Daniel Boulud gave a history lesson on how New York City became a major food destination; David Chang delivered an eloquent speech that praised Boulud for growing New York food culture and supporting "non-French" talent in the kitchen ("Toronto should be so lucky to have him") and then moved into a Coach Taylor-esque pro-Toronto speech ("I don't know why the food scene isn't recognized as the best in the world.") that had everyone in the room primed for domination. So ended the 8th Annual Terroir Symposium, yesterday's one-day conference on all things food, drink, and hospitality in Toronto's Arcadian Court.
Last Friday, the conference came under fire when Chris Nuttall-Smith, The Globe and Mail food writer and restaurant reviewer, noted that there was a glaring lack of diversity in the list of speakers. Though taking an unnecessary potshot at the inclusion of Taylor Clarke (AKA Chef Grant Soto, a fictitious character who lampoons the local scene with affable, and searing, precision), the well-balanced critique asked why renowned (and ethnically diverse) chefs like Vikram Vij, Makoto Ono, or Angus An, weren't invited to the event to share their perspectives. When asked about it, Terroir Chairwoman Arlene Stein admitted the oversight: "To be frank I'm a bit embarrassed – I'm a lot embarrassed actually."
It would seem the issue will be addressed but, for now, Stein and her fellow organizers can claim this year a success. Despite the diversity issue, programming was well thought out and the event ran smoothly with a free-ranging exchange of ideas that will, most probably, inspire new collaborations. One major highlight (of so many) arrived in the form of a Q&A between Lucky Peach editor, Peter Meehan, and David MacMillan and Frédéric Morin of Montreal's Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and Vin Papillon. Meehan presented 100 questions that he rifled off in game-show lightning-round style. Sometimes the questions were asked for laughter's sake. Other times they elicited thoughtful answers. But mostly, the deadpan chefs made a case for why the kitchen may be the best private comedy club around. Here's an edited transcript:
Peter Meehan: Has Celine Dion's ownership of Schwartz's made it better or much better? (Laughter)
PM: Ever tried maple syrup from Vermont?
David MacMillan: (faux incredulous) Is that a real thing?
PM: How do you feel about being sex gods?
DM: We're awful lovers.
PM: Should Joe Beef have been included on the World's Best 50 List?
DM: I don't think Joe Beef is a restaurant. I personally feel that would be wrong (to be included on the list). I could name hundreds of restaurants that should be on that list. It's not in the top 5000.
PM: Trout or salmon
PM: What's the worst thing they've ever eaten and why.
DM: I don't like Harvey's (huge laughter).
Frédéric Morin: Oyster mushroom purée. It was disgusting.
PM: Is Anthony Bourdain actually a nice guy?
DM: He's the best.
PM: What's your energy drink of choice?
DM: Red Bull
FM: Crystal meth.
PM: Toronto or Montreal?
PM: Guilty pleasure?
FM: Crystal meth.
PM: Why is it called grape seed up here and canola oil in the U.S.?
FM: Sensitivity training.
PM: What do you love to see when you walk into a restaurant?
DM: A fireplace makes me very excited.
PM: What's the sexiest city in the world?
PM: What is your karaoke song?
DM: I've never been to a karaoke bar.
FM: Electric Avenue (by Eddy Grant). Rhinestone Cowboy.
PM: Were you expecting better questions?