The way my dad holds me. The smile on his face.
My family would have been different.
If my grandfather Harry had been present.
He was a good provider. And absent. In the extreme.
My father followed his lead.
Those were the times. That's how it was.
Work. Before home.
His loss. Mine too.
I see cooks being good fathers.
Jamie Harling and Kyumin Hahn each had babies in 2021. Months apart.
I knew them both long ago. Solid gold students.
Juli born in July. June in December.
There's been a lot of their adorableness in my Stories.
Seeing them is a balm. Like beeswax. The scent of a meadow. The yellow ruffle on a blanket flower.
Good for my heart.
I know a man. Sparkling talent. Executive chef.
He left the business. Not too long ago.
Because having a family was a constant source of conflict. For his employer. The owners of celebrated Canadian restaurants. You've read about them in newspapers and magazines.
Local cuisine. Grass-fed beef. Just harvested vegetables. From the garden out back.
Attention to detail. Real care.
Except for the man. In the white jacket.
Who must show up: On demand. No outside obligations. For all the overtime. Answering day off work calls.
Most women leave restaurant kitchens just before the top. To have babies. Peak fertility.
Sous chef is a double-door exit. We hold it open. Think nothing of the loss.
Then we prevent them from returning to kitchen positions they left for maternity leave.
They have a right. It's the law.
Sparkling crystal glasses. Natural wine. Flickering candles. Expensive art.
Attention to detail. Real care.
Except for the woman. In the white jacket.
Who must show up: Working a junior station. With years of experience. Because one year away. To have a baby. Erased all her skills.
We create ideal working conditions. For mostly single men.
Look around your kitchens. I see it.
In women-owned restaurants too.
Our culture would benefit.
If we dropped the idea. That colleagues and employees are "family."
They. Are. Not.
They're cooks. Wanting sustainable work. Real careers.
Including time for children. And partners.
Outside the kitchen. Beyond the restaurant.
It's time to trade in the pirate ship. Go for the minivan.
Witchita Lineman. If you don't like it. We can't be friends.
I can't get enough of the new Florence + The Machine. Also Bill Nighy.
You know the question famous chefs get asked? What's the best meal of your life?
Here's one at the top of my list.
First, a slight detour.
My grandmother Theo was tight with money. In a pathological sense.
She once gave my stepsister and me a jewellery set for Christmas — bought at Zellers. I got the earrings, and my stepsister got the necklace.
Another year, I got my great-grandmother's old woollen blanket. Theo wrapped it. Put a fucking bow on it.
She came to a family occasion with a box of chocolates — some missing from the bottom layer.
The stories are amusing to tell. We can laugh now.
But as a kid, it felt confusing. Is this love?
Anyway, back to the meal.
I'm 17 years old.
Theo is travelling. In some distant land. The bookkeeper is out of office.
It's just my grandfather Harry at home in Welland. He invites us for lunch, baiting us with the promise of a prime rib roast. Truth is, we all like being with him. What's on the table is a bonus.
It makes me smile thinking about him standing at the counter. His small paunch pressed against the cool glass case. A glint in his eye as he places the order. Shooting the breeze with the butcher. No other cut of meat says, 'I'm flush.' Harry knew how to lay down cash.
We're five at lunch. Besides my grandfather, there are my uncles David and Peter, my dad, and me.
Here's what I remember.
The perfectly rare beef. David cooked it — the first chef in the family.
Each of us with a bone and a thick slice on our plate. A little room for horseradish. Which quickly turns pink.
The men talking and laughing.
The taste of blood. Greasy lips. The thought of Theo's disapproval.
Big. Fat. Happiness.
We left enough for Harry to make a sandwich the next day.
I tear up thinking about it. Only two of us left from that day.
The thing about best meals.
It's as much about who you were with as what you ate.
If your knees are under the same dinner table as your biological or chosen family today, enjoy.
I've seen sex addiction up close in many of its gross manifestations.
A classic pairing. With cocaine. And alcohol.
It's devastating. It levels. With collateral damage.
I heard this from a cook who was present.
A chef in one of Toronto's finest restaurants kicked the pastry chefs out of their area during dessert service on a busy weekend night to fuck a customer.
Sense of urgency.
Maybe this was hot for one or two people.
I bet the air was feral. Wonder if the female chefs in the kitchen felt nervous. I've known that.
Imagine the pastry chefs returning to the space after — the smell of sex hanging in the air.
