A man I loved wore old school white Jockey underwear—Don Draper white.
That was hot.
In his early forties, his butt was starting to droop just a smidge.
That was hotter.
He saw things like that in me too.
I'd like to go back and tell that to my 17-year old self—sitting on a dock sun-drying after a swim in Lake Cowichan.
Pleasure is not just for young bodies.
I said farewell to that part of me working in a French restaurant on Queen St. W. in 1988.
I was 25.
There was a poissonnière with a darkness in his eyes I'd never seen before.
I packed that shit up quick.
A beautiful young woman told me once of cooks at a Toronto restaurant referring to her and a female co-worker as strippers (I mean no disrespect to any working woman). That kitchen was in the 'Top Ten.' State of the art cooking.
Madonna or whore, some men can't get past it.
Of course, there were men in my life. But I learned to keep it outside city limits.
I was once dropped off with a long kiss at a kitchen door. A cook saw it and took it to the brigade. It got dark.
Once I sent a note hoping its destination wasn't the last laugh of the night.
Brave heart beating.
I was good at erasing my sex. It kept me safe. That's not the same as being one of the boys.
Most of those cooks couldn't imagine it.
A ripe juicy peach in their midst.
Soundtrack - 1988
I can feel my nerves on the subway ride to Hammersmith. They're at a full thrum on the short walk along the Thames from the station to the restaurant.
Beside the kitchen door are teetering stacks of balsa wood boxes overflowing with the most exquisite Italian fruit and vegetables—flown in that morning from the Campo de Fiori market in Rome and points further south. A palette of ingredients for an Italian master. Like a Caravaggio still life.
The menu was written daily at the River Cafe, and there was always something new to do. They took the full measure of me and assigned tasks according to my refined talents.
Fresh pasta made with egg yolks the colour of sunrise, English country butter and double cream tasting of ryegrass and clover, gull's eggs plucked from cliffside nests, sparkling stained glass vinegar from the pastoral Chianti village of Volpiai, green crystalline olive oil pressed to specification months earlier, and a shower of Maldon salt shards over everything.
Men and women in equal number and at work as equals in the kitchen.
Ruth and Rose's universe was glorious.
Double happiness every single day.
Soundtrack - 2000
Toward the end of the film Motorcycle Diaries, there's a scene that years later I still carry with me.
Alone and under a bright moon, a young Che Guevara swims across the Amazon River, crossing to the leper colony from the medical quarters. The music is haunting.
It's a dangerous solo journey.
And it's a baptism.
He emerges from the water on the far shore a man and a young revolutionary.
My interest here is the journey.
"We should not attempt to return to a past that no longer exists, or seize upon a future that is forever beyond our reach, but should instead travel along our own inner axes to a more meaningful part of our present selves." Nick Cave
This broke me yesterday.
My aquamarine ink scribbles shimmering and blurring under teardrops.
I still have things to say as a chef, and my door is open to listen always.
But I have reached another shore.
I put a flower in her hair and let her go.
I am a writer.
Soundtrack - 2004
I’m a dessert lover. I know, not cool. It’s like appreciating music at conversation level in restaurants. Even bread gets more respect, and often there’s more variety.
I’ve had dining companions shrug off the final course, or worse, ask if I want to share. Umm, no!
They’ll take seconds of an artisan saucisson or a morsel of foie gras over a sweet finish. My anticipation for the pudding seems frivolous, and often I’m lonely—while they finish the last of the wine, I’m scooping spoonfuls of anything served with a side of Chantilly cream (in a chilled silver bowl, please).
I’m all for a limited choice of desserts if they are exquisite, and expertise in the basics can produce those kind of results. But too often, a small selection is the measure of pastry talent.
Some chefs with dazzling skills at appetizers and entrées hope customers won’t notice its lack at dessert. But for me, this tact diminishes the brilliance of whatever precedes it.
I have an elephantine memory for the last act.
As an apprentice, I hand whipped to order the Calvados sabayon to accompany Claude Bouillet’s tartes fines aux pommes. With Neil Baxter at Rundles, I mastered lemon and chocolate tarts and, in pre-Paco Jet times, churned ice cream for every service.
