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Physiotherapist, Professor and Global Rescue Worker Mike Landry

9 Jul

Lunch with Mary 054 Date of lunch:
Friday, July 8, 2011

The company:
Mike Landry is a physiotherapist, professor at University of Toronto (soon to be chair at Duke University) and a 15 year veteran of global rescue missions. I was listening to my fave, CBC Dispatches, and heard a story by Mike Landry about his original mission to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. He spoke about the work he did to help those with spinal cord injuries as a result of the earthquake and subsequent recovery effort. He then went back several months later to check on the progress of his patients and what he discovered led him to ask some very difficult questions about the responsibility of aid. When does it start? When does it end? I found the story very thought provoking and wanted to hear from Mike himself. In one of my fastest arranged lunches in history – I listened to the podcast on Sunday, Googled Mike Landry and emailed him on Monday and we had lunch on Friday. It was a fascinating conversation.

The food:
Mike and I ate at Café La Gaffe on Baldwin Street. I have never been on Baldwin Street on a beautiful afternoon and the patios were bustling. It’s one of those great hidden spots in Toronto. I had the Mediterranean vegetable pizza with salad and Mike had the risotto special with salad. We both drank water. The portions were huge, which I always appreciate. I did find the pizza a bit difficult to cut through but it was still great, tons of feta cheese! Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Mike talked to me about the type of person that is able to go on these global aid missions and was very clear that it is not for everyone. The images he sees are not something that he can forget and he said that every aid worker must have some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he can’t even fully discuss what he sees and does with all people because it is too difficult for them to hear. What really got to me was that Mike and his colleagues choose to put themselves in these positions. But what about those that live there and have no choice but to see the devastation day in and day out? It’s hard to imagine what that must be like and that thought has really stuck with me since our lunch.

The lunch:
Ever since I was young, I had an understanding that there were people in other parts of the world that had far less than I did and, like many other in my shoes, had this drive to do something to help. But the problem is, what do you do and how can you help? Mike Landry first felt this feeling when he watched Live Aid as a child and the drive did not go away. For over 15 years, he has been going to areas all over the world and helping out.

I asked him if he was ever scared and he told me he never was until recently, when he had children. When he first saw the images coming back from Haiti after the earthquake, he decided he couldn’t go this time. His daughter was very young and he didn’t want to put himself at risk. Mike told me he was able to hold himself from going for a week and then he just had to go. Once he knew he was going, he was in Haiti within a couple of days.

In Haiti, Mike helped those that were suffering from spinal cord injuries. He said many of these people had pulled themselves, with very serious injuries, out of the rubble on their own. Others had fallen while working to help rescue others and clear rubble. Not that many years ago, these people never would have survived – these injuries would have meant certain death. But Mike and the rest of the team in Haiti were able to help them. Many of those they saved are now able to have some level of mobility.

A few months after the earthquake, Mike returned to Haiti to check back in on his patients and help them return home. To this day, rubble still covers the streets of Haiti and it is shocking to see. For someone with mobility issues, it is very difficult to get around.

He brought one woman, who is paralyzed, to her home that was so difficult to access that they could not even bring her to her home on her wheelchair and instead had to carry her to her home on a stretcher. Once home, Mike wondered whether she’d ever be able to leave. And these are the questions that now haunt Mike and many other aid workers. They saved these lives but now what? How can the massive global aid dollars respond appropriately to help these survivors and communities? I, of course, do not have the answers but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. The funding is there but it’s far more complicated than simply spending money.

Mike is about to embark on a new adventure at Duke University and will teach physiotherapy students who will continue the work that Mike does now. With advances in medicine, there is the opportunity to save so many more lives than before. It is my hope that long term aid will be part of the solution and will address quality of life. With someone as committed as Mike championing this cause, I believe we’re on the right track.

*NOTE: Mike is working on a documentary about his work and the people he has helped in Haiti and I will link to it once the site is live. Stay tuned for an update.

