The name we gave to the man with his back to the camera.
The high priest of garde manger. The rigour of his work and the detail in his presentations were like nothing I'd seen before.
He was also a misanthrope. I did not take his disdain personally. The half dozen young French male commis working furiously in his station received the same treatment.
One day a week, he made terrines. The preparations began in the morning. Creamy white lobes of fatty foie d'oie—the size of capon breasts—bobbed in a stainless-steel sink of milk. Dégorgé.
During afternoon break, he did the assembly. The kitchen was quiet, and there were no prying eyes: just him and the craft.
After a few weeks in the kitchen, I stayed behind to watch him. I don't know if he was that happy with the arrangement. But I had a hunger to learn everything. I also felt that passing on his mastery would have been a great offence.
It was clear he did not want my help. I stood on the sidelines, drawing pictures and scribbling notes. For a couple of hours, there was silence between us.
The smile on my face was for the man behind the camera—Bjorn from Oslo. (The photo was taken in the calm before service.) For six weeks in 1993, we were a team. Two foreign stagiaires flung together in a kitchen in Cannes, France.
We needed each other for different reasons.
Bjorn landed in the kitchen two days ahead of me. He didn't speak a word of French and had strolled in wearing a chef's jacket with his name embroidered on it. The story of his first day was hair raising. He came to understand that only one chef in the kitchen was known by name. On break, Bjorn scrambled to buy another jacket to cloak him in anonymity.
My arrival in the kitchen was a bit of magic for him. I'm not bilingual, but I had enough French to know what was going down.
He helped me too. In Norway, women worked in kitchens. Having a female peer was no big deal. He set an example.
Bjorn got in the service elevator with Stress Man on a busy day during the film festival and pushed a button for the wrong floor—just his presence would make you do stupid nervous things. The yelling started before the door closed, and about three minutes later, the elevator door opened again, and Bjorn was spat out on a stream of French expletives. We lost it—howled with laughter.
During one afternoon break, Bjorn and I returned to the kitchen on the sly. Two bandits in a low-stakes heist. We both wanted something that hung on the wall of the saucier station—a handwritten list of the master recipes. Both of us were sweating the thought of getting caught.
I was the scout, put on watch. What would I have done if one of the cooks had come into the kitchen? It seemed to take forever to carefully peel the object of our desire off the wall, remove it from its plastic protective sleeve, photocopy it in the hall, and put it all back in a way that passed notice.
All these years later, I'm betting there were cameras in the kitchen.
We were committed to working hard for the team.
One night during the film festival Jacques Chibois rounded the corner in the kitchen at about 1:00 a.m., where we were finishing the prep for a function the next day. He was stunned to find me there. Drove me home in his older classic Mercedes Benz—the front end was so long and the seats so low I could hardly see the hood ornament or the road in front of us. It was the kind of car I could imagine Escoffier driving.
After the festival, we were invited to a staff barbecue. The chef de cuisine called me at my small studio apartment on a day off. The show of respect and appreciation—my heart was like golden beeswax.
But I wasn't turning up to a Cannes beach party wearing only a bikini bottom. Going topless alone or with friends was not a problem. Baring my breasts to the men in the kitchen. No fucking way.
The Côte d'Azur saltwater and sun, the charcoal-grilled burgers, meeting their wives and children—all the small details of that afternoon were perfect.
The thrill of being accepted.
Bjorn left two days before me. I watched his send-off from the sidelines. They emptied a bag of flour, a bag of paprika and dry mustard over him and then threw him in a tilt skillet full of water. I can't imagine the walk back to his apartment or how he got the pasty mess out of his hair and clothes.
A pack of young men gleefully participated in this strange and animalistic hazing. All that was missing was a fire and spears.
I missed Bjorn. Terribly.
On the last night, I had dinner in the restaurant—the long tasting menu with stunning wine pairings. I sat next to a couple from San Francisco. We made good company (my currency was behind-the-scenes knowledge).
My departure was quiet. There was no ritual for sending a woman off.