The cooks exchanging glances when the executive chef comes back on line. Straightening his apron.
The unspoken messages. Being transmitted. By the "leader."
The problem with turning a restaurant into your nightclub is people work there. They don't get a say.
Celebrity chef culture complicates it.
Blind public adoration and ego-stroking. Leads the weak astray.
Imagine working for a beloved male chef.
Watching a trail of young women. At every event. Some unaware of the power dynamic.
Sex addiction is bleak up close. There's the palpable fear of having to grow up and grow old. The boyish good looks receding.
Imagine the emptiness of waking. Still lonely.
The women who see the wound. The hatred for their kind.
Infidelity in restaurants. The serial adulterer. The sex addict family man.
You can't imagine how many restaurants come to mind.
One of the problems with working all the time is staff turn up in a bed. Kept nearby.
Because chefs and owners never get out. Like humans.
The world beyond the kitchen door — where they're not the big shot. The great unknown.
Those relationships seldom work out. Someone else comes along.
The staff talking in whispers. Calling it out is complicated when it's the boss.
Blurred boundaries become part of a restaurant's DNA.
Addicts and codependents gravitate to your establishment. Like attracts like.
Good humans take a pass. They get out.
A young man once told me he'd exchange sex for a passing grade.
All those years, I worked to grow my French knowledge. To work at the top.
My hard-earned credentials. Between us. Inconsequential.
There for the taking.
Women practice the same desperate grasping. I've listened to them brag about the number of conquests.
I can't label anyone an addict. But compulsive behaviour is a hallmark.
We've talked a lot about substance abuse in restaurants. While stepping over an elephant.
Sex addiction doesn't care about who you get it on with, how many cookbooks you've sold, the lists you top, what New York journalist you text with, who your publicist is.
That's why you want a mix of humans in your restaurants. Lots of eyes to spot dangers. To recognize a predator who made it past an interview. Or who owns the business.
You want a professional environment with cooks who know about consent and labour laws.
So no one acts out sexual impulses with impunity. Behaves like everything around is their possession.
I draw conclusions when I see an all-male kitchen crew. The same goes for restaurant groups with a token woman.
I can see your commitment to a healthy culture.
Diversity is hard. Often because of your reputation.
I've been around.
Dear Lila, Esther, Jonathan, Heather, Karen, Rabia, Pim, Karen, Nictoria, Sonja, Lindsey, Ron:
These are my new glasses. The ones you bought me.
They mean a great deal to me.
I want to tell you about that.
I went on social assistance in November 2021.
The insecurity was awful. I felt so scared.
Acceptance was hard.
I'm not seeking pity. I want to be seen by anyone who is struggling.
Because I'm not alone.
There were benefits. Access to health stuff.
I don't know when I stopped seeing out of my old glasses.
It had been a while.
I received a voucher to get new glasses.
The thought of an eye exam lifted my spirit. I went on a Friday.
My blue eyes welled up when the optometrist dropped the correct lens down.
It was like looking through clean windows.
I went to the rack and found frames I loved.
I had them for about three weeks when I went for a long walk. On a Monday night.
And lost them.
I was so distraught. I cried so hard.
Something inside me broke.
It felt like good had been given to me. And then taken away.
You saw my distress on Twitter.
Within hours I had double the voucher funds.
I tried to reorder the same glasses.
But the discount rack is 'the lasts.' There was a similar pair, but the frame was smaller and didn't look right.
I left the store. Managing my disappointment.
I was going to leave it for a few days.
On the way home from the grocery store, I stopped at an optometrist.
I showed the woman a photo of me in the glasses. She came back with these frames. First pair.
They cost more.
I put them on. Power. Restored.
You gave me that.
I'm working to cross the bridge back to security. Like countless others.
Someday I hope to pay it forward.
This is to say thank you.
For the glasses.
For seeing my distress.
For holding me in your thoughts.
For sending care.
For being generous and kind.
For softening my heart.
Everyone is afraid of losing
Even the ones that always win
Hey sleepwalker, when the mountain comes back to life
It doesn't come from without
It comes from within
The way Nathan is looking at me in that photo.
He is sweet. Has an edge too.
Do you know the number of young men who stood in front of me acting like I knew nothing? With all my years of extraordinary training.
So many young men. It's disturbing.
They'd call me 'miss' instead of chef. Never called my male colleagues 'mister.'