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Ryerson University English professor Dennis Denisoff

14 Jun

Lunch with Mary 053

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The company:
Dennis Denisoff is the Chair of the Department of English at Ryerson University. He also teaches English and is a professor in the Communication and Culture Graduate program. Dennis was my 3rd year English professor when I was at Ryerson and I really enjoyed his class. I went to every single one! He always had a great way of discussing literature that was accessible and interesting for someone like me, who loves reading and writing but is not the greatest at literature courses. I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago when I was thinking about Ryerson, remembered this class and I thought “hey, I should just ask him out for lunch”… and here we are.

The food:
Dennis and I ate at Bangkok Garden, a Thai restaurant right near Ryerson. I have been there before but only for dinner and I remembered that it was delicious – a bit higher end than the Thai I usually have. We had the buffet and I have to say that it was likely the best lunch buffet I have ever had. Totally fresh, lots of options and regularly refilled. Some of the deliciousness that I sampled included vegetarian summer roll, vegetable green curry, mango salad, chicken vegetable stir fry and more! Yum. We both drank water. Dennis told me that he insisted on picking up the tab when he agreed to lunch with me. But as my readers know, I insist on picking up the tab. So we split it. Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
After my lunch with Doug Saunders, I decided to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. For those who don’t live in my head, it might not make sense but I thought I needed to sit back and make sure that I remembered why I started my blog in the first place. Like many bloggers know but might not admit, you sometimes get caught up in the page views. But I needed to take some time and remember that I started this blog to learn. So my first blog back, I was so glad to lunch with someone who is committed to learning. I talked to Dennis about his class and how, although I loved the books, I didn’t always see the meaning or symbolism and sometimes just enjoyed the stories. He let me know that there are techniques for reading that way and finding those meanings within the stories, and that it was something that I could learn. It made me feel better to know that I am not a total moron and that one day I can sound as smart as the other students in my university English classes.

The lunch:
Overall it was a great lunch! I always enjoyed Dennis’s class so it’s no surprise that I would enjoy our lunch conversation. Dennis let me know before our lunch that he’d love to discuss some of his new research areas. His research area that I found the most interesting is digital humanities.

A good friend of mine is doing his PhD in English and his apartment is filled with walls of books and it is amazing. The image of English research for me will always include a scene like this apartment. Well Ryerson is doing a lot of work surrounding digital humanities and using research tools much like a science department would to make connections within literature, among other things.

For instance, most people who have studied English literature know that Mary Shelley is connected to Percy Shelley. But this research can show, hypothetically, that author A encountered Mary Shelley and two years later Mary Shelley spent some time with author B. So although A and B never met, they did share a connection with Mary Shelley and A’s writing influences B’s. This is just one example of what can be found but it is so much more. Finding these connections throughout history, as well as political and historical events, and tying them to literature, art and more, is incredible. The resources that Dennis and his team are building are bringing a greater understanding of history. Pretty incredible.

Digital humanities has become such a focus for Ryerson that they have just hired a tenure-stream professor specializing in this area. I can only imagine what will be discovered in the coming years as more works go online and more people work to find the connections.

The class I took with Dennis was Popular Literature and Culture. As part of an assignment, we had to watch Terminator 2. I had never seen the movie. After I watched it and thought it was awesome, I just wanted to talk about it all the time. So I was that weirdo at parties talking about a movie that came out (and was hugely popular) ten years earlier as if it had just opened in theatres. I do have a point with this anecdote, I promise. There is something timeless about books and stories and there is a common, as well as unique, experience to be had. It is people like Dennis who ensure that stories from the past will never be lost and there is something incredibly valuable about the work he does.

Globe and Mail European Bureau Chief and Author Doug Saunders

2 Apr

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Date of lunch:
Friday, April 1, 2011

The company:
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail, an award winning columnist and author of Arrival City, a book about the “cities” that immigrants and village-to-urban migrants create within or just outside existing cities. It is a very interesting look at moving populations and a global shift from rural to urban living. I went to hear Doug speak at an event at the Toronto Reference Library back in November and tweeted throughout. Doug then tweeted back to those of us “live-tweeting” so I took the opportunity to invite Doug for lunch over Twitter. And here we are. I was able to grab some time on Doug’s calendar as he returned to Toronto for his book tour.