My competence in pastry is a source of great pride. Like those who came before me, I was trained to be well rounded—a generalist, not a specialist—the end goal for any chef-owner.
I will never forget a cherry galette at Chez Panisse—so pure and honest. You could almost hear the drone of bees in the fruit trees.
At a Christmas lunch in Stratford, I went back to the kitchen to beg a second helping of Neil Baxter’s homemade mincemeat tart with lard pastry and brandy ice cream. The first serving was ethereal. He happily complied.
Dessert is a restaurant's bid adieu. It’s the afterglow—a ripe opportunity to ensure a return visit.
Soundtrack - 2014
I once had a man stand up in a room of people—many menfolk present—and call me a warrior in a full-of-love way. We'd been together three or four years at the time. It was remarkable.
I felt seen and as if the whole world had my back.
A woman sought me out after. Told me she'd been with a few men, and none of them had called her that. She held up its exquisiteness between us.
I've spent years curating Twitter for my taste. At least once a day, a heart speaks like this, in this case about seizing love. Then I wait for another beautiful human to show up with a response.
A man who sees your "guts" or calls you a warrior is limited edition. Even if they're not always for you or for forever. Enjoy it.
This is what started me daydreaming.
Setting a bar for relationships is a rigorous and mutual process.
Firing blazing rays of hope to all the good women I know, and those I don't. They are out there.
In the meantime, it’s peony season.
I also write this in solidarity with women in chef's jackets and clogs. Setting a bar in professional kitchens is overdue.
I will forever be at your service (with discretion). I don’t trade in cheap gossip or resentments. My business is substance.
Soundtrack - 2021
If you've ever done a triathlon, you know people swim right over you, jockeying for position at the start of a race. It takes a violent few minutes to find space.
It's a good metaphor for my experience as a sous chef. The men around me were forging ahead, securing executive chef positions or making deals with investors to turn their dream into a reality.
And the whole time, I was treading water. All with the expectation, I was content to do that.
Young women still get settled into restaurant positions like sous chef or front of house manager (or co-author of a cookbook). But sidelining dreams at a time when a career should be accelerating is something to think about.
I've talked to more than a few young women who, like me, couldn't get beyond sous chef. And listened to friends who were forgotten at publicity events for a cookbook they poured all kinds of labour into.
The yardstick by which I measure industry leaders right now is how many women they have lifted up.
By that, I mean sent them off into something far better.
With so many restaurants looking for staff right now, I'd start by asking about their track record promoting women if I were applying.
And I'd want specifics.
Soundtrack - 2020
I bought these strawberries on Friday. The sign said Ontario. Here, at last, was the answer the kid in the back seat of the car was gunning for. We were finally the fuck there.
I could shrug off the cold grip of this hellish pandemic winter and run headlong into spring's emerald embrace.
At home, I ate one. They were sour. They may have been grown in the province, but it was most likely in a greenhouse.
So sugar stands in as a pinch hitter for the sun.
And they were shippers. Picked before reaching their zenith all for the sake of travel. The natural life cycle cut short and the berry's essential pleasure left in the field.
I could get drunk on the smell of strawberries in June. Bringing them home from the farmer's market is like running with a stack of porcelain teacups. The tiniest bump and a crimson stain spreads like blood through the paper bag.
I had glorious greenhouse strawberries in Quebec so long ago at Toque! (sigh)
But few human interventions equal the aromatic imprint that hot direct sun, straw to keep the damp at bay, and dark loamy earth has on a strawberry.
Maybe next time, I won't let impatience get the best of me.
Soundtrack - 1994
I’ve known Diana since 1991. Thirty years. Long enough to have ups and downs.
Annabelle, her daughter, is a beautiful free spirit.
Diana and I met in the crazy, creative, lean years just after she opened the first Balzac’s in Stratford.
All her interests were sold this year, and the charming cafés took the other road at the fork.
