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Second City Mainstage Performer Inessa Frantowski

10 Sep

Lunch with Mary 042

Date of lunch:
Friday, September 10, 2010

The company:
Inessa Frantowski is a mainstage performer with Second City Toronto’s current show Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes. She also performs with several sketch comedy troupes including Bull Hooey and HIR. She is also a Gemini Award winner for her work on Cock’d Gunns and she recently worked on the new Kids in the Hall show Death Comes to Town. In short, she’s very talented and hilarious and a very fun lunch guest.

The food:
We ate at 7 West. We both had the prosciutto panino, filled with bocconcini cheese and avocado spread. Delish. The sandwiches came with a side house salad. Inessa had a diet Coke and I stuck with water. My only complaint would be that it was freezing in the restaurant because they had the giant windows open even though it is currently NOT warm outside. I’m all for trying to extend the summer but sometimes you just have to admit that it’s cold out. Total bill was $32 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Inessa and I had a great conversation about funny women versus funny men. I’ve always admired funny women. This is me talking now since Inessa got me thinking. You see way less women headlining comedy movies (unless of course it’s a romantic comedy). It would be great to see more women succeeding in mainstream “Hollywood” doing physical and outrageous comedy, like what’s being done at Second City. I guess what I am saying here is that we women need to support other women. If we want to see funny women leading the way in Hollywood, we need to be out seeing shows and buying tickets. Now make it so.

The lunch:
Before meeting Inessa for lunch, I had the chance to see her at Second City. She was really funny and the show is great. I felt a bit like an uber fan when we finally sat down to eat as I kept telling her all the parts from the show that I liked the most. Incase you’re wondering, I really liked her as Helen Thomas and as Aunt Sheila, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Inessa is a very positive person and really seems to be living out her dream. Her work right now at Second City is an incredible opportunity, one of the only full-time sketch comedy gigs in the city.

As a huge fan of Saturday Night Live, always, it was great to hear what an inspiration the show has been for Inessa. She remembers watching it back in the day and being totally inspired. It changed her life and continues to be her dream job. Secretly I’ve always wanted to be on SNL too. Recently, when my parents moved and I had to pack up my old childhood room, I found a letter that I had drafted to SNL at the age of about 12 telling them why they should have me as the host. Dork. I never did send that letter though.

I asked Inessa about her Gemini that she won for comedic ensemble on Cock’d Gunns. She said she never believed she would win. Quick aside, I asked her where she kept her Gemini and she said her mom has it. I would totally have mine right in the middle of the coffee table, just sayin. Anyway, the show is not officially cancelled but is not in production for a second season. Inessa did say that the show has taken on a bit of a life of its own on Hulu and has a lot of fans in the US. Since I am terrible and never saw it the first time around and because I love to support Canadian shows, I really hope this Hulu popularity translates into a second, third and fourth season. Go Canada!

It was just really great to talk to Inessa about all the different work she is doing to make her way as a successful comedic actor. She does stand-up, acting, sketch troupes and online videos. She also talked about the different sorts of work she does, be it a Walmart commercial, timely comedy at Second City or her more alt-comedy work with her troupe. She just really likes to make people laugh so she is happy to do work that entertains all different kinds of audiences. It’s a great attitude and makes me want to check out her other work even more.

SOMETHING_AWESOME_PR_003Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes

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Rural Alberta Advantage band member Amy Cole

17 Jun

Lunch with Mary 039

Date of lunch:
Thursday, June 17, 2010

The company:
Amy Cole is one third of the excellent trio Rural Alberta Advantage (RAA) on vocals, keyboard and percussion. She is also a good friend of mine from university and has slowly turned into a rock star since graduation. I nearly DIED of jealousy the first time I saw her singing on stage at the Horseshoe. Amy recently returned from a European tour that had immediately followed a tour across the United States. Since I know I can never be a rock star myself, I decided to take Amy out of lunch and hear what it’s all about.

