Macleans, Restaurants and Whiny Temper Tantrums

For anyone in the restaurant industry, this week the buzz is all about Maclean’s Magazine and their Canada’s Best Restaurants edition, in which a team of food critics led by Jacob Richler picked the Top 50 restaurants in the country.

Richler knew what he was getting into – the first line of his introduction makes it clear:

However much work goes into such things, they are seldom praised and always attacked – and gleefully.

What has been surprising is just how vehement those attacks are. I’ve seen no glee, just a level of childish pettiness that is embarrassing for the entire restaurant industry.

It would be idealistic to hope that food writers and the chefs and restaurateurs they write about would aspire to a level of maturity and professionalism in their interactions. That they would approach the work of the other with a realization that the “enemy” is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability with fairness and integrity, and that other factors (editors and readers in the case of writers; business partners and staff in the case of the restaurant owners) sometimes come into play. A restaurant review should never be personal, and should never be taken that way. At its best, a review is the perfect example of a symbiotic relationship where food writer and chef help and promote each other’s businesses (a review – good or bad – gives a restaurant publicity, and a popular review helps to sell copies or push traffic to a website).

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Lucky Dip – Friday, February 24th, 2012

In Toronto:

The Queen and Beaver (35 Elm Street) is expanding northward with a new location in Yorkville called The Oxley, set to open in mid-April.

The College Street location of Mitzi’s (890 College Street) will be serving its last brunch this weekend, shutting down after service on Sunday, February 26th. The Sorauren Avenue location as well as The Sister on Queen Street West will remain open.

Chef Tawfik Shehata announced earlier today via Twitter that he is no longer associated with The Bowery (55 Colborne Street). No word on what he’ll be doing next.

Chef Nick Liu is planning to host a pair of preview dinners for his new Asian fusion restaurant GwaiLo. Dinners will take place on March 6th and 13th, location TBA. Follow GwaiLo on Twitter to find out more details.

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Lucky Dip – Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Back in my days in Kensington Market, we’d refer to the week or so before school started as “pup season”; in part because of all the keen shiny young kids from cities and towns far and wide converging on Toronto to attend university, and also because if they were of the punk/goth/industrial persuasion, they’d inevitably be wearing a Skinny Puppy t-shirt. This week Steven Davey has a whole selection of food stories for “pup season” from cheap eats and late-night noshing to delivery options and of course, the obligatory experiment (especially for Skinny Puppy fans) with veganism. [NOW]

Speaking of cheap eats – will the Urban Eatery concept at the Eaton Centre actually work or is it going to be a big ol’ disaster zone come Saturday afternoons? [BlogTO]

New food adjective – “Hestonian”, as in the 3 Hestonian flavours of frozen cookie dough that Blumenthal is selling through Waitrose. [Telegraph]

Martini = gin & vermouth. That’s it. Appletinis do not count, and are just one ofthe many signs that you’ve picked a bad restaurant. [Food & Wine: Mouthing Off]

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Lucky Dip – Friday, August 19th, 2011

My evil plan to shame restaurants into improving their websites is growing. Others are catching on and joining in. Excellent. [Torontoist]

Anthony Bourdain is at it again, spouting vitriol against people he thinks he’s better than, this time Paula Deen. But he might have picked on the wrong lady, because Deen doesn’t strike me as someone who backs down. And unlike other Bourdain victims who have tricked him into rolling over and showing his belly by sending him a fruit basket, Paula Deen is not taking his shit. Maybe Bourdain should stick to picking on dead people (like his assaholic comments about deceased musician Stiv Bators) – at least they can’t fight back. [New York Post]

Milk better than water for kids? During the years where I mostly did nutrition writing, I always made a point of asking who paid for a study that seemed particularly biased. Oh, Dairy Farmers of Canada, you guys need to clean up your act and stop trying to trick people into thinking that they need milk to be healthy. No matter how many studies you pay for and try to present as fact, the truth is against you. [Globe and Mail]

Seven tips for chefs on Twitter – please to note #7. Seriously, stop retweeting every nice thing someone says about you. [Grub Street Boston]

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Faux Foodies

“Why would you go to Spain with that one bitch who refuses to eat ham?” – Anthony Bourdain

I normally avoid celebrity-related gossip or news, but this article about Gwyneth Paltrow speaks to a couple of issues. Firstly, is Paltrow a “faux foodie”? A better question than Bourdain’s is – why would you be part of a food show if you won’t/can’t eat half of the food featured on the show? I was vegetarian, nearly vegan, for many years, and when I started writing about food, I determined that it was my job to eat what is put in front of me, whether it’s ham or testicles or brains or kangaroo. I knew I couldn’t get all squeamish about what was served to me, and I seldom make a fuss.

