Archive | Neat jobs RSS feed for this section

Toronto Star Food Columnist Corey Mintz

13 Apr

Lunch with Mary 036

Date of lunch:
Monday, April 12, 2010

The company:
Corey Mintz is a food columnist for the Toronto Star. He used to be the Star’s restaurant critic and now writes a column and a blog called Fed. For each column, he invites interesting people to his house and he makes them dinner. He then writes about what was served, what it was like cooking for them and the conversation. Fed has many similarities to my own blog (and of course the GIANT difference that I am not cooking for anyone… you’re welcome lunch guests) so I wanted to talk to Corey about it, hear about his process and also just chat about his life as a food writer. Seems like a dream job!

The food:
We met at the Hoof Café. I have been meaning to try this place after hearing rave reviews from my friends. Once I arrived and saw the menu I was a bit unsure. Memories of my dad serving me cow tongue slathered in mayonnaise came flashing back. But Corey would have none of my reluctance and promptly ordered three dishes for us to share. A salad – something easy to start off with that he knew wouldn’t freak me out. The salad was then followed by tongue grilled cheese and pig tail, eggs and grits. Totally not what I would have EVER ordered. But it was really good! I need to take my dad here. And you know you’re eating somewhere pretty special when you look over and see Massimo from the Food Network having lunch at the next table. We both drank water and Corey had a macchiato. Total bill was $42 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
The food has never been the main focus of my blog. We always do eat lunch but the focus is always more on the conversation. But when you eat with Corey Mintz, the food takes centre stage. Apparently the chain restaurant that I had eaten brunch at the day before was not that awesome (according to Corey). I was grateful at this moment that Corey had chosen the restaurant or this lunch may have been over before it even started. And I mean this in the nicest way – Corey just has an immense appreciation for great food and Toronto has so much great food to offer, why wouldn’t you insist on always eating it? It got me to thinking that maybe I should increase the food focus of my blog – not change the blog per se – but use it as an opportunity to really explore the culinary treats that Toronto has to offer.

The lunch:
To be honest, when I first discovered Corey’s Fed column, my heart sank a bit. Here I was, going out for lunches and blogging and totally oblivious that someone else was doing something so similar – and not only that – but publishing it in the Toronto Star! But after a few deep breaths, I realized that his column wasn’t exactly the same and this could be a great chance to chat and learn from someone who truly understands what I am doing. He was able to share some tips about how he arranges his dinners and reaches out to guests. But more than specific tips, it was just great to find someone who enjoys sharing meals with interesting people as much as I do.

Eating with Corey is a real treat. He understands food, how it’s cooked, where it comes from and I assume he’s a great chef given that one of his lunch guests was legendary former New York Times and LA Times restaurant critic, editor of Gourmet Magazine and Corey’s role model Ruth Reichl.

Ruth Reichl was the first interview that Corey did over a meal at his house. He made BLTs (gourmet, of course) and interviewed her while enjoying the homecooked food. The pressure to make something excellent was enormous. But it was this interview and subsequent blog post that led to the creation of his Fed column and a brand new food writing adventure. He told me who he is trying to secure for an upcoming meal/interview and I have to admit I was a little jealous that I didn’t think of it first.

Corey also talked about the changing of the guard in the restaurant world. In Toronto, there are the institutions like Susur Lee, Mark McEwan and Marc Thuet. People work under these chefs then move up within the company and hope to lead one of the various restaurants. But now, excellent young chefs in Toronto are opening small places on their own, like Hoof Café, where they control everything and create their own creative menus. And Toronto is benefiting from all these excellent chefs opening accessible, innovative and delicious restaurants.

Now let’s just take a second and appreciate that I ate cow tongue AND pig’s tail – PIG’S TAIL! Although it was delicious, that first bite was a little frightening. And my parents will attest that the only foods that I refused to eat when I was younger and still lived at home were sardines, anchovies and cow tongue – so this is a big deal. I feel like I need an applause or something.

But I do want to point out that the food at Hoof Café is authentic and delicious – they use these ingredients because they taste good and should be enjoyed – not because they are not typical. And that’s why eating there with Corey was so great – because he makes you want to try food that you never would otherwise and dining becomes a very different experience. And eating with Corey is also kind of fun for anyone who, like me, has a true appreciation for people who pepper their meals with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Fair Trade Jewellery Co. Founder Ryan Taylor

15 Mar

Lunch with Mary 031

Date of lunch:
Monday, March 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Feb

Lunch with Mary 029

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seismologist Dr. Qinya Liu

21 Jan

Lunch with Mary 028

Date of lunch:
Thursday, January 21, 2010

The company:
Dr. Qinya Liu is a professor of seismology and earthquake sciences at the University of Toronto. She is originally from China but did her PhD at Cal Tech and her post-doc in San Diego. After the devastation in Haiti, I was hoping to learn a little more about how and why earthquakes happen, what we can do to prepare and whether we will ever be able to predict them. Qinya is incredibly friendly and very good at explaining pretty complicated science in easy language for me to understand. It was a fascinating lunch.

The food:
We ate at Midi Bistro on McCaul Street in the Baldwin Village area of restaurants. I have never been there before but I will definitely be back. I had the Farmer Salad, which was kind of cheating in the “salad” area because it had bacon in it and was covered in cheese. Qinya had the salmon quiche with a side salad and fries. We both drank water. My salad was so so tasty. I want to eat one again right now. Total bill was $23 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Qinya explained a lot to me about tectonic plates and how it is the fault lines between these plates that are the most dangerous. She explained two pretty interesting things about areas where these plates meet. One that we all know well is the San Andreas fault, which runs through California and it is where the North American Plate meets the Pacific Plate. With these two plates constantly pushing against each other, the Earth is shifting at an average of 4cm a year. This means that in 10 million years, San Francisco will be at the same longitude as Los Angeles. The second area is the Himalayas. This is where the Indian Plate meets the Eurasia Plate. These mountains are caused by these two plates hitting each other and the mountains continue to get higher. Who knew?

The lunch:
The devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti was caused by one of these major faults. The Caribbean region is actually quite dangerous for earthquakes as the Caribbean Plate meets the North American Plate. The most simple way to explain these quakes, as Qinya patiently and graciously explained to me, is that these plates are constantly pushing against each other and it is not two smooth surfaces rubbing together. Eventually there is a shift.

For smaller, in the area of 5.0 earthquakes, that I remember feeling in Ottawa growing up, Qinya says those are from smaller fault lines likely caused by old tectonic activities that cover the entire surface of the Earth. Although these quakes happen, they are less likely to cause the destruction that we are seeing on our TVs a lot these days.

In terms of predicting future quakes, Qinya told me that it depends on how you define “predict”. It is still impossible to predict exactly when an earthquake will hit. But there is science and research that can determine areas that are likely to get hit and an approximate timeframe when it is bound to happen. These predictions would be something like “an earthquake of X magnitude is likely to hit Y in the next Z years”. Although knowing this does not help people to be outdoors in the exact moment that a quake hits, it does help to know these possibilities.

Qinya explained that in places such as Vancouver that sit between three plates: the North American Plate, the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Pacific Plate, because people know an earthquake can happen, certain building codes are in place to make the area safer.

Qinya said that the best way to be prepared in the long term for an earthquake is to build safe buildings, bridges and infrastructure and, in the short term, is to know what to do when an earthquake hits, such as hiding under a table or in a doorway. But there is still so much that is unpredictable, such as where the epicenter of the quake falls and how far below the surface of the earth it occurs. The closer to the epicenter and the closer to the surface – the stronger it is.

I might not be able to explain this part exactly as Qinya explained to me, but the Earth is all connected and these movements and shifts travel throughout the Earth. So last week when Haiti shook, with the proper and sensitive equipment, that quake was felt here, and across the globe. This is a big part of what Qinya researches and the applications that come from this.

It was really interesting to speak with Qinya and learn so much about something I really knew little about. She has a really great way of explaining things and I want to learn even more.