The food:
We ate at a wonderful little spot called Calico Café, which is pretty much right in between Lansdowne and Dufferin on Bloor. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with a great vegetable and herb garden by the patio. It’s like a little oasis right off Bloor Street and tasty too. I had a grilled portobello and sweet potato hummus sandwich with salad and Amy had a mixed green salad with tempeh. We both had cranberry ginger lemonades. The owner was the chef, waiter, dishwasher and busboy and let me know that this weekend is the one year anniversary of Calico Café. You should all check it out. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Since this was a rock star lunch, I figured a rock star lunch lesson was most appropriate. I asked Amy what her favourite shows have been. She said doing shows in France was amazing because they treat bands so well. Backstage they provide wheels of cheese and red wine. Free cheese and French wine, I can’t imagine a better lesson – start a band, get gig in Paris, eat, drink, enjoy, repeat.

The lunch:
Amy had been in the RAA and was playing quite a few shows in Toronto and other spots in Canada and what seems like overnight (but obviously wasn’t) the band pretty much exploded. It was so amazing to have a friend as part of a Toronto darling band and I was excited to have lunch and hear from Amy how it all happened.

It’s such a perfect grassroots story, much like the feel of the band itself. A blogger in Nova Scotia called Herohill wrote about Rural Alberta Advantage and the post and the music caught the eyes and ears of a lawyer in LA. He is a big music fan and sent eMusic a note about the RAA. eMusic then went on to feature the band and through the feature, Saddle Creek heard their tunes and signed them to their label. And the rest is history. Next thing I know, I have to drive to Hamilton just to be able to get tickets to see Amy perform.

Amy talked about some of the big moments so far in this crazy ride that she’s on. She said they booked their first NYC show at a bar called Piano’s. They were just hoping that people would show up. But once they got there, the show was sold out and when they started to perform, the whole crowd knew all the words. The experience was pretty surreal as they had never performed in the US before, and thanks to the internet they had this amazing fan base.

The incredible experience continued as the band hit Europe and people in London knew all the words too. The RAA plays songs about Alberta, so I kinda love that they have this international following of totally Canadian music. They did try to play a show in Spain but were held up due to the volcano. But Amy said she couldn’t really complain about being stranded for a few days in Barcelona. I wouldn’t complain either.

The RAA will be playing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area. Right now, the RAA is in Toronto, working on their next album and I can’t wait to hear it. I like to live vicariously through Amy. I hope she continues to have these amazing adventures and I can continue to listen to her awesome stories and pretend they’re mine.

Calico Cafe Garden The Calico Café garden

Fashion Designer and Project Runway Canada Winner Sunny Fong

17 May

Date of lunch:
Monday, May 17, 2010

The company:
Sunny Fong was the winner of Project Runway Canada Season 2. Since winning, he has shown at Toronto Fashion Week twice with his Vawk clothing line, including his debut show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I remember watching Project Runway and Sunny’s designs were always pretty amazing. I’ve never lunched with a fashion designer before so I knew this could be a great opportunity to learn about a profession that I know little about.

The food:
We ate at Sambucas on Church. It was actually quite difficult to find a place to eat, as a lot of the restaurants on Church are closed on Mondays. Who knew? I had the pasta special, which was a chicken pesto blend of delishness. It also came with a garden salad and garlic bread (which I did not have room for). Sunny had stuffed French toast, which came with bacon, fruit and fries. The portions at this place are ENORMOUS! I had a diet Coke and he had an iced tea. Total bill was $26 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Sunny talked a bit about his research process when he is designing. He chooses something as his inspiration and then builds from there. His most recent collection was inspired by mushrooms after Sunny was watching Planet Earth. He said he would look online for images and information on mushrooms. He then went back and watched Planet Earth again and the documentary spoke about decay during the mushroom section. He then started looking at images of decay and the inspiration grew and grew until it was an entire collection – all started with mushrooms. This creative process is one of Sunny’s favourite parts of designing. As someone who also works in a creative industry, it’s always interesting to hear how others go through the process and get inspired.

The lunch:
If you watched Sunny when he was on Project Runway, you would know that he came across as really nice and genuine and he is just like that in person. A really great person to lunch with!

Sunny and I soon figured out that we both went to Ryerson. He studied Film and I took Radio and Television. His fashion and design knowledge is all self-taught. His sister studied fashion and Sunny let me know that he did read some of her textbooks. Filmmaking was another creative outlet for Sunny and he also has taken some of the skills from this to build his own web design company that has helped bring in funds allowing him to focus on fashion designing.