I made that dream happen—staging in a Michelin Two-Star kitchen for a man Gault-Millau had christened France's chef of the year.
Ambition, chutzpah, and a whole lot of talent—I had it.
Do you know how many women around me were doing that? Very few.
Young, beautiful, brave, free-spirited me.
James D. G. Dunn and John William Rogerson feel that the Bible portrays Delilah as "a doubly dangerous woman given her apparent independence," noting that she is not "identified by a male relationship - the wife, daughter or sister of anyone" but simply "appears in her own right." Wikipedia
"In her own right."
I've been adrift.
Unsure of what's ahead. GPS malfunctioning.
Fifty-eight. Not my first time at this juncture.
Been here enough to know beautiful things are on the other side.
And even in the unsettling here and now.
I have a new assignment for the months ahead:
The joy of living.
The timing's serendipitous. Delivered to me from a benevolent universe.
Sitting on the sagging dock, on the right, between Yvonne and Angie.
Strawberry blond hair in the sunlight.
Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island.
A few days into Katimavik. (Look it up.) Nine months that changed me.
In the worn cardboard box of my memory:
The Cowichan welcome.
Bonding while building bunk beds from scratch to sleep in.
The quiet and shelter of the big pines.
A safety film called Chain Saw Savvy. (I can't unwatch that.)
Phil bringing warm milk from the cows in the morning. The terrible night sounds of dogs in with the sheep.
Wild Tofino Beach—giant driftwood, mounds of seaweed, jacket-slapping wind,
thundering waves, and the moody slate grey sky.
Wrapping soft dough disks around pierogi filling for Ukrainian Christmas.
Bill Reid's The Raven and the First Men at UBC.
Buying a used bookstore copy of Leonard Cohen's The Spice Box of Earth.
Learning to ride a horse at Bromont Equestrian Centre.
Hayward's solid-gold sense of humour. The care package from home—jarred moose meat.
For this young woman, it was a character-shaping period of public service. Priceless life lessons.
Living and working in a community. Serving others.
So many beautiful people in that photo. More on the travels across the country.
The thing that turned up at seventeen, when I didn't know what was next.
I still have a heart full of gratitude for the experience.
Singing this chorus at the top of our lungs around a fire.
The echo off the lake. Sparks whorling up to meet the darkness.
I don't have much. But I'm making much of what I have.
Thirty plus years of turning up at the stove—finding happiness in practice—has taught me a lot.
This above all else.
Build a solid foundation. Make it taste good.
Look at that pot. That's my basic recipe.
There are a few more things:
Discard the soaking liquid. Give the beans a cold, fresh rinse.
Bring them to a simmer without flavourings. Scoop the clouds of foam from the surface—more than once.
Then add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and parsley. Always.
Open your cupboards and imagine what else—chillies, tomatoes, marjoram, summer savory, chipotles in adobo, curry leaves, and lemon slices.
Cook gently to tender. Don't let the shells split or the guts pop out.
Turn off the heat and add salt until the flavour makes you smile a little.
Let them steep in the pot until cool.
Discard the flavourings.
Ladle the beans into containers. Freeze.
I gave some to Jessica last weekend. A few days later, she sent me this text:
"Those beans were soooo good."
Share what you have. It lifts the spirit.
Make Melissa Clark's Indian butter chickpeas. Five stars and over 2,000 reviews—it's saucy and good. I add chillies for heat and lime juice as a bright finish. It feeds many, or there'll be some for the freezer.
Let me teach you how to make the River Cafe's, chickpeas and cavolo nero. On a platter, finished with extra virgin olive oil, it's nice with roast chicken, fatty grilled pork chops, or a well-made green salad.
The only time I cook chickpeas to near collapse is for hummus. Baking soda speeds the process—but too much, and you'll taste it. Resist the impulse to hurry to the finish and take the time to remove the skins—the silky finish is worth it. Michael Solomonov's Hummus Tehina is the gold standard. Make it beautiful to bring to the table.
The sky's grey flannel. Bursts of cerulean blue.
Half-hearted rain. Sidewalk saturated in patches.