The deal here though, is that Paltrow is coming out with a cookbook of stuff she rarely eats. Why? Like the NY Post, I don’t really get it.

On the other hand, from my time being a vegetarian, I know full well that it’s totally possible to love food, even if you only eat half of what’s out there. We tend to have a very narrow view of what is good, so Paltrow’s stance on not eating pork shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows (heck, some of the best cooks/biggest foodsters I know are Jewish; lack of pork hasn’t stopped them from enjoying a meal).

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When is a Badass Not a Badass?

Medium Raw
Anthony Bourdain

Harper Collins, 281 pages, 2010, $28.99CA

I was surprised, upon reading Medium Raw, to see that the sharp-clawed Anthony Bourdain had become a bit of a pussycat. And a timid one at that.

Bourdain has made a whole career out of being a tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face kind of guy. He shit-talked people in his industry publicly, letting his feelings and opinions be well-known. And who knows if it’s the wisdom of age or some joyous glow of fatherhood, but many chapters of Medium Raw are Bourdain not just backing down, but rolling over and presenting his belly for a scratch. He once ripped apart Rachael Ray. But she sent him a fruit basket, and now they’re pals. He super shit-talked Alice Waters, but after meeting her (an event that scared him, probably because he expected her to call him out on his shit-talking) now admits that she’s probably (mostly) right about where our food comes from and changes that need to be made to our food system.

He still shit talks vegetarians, but even that is met with a softer edge, as he instead directs his anger at the factory farm systems that leave us eating burgers full of actual shit.

I guess I’m just trying to get my head around this kinder, gentler Bourdain, but it’s not jibing for me. Tony was the guy you could always count on to say what other people were thinking but were too afraid to say. Which is something I pride myself on doing, so maybe I’m just feeling a little betrayed that Tony has crossed to the other side.

He still calls people out – a whole chapter of Medium Raw is called Heroes and Villains, and he lists a pile of reasons for each call. And the chapter Alan Richman is a Douchbag has made the rounds online with food writers from all over taking sides. But I can’t help wondering – will Bourdain’s next book include a story about how he’s now friends with Richman because the GQ food writer sent him a a fruit basket?

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That’s Just Nasty

I have a great deal of respect for Anthony Bourdain. Not for his ex-junkie, drinking, smoking, vegetarian-hating, pig-killing, squeasel-eating antics, but because he tells it like it is. He’s one of those folks who talk first and think later, someone who regularly gets pegged as being the guy who says what everyone else is thinking but are too afraid to say out loud. And most importantly, someone who puts his honest opinion out there and is willing to take the heat when it doesn’t go over favourably.

I also respect Bourdain for being a real guy who’d rather eat pho on a streetcorner in Vietnam than put on a suit and tie and go to an upscale hot new restaurant just because it’s the thing to do.

The Nasty Bits is a collection of Bourdain’s writing from the past few years since he left his gig at Les Halles in NYC to become the punk rock version of a food celebrity, with shows first on The Food Network and then with the Travel Channel. Published in a variety of magazines and newspapers, The Nasty Bits touches on anything and everything that touches Bourdain – from being seated on a plane next to an obese woman on his way home from a conference where he took on the heads of McDonald’s, to the interview with molecular gastronomy chef Adria Ferran of El Bulli which ultimately led to the decision to leave The Food Network (they were against spending the money to send him to Spain and instead were trying to force him to into the more traditional celebrity chef niche).

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Chefs Are the New Rock Stars

Imagine for a moment that you’re walking down the street and you pass a punk-looking kid wearing a black t-shirt with Anthony Bourdain’s face on the front. Or you’re in the mall and the gaggle of girls outside of Old Navy are all wearing sparkly pink shirts emblazoned with the Rachael Ray logo. Or maybe you’re watching the news to see thousands of women mobbing the airport when Jamie Oliver deplanes and races to a limo to be whisked away before someone gets injured.

To people in the industry, the concept of chefs as celebrities seems vaguely uncomfortable. The people who cook the food for restaurants, events, and hotels are meant to be behind the scenes. They’re part of the great machine that makes a dinner or an event happen seamlessly and beautifully; the kitchen is called “back of house” for a reason. Most dedicated cooks don’t want the attention – they want to do their jobs and do it well, and don’t much care for the cameras and interviews and face time.

But most is not all, and as more and more of the celebrity chefs we watch on TV sign endorsement deals or create product lines of their own, the desire – we’ll even call it a “need” to be seen, to be out there promoting the gadgets, the cookbook, the product lines and oh, yeah, the restaurant – becomes overwhelming.

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