Since I know little about how one does put a line together, I asked Sunny if he sewed all of his own clothes or simply created the designs and had others put them together. He says at this stage of his career, he likes to sew everything on his own. This way, through the process he can figure out if the design works, what does, what doesn’t and fix along the way. He says someone like Karl Lagerfeld, who has so much experience designing, can simply draw a design and trust that it will work. Sunny still sees the whole process as a learning experience.

As Lagerfeld was mentioned, it got us to talking about the stereotype of the fashion industry, with Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour and The Devil Wears Prada, that you need to be mean to get ahead. Again, Sunny doesn’t really fit this stereotype. Fashion is a business like anything else, he said, so you do need to have that killer instinct, to stand up for yourself and be assertive or you’ll be left in the background. But like any stereotype, there is some truth and also some fiction in these fashion industry assumptions.

I asked Sunny about his favourite designers. He couldn’t narrow it down to one. He looks to Alexander McQueen for construction (we agreed on our love for his lobster claw shoes), Cavalli and Gucci for the sexiness and his list went on. It seems that Sunny is able to take inspiration from all sorts of designers, which again speaks to his creative process.

Having lunch with Sunny and speaking to him about his work was really quite amazing. He has such a passion for what he does and such a strong commitment to doing it well. Sunny is at the start of a really exciting career and I can’t wait to watch him succeed. And of course, I can’t wait to buy one of his pieces!

Toronto Star Food Columnist Corey Mintz

13 Apr

Lunch with Mary 036

Date of lunch:
Monday, April 12, 2010

The company:
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!

The food:
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.

The lunch:
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.

Fair Trade Jewellery Co. Founder Ryan Taylor

15 Mar

Lunch with Mary 031

Date of lunch:
Monday, March 15, 2010

The company:
Ryan Taylor is the founder of the Fair Trade Jewellery Co. He is a goldsmith and custom jewellery designer and maker. Ryan also ensures that his gold is fair trade and prides himself on ethical and environmentally sensitive jewellery. Ryan is very active in social media and we have many mutual friends so I decided to ask him for lunch on Twitter to hear more about the work he does.

The food:
We met at Fionn MacCool’s at Bloor and Jarvis. In what I believe to be a tribute to St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan had a liquid lunch of Guinness. I had a Diet Coke and the grilled chicken sandwich with house salad. Although the food was fresh and tasty, it was pretty messy and impossible to eat gracefully. Not a great meal to have when trying to have a conversation. Total bill was $24 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
When I asked Ryan why he became a goldsmith and jeweler, he had a really interesting answer. He said he knew he wanted to work with his hands and quickly figured out that being a jeweler allowed him to create pieces of art that mean more to the people who receive them than they do to him. It’s true that bridal jewellery has so much emotion and meaning attached to it, that it would be pretty cool to know the work you do every day will be a huge part of someone’s life forever. You can’t say that with many jobs.

The lunch:
I, like most people I think, know very little about mining and making jewellery so I was really starting from scratch on this one. Ryan has recently taken on a friend of mine as an apprentice so he began by explaining to me the art of goldsmithing as a trade. In other countries and back in the day here I am sure; a trade such as goldsmithing began at a young age. Kids as young as ten are in the shop, cleaning, helping out and learning. In Canada, there is no formal apprenticeship in that way, and prospective jewelers usually don’t get started until university or college.

Ryan studied Jewellery at George Brown and as soon as he finished sought out a mentor in the business to help him get started. He met Karl Vigelius, someone he still looks up to today and considers a great friend. He now hopes to give back to his new apprentice in that same way and keep the cycle going of passing the knowledge down.

But beyond keeping the tradition of apprenticeship, Ryan also puts great importance on where he sources his gold. So much so that he produced a documentary on ethical mining in Colombia titled The Last Gold Rush. He traveled to the Chocó Rainforest in Colombia to learn about the Oro Verde, a fair trade and ethical gold and platinum mining program. It’s run by the community for the community. And the program goes beyond the mines by having educational programs and helping train the community in skills outside of mining, all by using the profits from the mine. The mine is family-owned and passed down from generation to generation. And the townspeople oversee the mine. Ryan gets his gold exclusively from this mine and then sources his diamonds from Canadian diamond mines.

