Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Food Fraud part 2: Another one bite's the dust

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Belle Gibson is a liar, a fraud, a phony and the most disgusting human being on the planet right now.

It's only been about a week since I've brought attention to the fraud that is The Food Babe aka Vani Hari, when once again, the food blogosphere has been shaken to it's core by yet another fraud who has made millions based on her fraudulent claims of recovery from terminal brain cancer.

Belle Gibson, of The Whole Pantry - a blog, and health and wellness empire, is the latest fraud creating a massive shakeup on social media. I refuse to post a picture of her face.

She shot to fame by claiming she cured herself of terminal brain cancer through a healthy lifestyle and diet. Her story was so acclaimed no one questioned it. She built a following of millions to her health, wellness and food blog. She created an incredibly popular app for Apple iPhones. People believed in her and her words.

Today, on April 22, 2015, she told the truth about her cancer and her life in general. It was all a giant lie.

She admitted she is a liar, and she is the worst kind of liar. She is a liar who profited off the pain of being a cancer survivor, which she wasn't.

The only f*cking reason that woman managed to get to the level of fame she had, is because she was a very skilled communicator who could weave a story and stick to it as good as any psychopath or sociopath.

The fact that she is beautiful cannot be ignored in this pathetic story, because her beauty - along with her cancer story, was huge part of how she managed to reach the upper echelons of fame and wealth. And she knew that.

She doesn't seem to regret what she's wrought upon the world with her recent admission of guilt, only that she is sorry she got caught. I had never heard of her until today, but it's astounding that out of the millions of people that followed her, no one, nobody in the media, the medical community, or the general public bothered to do even a basic background search on her and her claims? How did it get this far?

I am literally shaking with anger because cancer is a VERY personal issue with me. I have no time or patience for anyone who profits off of this disease. She doesn't understand why people are so angry with her. Seriously.

I'm just shaking my head that once again, the world is taken in by yet another profiteer of pain. When does the joke stop being funny?

Real Sports Bar and Grill: A review

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Travelling around the world has provided me with a fairly good understanding of the impressions people might have of the average North American. The consensus? We're loud, gluttonous and aggressive. With that in mind, I often wonder what some of the great citizens of the world would think of Real Sports Bar and Grill. Would it confirm everything they think about us? In a word, yes.

Real Sports Bar and Grill is Toronto's premier sports bar. Located next door to the Air Canada Centre sports centre in downtown Toronto, it is the Taj Mahal of everything sports and sports related. Entering the cavernous space is an assault - although not entirely unpleasant, to the eyes, ears, mind and sensory glands.

image courtesy of Stephen Wilson

Designed by famed interior and architecture firm Rockwell Group, the owners of Real Sports clearly dreamed big and designed bigger. Real Sports is not a quiet little pub for lovers to share a lovely little glass of port. This is sports bar(!), with about 199 flat screen TVs loudly dedicated to sports, and you'd better come to play. And pay. It was an instant hit when it first opened in June 2010, and for better or worse, it is now a fixture in Toronto's sports pub scene.

My dinner companions and I shared a variety of appetizer plates during our visit. As it was a Friday night, there was a five dollar vodka cocktails special night, the vodka was seriously flowing as well, but I didn’t let the alcohol get in the way of the main event: the food.

We ordered plates of steamed edamame with lime juice, fried calamari with a chipotle and lime aioli, pesto flatbreads with grilled asparagus and melted brie, and a huge plate of Thai sweet chili chicken wings. Now lets talk about the wings for a minute. I have never, in my life as an eater, cook and visitor of poultry farms, ever seen wings that size before. No joke. The wings were about the size of mini baseball bats. Look for yourself:

image courtesy of Stephen Wilson

It reminded me of when I was in a Tokyo department store food hall, and came across packages of perfectly formed strawberries for sale (for a look, click here). Sometimes you just have to overlook things that may appear out of the ordinary, and just enjoy it for what it is. That is one of my mottos, and in this case, I'm really sticking to it.

The flatbreads were delicious, as were the steamed edamame. The edamame was an odd appetizer choice for a sports bar that has dedicated half of it's menu to various types of wings you can order, but I can see why the owners would want to appeal to as broad as group as they can.

