by Andrew Morrison | Oh noes. I’ve only just learned that Van Mag’s editor, Gary Stephen Ross, and the publisher, Kim Peacock, were let go the other day. According to a leaked internal memo, interim leadership has fallen to TC Media group publisher Caroline Andrews.
The memo didn’t mention why they were dumped (the consequence of a “well thought-out restructuring”), but I can’t imagine it was an easy run for either of them. Like other leaders of long-established print outfits in recent years, they had to deal with the advent of social media, the recession, the skepticism of increasingly empowered advertisers, and the whittling impact of a local blogosphere of occasional quality and influence (aka The Four Horsemen of the Old Media Apocalypse). I thought they’d done as good a job as could be expected under such freakishly unprecedented circumstances but, alas, via Malcolm Parry:
Western Living and Vancouver magazines’ publisher Kim Peacock and editorial director Gary Ross arrived at their offices Monday and were promptly shown the door. Transcontinental Media senior VP Pierre Marcoux’s subsequent memo noted the two “have been instrumental in developing and transforming our Western brands and have both been great contributors to the team. I wish to thank them for their contribution and hard work over the past years.”
Gary and Kim had been running the magazine since 2006, right when I came on board as a judge at their restaurant awards and began making occasional contributions to the magazine. Gary taught me a few things and made several of my stories better (he is as gifted an editor as he is a writer), and Kim kindly tolerated my occasionally fatuous, self-important bone-picking about food coverage, online presence, the awards, you name it. They made a big impact on my career, and I’m eternally grateful for that. I hope that they both go well and land lucratively, wherever that may be.
The new issue of Vancouver Magazine is about to hit news stands and within its back pages is a feature I wrote called “The Tipping Point”. In it, I talk about the new difficulties facing fine dining restaurants and how restaurant service has evolved from starched snobbery on the high end to a style that is more of an honest reflection of Vancouver’s love affair with all things casual. To wit: out of all the fine dining restaurants to open in Vancouver in the last five years, roughly half have already either closed or been forced to re-tool and re-brand. It was a tricky story to nail down because the landscape kept changing during the editing process. Originally, the focus was to be seen through the prism of my stage at L’Abattoir, which provided me with a front row seat for examining the extent to which service had changed, but with the closing of Lumiere and the opening of Hawksworth and Ensemble, that focus had to change. I’m very grateful to my editor, Rebecca Philps, for her help in shepherding it along. The delay in putting it to bed (this was supposed to be published six months ago) made for a far better and well-rounded story, and proof that the ground is not just moving under the trade’s clogs, but the feet of those who write about it as well. You can read the whole thing here.
That was interesting, and I don’t mean the lady pictured above walking around in a cocktail dress made out of meat. The somethingth annual Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards went down deep in the colon of the Wall Center yesterday, and boy are my teeth still covered in beer fuzz. It was the most fun I’ve had with a drink in my hand for a while, and as always it’s cool seeing so many restaurants get the recognition they deserve (hat tips to La Quercia, Tannis Ling, Jack Evrensel, Craig Stanghetta, Simon Kaulbach, Giovanni Giardino and all the other podium takers). The results – some of them always questionable – are never everyone’s cup of tea, but us judges do our individual best to ensure the best get their due. If I had a dime for every befuddled person who asked me “how the fuck does Bacchus in the Wedgewood even qualify for Best Bar/Lounge?”, I’d probably be able to buy a drink there. To see who won and who didn’t, click here. For some snaps from the day, click on any of the thumbnails below to enlarge…
Job Posting from Scout supporter L’Abattoir
Vancouver, BC | L’Abattoir is seeking a motivated Chef de Partie/Line Cook. The successful candidate will be a self motivated, driven individual who committed to ongoing learning and personal growth as a cook. Minimum 2 years experience is required for this position. Please apply in confidence to info [at] labattoir [dot ca]. Details about the restaurant after the jump… Read more
News from Scout supporter L’Abattoir
Vancouver, BC | Diners looking to satiate themselves in gourmet style this New Year’s Eve need not look further than Gastown’s hottest new restaurant, L’Abattoir. Chef Lee Cooper and his team will be ringing in 2011 with a five-course menu priced at $75 per person, while Shaun Layton and wine aficionado Jake Skakun will be pouring custom cocktails and boutique wines throughout the evening. Whether guests are looking for an elegant evening of food, friends and great music, or some pre-party sustenance that will keep them dancing late into the night, L’Abattoir will certainly satisfy. Full menu and details below. Read more
Have a creative person high up on your Christmas list who is tricky to shop for? Registrations for the Food Writing In The Modern Media Landscape course at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts are still being accepted online here, and nothing says I love you better than go learn something…
It’s a fun class, but a serious one. Over five Monday evenings beginning January 24th, students will examine Vancouver’s current print media landscape and discuss the opportunities within it; tackle the local food blogs to see what works and what doesn’t; find out how to carve a niche as a blogger; learn how to write restaurant reviews; be shown the implications and applications of social media; become familiar with the tools of the trade, and taught how to work to their strengths. Each student will be shepherded through the blog building process from idea to launch; have their concept and brand peer-reviewed through lively, honest discussion; and leave the course armed for a successful entry into the local blogosphere.