I think most people have some idea that there are some very bad mining practices in the world, whether we know this from watching Blood Diamond or simply stories we have seen in the news, but it should come as no surprise that the diamond and other mining industries have an ugly side. But as Ryan and I discussed, the desire for beautiful jewellery, diamond engagement rings and more is really not going anywhere. So since there is a demand, I am glad there are people like Ryan ensuring that people and the environment are being treated fairly through every step in the process.

It was a really interesting lunch, hearing about a world that I really know nothing about and it reminded me why I started this blog in the first place.

Personal Finance Expert and TD Waterhouse Senior VP Patricia Lovett-Reid

2 Feb

Lunch with Mary 029

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The company:
Patricia Lovett-Reid is a well known expert on personal finance. She is a regular speaker on the topic of retirement savings, investing and other personal finance issues, hosts Money Talk on BNN as well as several radio shows, is often quoted and interviewed by media across the country, has been named to the list of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and, on top of all of this, she’s also a senior vice-president at TD Waterhouse. It’s a pretty amazing list and I can’t believe she found time in her calendar to lunch with me. But I am glad she did.

The food:
We ate at Four at Bay and Wellington. You may have heard of this place, all of the dishes are under 650 calories. And seriously, if I could cook meals like this, I would never eat more than 650 calories. I had a chicken burger with salad and Patricia had a salmon salad. Four then graciously offered us a free dessert in these double shot glasses. I had tiramisu. It was 200 calories and amazing. I don’t understand how they do it. Patricia kindly picked up the tab and said that this can be my first lesson in personal finance – accept when someone offers to pick up the tab, enjoy it and say thank you. Then she told me to take the money I have now saved and put it into my savings. A very generous lesson from Patricia!

The lunch lesson:
By the end of the lunch, Patricia had equipped me with a plan of action. This plan is definitely my lunch lesson. First of all she said I need to determine my financial goals – short term (2 years), medium term (5 years) and long term. She told me to take my time to do this. I haven’t nailed it down yet, but I do know short term I would like to purchase a place to live and stop renting. Now I need to sit down over the next week or so and figure out the rest of my goals. Once I finish that, the next step is to outline my budget – what are my monthly expenses (rent, car payment, phone bill, food, etc) and also be sure to add everything including entertainment, taxis, clothing and so on. Once that is done, I will need to take a good, hard look at it and see where I can shave some spending. And then the final step is to determine my net worth. This will factor in my income, my possessions and subtract my expenses. Once that is determined, I will be ready to look into what size of mortgage I will be able to afford and be approved for. Patricia also said she is going to check in on me so I better get cracking.

The lunch:
Patricia started the lunch by asking me what I wanted to know. I told her how I wasn’t sure if I was putting enough away in savings, whether I was saving in the right places and I also let her know I was looking to purchase property. As everyone is well aware, because I won’t shut up about it, I am about to turn 30 so it’s about time I get my stuff together! Patricia then asked me a series of questions – what is my salary, how much do I have invested in RRSPs, TFSAs, etc. It’s weird to say this stuff out loud to someone you just met. But I figure it’s the same as talking to a doctor, she’s a professional and needs the info to help me.

My extreme risk aversion became obvious pretty quickly – my love affair with GICs and total fear of pretty much every other kind of investment. I even explained to her that when I wanted to cut my hair short, I had to do it in two separate haircuts. The first was shorter, but not as short as I wanted. That cut gave me the nerve to go all the way the next time. We talked through how there are options for a conservative investor such as myself, but what I am doing now is not going to help in the long run.

For the time being, since I plan to take money out of my RRSPs for my mortgage, having a GIC is fine. But for long term investments, I should take a bit more risk. And as the market fluctuates, it may go down but it will (likely) come back and in the long term will be much more profitable. I can picture the sandy beaches of my retirement now. Ahhh, bliss.

