Now then, where were we…?

My apologies for the long absence since the previous posting. I have been frantically busy for the last year, witness to some fascinating gastronomic moments which I will attempt to share when a quiet moment arises in the weeks to come. There will be more such moments now that Toronto Life and I have parted company. A couple of days ago, the magazine’s editor, Sarah Fulford, asked me in to the Verity members’ lounge for an espresso and explained that she was redesigning Toronto Life in time for the August issue and that I no longer fitted in with the plans. In truth, I have felt uncomfortable there for quite some time, the magazine’s current editorial tone not really in tune with the way I like to write. But it was a good run – 23 years as a columnist, writing about Toronto restaurants, a subject I love, for some extraordinary editors, starting with the incomparable Joseph Hoare.

Next day I was back in the same building for a happier occasion – a brilliant lunch in the private room at George with Paul Pontallier, general director of Château Margaux, and various illustrious colleagues. We tasted some delectable things, including Ch. Margaux 1996 and 2004, the latter a super wine with all the elegance, finesse, grace, perfume and balance of a great vintage but lacking only a modicum of extra intensity to be a great vintage, according to Pontallier. He made the wine sound like a dazzling beauty who can’t quite keep up with the conversation. As if anyone would really care…

To begin we tasted the white wine produced at Château Margaux, Pavillon Blanc 2008. This is a spectacular treat, first produced in 1920 and from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The selection process is meticulous, with 60% of the total crop rejected in 2008 – even more in 2009. Ripe Sauvignon Blanc from this obsessively cherished vineyard tastes different from the varietal wines we’re typically used to – none of that shrieking vegetal character – especially when it has been flattered by a priceless oak program that encourages and educates the fruitiness and the floral aromas without leaving any obvious wooden mark. You would swear there was Semillon in there, but there isn’t. They only make about 800 cases of this white and it sells for around $400 a bottle, mostly to Japan and Russia. Interestingly, it is a much more robust food wine than one might imagine. Chef Lorenzo Loseto challenged it with a brilliant amuse of smoked black Alaskan cod over crushed shiitake mushrooms, a cube of rich cauliflower mousse, a little structure of white asparagus and orange fruit with a very tart vinaigrette – an intelligent and piercing cross-examination. The wine responded gracefully but firmly, never nonplussed.

I’m starting a new book that will attempt to describe all the most delicious things I have eaten and drunk in my life so far. I think the Pavillon Blanc will make it into the ms. As will Château Margaux 2009, still in barrel, if I ever have the opportunity to taste it. Paul Pontallier told us he had never seen a vintage like it – so fine – such tannins but such soft tannins – so elegant but also the most concentrated wine Château Margaux has ever made… And it’s still a baby, a long way from even being bottled. Something to dream about.

  1. Wow, I just read about the Toronto Life departure on Just wanted to say you were the best thing about that magazine (this coming from a lifelong vegetarian – your writing was that good). I won’t be renewing my subscription.

  2. This news truly saddens me.

    Your columns have always been the only reason I subscribed to Toronto Life, and during the past year or so the rest of the magazine has felt more tabloid-ish than I care to read, to the point I considered cancelling my subscription many times.

    This announcement is the last straw for that camel’s back.

    I wish you well in your future endeavours and eagerly await the next book. The other 3 were quite a thrill!

  3. I just heard of your impending departure from Toronto Life. I echo the earlier two comments – one of the reasons I read the magazine is because of your column. The world need more, not fewer, 3,000-word articles.

  4. I agree I’m TERRIBLY confused. Toronto Life is my restaurant guide and primary reason we renew and suscribe.


  5. Shocked and disappointed by this news. You truly were the reason to subscribe! But if this brings your book closer to completion, than it’s worth it.

  6. Just got the news about TO Life from the Toronto Star. I’m sad because I’ll miss your voice on food there, and even sadder because of Ms. Fulford’s reason why: “James’ type of column – the 3,000 word dining column….was a very particular kind of writing for a particular time and place.”

    Holy Dinah…flash (frying) over substance eh?

    I, increasingly feel the need for media space dedicated to a small, niche audience that likes ideas and depth. A kind of refuge for former cbc radio listeners and long form documentary lovers and non fiction narrative…

    Best to you James…

  7. Sorry to hear that you won’t be writing for Toronto Life – I always enjoy your articles. Hopefully we will be able to read you in some other organ soon.

    Best wishes

  8. James Chatto was the best writer for Toronto Life, and like a similar commenter above, I am a vegetarian and hugely enjoyed his style, even for carnivorous columns! As a literary stylist, Chatto was unquestionably among the top few of our city’s writers–not even considering the bare fact of his knowledge of food and ability to communicate it so well. Toronto Life sadly has been going downhill for a few years now; they do not help themselves by dismissing such a fine writer, as I cannot imagine what they could possibly do to improve those now freshly available empty pages. That Chatto has responded in such a gentlemanly capacity to this insult illustrates what a fine person he is.

  9. James – read about this news in the Toronto Star and like those above me I am disappointed. The NUMBER ONE reason I got Toronto Life was for your restaurant reviews. Who knows what direction they go in but this means the next time I get that subscription form, I will be thinking long and hard about renewal. Good luck with your future endeavours.

  10. James, I’m very disappointed in Toronto Life’s decision. Like many others, your thoughtful and literary 3,000-word columns on gastronomy were the major reason I subscribed to Toronto Life.

  11. I just came across this post on The Onion and thought of this post. I think your readers will appreciate it too 😉

    Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text

    March 9, 2010 | ISSUE 46•10
    WASHINGTON—Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.

    Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words.,16932/

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