My first wave of students were awesome. They included everyone from booze wonks and home cooks to design lovers and restaurant pros (there was even a highprofile executive chef). I hope to see more Scout readers this time around. It is a class designed for everyone, but with one goal in mind: to give each and every student the skills, discipline and confidence required to become a food writer in the modern media landscape.
Job Posting from Scout supporter L’Abattoir
Vancouver, BC | Gastown’s L’Abattoir restaurant is seeking a part-time host/hostess for 1-3 shifts a week, daytime and evenings. Experience required. Email resume to firstname.lastname@example.org or hand deliver Tues-Saturday between 4pm and 5pm. Learn more about the restaurant after the jump…(THIS POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED) Read more
News from Scout supporter L’Abattoir
Vancouver, BC | Gastown hotspot L’Abattoir will begin taking dinner reservations just in time for the busy holiday season. Fans of Chef Lee Cooper’s innovative West Coast fare will now be able to secure tables via labattoir.ca, or by phoning the restaurant directly at (604) 568-1701.
“We strive to offer our guests an exceptional experience every time they dine with us,” says owner Paul Grunberg. “By implementing a reservations system just in time for one of the busiest calendar months of the year, we’ll be able to ensure guests are afforded every opportunity and convenience to join us, both over the holidays and in the months to come.” Read more
The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts is once again permitting me to pollute the brains of would-be wordsmiths through a course entitled Food Writing In The Modern Media Landscape.
Local food writer, editor and restaurant critic Andrew Morrison (Scout, The Westender, Vancouver Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Harry) presents Food Writing In The Modern Media Landscape: a hands-on class that details how one can turn a passion for food, wine and restaurants into a fulfilling hobby or a viable profession. Students will be taught the tricks, tools and realities of the trade (cameras, smart phones, web); explore new platforms like blogs and Twitter; learn how to carve out a niche in the food blogosphere; and be shown how to approach print outlets as a freelancer.
My first group of students were fantastic, and from surprisingly diverse stripes. Among them were a wine nut, a farming fan, a beer aficionado, a food stylist, a design wonk…even the executive chef at one of the best restaurants in Vancouver. The course is fun but intensive, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. Here’s hoping I’ll get to meet/see some of you when the next round of classes begin in January.
All the details are after the leap… Read more
Gastown isn’t without hourly reminders that it’s part of the Downtown Eastside. It is still full of alleys littered with needles, used condoms, and the detritus of shattered lives. But a pincer movement is slowly enveloping it, and restaurants—as so often in cases of urban renewal—are the advance guard. Gastown is the concentration point, and the encircling arms of gentrification are snaking through Railtown to the northeast and Chinatown to the southeast.
And so on. It’s a lengthy read. Take a look here.
by Andrew Morrison | Tonight’s my last shift working the pass at Gastown’s L’Abattoir. A big thank you to all the staff for tolerating my presence in their midst, and to owners Nin Ari, Paul Grunberg, and Lee Cooper for allowing me the opportunity to play witness to the opening of their superlative restaurant. I’ll miss my brothers in arms, Dylan and Joe (and all the bacon brioche that we sneak at the end of the night), and the excitement that comes when the room is packed and the pass is full of dupes. I might even miss polishing 1000 pieces of cutlery a night (probably not). For certain, pulling 150+ covers in a 70 seat room made for a fun, hectic ride. I’d never before worked with so solid a crew, both front and back. From orientation and training to opening night and every shift since, it was a pleasure and a privilege that I won’t soon forget. Thank you.
