I asked two people—both poets—to edit this. They have my back.
Here is my lived experience.
It's like a jigsaw. There are other pieces. I had to cut. More to come. Next week or the week after, according to my time and needs.
I've been wearing a "man's uniform" since 1988.
I love how that jacket balloons on me. Look at where the shoulders are.
Hand on the hip. Happy as a clam.
Did you know crossing your arms in front of your chest is a sign of weakness? In body language, it means you have something to protect. Open arms signal strength.
Every time I see a formal photo of Paul Bocuse, I think of that.
Celebrity chef culture. Bro chefs.
I know the whole history.
A thirty-four-year run. Front row seat. In "the best" restaurants.
I've met so many male chefs—and a few chefs (I mean women here)—from North America and Europe.
Men who live the pleasure of liberation look on strong, independent women with admiration.
Feminine authority inspires respect.
Their inner resources are strong—masculinity secure.
Feminine opinion is something to consider.
They look for ways to escape the great privilege bestowed on them at birth. Turn it over to others.
I know men like this. Many are young. They've taught me much.
They were the values of the first chef I worked for. He had self-respect. And a house full of gorgeous women.
The beautiful dreams I had in my heart. What I wanted for myself professionally. I trusted the chef with it. He believed in me.
There were others.
"The people hurling hate and threats at me, their words don't mean that much. Unless they're constituting an actual threat. In which case, they'll be investigated to the full extent of the law. What matters are the words of support."
Zexi Li, Ottawa Resident
I've experienced intimidation over the past few weeks.
The flame went full blast when I called out a Canadian celebrity chef. A man a generation ahead of me in the kitchen. He cast his cook's cap in with a crowd. Whistled for his dog. Wonder if there's a photo of him, arms crossed.
There were spam phone calls throughout two days. An anonymous, menacing account celebrating gun culture appeared in my Instagram feed. “Sinister,” says a friend.
Meanwhile, I'm on deadline. Writing a pretty essay on an agricultural topic. A subject I hope to write about for forever. Pastoral.
I began feeling alone. Turned to community.
Women are always the first on scene.
A man sent me a beautiful photo. Full of hope.
Another sent me these four words:
"You keep doing you."
Intimidation. A foundation ingredient in kitchen culture. It's still out there.
Intimidation. A show of weakness. Not power.
The threat to bodily harm
In the second restaurant I worked in, I was on the dinner shift in garde manger/dessert. In the corner of the kitchen reserved for women.
In the prep area, half-naked paper women looked down from the wall. Restaurant supply and auto body calendars, some Playboy centrefolds. Kitchen decor in Toronto's best French restaurant, 1989.
At some point in my employment, a new line cook turned up.
I was pretty sure he'd been to places I didn't want to know. Had been with clumsy women who walked into doors. Mr. "Peaky Blinders."
He fit right in.
The male cooks made like they didn't see or smell his all-day drinking. Some nights he was sloppy. I suspect there were times he was in a blackout. Late-stage alcoholic. Had an ashtray above his station. Cigarette always burning.
Late one night in a Queen St. alley, after partying at the Beverly Tavern, he grabbed my wrist and started hauling me off. I'll never forget his grip. Like he owned me.
Then a man who worked in front-of-house followed and intervened.
He could see. He came to help.
He broke the spell.
I went to work the next day.
Mr. "Peaky Blinders" in the station beside me. Avoiding eye contact.
You can’t see the predator If you're not the prey.
The threat to professional safety
"Fake news." Out of the mouth of another Canadian celebrity chef. A generation behind me.
Intimidation. To anyone with an opposing opinion. Writing about their world.
Whistled for his dog.
A shudder runs through women journalists. It’s a call to violence. The gun men show up on social media.
Words matter. Wonder if there's a photo of him, arms crossed.
Men who trash the women they fuck
In the workplace
In the bedroom
It's all the same
The damning story
Damns the storyteller
I've been in the game so long.
I'm calling this.
I finally made it. To the bitter fucking end.
It's over for me. The celebrity chef. Bro culture.
I'm looking in your restaurant kitchens for signs of change.
If you've never had a woman on top. You're missing out.
The song is *chefs’ kisses*
Harry was quick with a dishtowel.
A gold standard for a man in my books.
I can see him. Drying dishes in the kitchen on Lyons Ave.
Dodging us as we shuttled dishes from the dining room to the sink. Talking to his grown children and their spouses. Teasing me and the other grandkids.
Theo with her feet up in the living room, smoking Peter Jacksons.
The only time he wasn't on the water was when it was frozen.
For ten or more months a year, he was away. Not accessible. His exact whereabouts unknown. Until he phoned.
I sometimes romanticize his work on the Great Lakes.
The reality is it was tough. He missed a lot.
Football wins. First dates. Squabbles at the dinner table. Canning bushels of tomatoes in the basement.
That's my uncle Peter and Harry. I think they're sailing a kite. Imagine the lift and wind out on the water. Theo looking on. The string connects them in a geometric pattern, like the outline drawn on a canvas before the underpainting.
I could look Harry squarely in the eye as a 5'5" tall teenager. I can't say the same about Theo, who was 5'11". A visual reference for them as a couple.
Theo was a hollyhock. Tall and attractive. She loved clothes and had great style. Sewed everything because of her height.
