Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Second helpings

I honestly believe the best part about hosting a dinner party, or even just making large quantities of food in general, is eating the leftovers. I know fresh cooking everyday is the dream - for some, but there is nothing wrong with reheating up an older dish and getting as much enjoyment out of that as you did the first time you ate it.

Now I've tried to be very conscious of the fact that the photo-sharing food trend is both cheered and reviled by the public at large, but sometimes, you just can't help yourself. Sometimes you just want a visual of the food you've enjoyed, especially the second time around.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Wilson

That picture was taken last night. It's the last bit of the braised lamb shank and potato gratin dish I made for my dinner party last Saturday - mentioned here (didn't make the spinach side - it was a strictly meat and potatoes evening!). And I'm sorry to tell you this dear reader, but I admit that I behaved like a TV chef, moaning ecstatically over the food I made because it really was pretty damn tasty. I ate it in ten minutes and washed it down with a very nice Australian (Penfolds) cabernet sauvignon. A very nice way to end the start of the work week!

I'm going to add a small tip since we're on the topic of leftovers. When you're reheating leftovers, try to avoid the microwave. Pull out your skillet or saucepan to reheat your food. I know it may mean a few extra dishes to wash, but it's worth it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The hard truth about easy cooking

picture courtesy of henderson-jo.blogspot.com

In this new World Food Order of "easy-peasy" cooking we currently inhabit, there's an underlying message that isn't expressed enough, or perhaps deliberately ignored and it's this: cooking is absolutely not easy. Yes, it's a pretty direct statement, but I don't believe I'd get any flack from anyone who works in the world of food for saying it. It takes hard, dedicated work to transform a raw ingredient into something edible. Unfortunately, that side of the culinary world has been overlooked now that the food industry has become shiny and glamourous.

Understand that I'm grateful for the creation of The Food Network, food-centred social media apps and sites and various TV food personalities who have introduced the joy of cooking to the masses. The push to make cooking look easy has worked spectacularly.

And now that people have embraced almost everything food-related, it has created a spinoff effect. It's almost like a brand new economy has been created for a world that was vastly (and in some cases, still) underpaid, under-appreciated, and just not understood. People are much more inclined to want to create memorable dishes and most importantly, are thrilled to share it with friends, family and total strangers via shared photo apps, videos and food blogs. Still, there's something missing, or just not being shared when it comes to the hard truth of cooking food. Is it because the labour details that go into food creation might frighten people? Can we not handle the truth?

Last night I had a dinner party with some close friends. I made a bouillabaisse soup (grouper fish heads replaced snapper and worked out perfectly), followed by a main course of potato gratin, sautéed spinach, and slow braised Lamb shanks. My guests loved every savoury minute of the meal and of course I was happy to make it.

The questions I get whenever I cook though, is, "Wow, this must have been a lot of work" or "This must have taken you a long time to make." The honest answers to both are "Yes, it was," and "Yes, it did." The meal did take hours of prep and cooking, and that includes planning the menu, creating shopping lists and hitting the grocery stores for the ingredients. It' definitely hard work - or should I say labour of love? Either way you view it, I know I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it.

I don't want cooking to ever be viewed as easy. I want people to know how much hard work goes into creating the foods we eat. On the flip side, I also want people to understand that for cooks - be it amateur or professional, the joy of cooking completely mitigates the hard work aspect of food creation. It is (almost) never viewed as work by the people who love it, and if it becomes that, it's time to leave the culinary world and do something else.

I'm glad it's reached a point now where we can tell people that you don't have to slave for hours over a stove to create fabulous meals, but I'm also clinging to my main message of long, hard work creating the best results. When you walk into the kitchen and start to work on your next culinary masterpiece, understand that it will take a great deal of time and it will not be easy. But the end result is seeing the looks of happiness and satisfaction on the faces of the people you're feeding, because they know that you cared enough to take the time to create something fabulous just for them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hypocrites say what?

It just occurred to me - this evening, right now, at 9:13 pm on a Sunday evening, that perhaps I need to be a bit more "careful" about my posts.

You see, I realized - after last-minute observation, that I'm really not in a position to advocate that the food industry have a 'rethink' as to what it perceives to be beautiful and perfect in order to sell its products - while in the same breath, write a loving post about an industry I was happily involved with that celebrates and rewards beauty and perfection.

Hmmmm. Yeah.

I apologize my dear reader. I promise (to try) to be much more vigilant about my opinions in the future...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Modelling and Eileen Ford

pictures courtesy of Stephen Wilson

The image above is the book I used for auditions or 'go-see'. It's faded a little like everything in life as it gets older, but it still looks pretty damn good. Yes, before 'A hungry man travels' came to be, I was 'A young man who modelled' for Ford Models Canada. Even now as I see it written out, I shake my head in amazement that that even happened! Ah, the 90s.