As I already mentioned, Patricia emphasized the importance of creating a personal budget. I have long avoided doing this because I know I will cringe at how much I spend on going out – dinners, drinks, taxis, movies, concerts. You might think as my 30th birthday is approaching that the party is over – but I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. However, I can be smart about it and monitor how much I spend on going out, as well as shopping, TTC, food, shoes. Patricia even gave a great tip that she used to do when she was starting out. She would cancel out all spending during the day, stuff like coffees and take-out lunches. Then at the end of the week, she would calculate what she saved, take that money and invest it.

Much like after my lunch with April Williams, I feel like I am much better equipped to take that big step forward. Patricia said I am in a very common place. I am doing something but I have no clear plan or strategy. I am stuck in one place and need to take a leap. This is where Patricia’s plan of action comes into play, which I now will implement starting with getting my goals down on paper over the next week.

I am nervous but ready and so grateful to Patricia for meeting with me, being a huge help and giving me that push I needed.

CTV National Affairs Correspondent Lisa LaFlamme

2 Dec

Lunch with Mary 026

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The company:
Lisa LaFlamme is the national affairs correspondent on CTV National News. She also sometimes fills in at the anchor desk for Lloyd Robertson. She has covered stories all over the world from the war in Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami from Sri Lanka, Conrad Black’s trial in Chicago, Hurricane Katrina, on the ground after 9/11 and more. Pretty much every major news event that has happened in my adult life, Lisa was there reporting on it. She’s currently gearing up to anchor the daytime broadcasts of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. I have always thought Lisa’s job was so cool. If you watch CTV National News regularly, I feel like every day she’s somewhere different and reporting on really important stories wherever she is. I’m glad this blog gave me the opportunity to meet her.

The food:
We actually met for an early morning coffee rather than lunch as Lisa has been extremely busy and this was the only way to get together. We met at the Starbucks at Yonge and Craighurst. I had a “grande” Christmas blend coffee but I ordered “medium” because I always forget the Starbucks lingo and I got some weird looks. Grande means big, not medium – I don’t get it. Lisa had a “venti” coffee which inexplicably means “large”. Confusing. Anyway, the coffee was tasty and the bill for both was under $5. Lisa actually paid for her own so I still owe her a lunch, or at least a coffee.

The lunch lesson:
Lisa and I started our coffee chat with me explaining my blog a bit. Lisa said she thought it was brave of me to have set off on this adventure and simply outreach to people and then meet up with them. Although I don’t know if I am actually brave, I do know that the whole process has been a big step out of my comfort zone. Lisa said that with her job she outreaches to people as well but she is always on a deadline and needs to speak with them right away. The timeliness of the story takes away any nervousness or hesitation as she needs to tell the story while it’s relevant. This got me to thinking that for me to break out of my nervousness, I need to approach this blog a bit like a journalist and see myself as someone with a story to tell. I’m not quite there yet but if I keep telling myself that, maybe eventually I’ll believe it.

The lunch:
I was a bit nervous to meet Lisa as I have watched her on the news so many times and I just wasn’t sure what to say to her. I was afraid I might be a bit star struck. But she is so nice, from the second I met her all my nervousness was gone.

Of all the stories that Lisa has covered, she said it is definitely her reporting from areas of conflict that stay with her the longest. Being in the refugee camps and seeing the people that so desperately want the conflict to end is something that stays with her long after the story has been filed and she has returned home. I can imagine that there would be a lot of feelings of helplessness after meeting the completely innocent people stuck in the middle.

She did say that she also really enjoyed covering the Michael Jackson funeral this year. She said once the shock of his death had faded, everyone was there honouring his life and you easily got caught up in it. She says there are few moments in our lives that everyone remembers where they were when they first heard – JFK’s assassination, Princess Di’s death, 9/11 and, I proved her right by remembering, Michael Jackson’s death.

We chatted about her upcoming anchor desk role at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. This is a completely new area of reporting for Lisa and she is really excited. I am a huge fan of the Olympics (and recently found out that I am going to the Olympics with my work – wahoo!) and think it would be amazing to interview the athletes after they have won a medal – basically moments after they achieved what they have dreamed of their entire lives.

