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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.

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TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan

15 Mar

Lunch with Mary 051

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The company:
Noah Cowan is the artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the incredible new facility at King and John in downtown Toronto. He drives the curatorial vision for the year-round programming. Noah has been a part of TIFF for a long time with his first venture being curator of the Midnight Madness program at the festival in 1989 – a program I know has always been popular with my friends. Noah also had some incredible ventures outside of TIFF, including launching Cowboy Pictures, a pioneering distributor devoted to the art of cinema, in 1993 and founding, in 2002, the Global Film Initiative in New York City, a not-for-profit organization devoted to worldwide understanding through film. He returned to TIFF in 2003 as the co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival until January 2008, when he took over his current role.

The food:
We ate at Le Saint Tropez on King Street West. It’s a very cute French bistro and since we ate at 1:30 we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Noah had the Quiche Lorraine with side salad and frites. I had the Ratatouille Provençal. My meal was really tasty and had a lot of cheese, which I loved! Noah had a ginger ale and I drank water. After our meal, Noah had a tea and I had a coffee. Total bill was $33 with tax.

Usually when I describe a meal, I end with the price. But this meal had a very traumatic end for me. I forgot my wallet?!?!? It was terrible (and extremely unusual for me). I had taken out my wallet at work to contact my bank and forgot to put it back in my purse. When I realized, I think my face went white. I thought I might cry and I felt very sick to my stomach. I invited someone out for lunch and then couldn’t cover the bill. Awful. Noah was incredibly gracious about it and covered the cost of the lunch. My blog is all about free lunches and open minds – it’s what I do. So I have put a check in the mail to pay him back.

The lunch lesson:
Noah talked about some of the programs they have at TIFF Bell Lightbox aimed at young people – high school and college/university students. Noah wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be a comfortable place for young people to come, learn and appreciate art and culture. We talked about how museums are really appealing to kids and then an interest that is picked back up later, perhaps in late-twenties, early thirties. But there is a good 10-15 year chunk of time when young people aren’t particularly interested in going to a museum. TIFF Bell Lightbox is the perfect solution. It’s ever evolving and has art from the past and present. It’s a great place to be absorbed in culture. Noah told me that when Tim Burton was in town for his exhibition, he took time to meet with young people and even asked them to bring in their animation projects, which he viewed and provided feedback. Can you imagine being a teenager who is passionate about animation and filmmaking and get advice from Tim Burton? It’s so incredible. And Noah said that Tim Burton was really in his element with the young people and this type of experience is exactly what he wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be.

The lunch:
The TIFF Bell Lightbox is so new, I haven’t had the chance to discover everything that it entails so it was great to get the chance to hear from the artistic director himself.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a five-storey complex with a public atrium, five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios, a centre for students and scholars, the O&B Canteen, Luma Restaurant and a lounge. And there really is something for everyone and I think that’s what I really liked the most when Noah was explaining it all to me. One program that I didn’t know about and now I am really excited to take advantage of is the “Back to the ‘80’s” film series. It started February 5 and continues until April 2 and shows ‘80s favorites on the big screen, like Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Goonies and The Princess Bride. Amazing!

Given that I just took a paleontologist out to lunch, who was basically living out his childhood dream, I had to ask Noah if it was the same for him. He said he has always loved movies and if his childhood self saw him now, he would think it was pretty cool. Noah, it seems, has always worked in the film industry somehow, even being a movie critic for Eye Weekly. So I had to find out his favourite movie. He named two. He said that he can judge people based on their thoughts on these two films so it was very embarrassing for me to have not seen either of them. Well, I am definitely going to check them out now. They are The Towering Inferno and The Palm Beach Story. My favourite movie is Rushmore and I totally judge people by whether they think it’s funny or not. (Noah thinks it’s very funny.)

We also chatted on what, or more precisely who, drives people to check out movies. Is it still the movie star? Or is it more the director? Noah spoke of the “big five” – writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer – as the people that really shape a movie. The actors come in later in the process. He also said how actors are unlikely to always consistently be in stellar movies, whereas if there is a director you really enjoy, it’s likely you will enjoy all of their films. Something to think about when you’re trying to decide what movie to check out this weekend.

