I caught up with this social media maven a few months ago at the Oikos’ Christmas in August dinner party and she stunned the heck out of me! This Jill of all trades is a publisher, writer, food blogger, photographer and lover of all things edible. She has her own publication of restaurant guides called Cheap Eats, contributing to more than 15,000 copies of CheapEats Toronto & CheapEasts Ottawa sold to date.
Her first blog, TheApprenticeBlog.com was based on the infamous NBC show, The Apprentice. Her community and readership grew immensely with an average of 5,000 views per day until sold to ebay. With a quick adoption into the social media circuit, Media Style inducted her to their list of “20 Leading Women in Social Media” back in 2009. Her current writing endevours can be seen on her most recent blogs: unsweetened.ca, CETOblog.com, CETOblog.com as well as contributions to OneDegree.ca and FarFromOrdinary.ca.
If that doesn’t sound busy enough, she is the founder and co-founder of HoHoTO (The original twitter party) and the Secret Pickle Supper Club – an underground dining experience in Toronto. I’m actually thankful she found some time to share with us her foodie experiences with these answers:
Photo Credit: Rannie Turingan www.photojunkie.ca
When and why did you start writing about food? I started writing about food in 2002 when I started writing the first edition of CheapEats Toronto. I had grown up on an organic farm and working in restaurants, so after the economic bubble burst in 2002, it seemed like a good time to put my tech consulting firm on hold and focus on starting another idea of mine – CheapEats Restaurant Guides. I built a team and we started writing in April and had a best seller at the Cookbook Store by August.
What do you love most about food? The taste, the aromas, the textures. Okay I know you mean more than that, so beyond the sensual experience what I love the stories. The story of the dish, the story of the ingredients, the stories of the kitchen, chef/cook and the stories of the people who grew, raised or made the ingredients. I’m as interested in why the farmer chose specific varietals to grow, as why the chef chose to include them in the dish.
I also love the stories that the aromas, flavours, and dish evokes in you and your dining companions. That is the stuff of a great meal!
Every dish is a rich novel of stories and the telling of the tale through the plate, through service, and through sharing with your guests, friends and family.
What do you do when you aren’t writing about or eating food? I am an entrepreneur – so I run the publishing company Plethora Press which publishes CheapEats Restaurant Guides. It is an on and off-line publishing company. I do some consulting for select clients in Content, Community and Digital Marketing. I also run and host the Secret Pickle Supper Club with my partner Chef Matt Kantor. On top of that, I do some volunteering which includes co-chairing Toronto Taste’s Communication Committee for Second Harvest and running HoHoTO which is a fund raiser for Daily Bread.
Do you cook? If so, what’s your speciality? If not, why? Yes I cook. Though my partner, Gerry, is an excellent cook so I don’t have full control of the kitchen. My specialties are roasting and barbecuing. Meat and fire are my friends. And if I can cook it over an open flame I am a very happy woman.
What’s your favourite type of food(s) and where do you go to get it? Wow… that’s a hard question for a person like me. I don’t really have favourites. I have favourites-of-the-moment or favourite-of-the-mood and of course favourites-of-the-season. (and I certainly have anti-favourites, take the evil parsnip for example… but I digress) I guess my favourite “type” of food is fresh picked. I could happily walk through a garden, orchard or woods and forage my lunch, leaving with dirt under my fingernails and my lips and fingers stained with the juices of whatever was ripest at the moment. A little challenging when I’m living in downtown Toronto, though not impossible.
So as a shopper, I’d say farmer’s markets and as a restaurant critic, I’d say diners. (Yes, I know it’s not the same… but I love mom&pop shops where they feed the kids the same food they feed the customers… you know that they are going for fresh because of turn-over and quality because it’s what they are eating too)
What’s your favourite hidden gem? These days it’s all about the morning coffee and so my hidden gem is Fahrenheit Coffee located around the corner from my office on Lombard.
What’s your go-to restaurant? Well, that’s why I write a book, so I don’t have to pick just one.
Noble on Dundas for dim sum, La Carnita for tacos, Paddington Pump in the St. Lawrence Market for their Reuben, Banh Mi Boys for their Fried Chicken Bau, Mutual Street Deli for a ¼ chicken dinner… and if we’re talking out of the CheapEats price range: I find myself popping in at Luma and Beast.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? Most – well it could be the one at a game reserve in Africa after driving around all day OR it could be the one where our cousins all came to our house and we all made the pasta together, then we each made a course OR it could be the first time Matt cooked for me, which was the start of a partnership that has lasted almost 3 years and created the Secret Pickle Supper Club.
OR it could be the night in Barcelona when my spouse Gerry and I sat eating mussels and drinking wine talking for hours. That was life changing All memorable for different reasons and all with the 2 most important elements I look for in a meal – remarkable food and compelling company.
What’s the one restaurant you have to try before you die? Another hard one, especially since I know how much flux there is in the restaurant industry and how that effects what a restaurant is from season to season. (I’ve also been let down by this kind of thinking in the past spending time and money to chase an experience only to be let down by the experience and the food… then the next day to be blown away by an inexpensive meal prepared to perfection without pretension.)
What I would like to try is dim sum in Hong Kong. Tarte Tatin in France. A meal at the slow food festival in France and almost anything being served at this year’s Canadian Chef’s Congress in Halifax.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve? (play nice) Most of the time it’s other guests – people with their chairs push so far out you can’t get in and out of your seat, screaming children brought to restaurants but never taught how to behave, loud talkers, starers, flash photography. Stuff that impacts the experience of the diners around them.