Although our conversation was very much based in science and fact, it’s hard to even find the words for what this “science” is capable of doing. I just want to end off with a quick link to two very worthy organizations – Doctors without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross – both accepting donations to help Haiti, no matter how small, and both doing very important work on the ground.

Doctors without Borders and CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen

10 Dec

Lunch with Mary 027

Date of lunch:
Thursday, December 10, 2009

The company:
Dr. Steven Cohen is a psychiatrist at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto. He has also worked with Doctors without Borders in both Chad and Sudan. He recently, as in last week, returned from Ethiopia where he was working with TAAPP. My friend Sham works with him at CAMH and when she found out that I wanted to take out someone who has worked with Doctors without Borders, she helped me to get in touch with Steven.

The food:
We ate at Swan Restaurant on Queen West near Ossington. I have been to this place once before a few years ago and was pretty disappointed but was much more pleased this time. The food was great! I had the clubhouse with avocado inside – a golden sandwich ingredient. The one thing that was weird was that the sandwich did not come with a side, unless you count two cucumber slices and two olives as a side. I could have used some mixed greens, just saying. Steven had the hot plate special which seemed to be a salad with Portobello mushroom and goat’s cheese, yum! We both drank water and Steven had a coffee. The total bill was $28 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I think the lesson from today’s lunch wasn’t exactly something specific but more that it is really refreshing to speak to someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others and who is pretty selfless. I get very upset about the way women are treated in many countries around the world but I still don’t go out and change things on the ground like Steven does. It’s very admirable and makes me want to commit to trying harder to make a difference.

The lunch:
I was very excited for this lunch. I am a long time donor to Doctors without Borders, it’s one of my favourite charities and I think they do amazing work. But the work that Steven does in Toronto is pretty fascinating as well. He is currently a Fellow in the University of Toronto Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship.

What this means is that he works with people with mental illnesses that are in the criminal system, like Dr. Elizabeth Olivet from Law & Order (incase you can’t place that reference, neither could Steven but I’m pretty sure it’s similar). Yesterday, he spent the day at Penetangishene Prison, checking out the facility and meeting with prisoners.

Before moving to Toronto and very soon after graduating Steven applied to Doctors without Borders and was soon off to Chad for 6 months. Steven was the Mental Health Officer for the Farchana Project, providing services on the eastern border of Chad. You should definitely check out his blog from his time there. Shortly after returning, he went to Sudan for two months working in the refugee camps.

In his work with TAAPP (a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University Departments of Psychiatry), he went to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to train doctors there to be psychiatrists in order to help people with mental illnesses that are currently not getting the care they need. The goal of TAAPP is to “produce a workable, effective model for accelerating the creation of medical specialists in Ethiopia”.

A WHO study from 2006 quoted on the TAAPP website found that “while the African continent bears 24% of the global burden of disease it has only 3% of the world’s health workforce and less than 1% of the world’s financial resources for health.” This emphasizes why organizations like Doctors without Borders are so necessary but also shows that the training work that Steven did that is pushing Ethiopia towards becoming self-sustainable when it comes to mental health care is an important long term goal.

I have seen in the news that foreign aid workers have been targeted by kidnappers in Sudan. I asked Steven if he was scared and he said that he knew it was a risk but he was okay. He then asked me if I have ever considered doing this type of international work. First I said that I wasn’t a doctor. He then explained to me that there are other jobs with Doctors without Borders that deal with the logistics. Then I told him I was too chicken. I am not proud of it but I honestly think I am too afraid to travel to places where foreign aid workers are the target of kidnappings. That is why I have so much admiration for the people that do it.

Steven told me that his mom didn’t talk to him for three days after he told her he was going to Sudan just after returning safely from Chad. My mom would do the same I am sure.

It was a great lunch. As soon as I left, I realized that I barely scratched the surface of all that I wanted to learn. But I am grateful for the conversation we had and I look forward to hearing about where Steven goes next.

