Join Me For Dinner – May 5th at The Depanneur

smallcanfood

So the brilliant folks at The Depanneur have started a cool weekly new program called Table Talks where they invite people involved in the Toronto food scene – from farmers and producers to local food writers – to drop by each week for an hour-long informal “around the kitchen table” sort of talk. Owner Len Senater cooks up something tasty and everyone shares a meal while discussing a pre-determined issue or topic related to that week’s guest.

I’ll be the featured guest on Tuesday, May 5th from 7 – 8pm where I’ll be talking about Canadian long-form food writing; specifically the lack of diverse voices and foodways in Canadian food writing and why we should all care about not just keeping the food stories of our past alive but why we should be expanding our views to encompass all Canadians.

There will be copies of Stained Pages Press titles for sale and a stack of my favourite Canadian food books to peruse. Not sure what Len is planning on cooking up just yet, but it’s guarantee to be tasty and inexpensive.

The Depanneur is at 1033 College Street, and the talk takes place on Tuesday May 5th at 7pm.

I hope to see you there!

Read More

My Friend, Steven Davey, aka Frank

StevenDavey1_large
image: NOWToronto.com

I first met Steven Davey, restaurant critic for NOW magazine, more than 10 years ago. I was running a monthly dining group called Gothic Diners in which Toronto Goths gathered for dinner at local restaurants, usually in all their black finery. Davey heard about our group through a friend of a friend and invited Greg and I, along with our friend Siobhan, to join him for dinner. He took us to the newly opened vegetarian restaurant Fressen, because it tickled his fancy to take a bunch of Goths (and our supposed vampire-inspired blood lust) to the one place where there would be no meat.

We hit it off and I soon found myself in “the rotation” – a group of Steven’s friends and acquaintances who were restaurant-positive, and who he would invite to join him for restaurant visits when he was doing reviews. That is, we liked dining out, enjoyed trying new things and could follow his detailed directions on what to order and how not to blow his cover.

He would book reservations under a false name, usually “Frank”, but on occasion he’d forget, and I’d find myself at a hostess stand, perplexed. No “Frank”. Or else I’d be seated, and watch him across the room, listing off the various names he might have used to book the reservation. One night I ran into him in line at the Drake’s BBQ take-out shop, and stood in line yelling “Hi Frank!” repeatedly until I had to walk up to him and poke him.

(more…)

Read More

Loose Ends

I seem to be starting my new year at somewhat loose ends. While 2011 was a very good and productive year in terms of work, and certainly beat 2010 in terms of emotional issues (yay for nobody close to us dying), I was left feeling that I didn’t accomplish very much.

This whole food writing thing, you see, well it was/is somewhat of a diversion. My original goal in “becoming a writer” was to write novels, or lovely descriptive essays. Since 2005 I’ve had a 90,000 word novel sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to get up the nerve to send it off to an agent or publisher. I also have about half a book’s worth of food-related memoirs and essays and a list of other pieces to write…

The food writing thing happened a bit by accident. A friend who had once worked as Margaret Atwood’s assistant told me that to help get publishers interested in my fiction, it would help to have “a name”. A series of events led to job offers at a couple of publications and then Greg and I started TasteTO, and suddenly I had “a name”. (At least it seems so, based on the number of people who Google my name and hit this website.)

(more…)

Read More

Chefs Versus Bloggers

In pretty much every conversation I’ve had with a chef in the past, oh, month, the topic of bloggers has come up. Usually it’s the bloggers who show up on the first day of a restaurant opening and trash the place in a review because things are not perfect. Chefs and restaurateurs seem not to know how to handle this kind of criticism, and when they ask me for advice (like I’d know!) I’m at a loss as to what to tell them.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m anti-blogger. I really believe that the future of food writing exists online; I run a number of blogs myself, run a blogging network and somehow convinced myself that creating the Canadian Food Blog Awards would be an easy thing to do to promote food bloggers in this country (umm… yes, I did pretty much just make a 2nd full time job for myself). But I still don’t have the answer.

What I really want to do is give the bloggers who do these (usually poorly written) too-early restaurant reviews a smack in the head. I mean, there’s one school of thought that says that some person on the internet with no qualifications or expertise isn’t going to be able to affect the business of a restaurant, that most people don’t even pay attention to blogger restaurant reviews, instead relying on long-time experts for the major dailies and weeklies who have the experience and writing skills to back up their opinions. But I’ve also seen (and talked to) a lot of restaurant owners and chefs who are mighty worked up about a shitty review or comment on some site like Yelp or Chowhound.

(more…)

Read More

Words on a Plate

As an editor and a writer, I spend a lot of time reading the works of other published writers, working under the theory that only if you are exposed to great writing can you begin to emulate it. By noticing the tricks and tools that accomplished writers use, another writer can, without copying a particular style, learn to make their own work even more evocative, descriptive and informative. Which means I read a lot of food writing, ranging from poor and amateurish and bland, to pieces that are inspiring, professional and heartfelt. Food and the act of eating being somewhat sensual subject matter, finding a writer who can scatter words onto a page and create a passage as breathtaking as a night sky full of stars is a rare thing indeed.

And finding out that the same writer no longer writes for a living can cause one to do a double-take and then doubt their own abilities even more.

Such is the case with Eating My Words: How Marilyn Monroe is Like a Grilled Artichoke and Other Observations on Food
by Eve Johnson.

(more…)

Read More