She raised six kids. The second oldest, my father, was a shit disturber royale. Trouble stuck to him. He had a lot of responsibility in Harry's absence.
In many respects, Theo was a single mother. It all happened on her watch.
The kids spent time with Harry on the boat in the summer. He would come through on short trips through the Welland Canal.
As a chief engineer, he was a good provider.
They had a nice house in Welland. My grandmother grew things in the border along the driveway. There was plenty.
Theo had a membership at the Lookout Country Club. She golfed most days in season.
I remember rolling down the grass hill behind the clubhouse as a kid. Picking watercress out of an icy stream in the spring—for lunch. Trudging along behind her while she shot nine holes—bored out of my gourd.
Time together for my grandparents was limited. They had ground to cover.
Once the kids were gone, the pattern of their life remained.
All Harry wanted was dry land. To stroll the neighbourhood with his Cairn Terrier, Angus. Catching up with the neighbours. Stopping at the bakery, always.
She travelled—to China, the Middle East, Greenland, Iceland, all of Europe.
They did what made them happy as individuals. Time apart was normal.
There was time together too. Every winter in Florida. Theo spent time on the boats.
The first book she gave me was James Michener's The Drifters. Published in 1971, broadly about young people travelling. Against a charged backdrop of the time. I was 12 or 13.
She was planting a seed.
I'm so much like her. I wonder if she knew.
Theo was bossy. Telling you what to do. Even when she didn't know.
She was also brilliant. You had to be on your toes.
She liked a Manhattan. A raucous conversation about Canadian politics or history. Family talking loud and laughing.
Harry loved her.
Peter sent me the video of the triple expansion steam engine. It's the stuff that passes between us now.
He remembers Harry working on one. All the moving parts. The noise of it.
People come up the stairs from the engine room at about the three-minute mark—feelings rolled through me the first time I watched it. Remembering the slatted metal floors and descending the stairs on the E.B. Barber. I liked being on the boat, but the engine room was meh as a kid. Now I marvel at having had the experience.
One more thing:
An engine room is like the kitchen in a restaurant. The place where everything is set in motion.
Soufflé means I love you.
If I cook something French, it's serious.
You're in my heart. Forever.
For the record, I like the man sitting beside Alyssa too.
Partnering with a woman like her—you're golden, Ryan.
I've never met her parents. It's in the works.
First thing I want to do is hug them. Tell them they raised a beautiful human. Gold star.
I've had the benefit of the love they imparted.
At Christmas last year, she turned up at my door with Guyanese Pepper Pot.
First bite: Time stops. The world drops away. Marvel rises in me. My blue eyes well up.
Gelatinous oxtail. Black velvet sauce. The flavour of cassareep.
Tastes new, and ancient.
Left an imprint on me. A linocut.
Alyssa cooks like an angel.
Spending time with her in the kitchen is a dream.
I want her to cook my last meal. No input.
She offered me a cabin on Wasan Island last summer. To write.
The meals and laughter. Stars in the night sky from the hot tub. Saunas.
At my desk in a wet bathing suit.
Sleeping in a cedar-lined room. Soft night rain.
Bonfire in the tower.
Impromptu dinners in my kitchen with Gerry and Scott. The conversations.
Talking cookbooks with Blake. His quiet, gentle spirit. His cooking too.
Skinny dipping with Eleanor and Sarah. Like when I was a teenager.
My whole life, I'd been afraid of deep water.
Learned to swim when I got sober. Friday night lessons instead of drinking.
Doing lengths to exhaust the craving.
The fear is gone. I don't know how, but it left.
I waded into the shimmering lake—sparkles flittering on the surface—and felt calm and safe.
Swam around the island. More than once.
Alyssa is a community builder. For herself first.
She wears the world like a loose robe.
Her spirit is generous. She's got grace. In spades.
An old soul. Wise beyond her years.
Some students came to teach me.
I didn't know which song to choose. I kept going back and forth.
Then I knew why I couldn't make up my mind. Because there were two songs for Alyssa.
Released a year apart.
Beautiful and different.
Took its damn time.
Thought the train had passed. Left me on the platform. Squinting down the tracks.
Turns out I'm a perennial.
Here to stay.
February is for lingering over seed catalogues. Dreaming of flowers.
Conjuring a garden in high August.
Cicadas buzzing in the heat. Rivulets of sweat running down your lower back. More fucking zucchini. Bottles clattering in the canner.
I haven't had a place for growing in too long.
Dahlias and hollyhocks—the old girls of the garden—in scarlet red and periwinkle.
Swaying at dusk in a breeze.
I had to give my birthdate at a medical appointment this week. The nurse looked at me and said, "no way."
I no longer push compliments away. When someone sees the special in me, I graciously accept.
It's all down to my parents—my mom's good genes and my dad's blue eyes.
I'm curious and enthusiastic by nature—two key ingredients in the recipe for youth.
Spending twenty years with young people helped. I have friends born in the 80s.
There are kids in their teens who like being with me. A darling little girl who thinks I'm the bee’s knees.
Aging is beautiful.
We don't say that out loud enough. For the young to know, they don't need to worry.
I'm still hot.
I'll leave you with that.
When you read this, I'll be watching Denzel Washington and eating popcorn in a dark movie theatre. Extra butter.
Happy birthday to me.
Smell the roses
Take some chances
Black history month. This woman's talent is way fucking bigger than 30 days.