That’s a fact of me.
I’m sure some people thought.
Because she’s broken.
The kind of woman who chooses to ignore her biology.
That’s a fact of me.
Still so many have found their way to me.
Wiggled into my heart.
I went to every midwife appointment.
Ghaithaa let me hear her tiny heart beating.
Through the stethoscope.
This is the first time we met. She'd been in the world five minutes.
Can you see the hearts shooting from my eyes?
Ran from my apartment the minute I got the call—hair a mess, no makeup.
Paced the hall with Val and the kids.
At the beautiful Toronto Birth Centre.
When I staged with Lydia Shire.
Her four-year-old son was with us in the kitchen.
We took great care.
Cooked his dinner—the lovely little prince.
One of the most beautiful things I learned from her.
Having a family and being a chef takes work. For both parents.
And it’s worth it.
Because children are everything.
I had a standing desk for fucking years.
Working at stainless steel counters in kitchens.
Listening to vigilantes talk about the dangers of sitting.
I think of my knees.
A lot of you have tattoos that tell your cooking stories.
These two scars are mine.
A cook's old knees.
I was 46 the first time I saw an orthopedic surgeon.
He put my x-rays up on the lightbox behind his desk.
The back of his leather office chair facing me.
Shaking his head.
Told me they both needed replacing.
But I was too young.
I waited seven years before I had my first knee done.
Expensive gel injection…Traumeel lotion…Epsom salt…electroacupuncture…cortisone shots.
Needles in the knee.
Let’s talk about the pain of ink.
I’m not going to bore you with the details.
But I’m always up for knee talk.
From 2009 to 2021, I lived with pain.
Twelve years. The last two were the worst.
Going up and down stairs was murder.
Being free of it has been a big relief. My spirit's lifted.
The only drawback.
The metal in my knees triggers the security sensors.
I have to go through a double check at the airport.
Good things take time.
It’s what I learned as an apprentice.
What I tell myself about writing.
And about ageing.
Strawberry jam needs three days.
Or a day more.
I want fruit before sweet.
Strawberries are summer’s first kiss.
Chanel Rouge Allure lips.
Ed Behr says,
“ripeness is fleeting.”
Calls the best berries,
“smaller, softer, more vulnerable.”
There’s so much going on with the fruit.
A recipe should only take you so far.
Some bottles are labelled.
A kindness returned.
For the beautiful people.
Who showed up with full arms and hearts.
When I was recovering in January.
I dreamed about it in technicolour.
The visions began at L'Escargot. Beside Gage Park. Hamilton.
Sent André Donnet a postcard from Le Royal Gray.
Dreams do come true, I wrote.
Because he always believed.
There are so many good men in the photo.
Assembled at my request.
Spent six weeks with them—April 30 to June 13.
Jacques Chibois Gault Millau chef of the year.
I made having their backs my business.
The man with the moustache behind me was chef de cuisine.
Full on class act.
The respect he showed me I will never forget.
Having a woman in the mix this long was an adventure.
He was up for it.
I had a tan and was foreign.
In short, gorgeous.
Catherine Deneuve, the master of ceremony at Festival de Cannes.
Her Rolls Royce parked out front of the hotel.
She had dinner in the restaurant opening night.
Chef Chibois in a stylish Bragard jacket—luxurious Egyptian cotton.
Coming back from her table. Flushed.
All of us hoping for a word.
I was in Europe on scholarship.
Three months. Six weeks near Padova and six on the Côte d'Azur.
On the train journey south.
A stranger lured me into a bit of night adventure in Nice.
For an hour I was scared. Then I realized I'd been had.
I rented a studio apartment facing the Mediterranean. I was so lucky.
The night before my first day, I called Jim in Stratford.
Relax, and enjoy yourself.
I didn't always take his advice.
But I knew it was solid. Made everything magic.
Gerard to my right. So funny.
Found out first thing I didn't know Roch Voisine. Shook his head at me for half a day.
Taught me white asparagus is the right size when it makes a young girl blush. The way he said it in French.
All of us laughing.
With many thanks for all your help.
The Stratford Chefs School was extraordinary. A magic impossible to replicate.
Neil Baxter's dream come true. He went to the airport to pick him up.
Paul Bertolli in the passenger seat for a whole two hours.
California sunshine in our midst.
We talked about writing—his recipe headnotes read like poetry.
My cookbook's first edition. The binding busted from use.
I've cooked every page.
If my house were burning, I would flee with it under my arm.
Stuffed with scraps of paper, pressed flowers, thank you notes.
Ink scribbles on chestnut honey ice cream.
Sea bass grilled over charcoal with shaved artichokes. A lash of canary yellow agrumato on the way to the table.
Dinner Friday March 10, 1995
Central Coast Chardonnay '92, Calera
Central Coast Pinot Noir '92, Calera
Almond Cake with Apricot Sauce
Gail Skoff's hand-coloured photographs.
Gnarled bare fruit tree. Grey limbs stretched out to worship a cerulean sky.
Golden apples scattered in the grass.
Rotting into the roots.
Me, the day of my father's memorial.
JE and I split in late October—heartbroken and amicable.
Six days later, my dad died suddenly (over a 20-year period).
Sitting in the living room in Grimsby—the imprint of his body fading from the carpet.