Lisa also talked about her volunteer work with Plan Canada. For a number of years, Lisa has spent a vacation week a year traveling with Plan Canada to remote areas around the world where child poverty and hunger are rampant. The money raised through the organization is used to help build up communities with water wells, schools, hospitals and more. I am sure many of you have seen Lisa on the Plan Canada programs that run weekend mornings.

Lisa told me how her and her friends get together every year and fundraise together rather than exchange gifts. This year they were able to raise $2,000, which incredibly covers the yearly salary for two female teachers in Afghanistan. Watching the news about Afghanistan, I think the battle that girls are enduring to get an education is one of the saddest and bravest struggles in the world today. Lisa explained to me, having been to Afghanistan, that many women teachers sleep in the schools because it is too dangerous for them to travel back and forth from their homes, but they keep teaching. Such courage.

I really enjoyed my coffee with Lisa, too bad it couldn’t be longer. She is so friendly and great to talk to. She must have so many more amazing stories to tell. But hopefully I can take a little bit from Lisa and try to find that journalist hiding inside me.

Strategic Innovation Practitioner, Author and Professor Alexander Manu

17 Aug

Lunch with Mary 021

Date of lunch:
Thursday, August 13, 2009

The company:
Alexander Manu’s career is so diverse and interesting that it is actually quite difficult to describe. He works with Fortune 500 companies to help them with innovation, strategic insight and understanding “desire” – it’s not needs , it’s desires that motivate. From this work, he designed a course at Rotman’s for MBA students called “Innovation, Foresight and Business Design.” It sounds like an amazing course. Alexander is working to help businesspeople to not just think in numbers but to understand what makes people tick, what their desires are and use this knowledge to design products. Alexander told me I can audit his course in September. I hope he meant it.

 

The food:
We met at the Bedford Academy on Prince Arthur and sat on the beautiful patio. Alexander actually did not eat but I, of course, did not miss the opportunity to chow down. I had the grilled portobello and goats cheese salad, which was good except I hate when I have to cut my salad before I eat it – I just wish the cooks would slice the portobello so I didn’t have to. Ok, rant over. I also had a diet Coke to drink. Alexander had a coffee and Compari soda. Total bill was $30 with tax.

 

The lunch lesson:
The biggest lesson of the lunch was just being able to see the world for a few moments from Alexander’s perspective. I can try to explain what I mean by describing one of his favorite innovations, the iPhone. The product is not the iPhone – you are the product. Because your experience with the iPhone is totally dependent on how you choose to use it. Without you, it’s just an object. But add the app store and you’re able to customize it any way you like – it’s a music player, a camera, a GPS, restaurant finder, a level, a gaming console, a translator and more. So when the iPhone came to market, it let the users make it into what it was, instead of it telling you what it was. According to Alexander, it’s not really a phone – that word almost takes away from its possibilities. Just a slight twist to how you perceive the products around you, but an important one.

 

The lunch:
This was a fascinating lunch and I hope that I am able to accurately capture what we spoke about.

The first question I asked Alexander was to help me to understand what he does for a living. He studied Industrial Design but his work is so much more. He started to tell me about his work with lottery corporations. This client really excited Alexander because, he explains, unlike some other companies, the lottery corporations understand “desire”. They aren’t selling tickets, they are selling hope, which is a lot more fun. I have been known after buying a lottery ticket to walk down the street and imagine what I will do with the money – a house, a cottage, a vacation, taking all my friends and family on an amazing trip, a car, sharing my good fortune, and just thinking about it makes me happy. And this is what Alexander likes about working with them – it’s so much more than tickets.

Alexander talked about the companies that we are going to see emerging in upcoming years. The models of these companies will be different from anything we see now and the way they are marketed and promoted is going to change. There will be a shift in the value proposition – currently defined as: A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings – Investopedia.com. As Alexander said about the iPhone, the company is identifying the desire and the customer is creating the value proposition. And this shifts advertising and marketing into a different role.

Alexander also spoke about some of the work he gets to do. He has had a busy summer, heading to the Maritimes to provide insight to entrepreneurs and soon to be heading off to Finland to speak with business people there. He is also an author of several business books focused on imagination and innovation and has a new one coming out shortly. His perspective is really unique and he is working hard to help others to understand how to create and innovate in ways that will garner success.

