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.
Steven was always very careful about not revealing who he was. Besides the fake name, he always paid cash. He took the seat against the wall whenever possible so he could watch for servers. He was an expert at stealing menus, and always pulled out a great line about “just taking this back to the office! We need more great lunch places in this neighbourhood!” if caught. His note-taking quickly became a grocery list if a server was hoovering too closely.
As time went on, Steven encouraged me to start writing about food. It would be safe to say that I would never have become a food writer without his encouragement, and he advocated on my behalf at NOW to get me a spot writing shorter reviews. That gig was short-lived but he continued to offer advice and mentorship until I started TasteTO, at which point I didn’t hear from him for a while, because I was now “the competition”.
When I published my first book, Steven was the first one to offer publicity, running an interview in NOW to help promote the book launch.
I moved to Toronto too late for the Queen West punk heyday, but Steven’s background and expertise in the local music scene meant that we always had something to talk about, from stories about the scene back in the day to amusing discussions about current bands.
I last saw him in person back in the autumn. I was walking along Queen Street when he pedalled up beside me on his bike. It had been raining, we were both wet, and he blocked traffic to stop in the curb lane and give me one of his trademark bear hugs.
It’s still difficult to believe that he’s gone. That we’ll never read another word of his acerbic wit. That I’ll never hear him scoff about whatever chef is throwing a tantrum and calling him names because of a poor review. That usage of the word “boîte” will now significantly decrease.
Steven Davey taught me everything I know about restaurant writing. He instilled a sense of journalistic ethics in me that I hope he would have been proud of. He’d occasionally joke, “Don’t you try and steal my job!”, but we both knew there was no chance of that. Nobody could write a review like Steven could. And whoever does end up with his job now that he’s gone will have some truly huge and impressive shoes to fill.
He was my mentor, my friend, and one of my biggest supporters. I am astoundingly lucky to have known him, and I will miss him dearly.