It was interesting reading my own obituary in the Globe yesterday. The writer, Ben Leszcz, felt that I lacked the common touch as a restaurant columnist for Toronto Life, preferring to write about elite chefs rather than “Scarborough strip malls.” Magazine writing is an ephemeral medium and anyone who embarks upon that path knows that yesterday’s articles line today’s gerbil cages. But if I may whisper a retort from beyond the grave, I also covered my fair share of pubs, diners, suburban ethnic restaurants, caterers and chain eateries, and reviewed countless restaurants in strip malls. I have also spilled a lot of ink on trendy new stars such as Local Kitchen, the Black Hoof and Ceili Cottage. Leszcz also painted my approach to my old job as conciliatory, even collaborative with the chefs and restaurateurs I wrote about. It’s true I have never seen the point of being rude or bitchy at someone else’s expense. There are plenty of other critics who take that easy line. I have been to innumerable bad or mediocre restaurants. Often I simply didn’t write about them – the mandate from Toronto Life for most of my time there was to offer the reader recommendations rather than snide put-downs. Sometimes I did look closely at restaurants that weren’t working in the way they intended, but rather than merely giving them the finger, I tried to explore the nature of their failure and perhaps suggest ways in which they might improve. As a restaurant-goer and citizen, I had a vested interest in helping our industry evolve.
One thing about the article did make me sit up. Leszcz announced that Chris Nuttall-Smith is to be my successor at Toronto Life. I’m not sure if that is strictly accurate. When she fired me, editor Sarah Fulford told me categorically that there would be no dining column in her refashioned magazine and I have no reason to suppose she was handing me a porkie pie.
Meanwhile, folks, I’d like to say for the record that I am not in fact dead, just delightfully liberated, and I intend to write about the city’s restaurants for another 25 years, whether the places in question boast white tablecloths, greasy wooden boards or scratched formica. Sarah Fulford is guiding Toronto Life in a new direction. I hope it won’t follow Saturday Night into oblivion – I had good times at TL, helped build the brand, and I still care about it. But whatever happens, I’ll still be around and writing, and often in a positive way – for which I make no apology. Restaurant critics have an obligation to do more than just trash the inadequate. We can also celebrate and encourage, cajole and tease and make our own contribution to the culinary environment in which we all live.

  1. Well I for one James, will be reading your articles wherever they may be! It was precisely because you didn’t criticize that I enjoyed reading them so much.

    In fact, dare I say it, your articles were one of the main reasons I subsribe to TL – a subscription that may now be in question. I can’t believe Sarah Fulford would discontinue the dining column!!

  2. I was deeply saddened to read of your passing. Should I send flowers th The Star, or just the Funeral Home? Can I offer The Cottage as an appropriate spot for The Wake?

  3. HI James,

    I read the article yesterday with some perplexity. What are they thinking over at TL? Well no matter what, I will continue to read you where ever you write. How can they remove the dining section? It is the most interesting thing about the magazine….hmmmm.. Anyway, best of luck to you going forward.

  4. I too, found the article perplexing. I’m still not sure what the point of it was. (Gossip?) Anyway, you’ve got more on the go than anyone I know. You don’t need them.

  5. Kudos for taking the high road. Anything less is tempting because it can be less of an “uphill battle.” But because you continue to take that path, I for one look forward to seeing where it leads on the page! Best wishes James.

  6. Glad to have been directed to your blog. After having subscribed to Toronto Life for 16 years, I didn’t renew my subscription. It’s snide, trite and cynical now. Glad to hear you’re off to find new venues, will follow with pleasure. I always enjoyed your ‘behind the wizard’s curtain’ approach to food and restaurant writing. All the best.

  7. The main reason I have subscribed to Toronto Life for over 8 years now has been the food section and of that your column was the page I raced to first with the arrival of each issue.
    I can’t wait to see where you go now. Enjoy some sunshine in your break from the computer screen.

  8. Well said – you are a fabulous food writer that I admire.
    Looking forward to reading many more of your culinary adventures…

  9. Well said – you are a fabulous food writer that I truly admire.
    Looking forward to reading many more of your culinary adventures…

  10. Well said. I too was completely perplexed by the decision to remove the dining column from TL – this ‘new direction’ seems to overlook the fact that your articles were quintessential to the identity of the publication and championed the culture of food – a necessity to any publication about Toronto, it seems to me. I have also wondered whether this ‘new direction’ includes the magazine’s recent bent toward pompous gossip and dramatization of the concerns of the wealthy. Stylistically, it seems to have taken a few wannabe cues from Vanity Fair, and not in a good way. Curious. I have always enjoyed TL, but something disquieting, editorially, is afoot.

  11. Thanks for all the years of insight, culture, relationship+ community building through considerate and educational stories. I look forward to the next 25 years!

  12. Your a champ in my books Mr Chatto Im looking forward to reading your articles wherever you are writing them.

  13. Bravo to you James! As far as I am concerned your approach these many years to Toronto dining has lifted the industry to new heights. The chefs felt respected and honoured. This has encouraged great things from Toronto’s dining scene and you have had a huge part in that greatness!

  14. Hi James,
    Like other comments below, I was very shocked and disappointed to hear that you would no longer be writing restaurant articles for Toronto Life. I have enjoyed my subscription for many years now, and your articles were always a pleasure to read – informative, engaging, entertaining.
    For a while it seemed as though you and Sascha Chapman had a great foodie-team thing going at TL. Knowing that the extensive dining review section is an enormous part of the attraction for many TL readers, it’s curious that they will no longer include an article such as yours (unless the bizarre ‘replacement’ issue with CN-S is indeed true), thereby curtailing a fulsome Toronto dining perspective.
    I have no doubt you will fill the writing void in your schedule with something new and dynamic, and be sought for contributions at many turns.
    Thanks for all the great articles, and good luck searching and sharing delectable adventures ahead.

  15. How delighted I am to have found your blog! You may thank Lucy Waverman and her Tweets.
    I have subscribed to Toronto Life for many years, and your restaurant reviews have certainly been a crucial pillar of their brand. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the only thing that has, historically, set them apart has been their stellar restaurant coverage.
    I was very distressed when I heard that you and Toronto Life were, involuntarily, parting company.
    A tremendously misguided step; hubris, Ms. Fulford, hubris.
    I have subscribed to your blog, and will follow your writing with great interest. Your recent pieces on Greece were splendid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *