Tag: U2

Rundles: The Art of Nourishment

Summer? What summer?

That seems to be the mantra echoing throughout much of Canada this year. Certainly, a lot of Torontonians have been muttering/twittering/blogging this along with the requisite complaints about too much rain, too much cold, and a shivery lack of typical sunshine-y weather. While I generally agree, this year hasn’t been the best, it has, on my own personal and professional levels, been filled with many happy events –outdoor barbeques, concerts, shows, and a myriad of fantastic interview experiences.

In pondering this good/bad conundrum as I turned the calendar into September, it occured that the perhaps the best possible ending for such a summer would be a wonderful meal. Fortunately, perhaps through happenstance or good fortune, I got just that. It turned out to be one of the best meals of my life, to be frank. I was in Stratford, Ontario recently, covering late-season openings and doing a story about the town’s incredibly rich foodie roots (look for it on Lucid Forge in the next few weeks). Food writing is really becoming a huge passion of mine; it’s as if I’ve transferred my stunted passion for painting into the kitchen, where palette becomes canvas and tools –heat, cold, blenders, processors –marry with colours (that is, ingredients) to produce a wonderful experience that is primal and intimate. At the same time as such specificty of experience occurs, I acknowledge that eating is a universal experience; it’s no secret that food is the magical, magically simple thing that binds humanity.

So it was with more than a little wonder and a bucket of gratitude that I accepted an invitation to dine at Rundles, one of Stratford’s top restaurants. I would truly wager that Rundles is one of the finest in Canada, actually, but not having eaten my way across the country (yet), I can’t quite say for certain. Regardless, it was a gorgeous meal, and ranks among the top three of my life (you’ll have to keep tuned to the blog to find out what the other two were!). Owner Jim Morris truly, deeply understands the powerful connecting force of food, and is keenly aware of the deep, lasting pleasure a good meal can bring. I shared my space with a large party of eight beside me, who chatted theatre (naturally) along with commenting on the food, as I listened in and savoured every little drop of my own succulent meal. It’s amazing how good food, well-presented, with attentive service, in a creative, open atmosphere, has such a healing, calming effect. A good meal isn’t just about getting what you want, but sensing the chef is nourishing you with what you need. Food becomes prayer, meditation, celebration, and exchange.

I last visited Rundles well over ten years ago. I wasn’t sure about foodie culture then –indeed, the term “foodie” had yet to be invented –but I knew I liked fine dining and good eats. I always preferred one good ingredient –or a few simple ones –as opposed to fancy, process-oriented dishes requiring a scouring of markets and shops. I remember living in Ireland and making a simple vegetarian paprikas for a Christmas potluck party; seasoned vegetables, hearty and stewy and slightly spicy, seemed to be just what was needed during the gloomy, wet Irish winter. It wasn’t just about being full, but about feeling nourished. Going to restaurants, I tended to shy away from molecular gastronomy (the kind espoused by El Bulli) and enjoy the simple, hearty flavours of a lovingly prepared dish. Cooking myself, I always eschewed fancy techniques in favour of using good, wholesome ingredients –and for the most part, I still do. Sometimes it’s best to let the ingredients speak for themselves, without interfering. It reminds me of that old saying, that the song or painting is there, if you just get out of the way. Or like the line from “Unknown Caller,” off of U2’s latest album: “Shush now /cease to speak /that I may speak…” Sometimes you just have to get out of the way to let art –whether it’s cooking, music, painting or any other discipline -do its thing.