The food:
Doug wanted us to have lunch around Spadina and Dundas as it’s his old stomping grounds and it ties in with the theme of his book as a sort of arrival city for Chinese immigrants. I suggested my fave Pho Hung. However, due to a last minute scheduling conflict, we moved our lunch to the Pho Hung at Bloor and Avenue. Same great food but without the atmosphere. We both had a small #2, which is the rare beef Pho and my favourite Pho in the city. It was delicious as always. Pho Hung fact: the food at the Bloor location is less spicy than the Spadina location. We then shared the beef rolls, which were not pre-assembled. I think attempting to roll rice paper rolls at the table is a bit difficult so definitely would have preferred pre-rolled rolls. We shared a pot of green tea. All in all, it was a great meal. The total bill was $24 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
As we were finishing up, I asked Doug if he had seen Christiane Amanpour’s interview with Gadhafi’s sons. Doug let me know that he had and then told me a story of when he interviewed Gadhafi’s son Saif. He said he was driven out to his compound and spoke to Saif as he fed beef cubes to his pet Bengal tigers. What?!?!? So that is the difference between consuming the news (me) and producing the news (him) and that is why Doug is so fascinating to speak with.

The lunch:
Doug and I talked a lot about his book Arrival City and how he went about visiting all these cities around the world and what he learned along the way. I am mid-way through the book and it is so interesting and a must-read for anyone developing immigration policy, as he offers a real understanding of how these cities or enclaves of arrivals work and how support and consideration could really help.

A detail in his book and something we discussed was how rural and farming populations are shrinking around the world as more people move to cities. Because of this, families are no longer as large. Many rural families were much larger as the parents and children took care of the farm, but in an urban setting that changes and large families are not necessary or financially viable. Many experts and Doug believe that the world’s population will level off around 2050. This is good news to all of those people worrying about overpopulation. In general, I think fear mongers of many stripes could really learn something from Doug’s book.

On that note, one chapter of Doug’s book juxtaposes two Washington, DC suburbs – Herndon, VA and Wheaton, MD. Both have large populations of Mexican, Central and South American immigrants. I am going to over-simplify here so please read Doug’s book for more details. Herndon did not embrace these arrivals. When a Herndon mayor created an indoor day-labour centre to help the men looking for cash work, he was quickly voted out in the next election. The new mayor closed the centre, made it illegal to gather and wait for cash work, or live in apartments with four or more non-related adults. Without support or means to make money, these arrivals were having a very difficult time surviving. On the other hand, Wheaton embraced the arrivals and saw it as way to revitalize their town and realized that with their success, the town would benefit from the wealth creation. Wheaton engaged with the new arrivals, helped them to access government and non-profit services and celebrated the new multi-ethnic cultures. I will let you guess which town is now more prosperous.

Doug and I talked a bit about the revolutions going on in the Middle East. Doug has long covered and traveled to these areas for the Globe and Mail. He said he did travel to Libya at the beginning of the protests. He entered the country through Tunisia into a rebel held area. He would go in for the day, speak with and interview people and then head back to Tunisia. As he saw the conflict worsening, he decided to leave and head back to London and work from there as bureau chief and other Globe and Mail reporters took over. He says many of the reporters he was with in Libya pushed East towards Tripoli and were taken prisoner, beaten and tortured. I think we forget in Canada how lucky we are to have a free press who can question authority without reprisal and it’s something we all need to make sure never changes.

I really enjoyed my lunch with Doug. I am a total news junkie so it was incredibly fascinating to talk to someone who has actually been to the places and met the players. Doug is also exceptionally nice – something that always makes a lunch more enjoyable. I look forward to finishing Doug’s book with my new insight and again, so grateful to this blogging thing for giving me such awesome opportunities.

Paleontologist and ROM Curator David Evans… and DINOSAURS!

