Who am I?
I am the Pastry Girl. I am the one who is harassed for cookies and sweets to get that sugar rush before service. I am the last memory of the meal you had, the lingering taste of salted caramel on your tongue. I am the one who, after spending a full day building a beautiful three tier cake for a wedding in the private dining room, will go and clean beef cheek or start a veal stock so the boys can make their jus come morning. I do it all: from sweet to savoury, butchery to candy-making. However, if you know what’s good for you, do not make me fillet a fish, as I will most assuredly FUCK IT UP! I leave that one to the fish roaster.
Why did I decide to walk down this road of working in professional kitchens and having to put up with some seriously inflated egos? Honestly, I wish I had a straightforward answer for you. Cooking was not my first choice; it was not something I dreamed about as a child. I did not have chefs for parents, I was not raised in a restaurant and no one in my family was even in the hospitality industry. And if they were I’m sure I would have been taken by the shoulders and had some sense shaken into me – “Meagan, people are the fucking worst!”
I grew up in farmland Ontario with two sisters. My hometown was not even a town – it was considered a village. We were so rural that beside my elementary school was a cow farm at which the local children would often throw footballs. And as a certified country gal, I can confirm that cow tipping, though the internet would have you believe otherwise, is absolutely real.
Our neighbours would ride their horses down the street and, when the winter snows reached such a height that we couldn’t leave our home, snow blow our driveway. It was a simple life, and I had a very full and loving childhood. I am the youngest, with a father who worked at the Automotive plant and a mother who maintained the home. I considered many career paths as a child, including veterinary school, law, comedy. It was not until my Uncle Maury suggested culinary school that I even considered cooking, he said “if it doesn’t work out at least you will know how to cook for yourself.”
Family meals and holiday dinners were a big deal in our family, and my Uncle was by far the best chef of the family. He had a beautiful vegetable garden which he would use to prepare some of the best food I ever ate in my young life. I still dream of his double baked potatoes, and my mouth waters just thinking of them. I saw how happy everyone was when we sat down to eat, the stories of the old days and the excitement for the future flowing at the table. My dad and his brothers would find themselves in ridiculous arguments about which phone company was best while my aunts and the children were already into the apple pie that I had made earlier in the day. To this day I still make the best apple pie. It’s the only thing my family ever ask for when I visit and it was one of the first dishes I ever learned to bake on my own. It has now turned into a personal, perfected recipe that I will pass down to younger generations.
Chefs both savoury and sweet have this innate need to please people. We may put on a face of superiority and you may not like something we cook, but we truly do know better. We have spent years training with food and more years working, and as such our pallets are more refined. It hurts us when our food is not appreciated by a guest. It is a strange dance that we do with you; we want you to trust us. “No, NO – it is meant to be rare. It won’t be as delicious cooked medium.” We find it difficult and painful to give up and say “Sure, we will cook the living fuck out of that salmon so it’s dry and unrecognizable”.
I am no different, I am not the exception. I have an ego and I definitely have an attitude. Growing up I was not excluded from “men’s work”. I chopped and stacked wood in the fall, I laid brick, mowed the lawn and painted the house. I never had brothers but I did have the boys in the kitchen, and I consider them all my bothers. To keep up with them I had no choice but to get tough, be aggressive, and if I wanted to be heard you can bet your fucking ass I swore – and I swore loud for someone so small. I would not trade my life in the kitchen for any other job you can think of. I’ve traveled the world cooking and have met the most incredible people whose love of food and wine is truly inspiring.
I started this blog as a way to gradually 86 myself from the kitchen because I have certain health issues (see future blog on that one) which give me an expiry date in this profession. However I still want to be a positive force in the industry, tell my stories, and give others a platform to tell theirs. So let’s have the uncomfortable conversation. Let’s discover people’s stories and how their lives shape the food they create, the wine we drink, the tools that push us forward. We will give way to creativity and find the solutions plaguing our lives in the industry. We will do it together.
“People who love to eat are always the best people” – Julia Child