Journalist & Cultural Programmer
I spent ten years cooking professionally before leaving restaurant kitchens to write full time. My first big interview was Jacques Pepin, my second was Calvin Trillin – those two giants provided the best learning curve for breaking into the food writing business and have served me well thus far in a career spent interviewing everyone from René Redzepi to Ruth Reichl.
I have published three books and am currently at work on a fourth. I host a wide variety of events that have included everything from seminars on sexual harassment to book launch parties with Anthony Bourdain or Gail Simmons. I run a speaker series geared to people in the restaurant industry and curate feminist-friendly feasts for museums and galleries that align with special exhibitions and shows.
I’m a journalist who writes regularly for Condé Nast, VICE, Playboy and the Globe & Mail. I’m also a cultural programmer and I’ll be taking part in the WCR Conference this month for the first time. I’ll be doing on-stage interviews with a number of chefs from across the country talking about how they are changing the traditional structures of restaurant kitchens. The panel will include people like Martha Hoover, a sex crimes prosecutor turned restaurateur in Indianapolis, and Kelly Fields, a chef and mentorship advocate in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be Laurie Woolever, former assistant to Anthony Bourdain and co-writer of his last book. She’ll be talking about mental health and addiction in the restaurant industry. The lineup is really inspiring and the knowledge these women can share is worth way more than the cost of a ticket.
The experience I got working in kitchens was the best foundation I could have for the work I do now. As an independent cultural programmer and a freelance writer I need to be able to wear a lot of different hats, negotiate for myself, be a master of time management and know when to say no. All things I learned as a line cook.
Cribbed from Maya Angelou, the best words of wisdom I’ve ever heard: When people show you who they are, believe them. For too long I thought the best of dogs and scoundrels, I know better now.
My favourite people tend to be doers, I think that’s why I’m drawn to chefs and those in the back of house – we know how to get things done.
I grew up in PEI – the home of Anne of Green Gables and the greatest potatoes on earth. It is an island of beaches, clam shacks, wild roses and fields of lupins. I always take a sack of potatoes home with me when I leave.
I love crochet, knitting and textile works, especially in the hands of subversive artists like Kate Just (@katejustknits) and Paul Yore (@paul.yore). I’m also a fan of papier mâché artists like Bernie Kaminski (@berniekaminski) who creates a lot of food items for the Amy Sedaris Show. Memoir is the genre I’m currently most drawn to – so reading books like Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, and Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.
How did you get into the industry?
I started writing while I was working in restaurants. My perspective, as a working line cook and not your typical wealthy gourmand, was not very well represented in the food writing scene at that time. My voice from the kitchen trenches sparked an interested readership before I deserved one. But it gave me confidence to find my voice and it gave me experience as a writer that took the place of schooling. I hustled hard, I worked for free and learned on the job. I don’t work for free anymore but the rest – hustling and learning- is still a big part of what I do.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?
My most difficult moment as a writer came when I decided to pursue an investigation of a beloved and successful winemaker for allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Up until then I’d been writing as an industry insider and a fangirl, lots of puff pieces about restaurants and bad boy chefs. This investigation was in-depth. It was a six month process that took over my life and resulted in a number of things, both good and bad. I can look back now and say that I’m grateful for all of it. It made me really see how insidious patriarchal oppression is within the restaurant industry and I’ll never write the same way again.
Career advice to those in your industry?
This is what the panel at the WCR Conference is all about – it’s called Changing Bro Culture One Chick At A Time. We’ll talk about workable actions that people can take away to put into play within their own restaurants. Mentorship, addressing harassment, listening to and empowering employees – these are all things that will change the outdated macho culture of kitchens and ensure better work environments for everyone in the industry.
That’s for people in the restaurant business. For people in the freelance writing world, there has never been a greater need for content than right now and access is unparalleled. Editors for the biggest publications post their email addresses on their twitter profiles for a reason. They want new voices.
As for cultural programming, I push for gender parity in all of the events I do and clients are totally receptive. If you don’t demand it then people don’t know, but once you say something – about plastic straws hurting turtles or slang terms hurting whole swaths of the population – then no one can bask in ignorance. Use you voice. Don’t go fetal and look at memes all day (except for @allezceline she’s hilarious) get out there and start speaking out for a better world.”
Goal of the Day: Be grateful but don’t be a doormat. It’s tricky.
What do you love most about Your City?
Toronto is the most multicultural city on earth and the sheer bounty of cuisines one can experience in a single day will gag you – in the RuPaul sense of the word.
BBQ Duck at King’s Noodle in Chinatown, the Valentino (fried chicken sandwich) and a strawberry shake at Rudy’s, the Plain Jane cheeseburger at Harry’s CharBroil, Earl Grey Cake at Roselle, the ham plate at Donna’s, the giant meatball at Sugo, Pho Bo Kho at Pho Linh, goat curry and doubles at Ali’s Roti
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I have been sober for 3 years. It’s both the hardest and the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Becoming a fully fledged non-self-medicating person is a trip all on its own.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
@allezceline is a meme account that pokes fun at restaurant life using Céline Dion’s lyrics. Full disclosure – I run it.
What should everyone try at least once?
Tell the truth, don’t couch your voice, say what you mean – you’ll be surprised at what comes back to you.