I believe for the next visit - and there will definitely be one, I will have to include dinner instead of just appetizers. The kitchen is capable of pulling off some pretty good starters and although it's not cheap, it's definitely worth a second glance to see how it pulls off a few main courses. I may just have to bring a pair of earplugs though. Maybe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fraud and 'The Food Babe'

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A majority of talented, amazing food writers struggle mightily just to get their name out there, let alone their words. The Internet has made that job slightly easier, but it's still a very tough road filled with unknowns, should have beens’ or wishes that won't become a reality. But every once and a while, someone manages to break free from the group, and somehow - whether it's by luck or talent - rarely both, becomes a success. With success comes scrutiny, and in the food blogosphere, ‘The Food Babe’ is facing a great deal of both.

Her name is Vani Hari, or as she is known to followers, 'The Food Babe'. That's her in the image above. Like most things in life, what goes up must eventually come down, and right now, Ms. Hari is experiencing a serious public relations (pr) crisis, or as I like to call it, a pr shit storm. You can read a few examples of what's going on here.

Ms. Hari has built a food blog and a massive, devoted following of ‘food babes’. She regularly reports "scientific facts" on many of the foods we like to eat on her site. She is also a huge proponent of the word ‘toxins’, and uses it liberally whenever she describes foods or products that may not be good for us. She has also been accused of being a massive fraud.

If you wish to be frightened by just about anything you put into your mouth including your own saliva, then go take a look at her site. Or read her interviews. Or see her perpetrating a great deal of false shit live on Dr. Oz.

I am absolutely not in the business of tearing down others who want to talk about food and make some money while doing it. I do, however, believe she has crossed a line between providing people with good nutrition information and creating a great deal of unnecessary alarm based on unsubstantiated scientific claims.

I also find her willingness to go out of her way to frighten people into some sort of food submission despicable and detestable. Here’s one example of Ms. Hari’s "food rules" from her site: "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

A response to that rule, courtesy of Yvette d'Entremont, editor of Science Babe food site - which was created as a direct response to the many false scientific claims made on The Food Babe website: "Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old."

You have to love or at least smile at that response. I'll even add to that by saying something we already know which is do not believe everything you read on the internet. But even that advice is akin to talking louder at someone who has a hearing disability.

The rise and possible fall of people like Vani Hari just goes to show you how dangerous food fads have become. What’s worse is that it shows how quickly people believe something as long as it's backed by some pseudo-scientific fact, plucked from a dubious report, to give the claim a very, very thin layer of credibility.

Sometimes I get quite discouraged with what's happening in this age of ‘got-to-know-now’ instant information, particularly when it comes to what we eat. Have we reaching a tipping point of too much information and not enough facts?

The Food Babe certainly didn’t think so, and look at her now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie: A review

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Writing, or should I say critiquing restaurants is tough and very personal. Having an opinion on something someone took the time and thought to create is not for the weak. If you write something, you must stand by every word. It's only a recent development that the need to write about my dining experiences are appearing with more frequency on the blog. When I find myself thinking about the words I'd like to use to describe the decor, or the service almost immediately upon arrival, that's when I know the restaurant has truly made a personal impact to make me want to write about it.

Whenever you offer opinions or advice, it's almost 98% guaranteed that the response to said 'advice' is "what the hell do you know?" Well, speaking for myself, I know that I can write a review with some degree of authority. I've done my time in the culinary business (close to twenty years), with enough credibility to write about it without looking like an idiot. Plus, I personally enjoy writing about memorable dining experiences, good or bad, rather than letting it linger in my memory banks. After my recent dining experience at Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie, I immediately wanted to share it.

Cluny is nestled in the historic and bustling Distillery District in downtown Toronto. The area is just booming right now, with the complete revamping of the historic buildings and construction of new condos, it has brought an increased population to the area. Young professionals on the hunt for good food and good times has completely changed that neighbourhood. I'm telling you, not ten years ago that area would have been completely dismissed as any sort of destination, let alone a culinary one.

Cluny is ready to take advantage of this hungry, new crowd. It's a French inspired bistro, and the first thing you can't help but notice upon arrival, is the sheer size and beauty of the place. It is very clear that meticulous detail and planning went into the design, and the result is an absolutely gorgeous room. As my dinner companion and I were seated, our server introduced herself. We asked how she was doing that evening and her response? "Amazing." That answer just stuck with us. Why? Because it was just such an unexpected, original answer to a mundane question, and she clearly meant it. We loved it, and as we dined she proceeded to become the best part of the entire evening.