I went to bed with two thoughts in my head.
Atomic explosion in my chest.
I took the Globe and Mail crossword from the top of the pile on my dad's desk.
In process—letters in red ink filling the squares.
I love rollercoasters.
Rundles and the Old Prune restaurant people might remember our late-summer staff outings to Canada's Wonderland.
Those play days came in the nick of time—when we were walking home at night like zombies after 12-to-16-hour days and getting up in the morning feeling old when we were still in our twenties.
Our humour with the 5:30 customers who declared in a state of panic they had to get to the theatre on time was wearing thin. Like this was our first time at the rodeo.
Hard to believe we agreed to spend a day off together. I'm so glad we did. I think some of you were too.
Cold fried chicken, macaroni salad, date and lemon squares, and frosty beverages sitting on blankets in the shade of trees outside the gates.
I took my Syrian kids to Canada's Wonderland. Members of our sponsorship group paid the costs.
The two oldest, Batoul and Abdullatif, convinced me to go on the Leviathan. I threw all caution to the wind because I wanted them to have fun forever.
I sat between them as we plunged 180 degrees toward the ground—Formula One level G force.
I let go.
With kids who loved me on either side, I'd won life's lottery.
Rayan and Mohammed went on a ride too wild for me—four times.
Later we all went on a spinning top that went so high up we could see the tourists at Niagara Falls. We were all glad when that touched down to earth. Me and Abdullatif staggering around in the grass trying to regain equilibrium.
Going down the water slide in our own lane at the same time. Getting out and running back up the stairs to do it again.
Wet footprints on the pavement overlapping.
This happened to me twice. Both times while I was away staging in kitchens run by women.
The River Cafe asked me to stay too. Ruth and Rose WERE London in 2000. Returning to my Canadian obligations was murder.
In kitchens led by women, my talent was obvious.
Clear as day.
The first time I filed a proposal to stage with a woman was to go to Boston.
The executive chef I worked for told me, "the gender of a chef doesn't matter." He said it with an audience of male cooks looking on.
I longed to learn from a woman, look across a kitchen, and see a chef who looked like me running a successful restaurant.
It didn't matter.
I cried writing this.
I have more to say about Biba.
The learning was so damn fine. Words can't adequately describe Lydia's talent for flavour.
Her palate was ALL THAT.
She's Limited Edition. Pure Classic. A cook to make a whole damn country proud.
I associate her with the early days of my freedom.
In the five years I worked in the kitchen at Rundles, Jim Morris, the owner, had a Saturday morning ritual I admired as a young cook.
This story involves the dumpster.
Before I go further, elegant is a word I'd use to describe Jim.
Rundles had a downtown location in Stratford and shared a back alleyway with local businesses and condo dwellers. Jim was conscious of his neighbours and meticulous about caring for his property.
Saturday mornings in the summer, the garbage truck would make one of its bi-weekly visits. Before we got busy filling it up again, Jim, dressed in stylish grubby clothes, filled a 16L pail with hot soapy water and bleach. Then, he grabbed a designated long-handled brush.
He climbed into the dumpster to scrub away the putrid puddle of liquid decay on the bottom. A cloud of flies rose, buzzing with outrage at the invasion.
Every. Saturday. Morning.
I used to fantasise about making an educational video called, 'So you want to own a restaurant.' You can guess the opening scene.
I never heard him complain once. It sends a powerful message to young employees when the owner assumes responsibility for the worst job in the restaurant.
Thinking of all my friends in restaurants across the country at all stages of throwing the doors open.
Imagining solid gold talent bussing tables, training new employees to hustle, spraying dirty dishes down, and running the numbers on a plumbing repair.
I'm with you in spirit.
And I speak for many when I say.
We missed you like crazy and can't wait until our knees are under your tables.
That's Linda and me, one of my high school besties. The look in her eyes makes me smile. We got up to some trouble. The photo was taken in 1978/79. I wish I knew who was behind the camera. I'm betting it was a boy I liked.
It's around the time in my life when I took up the challenge to become the exact opposite of what my father wanted. I do not regret choosing that option.
I was a bit wild. There were a few scary times.
Like when we crossed the Menesetung Bridge over the Maitland River. (Click the link for height context.)
Now it's part of a trail. Then it wasn't. There were no guard rails because adults didn't consider teenage high jinks.
We were up there in the middle of the night. Beer and dope were involved.
Did I mention I have a fear of heights? Or that the track was still in use?
Sane, well-behaved young people are a marvel. I've known a few. If you have one, treat them like a treasure.
The first restaurant I worked in was Pizza Train. The wallpaper behind us is a clue. (The recurring motif—tracks and trains—is pure coincidence.)
I love how we look in our "fry" person uniforms.
We balanced fun with responsibility. The owners left us alone.
One night, at a time when safety features on industrial mixers were optional, Linda put her arm into the bowl while it was moving to check the dough. I heard a scream and rushed into the room where she was working.
That's when my memory goes blank. What happened between seeing Linda after the accident to the point where she is being prepped for surgery is jet black.
I don't know who got help or if anyone else was there. I don't remember an ambulance.
She healed and was my friend for some time—we went on to be roommates.
I bought an Aerosmith album with one of my first Pizza Train paycheques.