At some point, I began wondering about their home life. About their dads in particular.
Contempt for women is generational.
I hope it's not happening to women in your restaurant kitchens.
Friday, September 29, 2007.
Me and Nathan at dinner in a Bouchon, Le Jura. Woman chef-owner.
I wanted my last meal in the city to have a feminine touch. A grand tradition in Lyon.
We sat at a banquette. Photos below.
There was a big plate of sautéed chanterelles with garlic and parsley to share. What else do you want to eat in September in France?
I had magret with roasted figs. Apparently, I gave Nathan shit for ordering a steak. A nicely cooked piece of beef is fine, but steak seemed a very American choice with a menu that had sweetbreads and lovely French dishes.
Who was I to dictate his pleasure? Fuck, I can be arrogant.
There was a round of St. Marcellin wrapped in a chestnut leaf, like a gift from Mother Nature. Crimson praline Torte Lyonnaise to finish.
Nathan remembers the chef, Brigitte, coming out at the end of dinner service and sitting at a table reading the newspaper. Daily rituals in a small restaurant. Moments of privacy.
The meal capped two weeks in the city, at the Institut Paul Bocuse.
It's a nice memory. We still talk about it.
The day did not start out a delight.
Here's a teaser:
The night before, some students had been out tearing up the city. Normal.
One of them we'll call the showman.
They found themselves at an after-hours club. The showman gave a half-naked improvisational performance. A local Lyonnaise told Nathan he was a nice guy, but bodily harm would follow if he didn't take his friend away quickly. The local knew karate. Hoo boy.
Last night in Europe. Quintessential.
The next morning those students missed something important.
Nathan was the only one who came to my room, looked me in the eye, admitted to being an asshole, and apologized.
The anger vanished. I can move on with haste under those conditions. Saying sorry takes backbone.
Real men do it.
Just click on this. Nathan was a cute kid.
He has a friendly temperament—calm and level-headed. He's liked in the business. Respected by people he leads.
He's got good things going on. A new business. Good partners. A lovely woman.
He's hiring in a new way. It's interesting. Gives me hope.
I like his cooking. He likes mine too.
I sometimes lend him my precious French cookbooks. A big deal. I have a library card sign-out system.
His Instagram feed fills up with images of Troisgros recipes. My heart fills up too.
The best way to educate the young. Show them the masters.
And not just the fucking men.
Some students came to teach me.
These bands. Similar DNA.
The bodies of work. Fuck.
The first song was lined up. But today, it seemed right. To weave the music together.
Our hearts are broken.
Debbie's angelic alter ego. My parents liked her.
Virgin Mary. The irony.
Yeah, catholic girl.
There are no photos of me in Sergio Valente 'pour on a pair' jeans, a t-shirt, shag hair, and liquid lip gloss. In a haze of Chantilly perfume. The 80s.
That's me on Tuesday, October 26, 1982.
At the best rock and roll concert of my life. Could be the drugs talking. Let's just say everything came together real nice.
The Diver Down tour. Second time I'd seen Van Halen. Running with the Devil tour in 1979 was the first. Tell me you can't hear the opening chords of that song right now.
Eddie Van Halen set our world on fire. His guitar riffs—the soundtrack of Lake Huron summers.
David Lee Roth. Pure showman.
I'd look at the Creem magazine posters of him on my bedroom wall as a teenager, and things would get hot between us. "Reach down between my legs and ease the seat back."
Running the gauntlet of Toronto cops at the entrance to Maple Leaf Gardens. The crush. Cute guys in denim jackets with long hair pressed against me.
The good stuff was already in me. A flask or two made it through. Thick pot smoke mocking security. A garnish for my altered state.
By the end of the setlist, I was flying.
Panama was on the next album. 1984. A classic rock and roll anthem.
The shots of packed concert halls in the video. Imagine me out there. Holding my Bic lighter high.
Fuck, I love her. So much fun.
She's still around.
We didn't take selfies. Certainly not in the bathroom. That's where we talked about our problems. Scratched our initials with a boys in a heart on a stall wall. Bummed cigarettes and tampons.
Most of my photos from that time are of the people with me. That's what was important.
I'm not being judgy. I love seeing your beautiful faces. In studio lighting.
But me as the subject of interest. Not the point.
And it's a value to remember.
No one took cameras to concerts.
It was all down to memory. While under the influence.
The second video is a fucking gem.
