If her name rings a bell, perhaps you’ve read her brunch food column in The Toronto Star? She’s only “one of Toronto’s most dedicated and passionate food journalists.” That says a lot! Her contributions have been read in everything from Toronto Life to City Bites. Even more impressive, her televised production, research and directing work on the doc-series “At the Table With…” was celebrated with a Gemini nomination in 2007.
This Colombian native but Canadian raised gal has always instilled a passion for writing and an even bigger love affair with food, not to mention travelling the world to taste it! Her global perspective has made her a leading food/travel journalist and her Toronto Star brunch column, The Morning After, dishes great reviews at Toronto’s trendiest restaurants (new and old) narrowing down everything from kid-friendlessness to the price tag.
Let’s see what Mary has to say…
When and why did you start writing about food?
It started when I became the lead researcher of a little show that still airs on SUN TV called “Street Eats” where we looked at the foods of the world available here, in the GTA. That show spawned a corresponding column that I penned for two years in 24Hours Toronto. On that show, I made the commitment to work on more food-related programming, to finally get off my hands and start food writing and really take a big bite of what I’d always wanted to do but was too timid to go for it.
What do you love most about food?
It’s a unifying force that brings people of every culture, race and background together. As I’ve said before, to me, food is love. It’s meant to be shared, enjoyed with those you love and fill both body and soul.
What do you do when you aren’t writing about or eating food?
I’m lucky enough to often travel in pursuit of intriguing food stories around the globe. I’ve visited close to 40 countries now, and my insatiable appetite to learn more about what makes a dish sublime, how cultures have intersected and how we receive all of those messages on a plate or in a bowl, continues to fascinate me.
Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? If not, why?
Yes! I cook and have been asked to create recipes, most recently I shared my version of a Mexican salsa verde with the Globe and Mail‘s Lucy Waverman who published it in her column. My specialty: I love to play around with Spanish tapas, especially when I’m entertaining. When I want a hearty, comforting meal I turn to a good roasted chicken with all the trimmings.
What’s your favourite type of food(s) and where do you go to get it?
I’m Colombian-born, so I have a special fondness for Latin American fare. I love the Mexican cuisine at Frida Restaurant and Wine Bar on Eglinton Avenue West; Chef Hadad makes one of the best moles in town. I’m also fond of little mom and pops like El Trompo in Kensington Market — their chicarron de queso is addictive — and Torito Tapas Bar for Latin-inflected small plates and amazing churros — Chef Valenzuela is a true talent. I’m thrilled to see the proliferation of taquerias invade Toronto! All I can say is: About Time! Now let’s bring on more Latin flavours!
What’s your favourite hidden gem?
Oddly enough, it’s not a Latin place, but a Turkish one I discovered while researching for Street Eats called Anatolia. The Beyti is my husband’s go-to dish whenever we dine there. I love her Sigara Boregi and the Imam Bayildi as well! And the best falafel in town — Akram’s Shoppe in Kensington Market — where two of the hardest working, nicest people in food in this city prepare everything with TLC.
What’s your go-to restaurant?
It depends on my mood. If we feel like an elegant evening, we’ll go to Didier for an exquisite French meal prepared by a Master Chef Didier Leroy. Stepping inside his beautiful restaurant always makes us feel as though we’re in Paris and not at Yonge and St. Clair. And since I’ve taken on the Toronto Star’s Brunch Column this year, I’ve got a few new brunch favourites including the laid back Farmhouse Tavern, The Depanneur and Federal Reserve.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
I’d have to say it’s when I was filming Chef Norman Van Aken’s episode of “At the Table With…” for Food Network Canada in Key West, Florida. We were in the home of one of his business associates and Chef Norman chose to prepare two types of paella using locally caught, ocean fresh fish. I lived in Spain and I can honestly tell you, I’ve never had paella as fresh, flavourful or perfect as the ones Chef Norman made that night. Just the right consistency, the rice was spot on, and the Key West lobster tails were juicy perfection. His son Justin made a special flourless brownie for dessert topped with feuilletine and as we ate it, the tangerine-gold sunset lit up the kitchen, causing each one of us to sigh at almost the same time. It was dream-like.
What’s one restaurant you have to try before you die?
Mugaritz in Spain, definitely!
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve? (Play nice.)
Hipster service that’s beyond laid back, it’s unprofessional. If you don’t want to serve people food and drink I suggest you get another job. Asking a server what kind of fish is in the sushi and being told “some kind of white fish” isn’t acceptable, for example. It’s your job to know a little something about the food you’re serving to people who are paying for it. And be polite about it; if you can’t be nice go home and do us all a favour.