I really could have spoken with Alexander for hours. At one point he asked me if I was recording our conversation in order to help me to write my blog later. As a practice, I don’t record my lunches. I like them to be casual conversations that I can then capture afterwards. I will usually jot down a bunch of notes right after the lunch to ensure that I get the good stuff down while it’s still top of mind but I don’t want the process to be too formal.

With Alexander, I really wish I had recorded our lunch because I am sure I haven’t captured nearly enough of what I learned in this post. But that is why I hope the offer is still on the table to take his class at Rotman’s this fall – I’ll be sure to take great notes!

Freelance Foreign Journalist and CBC Dispatches Producer Naheed Mustafa

26 Jul

Lunch with Mary 020

Date of lunch:
Friday, July 24, 2009

The company:
I first came across Naheed when listening to my favorite podcast/radio show CBC Dispatches. She was reporting from Afghanistan and telling a story about determining the “barometer of success”. She was speaking with shop keepers and business owners and reporting on things such as how long people were going without a power outage. First of all, any correspondent for Dispatches is someone I want to take for lunch – but secondly, I was intrigued by Naheed and how she was right in the midst of Afghanistan, getting to know the people and what life is really like over there – not what we hear on the daily news. So I Googled her, found her on Twitter and invited her with a Tweet. Aside from Dispatches, Naheed is a freelance journalist and has been working in radio for nearly nine years after ten years in print. She produces documentaries and is currently working on an online resource for the upcoming Afghanistan election. She also regularly covers Swat Valley in Pakistan and is planning an upcoming trip to Bosnia.

The food:
We ate at the Queen Mother Café on Queen Street West. It’s such a staple of this area and has a beautiful patio but the weather was being strange – sun then rain then sun then downpour (welcome to the summer of 2009). So we didn’t chance it and ate inside. Naheed had the cannelloni and I had a grilled vegetable wrap with goat cheese – both came with a small mixed green salad and we both drank water. I am in the midst of a personal experiment to go vegetarian for July (this is likely a blog post on its own). I have always enjoyed grilled veggie sandwiches and wraps so I didn’t mind but I am finding the lack of veggie options when I go out quite shocking. All in all though, the service was great and the food was delish. The total bill was $23 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I think the lesson of this lunch was almost simple in its message but something that is difficult to always remember. The feeling I left the lunch with is that you cannot ever really know what a place and its people are like until you’ve been there. I consider myself to be pretty well informed. I am a news junkie and I always grab news and stories from multiple sources. Beyond reading and watching news regarding current events, I try to watch documentaries, read novels by international authors set in many other countries and just overall, try to learn as much as I can about what’s going on in the rest of the world. But the truth is, I have never really travelled far off the beaten path and have never met people living and surviving in a warzone or living in complete poverty. And no matter how much news I watch and read, I will never know, not only what their lives are like, but what they’re like – their dreams, passions – or, even more basic, their pastimes and hobbies. For example, did you know that Afghanistan culture is very family oriented and one of the most popular activities on a day off is to picnic? Naheed taught me that one.

The lunch:
Every so often throughout our lunch, Naheed would say something that was unbelievable to me, but for Naheed, it would be like me telling her that I watched ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ on TV last night. For instance “Ya, I had a couple of run-ins with Taliban.”

The experiences Naheed has had and the things she has seen and learned along the way are definitely more than what can be captured in one lunch. But I hope to have gotten a small glimpse.

Naheed talked a bit about being a journalist and reporting on the types of stories that she does. She says in order to be able to move on to the next story, she can’t stay emotionally connected. She says she always remains intellectually connected but has to find a way to keep her emotions out, in order to continue doing her job.

She even mentioned another journalist, Stephanie Nolen from the Globe and Mail, who is the South Asian correspondent currently based in New Delhi. Naheed read an article that Stephanie wrote while reporting on the people of Rwanda ten years after the genocide and she still wonders how Stephanie was able to move on from that story. Naheed says she often goes back and reads that same article and it still gets to her every time.

