Food has always been hugely important to me, and I was quite hands-on, right from the beginning. My first foray into cooking was preparing my own baby bottle, as soon as I could reach the counter. I filled it with Cherry Quik. My second was leaving the half-drunk bottles behind furniture, close to the radiators, making an accidental, explosive, 'strawberry' yogurt. Growing up in the country, my days were filled with food-centered activities from fishing for lake perch and frying them up in butter, to tapping the maple trees that lined our property and simmering sap into syrup. On the days I accompanied my photographer father into Montreal to spend a day in his studio, I was always rewarded with a visit to one of my favourite restaurants.
At Crêperie Bretonne, the air was filled with the sweet aromas of frying pork, vanilla, and maple. Cooks in period dress stood over huge griddles in the center of the dining room, expertly pouring and spreading crepe batter into a crisp, golden sheet, then filling and folding. My choice was always a bacon and maple crepe for dinner, followed by another huge crepe filled with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and even more maple for dessert. When I was eleven my father treated me to a visit to my first fancy restaurant. It was an old-school Italian joint—murals of Venice, cherubs, worn carpet, old waiters in bow ties. The name of the place eludes me now, probably because it was also the place where I had my first drink, a Brown Cow. The Brown Cow was a revelation, but so was the spumoni, in a bad way. I felt betrayed, tricked, by this delicious ice cream, polluted with bitter, hard, nasty bits. I sucked each chunk of peel clean, and left a pile in the center of the nappy. The polite waiter didn’t even blink. So food could bring joy, but it could also disappoint. It had it’s own personality.
In my adult life, I didn’t make food my professional focus until much later. My first serious career was as a medical insurance underwriter. This paid the bills, but I developed a severe case of hypochondria and boredom. My other, unofficial career was as a painter of big, realist canvases, that didn’t pay the bills (see above: Oh, Baby!). But it was in 1998, when I became the chef at my own restaurant in Leslieville, Riverside Café, that I truly began to express myself. I took great and honest pleasure in creating dishes that people genuinely enjoyed and returned again and again for. It was then that I knew food and everything about it was my calling and it has been my focus ever since. After leaving Riverside, I cooked for other owners, but did not get the same fulfillment as when working for myself. It was during one of those long shifts behind some owner's stove that I decided I needed a change, something different, something food related but not cooking. I settled on writing about food, styling it and developing recipes for others to create at home and in restaurants of their own.
That was about six years ago now and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I love the variety and creativity that this new career afford me; I’m always learning, and meeting so many wonderful, fascinating people. We don’t all get to work at something we love, and I feel lucky and grateful that I get to pay the bills doing what I love. Still, if I were to win the lottery, I’m going to go back to painting pictures, eating and cooking for pleasure; pure pleasure!
Next on the agenda: teaching. I want to impart my love and passion for food and gardening, they way my father instilled it in me. There's talk of bringing good old home ec. back into the schools, and I say, 'Sign me up!'