People in shorts and t-shirts and jackets and sweaters.
The foyer to fall.
Put this song on repeat. Not ready to let go.
"Just bees and things and flowers."
“Melt a small knob of butter in a small pan and add a scrap of garlic. Over a thread of heat, allow it to flavour the butter for a minute or two and then remove it.”
Some might want a more explicit expression of temperature. But a "thread of heat" is an evocative choice. Simon Hopkinson could have plunked in the practical term, low. But he didn't, and I admire that. This isn't a technical manual. It's about the sensual pleasure of cooking.
Every time I open it, I fall hard for things I've yet to cook—cold ham soufflé, roast duck with cider, cream and apples, and sea trout in champagne sauce.
And I rush back to make simple cream of vegetable soup—carrots, watercress, zucchini, button mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes—cooked to a vegetal concentrate. With a tangy cream finish—a nod to its Normandy roots. The essential chore of cranking it through a food mill. The country substance of it in warm shallow bowls. A restorative for the body and spirit.
Or pot-roast chicken with potatoes, bacon, garlic and thyme. The potatoes are near translucent from sopping up fat and meat juices—a nudge with a fork, and they're rubble.
And Tomato curry—creamed coconut, curry leaves, cardamom, chillies, ginger, garlic—a sublime late summer dinner that takes a little more than half an hour from start to finish.
Hopkinson got the idea for the cookbook over a long boozy Saturday lunch with friends. Camaraderie and the pleasures of the table are threads holding it together. In form, it's serene, not busy.
Many of the headnotes are long—what's not to like about a good cook who wants to talk. Pull up a chair. But a favourite of mine, for cold poached pork belly, is brief. "Please be in the mood and make the time to cook this recipe. It is absolutely delicious and needs love and care lavished upon it."
There are chapters for each week of the year—with an opening essay and several recipes on a theme. It's culled from his weekly column for the Independent.
In "I Know What I Like," Hopkinson writes about returning to familiar restaurants in Paris. "Too much of a dull creature of habit, that's me."
Jason Lowe's images rise to meet the words. Like the veal scallopine on the cover—pounded thin on the bone, heavily seasoned, and cooked in a cast-iron pan until golden. Frothy brown butter and a scattering of pungent sage leaves to finish. It's from the chapter "The One and Only" that begins with a meandering essay on the gastronomic charms of Milan.
It's also a signal that sometimes what's best is simple.
We're in the season of new cookbooks. Like tomatoes, green beans, and prune plums, there's a glut on the market in mid-September. The pace is frantic with media tours and holiday listicles. I sometimes wonder how a cook with a book keeps up. The whole thing feels a little like hawkers at a fall country fair.
I've also grown cynical about cooks producing books on an industrial scale. I'm sure they buoy the bottom line of many in the business, but there are a few who need to take a long sabbatical.
So here I am, when everything is new, recommending a book that's out of print. I, too, am a creature of habit.
My 2021 notebooks.
I don't know at this point if there's anything beyond trend-centred food media in Canada. I hear complaints about the sorry state of the business on the regular.
What interests me is who's talking. I wonder when the last time they shared a story beyond a favourable review or feature on their establishment or one of their friends. How much do they read? Can they name six current food writers?
I went on a FAM trip three years ago—whirlwind urban familiarization trips for media. Everything is free—travel, the welcome goodies, hotel rooms, and dinners in fine restaurants.
They're complicated. Some media outlets won't take stories from sponsored trips for obvious reasons. It's hard to be objective. Several people on the trip were contributors to a national restaurant list/guide. Let that sink in.
I had one story published out of the trip, but it was pre-arranged and not part of the tourism board's focus.
I wrote two pitches and tried to sell them. Several editors told me one story was solid, but they had to pass. I came close to selling the other one to an art magazine (it has a fabulous art-food connection).
The stories I want to write are harder to sell. It's not in me to produce or place a "top five" trend piece.
I'm sure the tourism board wrote my participation off as a loss. I kept the last email I received from a male organizer and filed it under "lessons in food writing."