We talked about Iran and how it has been a progressive Middle East country in many ways, with a population that is extremely educated. This is another place that was mostly shown in the media as a reflection of its leader and, recently, we have seen this is definitely not the case.

I also wanted to ask Naheed, what is someone like me to do? I see horrible stories on the news of girls being attacked for going to school and I want to help but don’t know how. She said it’s not easy to help. This is a country that is extremely conservative, 80 per cent rural, with tribal and sectarian divides and women, at times, are still seen very much like property. She suggested donations to charities that have tangible results such as those offering medic al care. Women are dying in childbirth when they could be easily saved with proper medical care. Proper care for these mothers is very much a women’s rights issue and a way for us here in Canada to help.

I really enjoyed my lunch with Naheed. I feel like I always have follow-up questions after I watch the news and I was able to get some insightful answers from Naheed. I could honestly have talked to her, asked her questions and listened to her stories for hours. Hopefully we can meet up again one time. Now I think it’s time for me to start a secondary “lunch set up” blog because I think Stephanie Nolen and Naheed should get together.

Member of Parliament Olivia Chow

21 May

Date of lunch:
Thursday, May 21, 2009

The company:
Olivia Chow is the New Democrat MP for Trinity-Spadina, which makes her my MP. Olivia has a diverse and fascinating career in public service. Beginning as an advocate for Vietnamese Boat People seeking asylum in Canada, Olivia worked with many others to successfully push the Canadian government to help these people. In the end, Canada took in 200,000 refugees. She then worked as the constituency assistant in the office of Dan Heap, who held the position Olivia holds now. This taste of seeing how she could make a difference led her to run. Olivia became a school trustee in 1985, a Toronto Metro city councilor in 1991 and continuing to be a councilor in the amalgamated city hall in 1997 and finally a federal MP in 2006. I never have had the opportunity to talk with one of my representatives so I emailed Olivia and asked her to lunch. She wrote me back (which was exciting for me and my blog) and the rest (of the lunch) is history.

 

The food:
We ate at Supermarket in Kensington Market, right near Olivia’s constituency office and smack in the middle of her riding. I have hung out at the Supermarket at night but had never enjoyed food on the patio in the sunshine. I had Thai Green Curry Chicken and Olivia had mango salad with grilled shrimp and we both shared edamame. We both drank water (it was 30 degrees out!!!). The food was great but the food came out at all different times, including getting my rice five minutes before my curry. Total bill was $27 with tax which we split, which she insisted.

The lunch lesson:
Olivia told me about a big lesson she had learned at the beginning of her career which she shared with me. Working in Dan Heap’s office, constituents would often come into the office looking for help for a number of things. She noticed quickly that you can help people one at a time, but if you can change laws and policy, you can help a lot more people. This is what encouraged her to get into politics and something that has got me thinking…

The lunch:
Secretly, but I guess not so secretly now that I am writing this online, I have often thought that one day I want to be on city council. I thought it would be great to hear from Olivia about her experience on city council and beyond.

For anyone who dreams (or thinks or ponders) of political office one day, no matter your leanings, hanging out with Olivia Chow will inspire you to get involved. She is so passionate about what she does and the people she helps. It seems what drives her is being able to change things for the better.

Olivia asked me what organizations or causes I feel strongly about. I told her how I have always supported international aid organizations but most recently, I have focused my attention on the issues facing women in many of these countries. We talked at length about this, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and Canada’s pledge in international aid.

I think this was the point when I fully realized that Olivia is actually in a position to make a difference. I watch the news about women being stoned for protesting the “rape law” in Afghanistan and I want to do SOMETHING but I don’t know what. I started to imagine myself in a position when I can truly enact change. I do realize that you don’t have to be in office to make a difference, of course, but the idea that Olivia can give a cause (for many local and national issues as well) a voice on a national stage is pretty amazing.

I really enjoyed spending my lunch hour with Olivia. I was REALLY nervous about this lunch. Once Olivia showed up on her bicycle, adorned with flowers, I felt a little bit better and by the end the nerves were gone. Olivia is wonderful company and ensures a fascinating conversation. She may have just pushed me a little closer to running one day…