I used to be very embarrassed about my time in modelling. Other than family and a few close friends, I hardly told anyone about it. For guys at that time, it just wasn't something you bragged about. Of course you can't really keep something like that a secret either, particularly if you land a campaign and suddenly there you are in magazines or on TV. Plus, I really hated the thought of anyone thinking I was so up my own ass because I happened to work in an industry that completely values/judges you on the way you look (and your personality too - sort of). Now that a lot of time has passed, I can look back and think, "Hey, not bad young Mr. Wilson, not bad at all."

Another more serious reason for the retrospective, is that with the recent passing of Eileen Ford, who - along with husband Jerry Ford, created the agency, all of a sudden I got a bit nostalgic of a time when life wasn't so serious. I was young, I had a lot of fun, made some pretty good dough and - albeit briefly, was lucky enough to be just one of the many faces of a huge, famous agency.

Although I never had the honour of meeting Mrs. Ford, I did work for about 4 years for the agency. I wasn't the greatest model, not even sure I was a good one. I did not take it seriously. I kinda got into a lot of trouble with my agents for mostly stupid things like being late or not showing up at all - trust me, no diva antics there, just really dumb mistakes.

Despite my ambivalence with the industry and overall stupidity, I think I managed to do pretty well. As with most things in life, if I had tried harder, I would have done much better. No regrets though. It was exactly what it should have been, and it made me enough money to get me through University. I'm particularly grateful for that.

Rest peacefully Mrs. Ford. Thank you, and the amazing agents of Ford for inviting me to stay at the agency you started, and to become a part of something that was truly an unforgettable experience.

And what the hell, why not share a few pics from the book. It's nice - for me anyway, to look at them now with a smile, rather than cringing with embarrassment!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Brunch? No thanks.

picture courtesy of amazon.ca

I have always had a passionate avoidance to anything brunch-related. I would cringe whenever friends would ask me out for what some view as a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I can think of at least one thing I'd much rather do - like stay home and clip my toe nails, than battle angry, hungry crowds for what usually turns out to be a crappy meal served by (usually) unhappy staff. I apologize for the mental image of clipped toe nails, but it's true. I would and do think of any excuse I can to get out of brunch invitations.

It does seem like a rather angry response, doesn't it, but there's a reason why this topic has even come up in the first place. An excellent book by Shawn Micallef entitled 'The trouble with brunch: Work, Class and the Pursuit of Leisure' (if interested, check it out here) has been released, and it's highly recommended - if you're interested in knowing more about the business of brunch and the people who love (and hate) it.

Mr. Micallef has hit upon an interesting thesis on why and what prompts people to brunch. His premise is that there is definitely a whiff of elitism when it comes to this activity. Not only is there the joy of not having to cook for ourselves on a day where you'd really like to work off that hangover, but even at the restaurant, cafe, etc. where brunch is served, people exhibit hints of masochist behaviour.

Now I'm sure my reader may be shocked and say that can't possibly be true - masochistic behaviour at brunch? Pshaw! Well maybe these scenarios might ring a bell.

"Look at those people standing in line waiting for our table. Ha! Let them wait - another round of mimosas!"

Or maybe this one.

It's very busy at the restaurant, and the wait staff have been quietly taking away the plates and cutlery at your table. The staff are hoping you'd be nice and leave since you and your friends/family/whatever have been lounging for over two hours. What's the response to the request to settle the food bill? "Ha! Screw the restaurant! We aren't going anywhere until we are damned good and ready to."

You see? Brunch brings out the classy in all of us - he says sarcastically.

Now I know that's not everyone who brunches, but it's a good deal more common than you think. And this is the toughest part to swallow. There is a profitable reason as to why restaurants serve brunch and put up with that sort of crap from customers. A slow week can be made up - profits-wise, if a place provides a decent brunch menu. I find that bit of news sad to know - but not surprising, that the one day most servers and cooks would kill to avoid working is the best time to make up for a crappy week. But that's what brunch can do. And it's why brunch is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Personally, I could care less about the link between brunch, and class or elitism. I hate brunch because having worked as a waiter, and having done my time serving breakfasts to not particularly happy morning people, I can't even imagine having to stomach the grossness that is the people who specifically come to dine on a Sunday afternoon. Even the word 'brunch' just makes me mad. It's such a stupid word. And of course because of my vehement dislike of everything brunch-related, I'll bet my next job will be reviewing brunch menus across the country - just wait and see!

Check out the book when you have some reading time to spare. You could be surprised and see a little of yourself in it. And if you don't, congratulate yourself, then come join me at the anti-brunch table.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ugly is beautiful - the real face of food?

picture courtesy of tmz.com

Do you remember this picture? The first time I saw it I laughed. Basically the point behind the shot was to see if you could tell the difference between a food network star moaning about food, or someone who works in the sex industry just plain moaning. Take a look - tough isn't it. That's what has happened to the presentation of food. Essentially the lines have become so blurred that you can't really tell the difference between someone selling sex or selling food.