Who plays a part in gutting food culture? Public relation's teams working for restaurants and chefs, tourism board sponsored trips, corporate media sponsorship, and influencers. Also, those who take favours—including me. Anyone steering the narrative and failing to acknowledge a beneficial exchange.
Those events helped me draw critical professional boundaries.
The next time I face a complaint, I will ask about the person's food media diet, including their subscription list. What are they paying for of substance?
Seu Jorge. What is not to like?
Old Prune friends might remember ‘Lunch in the Country.’
An Elizabeth David recipe. Her genius was writing them loose enough so we could make it our own. The pure confidence she had in us.
Slices of rosy cold prime rib, shaved radish and cucumber, new potatoes sploshed hot into an oil and bay leaf bath and left to cool for an afternoon, haricot vert, boiled eggs with sunshine soft yolks. A sauce boat of French vinaigrette—shallots, tarragon, and chervil.
Add a loaf of sourdough and local butter, a beautiful September day, a table outside, good beverages for everyone, and friends you love.
A platter of this is what you want to bring them. To be adored.
Appetizers and sweets.
My assignment. For too long early on.
Garde manger and pastry. The ceiling for women in a lot of French kitchens. Made it through the door. That’s what counts. So, they thought. Also, they knew the limits of my talents before I arrived. C’est vrai.
Nursed a healthy resentment about that. For too fucking long.
Besides, you can bet I busted out. Advocate or perish. I worked every station at Rundles. Do cooks do that anymore? In one fabulous restaurant?
But all that time in garde manger gave me a superpower.
I am a bonafide salad queen.
On Wasan Island this summer, I made a salad to serve with Alyssa’s Guyanese dhal. She Can Cook. I needed to keep up.
An interesting bed of greens, coriander, julienne of carrots, fennel, apples, celery, fine shreds of fresh ginger, bits of fresh chillies, a turmeric-lime dressing. The two things together—the dhal and the salad.
I have no shame in saying I know when I do it well. Alyssa has the same kind of esteem in the kitchen.
There’s so much crap salad in the world. I wouldn't wish grocery store mesclun on my worst enemy.
And I’m okay if that’s what you love.
But there’s a wholesale dumbing down of salads. People don’t know they can be complex. That it’s not a carrier for dressing.
It’s the season of curly endive, escarole, cavolo nero, and radicchio. Leaves with character. I make my own mixes and like it with at least three things. The foundation is everything.
I scan the markets for interesting companions—shaved parsley root, basil microgreens, yellow celery leaves, torn bits of mint, and flecks of marjoram.
A deft hand with vinaigrette, tossing it at the right moment. That’s magic.
A few days ago, I made a fabulous salad from the Bavel cookbook, Tomato & Plum with Sumac Vinaigrette. Worth the cover price. I admire the way Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis, and Lesley Suter think about food.
There’s been a chorus of appreciation through the years for my skills in the cold kitchen. Of all the classes I taught, Larder at Stratford was my favourite. I believe I was solid gold, like the man I replaced, Chris Woolf. Damn, he can cook too.
I poured myself into it. The long articles about agriculture from Edward Behr. Preserving together. And yes, there was a class on salads and vinaigrettes.
I sometimes wonder if I should teach that online?
If you ever wonder, why the music?
I was the girl who sometimes stood by the stereo and looked through albums at parties.
Good music was part of my home from first memory. My father and mother had shared and individual tastes.
“Nobody loved us. Not really. How could they, after all. As chefs we were proudly dysfunctional. We were misfits. We knew we were misfits, we sensed the empty parts of our souls, the missing parts of our personalities, and this was what had brought us to our profession, had made us what we are.”
Drew this sketch.
A self-portrait. We were eager to adopt.
Believing it set us free. Sort of.
It was also a prison.
Because those "empty parts of our souls" needed filling.
The camera kept rolling.
Right to the end.
That's the heartbreak in Roadrunner. For me.
The film's a banquet of grief. A cautionary tale.
About a misfit. And an addict.
If there's a difference.
Something to fill the "empty parts of our souls."