I've mentioned numerous times on this blog how much I love French food. It is one of my biggest passions as a cook and knowledge seeker of of all things culinary. I really look out for it in Toronto because there are some excellent cuisine fran├žaise to be had in the city. Bistros, pastry shops, restaurants that make you dream of flying to Paris or anywhere in France really without actually having to leave. Notable Toronto French restaurants (and some of my favourites) including Auberge du Pommier, Le Paradis, Pastis Express - which sadly closed, all spring to mind as the places that set the template for fabulous french cuisine. I wish I could include Cluny in that list of favourites, but the food was just not getting along with me that night to make me want to add it to anything but a forgettable list.

Why wasn't the dining experience touching my soul? Why didn't it make my feet curl inside my shoes with excitement? How come it couldn't make my stomach leap with anticipation, instead of groaning with fright? A couple of things; One; I just felt the dishes were 'meh' - a terribly vague description I know, but that sometimes happens when you're expectations exceed what is often produced. Two; I seriously thought every dish I tasted had a slight, yet noticeable, fishy undertone/aftertaste. I told this to my dinner partner, who could only respond by first looking, and then telling me that I was insane. Maybe in his eyes I might have been slightly nutty, but I'm telling you, my so called 'crazy' taste buds found that everything, except for the exceptional chocolate pot du creme dessert, was completely underwhelming and tasted like fish.

I had the seared foie gras to start which was unfortunately paired with a piece of toasted brioche and a black current compote. That sweet combination totally overwhelmed - and in my mind, ruined the dish and rendered the foie gras mute, which is a pretty amazing accomplishment considering it is foie gras. Foie gras, is a luxurious treat, extremely high in fat and so, so bad for you but so very good for the stomach and soul. It really takes something special to kill the flavour of that delicacy. My dinner companion ordered the cod doughnuts, which were deep fried cod balls. Think of a Timbit, but instead of chocolate, it's fish, and it's accompanied by a smoked potato and cheese sauce. At least that dish made up for the foie gras, but was still quite disappointing. The dipping sauce was so bland, and there was more filler than fish in the cod balls.

Our mains consisted of striploin steak frites for my dinner companion, and organic chicken legs, 'Basque' style, for myself. Traditional Basque cuisine encompasses both French and Spanish culinary influences. Typical Basque creations are usually rustic in flavour, and the chicken dish served at Cluny was true to its Basque origins. Plenty of tomato, olives and peppers and chorizo sausage in a stew, that was cooked with the chicken. His steak was cooked the way he asked - medium rare, but it just had a fishy taste to it. My chicken was bland, blah, and again that ubiquitous fishy undertone. I know that I wasn't crazy regarding that fish taste, because I drank enough water to ensure my palate was as clean as possible with each course. But yet there it was again after the third bite of the chicken. And even more weirdly, it showed up when I tasted his Lemon tart for dessert.

For all I know, chef and the cooks in the kitchen could have been having an off night. Maybe I was having an off night. Regardless of whom was having food issues, the less than stellar experience was made a bit more difficult to swallow when it came to the price. I know that when I am going to be paying a significant amount of money (over $200) for a meal including wine, you had better knock my socks off. With my meal at Cluny, I only managed to get one of them peeled off and that was thanks to the chocolate dessert!

Sorry Cluny, other than your outstanding staff and the fact I can't help but think of a certain other Clooney whenever I hear the restaurant name, I can't see myself returning. Unless, it's to pick up a some chocolate pot du creme desserts to go.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Mad Men - the beginning of the end

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Even the post title brings water to my eyes. I felt a little tear trickle down the side of my face as I watched 'Severance'- episode eight of the final season, and for very good reasons.

For seven years, this program has been become an integral part of my Sunday night life. I knew the end was coming, and although I was seriously distracted by my other ultimate favourite AMC program The Walking Dead, in the back on my mind, Don Draper loomed large.

I'm not going to say anything maudlin or depressing, other than I will watch the remaining six episodes with a mixture of sadness and excitement. I cannot wait, yet, I can't bear to find out what happens either, to see how it all ends and to hopefully, not be disappointed by a cop-out ending.

If I'm feeling sad about the end of the Mad Men era, I can only imagine how Tom and Lorenzo are coping! I know I will personally miss their post Mad Men episode discussions, and astute fashion dissections.

Well, until it officially ends, lets go on with the show.