Kitchen hands. Is there a meme?
The worst mine ever were, was when I worked garde manger at Rundles in Stratford, Ontario (entremetier too). Peeling cases of artichokes — two, three or more at a time — for Neil Baxter's braised artichokes with sourdough stuffing and garlic aioli.
There was a conveyer belt running 24/7 from Castroville, California. Into his kitchen.
I had nightmares featuring the Ocean Mist Farms' logo.
My hands were a fucking mess.
They looked like I was a three-pack-a-day smoker who earned a living shovelling coal into the engine of a steam train.
I went to a wedding and sat on them — everyone around me with gorgeous manicures.
Me, nursing a bad case of nail envy.
I've got them again.
Now, I can't imagine it any other way.
Have done a lot of chopping.
My apprenticeship in garde manger was too long.
I had tits and an ass.
It's where the girls went. In the late 80s and early 90s.
I had little agency.
Worshiped in the temple of male authority.
For longer than I'd care to admit.
That's changed. For the better.
But all that time in garde manger. Gave me superpowers.
I taught Larder at the Stratford Chefs School. Loved it — butchery, fish and shellfish prep, cheese, preserving, pâtés and terrines, hors d'oeuvres, complex and simple salads and cold sauces.
Traditionally, the work in that department has depth. It's complex.
There's less respect for the station in North America. We've turned it into a kind of kindergarten. A place to pass through quickly on the way to saucier. A fucking shame.
The first act of a meal comes out of that corner of the kitchen.
It better be captivating.
"Certain times in our lives come to take up more space than others."
Harry was soft.
He knew. About the dark stuff.
He's the one who taught me.
When a man drops his guard. Gets soft. It's delicious.
Of course, he worked on lake boats. I've heard stories.
A young drunken sailor came onboard mouthing off after a trip to town. Harry laid him flat. One-shot.
Below decks, there are transients. Chief engineer's the overseer.
My father was locked down. It happened long before I came along.
I think I know why.
He built the fortress. For maximum protection.
Used booze and food.
To shield his heart.
Commit a slow suicide.
A long fucking ride.
For his stone-cold sober daughter.
Chuck loved Harry too.
You know when you get asked the question, "What's your favourite meal?"
Here's one of mine:
Sitting at the foot of Harry's bed. St. Catherine's General Hospital.
My dad feeding him lunch.
They're talking. Friendly and loving.
My heart. Like a dandelion puffball.
The last time I saw Harry.
Visiting the townhouse in Fonthill after he passed.
His cane in the corner. By the front door.
Left without it.
Me. A million glassy shards.
The chef I worked for didn't want me to go to Harry's funeral.
Out in the back alley negotiating the terms. Of my absence.
Me finally growing a backbone. Pushing back.
His second concession: Drive three hours back from Welland after the service. Alone.
Family coming in from all over North America. People I love. Hadn't been with some of them in years.
I went. Came back the next day. Too fucking soon.
The restaurant owner said to me after:
"I didn't realize you were close to your grandfather."
Anyways, forgive me if I idealize Harry.
It's just I can't imagine my life without him.
There he is rocking the rose-coloured caftan.
All the men in my family wore them.
Moonlight so right
Softening upon the shore
All that was will be no more
It's a misty morning, misty morning, misty morning rain
All is gone, then here, then gone, then here, then gone again
Here and gone again
Here and gone again
Here and gone again
The place to start.
Taste a strawberry.
While quiet. Open to the senses.
Because nature changes. Each year is different.
And on the palate.
The fruit's sweetness and acidity.
Tell you how much sugar. And how much citrus.
The flavour of the fruit is first. Always.
I'm a democrat about jam.
You do you.
Putting ripe fruit in bottles is too much pleasure.
The learning's progressive.
Jam making (without pectin) is an apprenticeship.
I make mistakes. Still.
Sometimes the lessons are painful. And costly.
It’s the only way.
There are moments of mastery.
Every season has a gem.
One batch that shoots a rainbow through my heart.
Those are the bottles I give away first.
There is great joy in making jam.
When I share it. The feeling doubles.
Why do I know about so many types of potatoes and peppers and nothing about strawberry varietals?
My preference is obvious in the photo above. I'd love to be introduced to Ontario's best strawberry grower. Please.
A perennial favourite:
Strawberries, by Ed Behr.
"To be perfectly delicious—sweet with a hint of sharpness, tender, full of the essential strawberry perfume, which often veers in the direction of pineapple—strawberries must be completely ripe."
The best recipe for strawberry jam (without pectin) is from this 2010 blog post from Cathy Barrow. Cathy is the chef who introduced me to La Grande-Dame of Jam, Christine Ferber. Her book, Mes Confitures, is a touchstone in my kitchen.
In my DMs this week:
Listening to this while I stir the maslin pan.
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