In 1999, along with six friends, we rented a big house in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon for March break. We bought wine in Gigondas, day hiked in the Parc National des Cévennes, climbed a hill up to the remains of the Marquis de Sades' residence in Lacoste, and had fun trying to guess the meaning of French road signs. We also missed our flight home.
When Diana was adopting as a single woman, I wrote her a character reference.
She and Annabelle drove me home from the hospital in January. The inscription in her get well card read:
"I'm happy you have a new knee 'cause you have a lot more ass kicking to do!"
In design, she has a certain je ne sais quoi I admire. Two years ago, she bought a home on Lakeshore Boulevard West and with her partner Tom turned it into a tranquil lakeside retreat. You might see it in films and commercials.
And there’s a new business—one with roots in the fun stuff of her childhood.
Today I made chocolate chip cookies with Annabelle while Diana and I talked. Ray LaMontagne sang in the background.
I can tell Diana the important stuff.
We both know something about this new place in life.
Beautiful things are happening with mature women.
Soundtrack - 2018
When I was 15, I came to Toronto from small-town Ontario with a group of friends in the back of a red van. It was Sunday, June 28, 1978. We were going to the Marijuana Mardi Gras at City Hall, hosted by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada.
You can tell from the photo how stoned I was taking the picture—the guy on the roof is forever headless.
One of those men looking into the camera liked me an awful lot.
We found out about the Mardi Gras from a poster nailed to a wooden hydro pole in our town. Those were the days.
Two years later, at 17, I chose my preferred substance and let the rest go.
I've been fighting for causes when it feels right since 1978. It only took another 40 years for legalization to happen. This year I've been grateful for that progress.
I used THC after my recent knee replacement. Some of the smartest women I know work in cannabis. Happily, they shared their knowledge. I talked about it with the surgeon and anesthesiologist, my mom, trusted friends in recovery, and close friends who love me. I asked if there was research being done in orthopaedics. There isn't.
My goals were to cut opiate use post-surgery—I walked half of the vile pills back to the pharmacy after two weeks—and reduce pain during the early days of physiotherapy. It worked. But that's just me.
We stopped at Sam's on Yonge Street before we left Toronto that day. Cute guys with long hair wearing Rush t-shirts and girls poured into Sergio Valente jeans, their lips varnished with cheap cherry flavoured lip gloss, spilt out the entrance onto the sidewalk.
I bought my first British Import LP—$17 in 1978. It made all the hours I spent sweating in an orange polyester uniform working the grill on a lunch counter worth it.
I still love this song.
Soundtrack - 1970
My father was scrappy. He was a fighter. So was Theo, his mother.
That’s him, the small blond kid in the middle, looking at his older brother Raymond hold up something out of a box my grandfather had mailed to them from some port on the Great Lakes (notice the giant lollipop in my beloved aunt Pat's hand).
My father told a good story. He liked this one:
Charlie went to a French Catholic elementary school in Welland. His sister Pat described it to me in a text yesterday as "more Catholic than the pope…the place was hell."
Between 9 and 13-years old, he found it hard to be on time. (I'd love to know just a bit of what he got up to.) The nuns would haul him down to the office, and he'd get the strap from their superior. My aunt said her name "sounded like cacciatore."
As a kind of experiment, he showed up a little early one day. The change in routine didn't go over well, and he got the strap to remember to not be late.
He played football in high school and went off to the Navy in Halifax after graduating. Imagine what kind of testosterone all that takes.
All that to say, I'm scrappy and a fighter too.
It came in handy as a lone woman cook in a kitchen—in a team of men. Like the time I asked a chef for help, and without missing a beat, he told me to 'bend over.' The men around him fleeing like cockroaches when the light switch flips.
Last week two men I've known for a long time stepped in to take me out of a fight. There's a 30-year age gap between them. The one with more time on the ground told me to save energy for my creative stuff, and the younger one told me point-blank to "take a vacation."
I heard them.
Don't worry. That doesn't mean I won't apply my intellect, wit, and words if the need arises.
I adore scrappy feminist me.
But I’m tired, and think I can let my guard down. See what progress I can make on discernment. Soon I hope to be keeping less of my own company.
"Just what you want to be
Soundtrack - 1967