CTV National Affairs Correspondent Lisa LaFlamme

2 Dec

Lunch with Mary 026

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Ballet of Canada First Soloist Tanya Howard

15 Oct

Lunch with Mary 024

Date of lunch:
Thursday, October 15, 2009

The company:
Tanya Howard is a first soloist with The National Ballet of Canada. In other words, she is a professional ballerina! I would have done anything to be a ballerina when I was a kid. If my 11 year old self could see me now, having lunch with a ballerina, I might have passed out. Tanya is originally from South Africa and joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1998 and became a first soloist in 2007. I have been hoping to have a lunch with a dancer ever since my boyfriend took me to see Romeo & Juliet earlier this year. So I just wrote to The National Ballet of Canada and asked. And here we are!


The food:
We ate in the cafeteria of the Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada. Les Louises catering provides the food in the cafeteria. While waiting in line to get our food, I realized that I recognized the woman behind the counter. Turns out we went to elementary and high school together in Ottawa and her and her sister started Les Louises. I had a delicious prosciutto sandwich with chevre and figs and Tanya had a chicken sandwich. We each had salad, a Limonata and cookies for dessert. The salad and sandwich were both delicious (and obviously so was the cookie), with that homemade gourmet flavour. Justine and Sara of Les Louises graciously gave us our lunch ‘on the house’. Although I can’t go eat at The National Ballet of Canada’s cafeteria on a regular day, Les Louises does sell frozen meals that anyone can order – I think I will definitely try one soon.


The lunch lesson:
Tanya explained that for Sleeping Beauty, as they are performing based on the original choreography of Rudolf Nureyev, there have been a small number of repetitors worldwide who are assigned the task of ensuring that Nureyev’s choreography maintains it integrity. This week at The National Ballet of Canada, one of the repetitors is here from New York for three days to watch rehearsals and make sure everything is up to snuff. It’s always interesting to understand how the art of choreography is preserved over time and how these classic ballets are able to amaze audiences year after year.


The lunch:
Tanya is busy rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty which will play in Toronto at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts this November. During our lunch, she had her “rehearsal tutu” with her for afternoon rehearsal. I was jealous.

Tanya recently returned from maternity leave. Her daughter Lia is usually her date for lunch at the cafeteria. Today, she was lucky enough to not have any rehearsals in the morning so was able to stay home with Lia and go to playgroup with her, so I don’t feel as bad about taking over Lia’s lunch spot.

Tanya talked quite a bit about life as a dancer. Her job depends on her fitness and keeping her body in shape. It’s important to take care of herself. The National Ballet of Canada has a physiotherapist and masseuse on staff for the dancers to use anytime. She tries to fit in extra palates classes when she can and makes sure to eat nutricious and healthy foods.

But it’s not all about discipline, it’s also a lot about variety. For some ballets, Tanya’s role is more in the group numbers while in others, she is front and centre in the spotlight. She says it’s different for each role, but for a ballet such as Swan Lake, which The National Ballet of Canada is putting on in March 2010, it doesn’t matter what your part is, everyone is dancing their butt off.

Speaking of dancing your butt off, she also talked about an upcoming short ballet she is doing called Glass Pieces. She says in this performance, the audience can really see how difficult some of their movements are. She said the beauty of ballet is that everything looks effortless and beautiful and the audience follows the story. But no one is noticing that a ballerina has been on one toe or held their leg up for five minutes. Because I did take dance when I was younger, I think I have a great appreciation for how hard ballet is – when I was watching Romeo & Juliet I was blown away by the skill and ease in which the dancers were doing the craziest things that I never in a million years could ever pull off. But Tanya is right, they make it look so easy. I definitely want to see Glass Pieces and see and appreciate a different ballet.

For the whole lunch, I couldn’t get over that Tanya dances for a living, I think it’s so amazing. As we were leaving, she took me into the rehearsal space for a quick peak as the rest of the company was preparing for the afternoon rehearsal. I left Tanya there as she had to work and I headed back to my office to work, at a chair, in front of a computer. It’s just didn’t seem the same. I think I might start dancing in my cube.


