by Michelle Jobin
Once I got it into it, I think the thing that surprised me more than anything about the world of food journalism is how much crankiness is out there. When I really started to immerse myself in the culture of blogs, reviews and anything beyond the glossy cheerfulness of The Food Network, what really shocked me was the culture of misery and complaining that clogs up the waves of information about food out there. I heard more about bad food, bad chefs, bad service, bad experiences more than anything else. I challenge you: find an online food forum. Is it about 75 % bitching about what was wrong about an experience? Probably. Or perhaps gleeful recounting of how some place that got their soup order wrong once has now gone under? Exactly!
In the beginning, this completely baffled me, for two reasons. First, I seem to be able to find great food experiences in Toronto, and elsewhere on a regular basis, and am often really happy about my choices. Second, when it comes to restaurant critics I wondered how anyone lucky enough to have that dream job could end up as sarcastic and negative as so many seem to.
A year in to producing and hosting Toronto Dining on Rogers TV (plus tweeting, writing, and generally spreading the word about good food in Toronto) I have to say I am mostly still confused by the culture of negativity that has sprung up around dining out in this city. Please don’t get me wrong – I am no Pollyanna. I have actually started to realize the correlation between all that crabbiness and what I consider to be bliss. It is the very fact that there are so many incredible food experiences to be had in this world. Bad food is simply not necessary, especially when it comes to dining out. (I do have friends that relish fast food as if it were the best thing ever. To each their own, I say. Who am I to tell anyone what is good or bad? If slice of Pizza Pizza is the best thing they’ve ever had, God bless ‘em. More Pizzeria Libretto for me. ) If anything, the shining stars of the restaurant scene in this city have taught us that simplicity is good, and good food is achievable. So, in some ways, I can see how angry and scathing reviews are so frequent. There’s just so much good food out there now, that to have to pay for something inadequate or worse is apt to give a person some considerable rage. It could all be avoided if people just cared a little more about the food they made and the food they ate.
Which is where one of the great joys of my job comes in. I had the pleasure of recently attending Slow Food Toronto’s Ontario Game Dinner, hosted by Scott Vivian at the newly expanded Hank’s. When it comes to people that care about the quality of food and what it symbolizes, the Slow Food Community go above and beyond. For a frankly quite nominal fee, the lucky attendees encountered six heavenly courses of superlative, fresh, flavourful food – all mindfully and masterfully planned. From Joshna Maharaj’s charcuterie (hello wild boar pancetta and duck prosciutto!) to Scott Vivian and Bernard Alepee’s Rising Star elk carpaccio, to the fifth course of smoked wild boar ham, chicarones, and triple chips by Jeff Crump and Scott Bailey, every course was a hit. Not just because of the immense talent of all the chefs involved, not just because of the quality of the ingredients, but also because of the thought and the intention behind the entire meal. Thoughtless food is as unfulfilling as half-hearted love.
Incidentally, the sixth course by Hanks’s and The Wine Bar’s pastry chef Rachelle Vivian (Scott’s better half) was a jaw-dropper: Ontario gala apple pie topped with blueberry crisp duck egg ice cream and maple candied boar bacon. I’m often a person that sees little point in deserts without chocolate – but this was incredible. The duck egg ice cream really had a dimension of richness that I haven’t encountered, the pastry was perfection, and what the heck is better than maple candied boar bacon? Seriously. All meals should end this way.