Like mine. Sitting in the dark theatre, opening night.
Staggering out when it was over.
Hijacked early by the alphas, he knew the cost. I'd hazard a guess on a visceral level.
A flat, dull version of masculinity.
In Medium Raw.
The broish swagger's still there.
There are chapters to skip based on who makes an appearance. It's a record of a moment.
But he's mature. Relatable. Strikes out in new directions.
Tender and vulnerable.
"I'm Dancing" about his daughter. The endearing profile of Justo Thomas in "My Aim is True."
Read "Lust" and remember the travel writer.
Since I was a teen, it's a genre I've loved.
I stitch Bourdain with saffron-gold threads to Bruce Chatwin, Jan Morris, and Paul Theroux.
Let's hope publishers, filmmakers, and broadcasters are doing what's right. Posthumously.
Not picking him over for profit. Putting dollars into mental health initiatives for writers and cooks.
Let his daughter benefit. In abundance.
He was profitable. One measure of our love.
Let's tend to his memory.
It was hard to find one song. That's always a good thing when thinking of a person.
I chose something to suit me.
It's the season of goodbyes.
Of people sharing photos.
Packed-up U-Hauls idling at a curb. Suitcases and boxes blocking the back window of a minivan.
A young person smiling behind the wheel of a car moments before pulling away. Or standing in the doorway of their first apartment.
Behind the lens.
Love. And heartbreak.
1983. Trent University.
A stack of new textbooks. A pile of doubt beside them.
Fuck, I was scared.
Called home from a payphone on campus the first week. In a hallway between classes. Covering my ear to hear.
A quarter in the slot. The cost of reassurance.
Facing the concrete wall. Quietly crying.
How did I get here? Would I make it?
One of my favourite photos.
Strawberry blonde Stevie Nicks' hair.
In the backyard. Of the house where I had a room.
Making big bubbles with a little girl named Abbey.
Transitions and high anxiety. True companions.
A tight internal squeeze.
Finding a new rhythm. Taking longer than I banked on.
Then I met Dr Alan Wilson. First-year Canadian History.
A man with a bright mind. And a warm spirit.
In his quiet office. Picture windows. Shade from the trees.
Dappled light playing on the surface of a conference table.
A dozen of us around it. Drinking in the past.
Not aware until then, I had a great thirst.
Walking down the hill. Away from Catharine Parr Traill College.
Inside, a tender green shoot. A peripheral sparkle.
In a strange new place.
Home. For a time.
Sending love to anyone letting go.
I saw Roadrunner on Friday, July 16. In a theatre.
I've been struggling with ideas and words since.
Then this came thundering in.
I wish I could tell you I read a lot of good student book reviews on Kitchen Confidential.
I did not.
The exuberance was there. But the scale of grading made it a slog.
It would have embarrassed Anthony Bourdain how many writers he squeezed out of young hands—Jim Harrison, Calvin Trillin, A. J. Liebling. Fuck.
I try to imagine him reading William S. Burroughs for the first time. Or Joan Didion.
I knew the book was important by how many hands it was in. How many young people wanted to talk about it.
I rolled my eyes on occasion. Bromance.
Reading a writer can be tricky.
Sometimes we can only see one thing. Even when there's more. And it's rich.
Anthony Bourdain broke it open for cooks. Not singularly.
I'm mindful of white macho bullshit. Lionizing men who were humans.
He was an intellect, a strange bird, in our midst.
Trading his knife for a typewriter after work. Talking with and about us.
By the yellow light of a desk lamp at night—dust flecks whirling in the aura.
Or by daylight at the kitchen table. A pack and a half of butts in the ashtray.
A lanky, mercurial young New Yorker with grey matter, charm, and ambition.
Bourdain turned a blinding flashlight beam on some of our darkness.
We thought the whole thing was a compliment. Treated it like a permission slip.
When some—maybe all—of his aim was to write black comedy.
Stay sane. Earn a living on words.
Tell damn good stories.
What was good? The follow-up.
Medium Raw. His "bloody valentine."
It's where he corrected course. Put a tie on.