Thank you, Eddie, Alex, Michael, and David Lee. 🤘🎸🔥
"It's good to know who hates you, and it is good to be hated by the right people."
Being in food media is sometimes like being in high school.
There are cliques. Those with power tear it up with their own kind. Chef's Table-style.
Hierarchy's a choice.
I don't know what you do for therapy. I've had to get creative. Keep costs down.
The image is a title slide from a video. Made to scratch an itch. For personal entertainment purposes.
The cast: a fancy writer and a small group of white fourth-wave feminists on both sides of the border.
My recovery from alcoholism was fodder. I got used. Misled.
The experience messed with my mental health. I stopped putting words together.
The best lessons work that way. Kick the stuffing right out of you first.
For a time, I bought the fourth-wave feminists' theory on me.
I'd done nothing to change anything.
My career was a vast wasteland. Nothing to see here.
Three decades of languishing with zero talent.
Their snide label for me: enabler.
Like I'd invented chef culture. Personally onboarded all the bros in every restaurant.
A second wave feminist that left them with the mess to single-handedly clean up. How fucking exasperating.
Women blame and shame other women in sly ways.
Then we tug on Angela Davis t-shirts and go for drinks.
One of the fourth wavers called me "shrill." That's the word before bitch.
She got it wrong.
I'm a cunt. From way back.
The title of my memoir.
Pointy women words hurled at me. Like I hadn't heard them before. With thirty-plus years in hospitality.
The year I began gutting my house. To the frame.
The imperative—a new freedom and a new happiness.
Lessons in Journalism is creative. Honours my talents. It's an artful demonstration of self-respect.
There's a record of my responsibilities.
No exaggeration. I am not the fall girl.
Self-reckoning is a stop on the way to self-esteem.
There's humility in it. Grace too.
Someone watched over me while I made it.
Held up a light. So I could see.
What I learned:
It's never too late to go back and collect my power.
When the video was done, I set to work. Righting the wrong.
Calling my dignity back.
There was justice.
Working in kitchens prepared me.
For the ugly ways women behave:
Punch sideways—lateral aggression
Grasp—like there's not enough
Use people to do dirty work
Act like a prima donna
Step on you with Jimmy Choo shoes
Take things without permission
Pass harsh judgement
Act on professional envy
Form exclusive mean-girl clubs
Don't promote/hire women—in their kitchens
Have stories killed
Impose impossible standards
Bury beautiful work
I've done them.
So have you. I know. First-hand.
All distractions. Time wasters.
If I participate a dark cloak falls over my precious brightness.
The harsh reality. It all comes back. Messes with my potential.
Keeps me small. Which in Canada is something.
Protecting my creative life is everything.
I've got boundaries.
I don't know my future after this weekend
And I don't want to
My red toolbox.
Bought in the late 80s. At Canadian Tire.
Not a lot of women in that aisle.
Needing it felt exhilarating.
I wanted everyone to see me. Walking to the restaurant with it as a young apprentice.
Knives and kitchen stuff clattering. Ready to work.
It sat under my station at Rundles. Where I worked to the edge of insanity, 1991 to 1995. Like in a Michelin Two-Star kitchen. Which it was.
The pride in being a skilled tradeswoman. May all your beautiful daughters know joy at work.
It sits in the top of my closet now. I still keep things in it.
My uncle David's roast beef slicer—baron of beef blade. First chef in the family.
Larding needles. One ounce sauce ladle. Die for fine grinding. Cured fish/ham slicer.
An adorable mini multi-bit screwdriver. Very girly. Like I could fix a busted compressor with it.
I remember the good stuff that went missing too. Grew legs. Walked away.
A set of melon ballers for different size pearls—bought in France.
My first fish slice, when they were impossible to get in Canada. I associate that theft with the all-male crew around one Canadian celebrity chef. Band of fucking thieves.
The toolbox is unadorned. Bears no physical record of my travels. I'm not big on bumper stickers.
I'd like a car that colour. A '67 Camaro. A guy I liked in Goderich drove one. Nice back seat.
If I were buried like an Egyptian Queen, they'd find the toolbox in my sarcophagus. Something practical for the road to the afterlife.
It stirs up all the feelings. Memories of a younger me.
Full of verve.
A knife roll came after. Not the same.
Like talking to a hipster right after the plumber.
I haven't got much time to waste, it's time to make my way
I'm not afraid of what I'll face, but I'm afraid to stay
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.