5 Mar

Lunch with Mary 050

Date of lunch:
Friday, March 4, 2011

The company:
David Evans is the associate curator in vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). So basically he has the job that every single eight year old would die for. He oversees dinosaur research at the ROM, travels the globe looking for dinosaur bones – from the Arctic to Africa to Alberta – and meets with researchers at the world’s best museums. He is about to leave for a five week trip to Northern Sudan to search for dinosaur remains. So I was really glad we could find time for this lunch before he left. Oh and he took me on a behind-the-scenes tour of the dinosaur collection at the ROM and it was THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!

The food:
We ate at Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner – a café on the 3rd floor of the Gardiner Museum. It’s a great space. While we were there, a couple was getting a tour for their upcoming wedding. I can see how this venue would be awesome for special events. I had the layered vegetarian sandwich, David had the meatloaf sandwich and we split fries. The food was light and tasty and very fresh. We both drank water. Total bill was $27 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
So it turns out that Dr. Alan Grant was right. Birds are dinosaurs. David explained to me that birds share much of the same genetic make-up as dinosaurs and in fact (I am likely not explaining this in the correct scientific terms) have the ability to have tails, hands and teeth but those features have been turned off within their genomes. Then he gave me a great lesson. Picture a chicken. Now take away its feathers, put a tail on it, put teeth in its mouth and add little hands to the ends of its arms. It would totally look like a little dinosaur. Amazing. Dinochicken.

The lunch:
I usually don’t publicly talk about my upcoming lunches or tell others who I am taking out just incase it falls through. But with this lunch, I could not shut up about it. I had a countdown on Twitter. I pretty much told everyone that would listen – to the point that I think people were getting sick of me. And the lunch did not disappoint. We’ll get to the actual behind-the-scenes tour in a bit.

David talked to me about how he actually finds dinosaur bones. He said it’s not all about digging like you see on TV, it’s really about walking. For his upcoming trip, he is traveling with a German group of dino-trackers and they will be walking in the desert in Northern Sudan and just looking at the ground, at mountain sides and everywhere around them for fragments of dinosaur bones sticking out. Isn’t that insane? After 75 million years, there could still be a dinosaur bone sticking out of the ground. Anyway, they will see a tiny fragment and examine it and what may be around it. Then, if further exploration is needed, the team will arrange to do the exploration with the heavy equipment on another trip.

I did talk to David about how every kid goes through their dinosaur phase where they are just fascinated by everything to do with dinosaurs. I think it’s so awesome that he continued that interest and now works with dinosaur bones every day. He says he knew he wanted to do this for as long as he can remember. He also said that dinosaurs are a great introduction for kids to science. Even if they don’t end up pursuing a career in paleontology, it’s great that they’re interested in and loving science.

I also had to ask David what killed the dinosaurs. He said it is a matter of fierce debate within the scientific community. He did say that it seems that an asteroid did hit the Earth and this took out many of the dinosaurs. However, he doesn’t believe this was the only factor and says it was a combination of things and didn’t just happen in one big bang.

Never in a million years did I think when I started this blog that I would get to do something as cool as taking David out to lunch and holding 75 million year old dinosaur remains. I haven’t been to see the dinosaur exhibit since I was a kid and I really did feel like a kid again. It was such an amazing day and a big thanks to David for giving me so much of his time.

My exclusive tour behind-the-scenes of the ROM’s dinosaur collection:
The tour started with David taking me into the room that people don’t get to see. It houses over a million dinosaur bones and fragments.

IMG_2778 This room is the coolest room that has ever existed… EVER! Here are a few pics of what I saw:

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Me holding a 75 million year old dinosaur horn – Look how excited I am!

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David holding part of the neck bone of a dinosaur

 

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A part of a dinosaur skull. This particular dinosaur used his head as a battering ram – look how thick it is!

 

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Some duck-billed dinosaur skulls – David’s area of expertise

 

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Wouldn’t want to bump into this guy in a dark alley – Roaarrrrr!

 

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Coolest pic of all – a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth! Look at that thing! And its edge is serrated like a steak knife.