Tanya Howard, Photo by Sian Richards

Mary Ballerina

Me as a ballerina circa 1991

Director of the Ontario Cancer Institute Dr. Benjamin Neel

10 Sep

Lunch with Mary 022

Date of lunch:
Thursday, September 10, 2009

The company:
Dr. Benjamin Neel is the director of the Ontario Cancer Institute, at the University Health Network and Princess Margaret Hospital. He has been in this post for about 3 years, coming from Boston where he had been working for over twenty years. Specifically, Dr. Neel is the senior scientist in the Division of Stem Cell and Developmental Biology, studying stem signaling, looking for a cure for all types of cancer. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had cancer affect a person that they love so I really was interested in speaking with someone on the front lines. I checked out the Princess Margaret Hospital online and requested a lunch with Dr. Neel through the site. This lunch has been about three months in the making – as Dr. Neel is extremely busy – so I was really glad to finally sit down and chat.

The food:
We ate at Mercatto at College and Elizabeth. It’s a nice place, great patio. I had a wild mushroom pappardelle and Dr. Neel had the daily soup (it was mushroom) and a tomato crostini. We both drank water. My meal was delicious. My one complaint about this place is that the ceiling is really high and with a busy lunch crowd, it was very loud and difficult to hear and have a conversation. But all in all, I will definitely be back, this time on the patio. The bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
It was great for me to hear that a big part of Dr. Neel’s life is collaborating with other researchers around the world. In the next few weeks, he is going to Switzerland and Germany. He says people think it’s super competitive between researchers but really, there is strong collaboration. He said there are things he can do that they can’t do in Switzerland and vice versa. So they work together and learn from each other. Of course, there is a level of competition, which is a good thing because it often forces people to do better – but I was glad to hear that researchers around the world are not all working in isolation. The more minds we have together on a problem, the faster, I think, a solution will come to be.

The lunch:
Before I begin to write about this lunch, I have to admit up front that I know nothing about medical research. I mean I read the paper and listen to news about new treatments but I don’t know a lot about the findings along the way, which as Dr. Neel pointed out, is usually how these things work. So this was a huge learning experience for me.

Dr. Neel talked about how there is a real misconception in the public that research is about big breakthroughs in the lab. What it’s really about is building upon findings over the course of years and even decades. Something that was discovered in the eighties, built upon in the nineties could then be built on again this year and provide a new clue or treatment. If we do go back a few decades, Dr. Neel pointed out, huge steps have been made. Cancers such as childhood leukemia used to be nearly universally fatal and today are nearly universally curable. But it’s other cancers where progress has been slower such as breast, lung and brain. It is these cancers that perhaps in 10-15 years we will see more advances.

When I get stressed out, I often say to myself “I’m not saving lives here” just to put my stress level in perspective, calm down a bit and in the end be more efficient. But as Dr. Neel was explaining his extremely hectic schedule, I couldn’t help but think that him saying that might not work as well.

Dr. Neel also pointed something out to me that I never knew. He said that, for example, a breast tumor that is 1 cm in diameter is one billion cells. So if the growth is slow and they start from a single cell, the tumor can be growing for ten years before it is even noticed. I don’t know if this information is practical for me in any way considering I worry about everything (I may have said in the middle of our lunch “so I could have it right now”), but I just never had known that before.

I left this lunch thinking how admirable it is that there are people in the world that dedicate their entire lives to discovering a cure for something like cancer that causes so much pain in so many lives. It was really nice meeting Dr. Neel and learning a bit about the research being done at Princess Margaret. I hope that one day Dr. Neel’s job is obsolete but in the meantime, I am glad we have people like him and his colleagues in the labs trying to get us there.

Strategic Innovation Practitioner, Author and Professor Alexander Manu

17 Aug

Lunch with Mary 021

Date of lunch:
Thursday, August 13, 2009

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Freelance Foreign Journalist and CBC Dispatches Producer Naheed Mustafa

26 Jul

Lunch with Mary 020

Date of lunch:
Friday, July 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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