a planned opening for next month. Owner Len Senater was interviewed in the now-defunct Eye Weekly, and he is also the lead in a story by David Sax in fresh new weekly The Grid (formerly Eye). Except that the Grid’s story went to print before Senater announced on his business’ Facebook page that he would be experiencing some delays due to licensing issues. I spoke to Senater a couple of days ago and ran a piece about the delays on’s Word of Mouth blog, relaying his request for help. It was my intention to also write about his problems here, as per his request for coverage and advice, but Senater has since moved the Facebook posts regarding the licensing issues to a private Google group with a comment about proceeding more carefully and discretely. So despite my pages of notes from our interview, I’m going to honour Senater’s decision and sit on the details of the story. That probably makes me a bad journalist, but hopefully scores me a few karma points.

In fact, I bring up Senater and The Depanneur only to demonstrate my main point, which is: do we (we being the media, from mainstream papers to individual food bloggers) really need to be so gung-ho that we’re writing stories about businesses that haven’t actually opened yet? Sure, restaurants can use a bit of pre-opening buzz when they’re ready to launch, but months in advance? Years?

As I noted in a piece last week, I was boggled to see so much coverage on the Toronto Underground food market, an project that appears to be no more than an idea and a website at this point, the main player spending her time giving interviews to food writers instead of meeting with officials to see if her plan is at all viable. Why are we writing about things that haven’t happened yet, and in some cases, like the food market, don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of happening? Are readers of food writing in this city so desperate for anything new (even if it’s months or years away)? Or is it that local food writers are so desperate to have the scoop before the competition that we’ll write stories about projects that our food knowledge and culinary training tell us couldn’t ever possibly get off the ground?

Granted, we’re an information-based society, and we all like to be in the know, and there’s a fair amount of competition in Toronto’s food writing community to be the first one to break a story. And it would obviously be a bit hypocritical of me to wag my finger and tell you all to stop caring so much, as our collective interest in the local restaurant scene keeps me in a job and allows me to do something that I love for a living. But I think we all need to calm down a smidge, and I think the people writing about food need to do so with a sense of integrity and conscientiousness. Don’t base a story on gossip, don’t write about businesses or projects that are months away from letting the public through their doors, worry less about being first and more about writing the best story.

It’s a hard list of criteria to live up to. Many of us have editors and publishers who push us to get the latest scoops, and there’s a keen sense of pride in being the first to break a story or retweet restaurant gossip. But when we jump the gun, when we write a story about a place months before it’s opened, there’s always the risk that it won’t open, or that a project won’t happen. I’d rather write about places and events that readers can go take part in right away or soon.

So while it’s terribly hard for me to sit on this pile of secrets and restaurant news, I do so knowing that it would be useless to share any of it right now, before the restaurants are open, before our readers can go check the place out. When the time comes, I’ll be happy to share, but only when the restaurants are ready and the facts of the stories are clear.

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