 

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Another dino tooth!

 

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Dinosaur toe!

 

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Part of a raptor’s skull. David let me know that they were A LOT smaller than they were portrayed in Jurassic Park. Raptors were only 2-3 feet high, who knew?

Two years of lunching… and counting

5 Feb

Two years_2

Me – In between meals

A year ago, I looked back at my first 12 months of lunching and was mostly in shock that I was able to pull off this funny little idea that I had.

Now that I am two years into this lunching adventure, I continue to be so grateful to everyone who has agreed to have lunch with me and taught me so much along the way. I feel a bit like a kid doing a school project when I ask people out to lunch so I am always a bit surprised when anyone agrees. So a huge thank you to my lunch guests from the past 12 months:

· Ryan Taylor

· Corey Mintz

· Sunny Fong

· Amy Cole

· Ben Barry

· Inessa Frantowski

· Rahaf Harfoush

· Massimo Capra

· Daryl DSouza

· Jian Ghomeshi

As I enter year three, I haven’t figured out what I want to do next. As the site continues to grow with more lunches and more readers, I want to make this into more and I am struggling what that “more” is.

But there is one thing I want to accomplish in 2011. Since I am two years into this, I am just going to be up front. I want to have lunch with Paul Krugman. It’s why I started this blog and I think it would be a fascinating conversation. I outreached to him this year and did hear back (yay!) but the lunch still hasn’t happened. I am willing to travel and work around his schedule but I am going to you all, dear readers, and asking for help. Any ideas on how I can make this happen?

And finally, thanks for reading – I hope you all enjoy my blog just a fraction of as much as I enjoy doing it.

Restaurant Owner Daryl DSouza (and special appearance by Owner/Chef Sean Smith)

14 Nov

Lunch with Mary 045

Date of lunch:
Sunday, November 14, 2010

The company:
Daryl is one of the owners of Lou Dawg’s Southern Sandwiches at King and Portland. The restaurant is about a year and a half old and Daryl, along with Chef Sean Smith, are learning all about running a restaurant along the way. A lifelong entrepreneur, I thought I could learn not only about owning a restaurant but also about starting a new business and all that it entails. Besides Lou Dawg’s, Daryl also works full time for an IT consulting firm specializing in eHealth and often lectures and sometimes teaches classes on entrepreneurship and business at Ryerson.

The food:
We ate at Lou Dawg’s and split a pulled pork po’boy sandwich and the vegetarian chili cheese fries. The chili cheese fries are a new menu addition and they are delicious – not too heavy and full of flavour. The sandwich was great and the coleslaw is a great addition. We both drank water and then each ended the meal with a Caesar. Daryl graciously treated me to lunch but if you were to order it, the total would be about $30 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Daryl discussed some of his future plans for Lou Dawg’s, including conversations with investors about expansion into food courts and other counter service options. And that got me wondering – how does one find investors? Daryl told me about a Dragon’s Den type presentation series at Ryerson called Angel Investors. The network brings together a bunch of investors and then young entrepreneurs present their business plans. I had no idea anything like this existed. Daryl and Sean presented there, with food samples of course, and not only met investors in the audience but made connections that led to new connections and to the team of investors that they are speaking with now.

The lunch:
Daryl’s mind is always working – always looking for ways to grow and expand the business and always on the search for new opportunities. It was pretty interesting to listen to his plans for the future of Lou Dawg’s and how the plan has evolved based on what has worked and not worked up until this point. It seems quite obvious that any entrepreneur needs to be extremely flexible and be able to handle change, quick decisions and risk.

Having known Daryl and Sean for many years, I remember when Sean was learning about southern US style BBQ. He traveled down south and brought back the techniques and flavours that he found. Then Sean would cook up huge batches of pork at his house and treat all of us friends to late night pulled pork sandwiches. And Daryl, always the businessman, ate these delicious sandwiches and knew that there was a business in it. And Lou Dawg’s was born.

