Date of lunch:
Monday, April 12, 2010
Corey Mintz is a food columnist for the Toronto Star. He used to be the Star’s restaurant critic and now writes a column and a blog called Fed. For each column, he invites interesting people to his house and he makes them dinner. He then writes about what was served, what it was like cooking for them and the conversation. Fed has many similarities to my own blog (and of course the GIANT difference that I am not cooking for anyone… you’re welcome lunch guests) so I wanted to talk to Corey about it, hear about his process and also just chat about his life as a food writer. Seems like a dream job!
We met at the Hoof Café. I have been meaning to try this place after hearing rave reviews from my friends. Once I arrived and saw the menu I was a bit unsure. Memories of my dad serving me cow tongue slathered in mayonnaise came flashing back. But Corey would have none of my reluctance and promptly ordered three dishes for us to share. A salad – something easy to start off with that he knew wouldn’t freak me out. The salad was then followed by tongue grilled cheese and pig tail, eggs and grits. Totally not what I would have EVER ordered. But it was really good! I need to take my dad here. And you know you’re eating somewhere pretty special when you look over and see Massimo from the Food Network having lunch at the next table. We both drank water and Corey had a macchiato. Total bill was $42 with tax.
The lunch lesson:
The food has never been the main focus of my blog. We always do eat lunch but the focus is always more on the conversation. But when you eat with Corey Mintz, the food takes centre stage. Apparently the chain restaurant that I had eaten brunch at the day before was not that awesome (according to Corey). I was grateful at this moment that Corey had chosen the restaurant or this lunch may have been over before it even started. And I mean this in the nicest way – Corey just has an immense appreciation for great food and Toronto has so much great food to offer, why wouldn’t you insist on always eating it? It got me to thinking that maybe I should increase the food focus of my blog – not change the blog per se – but use it as an opportunity to really explore the culinary treats that Toronto has to offer.
To be honest, when I first discovered Corey’s Fed column, my heart sank a bit. Here I was, going out for lunches and blogging and totally oblivious that someone else was doing something so similar – and not only that – but publishing it in the Toronto Star! But after a few deep breaths, I realized that his column wasn’t exactly the same and this could be a great chance to chat and learn from someone who truly understands what I am doing. He was able to share some tips about how he arranges his dinners and reaches out to guests. But more than specific tips, it was just great to find someone who enjoys sharing meals with interesting people as much as I do.
Eating with Corey is a real treat. He understands food, how it’s cooked, where it comes from and I assume he’s a great chef given that one of his lunch guests was legendary former New York Times and LA Times restaurant critic, editor of Gourmet Magazine and Corey’s role model Ruth Reichl.
Ruth Reichl was the first interview that Corey did over a meal at his house. He made BLTs (gourmet, of course) and interviewed her while enjoying the homecooked food. The pressure to make something excellent was enormous. But it was this interview and subsequent blog post that led to the creation of his Fed column and a brand new food writing adventure. He told me who he is trying to secure for an upcoming meal/interview and I have to admit I was a little jealous that I didn’t think of it first.
Corey also talked about the changing of the guard in the restaurant world. In Toronto, there are the institutions like Susur Lee, Mark McEwan and Marc Thuet. People work under these chefs then move up within the company and hope to lead one of the various restaurants. But now, excellent young chefs in Toronto are opening small places on their own, like Hoof Café, where they control everything and create their own creative menus. And Toronto is benefiting from all these excellent chefs opening accessible, innovative and delicious restaurants.
Now let’s just take a second and appreciate that I ate cow tongue AND pig’s tail – PIG’S TAIL! Although it was delicious, that first bite was a little frightening. And my parents will attest that the only foods that I refused to eat when I was younger and still lived at home were sardines, anchovies and cow tongue – so this is a big deal. I feel like I need an applause or something.
But I do want to point out that the food at Hoof Café is authentic and delicious – they use these ingredients because they taste good and should be enjoyed – not because they are not typical. And that’s why eating there with Corey was so great – because he makes you want to try food that you never would otherwise and dining becomes a very different experience. And eating with Corey is also kind of fun for anyone who, like me, has a true appreciation for people who pepper their meals with a healthy dose of sarcasm.