The Media Panel at the fourth annual Terroir Symposium at Hart House really got my goat, but not in an entirely bad way. The talk gave me what I think is an exciting idea.
We heard a misguided complaint that the media talks only about new restos, which Time Out New York‘s Gabriella Gershenson was able to quickly explain away by iterating the media’s singular purpose: to report what’s new. Next question.
Still, it made me think of A.O. Scott’s weekly video paean to late-great movies. Last week he did Polanski’s Chinatown, with footage. Yup. The knife-to-the-nose scene. Although I was hoping to see Faye Dunaway being slapped through, “My daughter, my sister, my daughter.” Oh well.
Then it hit me.
Why not get people to tell their favourite stories about long-gone Toronto restaurants, and bring them briefly and meaningfully back to life?
What old restaurants are worth remembering and talking about? Which restaurants have great personal meaning for us? Which of them have put an indelible mark on the city’s culinary scene even though they’re gone?
I asked around informally and heard Fenton’s mentioned again and again. Also, Winston’s, L’Hardy’s, Pronto, Three Small Rooms….
For my part, I often think about The Copenhagen Room, where Toronto had its first ahead-of-the-curve experience with “ethnic” cuisine [discounting but not dismissing Italian and Chinese food — I’m talking the ’70s here]. The open-faced sandwich was the gourmet poutine of its day, and you heard that here first.
But back to the panel for another minute. There was a sad detour down a sorry side road.
Can we please stop comparing ourselves to NYC? Or to Vancouver for that matter?
Yannick Bigourdan begged us to stop the comparison at the first Terroir. Clearly, it’s a habit hard for us to break.
On the panel’s plus side, kudos to Mitchell Davis for talking about Milwaukee as a food town. His recipe for making a city famous in gastronomic terms: “a citizenry passionate about its food.” We’ve certainly got that in spades.
A nod to Bonnie Stern for reminding us that there’s a difference between a restaurant city and food city.
To the esteemed Alan Richman, thanks for saying that the countryside is where we’re getting some of our best food and dining experiences today.
Sasha Chapman, the city’s treasured food scribe, thanks for saying that, at best, we have to be critical if we’re going to be credible.
More Terroir HIGHLIGHTS:
Indefatigable barristas Sal and Nick from Pantera for pressing out espressos, foaming up cappuccinos and pouring lattes pleasantly all day.
The broth in the dumpling course at lunch. With all the girlie I’ve got in me, I’m gonna say it: DIVINE.
“The cauliflower writes the menu.” — David Kinch, who farms specifically for his restaurant.
Joshna Maharaj asking us to make the local food movement more welcoming to imports like spices. “After all, we’re all imports.”
Jason Bangerter on what his kids get to eat [which would explain why they spit out hot dogs at a neighbourhood barbecue].
The “old-school” debate on tipping. I’d love to see that format become a regular. The university setting screams for it.
Rory Gallagher on tipping [or not tipping] Julia Roberts on her last movie performance.
Finally, the touching standing ovation for Arlene Stein, who conceived Terroir and gives any restaurant or food city a good reason to want to compare themselves to us.
I follow Seth Godin religiously, and religiously is a good word to describe it, because I don’t always want to hear what he has to say, which is why I’m a lapsed Catholic, I guess.
First of all, he posts daily, which is envious. Take a day off already. It’s hard to keep up.
Second, the reason he can be a tough slog is because he sets a high bar, and I don’t always feel up to the task. I try. I appreciate his idealism because it’s from the school of best practices. His vision hangs on helping his followers establish strong and lasting businesses. He has great ideas around authenticity and doing right by our customers and clients. I’m down with that.
Today, I had a laugh. Turns out Seth grew up in South Buffalo watching Irv Weinstein report fire after fire after fire on Eyewitness News. We also had Eyewitness News in Toronto while I was growing up. Gags about Buffalo perpetually burning were rampant in those days, and it’s fun to be reminded.
This morning he opens his blog with just that, as part of looking at what’s wrong with cable news. He writes that business, like lousy cable news, is often quick to focus on urgent rather than important, noise over thoughtful analysis, opinions over facts, among other points of interest.
I’ve always seen him as a proponent of business responsibly asking: “Is this good and right for my customer?” I’m down with that, too.
Cable news today? Jon Stewart and his crack team of ersatz reporters make “important” funny, and “great” funny has to be good and right. This is what Stewart et al hit four nights a week.
I am religiously down with that.