Although I was in total agreement that Sean’s sandwiches were amazing, I am a risk averse person and would not likely have thought to embark on such a risky business venture like restaurant ownership. This is one of the reasons I really admire Sean and Daryl. Now that they are well past their one year anniversary and the restaurant has really found its footing, it seems that the risk has definitely paid off and seeing their success has been a great reminder to me that I should probably be a bit more open to taking risks and not be such a chicken.

And special guest Lou Dawg’s co-owner and chef Sean Smith

Lunch with Mary 047

Sean’s Lunch Lesson
I am always curious about the weirdest things, so I wanted to know how much meat Lou Dawg’s actually goes through considering a large portion of their menu is meat based. So I got the scoop – they go through around 300 pounds of pork, about half that of beef brisket and 48 chickens a week, not including wings. And this conversation led to my wondering how chicken wings are always so much bigger when you order wings compared to the wings you get when you buy a full chicken. Turns out, the wings are from chickens that are a bit older – and older in chicken time so only a couple of weeks older. You learn something new every day.

Chef Massimo Capra

9 Oct

Lunch with Mary 044

Date of lunch:
Friday, October 8, 2010

The company:
Massimo Capra is a well-known chef. Many people will know him from his appearances on The Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover. He is the owner of Mistura and Sopra on Davenport Road. He is also an author having published One Pot Italian Cooking and currently promoting his newest book 3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men along with Michael Bonacini (of Oliver&Bonacini) and Jason Parsons (of Peller Estates). He is incredibly friendly, enthusiastic and has such a love and passion for good food. And he has an awesome moustache!

 

The food:
We ate at Tutti Matti on Adelaide Street. It was Massimo’s choice. Being that he is a chef, I left it up to him because I didn’t want to choose somewhere awful by accident. Massimo is a huge fan of Tutti Matti because he says it reminds him of home cooked food. If there are any imperfections in the food, it is just the way nonna would make it, which makes it that much better. Even the smells of the restaurant reminded me of my nonna’s cooking. We split the fettunta (which is like bruschetta in my non-professional opinion), Massimo had the ravioli special and I had the fettucine with meat sauce. Important to note that all the pasta was made in-house, yum! We both drank water. Total bill was $49 with tax.

 

The lunch lesson:
We talked a lot about Italian food. My mom is from Italy, actually not far from where Massimo is from, and I grew up eating Italian food. Massimo explained that he is taking traditional Italian dishes but changing them slightly and updating them into his own recipes and food that he knows his customers here in Canada will enjoy. He says the food that we eat now in Canada and the US that is labeled Italian has gone through much of the same transformation as his cuisine and is its own form of Italian food. He said in Italy, if you order a specific dish like fettunta, no matter where you get it, it will be the same. While here, chefs are all putting their own take on it and Massimo has mastered this with years of dedication.

The lunch:
About a year ago, I saw Massimo at the Loblaws by my house when I was grocery shopping with my boyfriend. We wanted to follow him around the store and buy whatever he was getting, because we figured then we might be able to cook up the same great meal that he was making. Then we just felt awkward and gave up on the idea. But Massimo is the type of chef that cooks food that fills your kitchen with smells that are warm and comforting and is exactly the kind of food that I want to make.

Massimo still likes to work in the kitchen at his restaurant. The restaurant seems to have a real family feel, his wife works there too. He has been lucky to have many members of his kitchen staff stay on for upwards of ten years. Massimo told me that a lot of his longtime employees do leave eventually but he encourages them because he believes that chefs need to go out in the world, see what’s happening and learn along the way. His ex-staff members are now working at restaurants all across the globe.

Massimo told me about a new show he is working on that is currently being pitched in Cannes. It’s called Gourmet Escapes and Massimo travels around the world trying different cuisines and experiencing different cultures. So far, he has been to Iceland, South Carolina, Italy, Nova Scotia and more. Massimo told me about his time in Iceland and how much he wants to go back. He said the food is amazing, there are lots of great restaurants, a happening night life and the hot springs that everyone talks about? He said he could’ve stayed in them all day.