Some of the insights gleaned during my stint will be in Vancouver magazine’s November issue (in a wide-ranging story on the exploding dining scenes of Gastown and the DTES), but you’ll be able to read more about my L’Abattoir days in a story on the current state of restaurant service in our city that is coming out in the March 2011 issue (I think) of the same magazine. I’ll be working at West next (shadowing the legendary Brian Hopkins), and maybe on the floor at one other restaurant (not sure which just yet). But that’s all beside the point. I clock in for my final shift in two hours. Come in, say hello, and try the beet soup with meatballs, dill, and horseradish creme fraiche. It’ll blow your freakin’ head off.
Here are just a few of the tasty memories I’ll be taking with me… Read more
There are only a few spots left for the Food Writing In The Modern Media Landscape course that starts this Monday night at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts next to Granville Island. I’m stoked for it. We’ll be exploring the nature and mechanics of food writing in print and online; the development of a personal style; blog building; the application of social media tools; and much more. For details on how to sign up, plus dates, times, and cost, check after the jump… Read more
I was on the Urban Rush television show again today and hosts Michael Eckford and Fiona Forbes were ribbing me about working two nights a week as an expediter at Gastown’s L’Abattoir (if you didn’t already know, I’m there researching for a Vancouver magazine story on restaurant service that is due this Spring – please be sure to say ‘hi’ if you come in). Anyway, I didn’t take offense. They were just kidding around.
Still, having invested a bucket of my own sweat in the place since opening night nearly two months ago, I’ve grown quite proud of the restaurant, especially the people who work there. So when I heard that both my colleagues at the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun had come in for reviews while I was off traveling, indulging in my real job (the same as theirs), I couldn’t help but feel nervous. What if it’s bad? What if it’s fucking terrible? Oh my God, I thought. We’re going to get anally raped and crucified.
Since many of you aren’t restaurant wonks (please don’t change), let me tell you about Alexandra Gill, Vancouver’s food critic for the Globe & Mail. Of the five or six paid restaurant reviewers in town, she is by far the most feared. I’d put the number of people in the local trade who like her column at about 17 out of 40,000, and I’d wager that 10 of those are either drug addicts, liars or probably both. But they all read her.
She might pen a dud every few months (most weekly critics do), but damn it if there isn’t always an entertaining flick of the knife, a slash that leaves a mark. When she really sinks her teeth into a restaurant’s jugular, it’s the ultimate schadenfreude sundae. Even when I love the restaurant that is being torched, it’s as mesmerising as watching a cheetah take down a Thompson gazelle in slow motion. First comes the run and then the turn. Once you see the claw hitting the ankle and restaurant’s center of gravity falter, it’s all blood and dust from there. I imagine she’s exhausted after writing her best. Panting. Too spent to eat. And at the end of every read I don’t know whether to burn the paper or keep it in order to study how she does it.
While she doesn’t have the power to break a restaurant, she sure can make the people who work in them angry. She’s even made me angry at times, but only when I think she’s gone too far. For a few years – when I had a hotter head – I wasn’t all that kind to her. Why? Because – gasp – she spoke her mind, kept her own counsel and could give a damn about what anyone thought of her. I’ve written wholly reactionary words about her over the last five years, none of them nice. To be honest, I’m quite sure that some of them were downright awful.
So when Paul Grunberg, L’Abattoir’s owner, told me that she was writing the review, my sphincter involuntarily tightened. I felt the fear, the very same that most chefs and restaurateurs might feel whenever she calls to “follow up with a few questions”, only it was amplified, like ten-fold. I very quickly convinced myself that, despite the obvious merits of the restaurant (which she would ignore), she was going to take every backhanded thing I’d ever written about her and use this golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slam it all back in my dumb, smug face. Yes, and with a big fuck you and a steaming turd on top. I was a liability to the restaurant, a walking time bomb. And she was holding the detonator. How could I have ever been so plum stupid to have set the hard-working people of L’Abattoir up for this? What a total asshole.
But she’s the pro and I’m the child, given to wild delusions fed by my sometimes Herculean sense of self-importance. Of course she loved it. She wrote almost the exact same review I would have done if I wasn’t polishing the restaurant’s glassware and trying not to get in anyone’s way. She probably had no idea I was working there. She could probably give a fuck, really.
Mia Stainsby’s review comes out late tonight in Sun. Naturally, I’m convinced that it will be hand delivered by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that it will be terrible, and that it’s somehow all my fault.