I recently read a fantastic article in the Globe and Mail about food, and how it's supposed to be presented to consumers. Basically, it has to be perfect - nothing less. We shouldn't be be surprised by that admission, since the sex and fashion industries are notorious for pushing that image since its inception. It's only natural it would extend to the presentation of food.

The Food Network, along with many, many food blogs (and I'm certainly not discounting mine), do an amazing job of the pornification of food, showing off food at it's best, making it look so succulent, moist and mouthwatering. The people who make or present the food are in the deep throes of ecstasy over what they make and put in their mouths. The viewers see presenters on Food TV with their eyes rolled to the back of their head in sheer, scripted joy, as the prepared meal goes into their mouths. You get the picture.

So here we are. That is what people want to see. That's what people have become used to seeing. When consumers go to the store, that's what they expect to see displayed in the produce section - perfection. The boxes and canned good needs to be as visually appealing as ever, and the baked goods? It practically needs to leap out of the display cases just ready to drop into your shopping cart.

But what if your food looked like this:

Or this

pictures courtesy of dailymail.co.uk
Would you buy it?

Does it still appeal to you?

An honest question searching for honest answers. As you'll see from the images, there is an active campaign by food companies to start changing the minds of consumers on what they think food should look like, to what it really looks like. A good percentage of food that people perceive to be visually unappealing is either thrown out, or used for other purposes (liked canned goods). The truth is, there is nothing wrong with the food, but we've become so conditioned to accept perfection, that it just wouldn't sell. At least not without a much heavier ad campaign to really start persuading people that there is no difference between that perfectly round strawberry, and the one with a "double chin".

I applaud these latest efforts to try to change the mindset of the consumer of what food beauty really is, but there is a great deal of work to be done. Just scroll up to the top picture again if you need a reminder. If we can get the food network stars to look ecstatic over a lumpen, mis-shaped potato, we may just be on to something that could alter the way we all view the perfect imperfections of the food we eat.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Oh God, here we go again...Ford Follies continued

picture courtesy of www.newstalk1010.com

I have repeatedly vowed that I won't dive into politics on this blog. This is a food, travel and random musings babble fest that does not, and should not, include political opinions and/or thoughts. I've broken that vow a few times - see here and here for examples. I recently read something today that made me both mad and fascinated at the same time. It also made me break the vow of no political talk on the this blog - again. It would seem that our current Mayor (in name only - since he couldn't be fired, city council pretty much neutered him - he's just a face to the title) is sitting in a three-way tie for the lead. Say what?? Yes people - we are once again back to a familiar topic: Toronto's "Mayor" Robert Ford.

This is election time in Toronto, and Rob Ford - since he is running for reelection, will be and is THE topic of conversation. Man, talk about a polarizing figure. I will say that Toronto has never been so interesting politically since he came on the scene, and that is saying a lot considering the lunatics we've had in power before he came along. Yup, I'm pointing at you Mel "boiling in a pot of water while natives dance around me" Lastman and June "I won't allow a band with an offensive name - Barenaked Ladies - perform in public" Rowlands. So Mr. Ford gets a nod for at least reviving some interest in what is usually a long, tedious 8 month process to become Toronto's next top Mayor.

I've written in the past for him to resign, only to retract that opinion - sort of. Well since that posting, our 'ahem' humble Mayor has allegedly gone to rehab, and mercifully disappeared from public view for a few weeks. Can I tell you how beautiful it was without the headlines screaming about the latest Rob Ford f*ckery? Trust me, his absence from the scene was comparable to that incredible dish, the one that stays on your mind and you can still taste it in your dreams. It was that fantastic glass of wine, scotch, gin whatever or better. It was that amazing sex that you just didn't want to feel/have it end. Yes, THAT good.

But like the fart that follows you into the car, he still lingers on the scene long after you wish it would go away. The latest polls have him tied with two other candidates: John Tory and Olivia Chow.

People are commenting on HuffPo and other sites about their shock, shock(!) that Rob Ford is still managing to attract voters after all the sh*t he's done, not to mention putting the city through hell with him. But here's the deal: there are people who live in big, progressive Toronto who really, really like him and the views he espouses. Yes, there are people - in Toronto, who don't like liberals or their views. Who don't like gays and are thrilled he skips Pride and the parade. Who aren't thrilled with immigrants and absolutely hate taxes of any sort going up. He appeals to them and continues to do so no matter what personal problems he has.

All I can say, is that if this man is re-elected, then we, Torontonians, will get what we voted for. If it happens, then it should be seen as a wake up call for any future candidates who want to run from Mayor. There is a different life for people who do not live in the Downtown core, or even the old City of Toronto boundaries. They do not share the views, values, ideals that many people who live downtown take for granted or assume everyone shares.

The election is on October 27th. I can't wait and yet I'm also terrified to find out what will happen. The countdown begins.