Hearing about his new show reminded me of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I’m a huge fan of the show and so is Massimo. He told me that after watching the episode of Anthony Bourdain in Chicago, Massimo took a road trip and went to all of the same places. He said it was an amazing trip and included eating the most delicious hot dogs and tamales at a diner in a trailer. Often when I watch No Reservations, I want to go to the city and try the food. I liked that a professional chef like Massimo is also so enthusiastic and open to try out what other chefs are doing around the world. As this blog has taught me over and over again, you really never stop learning.

World Economic Forum Associate Director and Obama Campaign New Media Team Member Rahaf Harfoush

20 Sep

Lunch with Mary 043

Date of lunch:
Monday, September 20, 2010

The company:
Rahaf Harfoush, after living in Geneva, has just moved to Paris (jealous) and works for the World Economic Forum as the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneers Programme. She is also a sought after new media and technology speaker with engagements all over the world from Egypt to Uruguay to Toronto. In 2008, she was part of the new media team working on the Barack Obama campaign in Chicago. She has published a book about the experience called “Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand”. She is currently in Toronto for 10 days for several speaking engagements and interviews and I was very happy to get some time on her very busy calendar.

The food:
We ate at Kit Kat on King West. I was a bit disappointed in that I made a reservation and was then given one of the worst tables in the restaurant. What’s the point of a reservation? We were, however, able to move in the end. Rahaf had the warm scallop salad (which looked delish) and I had the agnolotti daily special – it was FULL of cheese and amazing but I assume extremely unhealthy. We both had diet Cokes and Rahaf had a tea. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I feel a bit silly writing this but having lunch with Rahaf kind of felt like a life-changing moment. I spoke with Rahaf about the amazing things she has already accomplished at a young age, like having a successful book published and working on Obama’s campaign. She just explained that she is like a dowsing stick. When an opportunity arises or she is looking into doing something, she wants to be so excited about it that she is shaking like a dowsing stick that has found water. And if she feels that way about a job or opportunity, she will find a way to do it. I have never met someone who so fully lives by this rule. She searches out inspiring work and makes it happen. Now this book I keep talking about – it’s time to make it happen.

The lunch:
Rahaf explained to me that while working on the research and writing team for Don Tapscott’s book “Grown Up Digital”, she interviewed Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and coordinator of online organizing for Obama’s campaign. After speaking with him, she knew she needed to get on the ground and be part of this amazing movement. She called Chris and he told her to get down to Chicago asap. So Rahaf put her current work contracts on hold, found roommates on Craigslist and moved herself to Chicago.

I love Chicago and had the pleasure of being there just a few weeks before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the city was buzzing. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in the campaign war room and part of the groundbreaking social media campaign as excitement was continuing to grow.

Rahaf’s current work at the World Economic Forum is really fascinating. The Technology Pioneers Programme identifies companies from around the world that are involved in the design and development of new technologies, typically in the start-up phase. Once identified as a Technology Pioneer, these companies become part of the World Economic Forum’s network and benefit from this integration. 2011 Pioneers include foursquare and Scribd.

Rahaf has now gotten her work schedule down to about 70% of her time so she can commit herself to writing her second book, which she is co-authoring with Len Brody tentatively titled Misfits: How We’ve Outgrown the Way We Live and What to Do About It”.

 As I mentioned above, Rahaf also commits a good deal of her time to speaking engagements and through this she has had an amazing opportunity to travel all over the world, and sometimes add a few days here and there to be a tourist, such as an extended trip to Portugal earlier this year and another trip to Uruguay and one to Columbia coming up. For someone who admitted to me that she doesn’t like to fly, she certainly is racking up a lot of air miles.

I was truly inspired after my lunch with Rahaf. She is so positive and driven and genuinely excited about the work she is doing and the future of her career. It’s really amazing to see and something I hope that everyone can accomplish in their lives. I hope to be able to speak with Rahaf again and see how she’s doing on her current and new projects and perhaps try to get some of her incredible optimism, drive and perseverance to rub off on me.

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.