It’s hard not to get excited about movies when you talk to Noah and, something I really appreciate, is the excitement about Canadian cinema that he has. At the end of the lunch, Noah brought me to check out the Mary Pickford exhibit, Canada’s own movie star. It’s the inaugural exhibition of TIFF’s new Canadian Film Gallery. It has over 1,900 items from photographs to posters to pillowcases and Mary Pickford make up compacts, all original and incredibly, all part of one man, Rob Brooks’, private collection. This was my first exploration into the TIFF Bell Lightbox space and it was so cool – so much history and so HUGE – and everything is open to the public.

I used to work at a restaurant across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox and at that time, it was a parking lot. Unlike a lot of other Torontonians, I am a big fan of a lot of the downtown condo builds because I like the urban density and having such a livable and lively downtown. But I did love to see that this parking lot was made into a cultural hub, a place for all of Toronto to enjoy. You should all check it out!

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?

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.

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

Model and Talent Agent Ben Barry

28 Jun

Lunch with Mary 040

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 28, 2010

The company:
Ben Barry is the CEO of Ben Barry Agency Inc., a model and talent agency in Toronto. It’s a pretty amazing story because Ben started the agency when he was only 14. Ben is from Ottawa like me and I remember hearing about him and his agency when I was in high school. A friend of his was told she was “too big” to be a model by one of the local agencies so Ben called a magazine on her behalf and got her a gig. And the rest is history. The Ben Barry Agency focuses on representing models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities, and is bringing diversity to fashion and the runway. Ben Barry is also partnered with a previous lunch guest of mine, Sunny Fong, as business director of Vawk.

The food:
We ate at Kokyo Japanese Restaurant at Yonge and Alexander. They have a huge patio but it was so hot out today that we chose to sit inside. I’d love to come back and sit on the patio when the air is a little less muggy. We both had lunch specials, a variety of sushi rolls, salad and miso soup. The sushi was fresh and delicious. We both drank water and green tea. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Ben has also written a book called Fashioning Reality – A new generation of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, Ben has a definite business mind and it’s fascinating to listen to him and how he sees business opportunities in everything. He offered advice to me regarding my blog and how I might be able to add a bit of a business slant to the whole thing. It’s something I have been struggling with for awhile, had some hits and misses. But listening to him talk about business possibilities, as well as his book, has re-ignited my lifelong dream of writing a book – and hopefully using this blog and what I’ve learned and done so far as a great first step.

The lunch:
Although it’s hard to understand how a 14 year old can become an incredible advocate for diverse definitions of beauty and healthy body image, I am glad it turned out that way. And I’m not the only one.. He was noticed by the talkshow queen herself, Oprah, and appeared on the show as one of 20 teens who will change the world. I’ve never met anyone who’s met Oprah. Incase you’re wondering, he says she’s very nice. Him and his agency have also been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Globe and Mail and more.

When Ben explains what he is doing with his company, it makes so much sense. Women come in all sizes, ages, shapes, etc. so why not make and showcase clothing that fits all of these variations. And Ben also was sure to point out that he isn’t trying to eliminate thin models but instead co-exist in the industry and offer an alternative. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty really embodies this belief. Incase you were wondering, Ben’s agency provided the models for the campaign.

Ben explained that at Toronto Fashion Week, Sunny Fong was the only designer who used plus size and older models (although Joe did have one plus-size model in their show so I don’t want to forget to mention that). But Ben is seeing a shift in the industry and how it is regular people helping to push this forward. Fashion isn’t only for the big designers anymore. With blogs like The Sartorialist just picking people off the street and showcasing their awesome style, it becomes obvious that fashion really is defined by the people and it should look like the people – from skinny all the way to plus, all shapes, all backgrounds, all ages.

Aside from running the agency and working with Vawk, Ben is also working towards his PhD at Cambridge. He is doing research into whether women are more interested in buying products that are advertised using the typical model or using models that more represent regular women. I’ll let Ben discuss those results once his research is complete but I think it’s pretty obvious what I think the results will be.

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!