Look at the cover.
"To Ottavia." A thoughtful, bright work in her honour.
He had a spine. Confidence.
Did the job of cleaning up. Shared the lessons.
Fuck, that's attractive in a man.
If you haven't read it, you're missing something.
We were proud. Wanted to be near him.
Or our version of him.
I saw him at Massey Hall. September 22, 2010. He held the stage.
Like some of us, he didn't know when to slow down. Or stop.
One setting. Fast forward.
Some of the world starting to flash by the window of a shiny black town car.
Mixed with periods out on the edges of the earth.
Look for his reading lists' online. There's a stuck-inside winter project.
Pile the books he read and loved on your bedside table.
Work your way through them.
A way to remember. A fine tribute.
This morning on Twitter, a man wrote a painful message marking his dad's death at 56 from alcoholism.
Bottoms start way before the end. They need a long runway to get up to full speed.
There are so many witnesses. And tender humans getting hurt.
He was an addict.
Roadrunner was terrible at addressing that cold hard fact.
Bourdain was responsible for his life.
Morgan Neville did not make that film. Instead he was a vulture at a smoking funeral pyre.
That's my review. I'm not writing for the New Yorker.
We're consuming Bourdain still—like co-dependents.
Remember Elizabeth Shue? Her performance in Leaving Las Vegas?
She was nominated for an Oscar, Best Actress. For playing Sera.
Her character is us. Right now.
All I can hope is that all profits are going to a higher good.
His brilliant sparkling mind. His singular voice.
I'd love to re-grade a bunch of those book reviews.
I've changed. For the better.
I'll wait for someone to write Bourdain's life. Real and good.
I know it will come. There's just the waiting.
Tuesday through Saturday nights in garde manger and pastry.
The best French restaurant in the city. On Queen Street in the gritty before-times.
Joanne Kates swooning in The Globe and Mail.
Like Rundles, I always seemed to land in kitchens at the top of their game. A mix of luck and ambition.
This image was on a postcard circulating in the restaurant.
Claude was from Brittany. There was a poissonier on the line.
Beautiful ingredients flown in from France—samphire, morels, Fine de Claire oysters.
Coquilles Saint Jacques à la nage and white asparagus with a silver boat of Sauce Bearnaise.
Fraisier cake, marjolaine, and tarte fines aux pommes.
Killing lobsters in the back prep area. Images of big breasted, half-naked women on the wall behind me. Air-brushed lips and curves and Farrah Fawcett hair. Kitchen supply and auto body shop calendars.
One Saturday night, during a busy second service, a chef and waiter got into a fistfight in front of my station. Lunging and throwing punches. French porcelain clattering. Men scrambling to damage control.
Pressed up against the wall in my corner, shucking oysters.
Laughing about it later in the Beverly Tavern. That's how it was. Normal.
And not all the time.
There was a dangerous chef de partie. I did not feel safe. For good reasons.
Who would I tell?
Claude told me once I drank too much. I had some thoughts about him too.
Women moved out, not up—dishwasher, prep, pastry and appetizers. Vanna White sweeping her arm toward the promised land.
The night before I finished my notice, after training a replacement for a week, Claude set his sights on tearing the guy down. My heart sinking watching him walk out the back door mid-service. Just about free.
Then Claude turned on me. Jabbed his finger in my direction and told me I wasn't done until he said so.
Men expecting women to clean up after them. Be obedient.
I had training in that already. Fuck that.
Took my knives home. The phone rang for a long time the next day.
Ten years later, I ran into Claude on Queen Street.
Told him he was right about the drinking. He admitted being miserable.
We caught up for a bit and then parted. It was good.
I played my part. Misery finds company.
Fierceness was sometimes my armour. Not always. Found a place where I could wear it.
I can say that openly because I know I am not alone.
Been trying to have more real conversations. Without expectations.
Not all of them end so neatly. Me and Claude were ready.
The point is I'm open.
All I wanted was to cook. It felt like home.
The circle of fucking life.
A man playing the piano can make me sweet.
I loved this album.