Thus, it was with so much elation and enjoyment that I found Chef Neil Baxter sharing this approach in Stratford. What a joy, to find lamb cooked with this much care and respect! But I suppose I ought to go in order in recounting –and celebrating –such a beautiful meal. Without further adue, details: I started with a smoked salmon appetizer, but not the typical thinly-sliced shards of fish you’d expect. This dish, featuring salmon that was smoked on-premises, was paired in a small shallow dish with salmon rose, apple, and jellies. Everything was diced into tiny cubes. The effect was… well, different, and not easy, at first to place. Textures –soft, gummy, crunchy –and tastes –sweet, salty, smoky –danced and whirled on the palette in a subtle, if powerful, combination. Here was a new gastronomic experience; along with taste, the colour combination –the tender green flecks of the apple, the rusty pinks of the salt, the orange, glassy globules of roe and the glassy edges of the jelly –reminded me of a cubist work, or of the work of pointillist Georges Seurat. Here, my eyes weren’t just doing the mixing; so was my mouth. Yes, the appetizer was for a more sophisticated palette –but then walking into Rundles, you know you won’t be subjected to dreary openers like French onion soup or (heaven forbid) jalapeno poppers. Like the best art, the appetizer felt like proper, adult food –an introduction to something grand -and really, I don’t think one should apologize in such matters.

My second course was lamb (farmed locally, of course). Now, I am notoriously fussy on my lamb. It happens to be my favourite of meats, and having had too many awful dishes at various restos, and bunged up a couple dishes myself –or used less-than-quality meat –I can tell you that my level of quality discernment has gone sky-high when it comes to ordering –and eating –lamb. I very rarely do order it when eating out, in fact, but I had a feeling Rundles might get it right. In fact, they did more than this. The lamb had to be the very best, most succulent thing I’ve eaten in a long while. Lovingly prepared and served in delicate slices on top of a small, inconspicuous mound of snowy, near-liquid goat cheese, surrounded by gently steamed veg, it sat in a pool of its own luscious juices (handily, the bread server appeared at just the right moment, providing a gorgeously crusty baguette for mopping up said juices, natch). Baxter smartly, rightly refrained from ruining such a beautiful piece of meat with spicing, and instead, allowed the deep, earthy flavours of the lamb to sing forth, thanks to sensitive, smart, intuitive cooking. The lima beans that accompanied were the perfect, bitter plate companions; with their snap, they contrasted the lamb’s soft, buttery texture beautifully, and their sourness nicely complemented the meat’s rich flavour. I put my fork down more than once after each morsel, swooning, sighing, and sitting back to contemplate each joyous mouthful, enjoying the view of Lake Victoria, and the beautiful, English landscaping that adorns the front of the restaurant. To borrow an old koan, I was one with the food experience. And loved every second of it, too.

A beautiful cheese plate was the final course. With three of the four cheeses provided by excellent local dairy producer Monforte, they included, among others, my very-favourite Toscano, along with a soft cheese from Quebec. The plate, artistically presented with a cheerful showering of fresh greens (which, I think, originated at Antony John’s Soiled Reputation farm, just five minutes outside of Stratford), also included fresh, tasty walnut bread and a sweet raisin compote. Those who know me well know I would easily -and quite happily –subsist on cheese and good wine (and may well do, when I visit France next year). Accompanied by a glass of sweet port, the third course was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. I do wonder, however, about the rhubarb soup too –it might’ve more suitably complemented the richness of the lamb a bit better, but alas, one wears white and one’s food options shrink considerably.

I ought to mention details here, as they are so very important, and are the furthest things taken for granted at Rundles. First, the butter. That pale, hard, near-waxy thing one gets to accompany bread at most restaurants in a dreary little cup is here given the five-star treatment; with a deep, golden sunflower-kissed tone and adorned with shards of rock salt, the small, rich cube is presented proudly erect on its own little stand, emblazed with Rundles trademark “R”. This was a churner’s delight. I normally don’t eat butter on anything but toast –and even then, might spring for jam, so disgusted am I by the insipid blandness of most butters out there –but I couldn’t stop myself (nor did I want to) from taking small, delectable slivers and spreading them onto the fresh, moist slices of sourdough bread proffered by genteel wait staff. It tasted fresh, alive, creamy on the tongue. Gorgeous.

Equally wonderful was –is –the sense of occasion in dining at Rundles. While service is formal, atmosphere is not –it’s jovial and classy, simultaneously. You feel, walking through the front door, and into the welcoming light-filled foyer, that there is a real integration between the old and the new; the front garden teems with wildflowers and bursts of emerald greens, while inside the restaurant, the cool architecture of Shim-Sutcliffe (who seem to have a contemporary-meets-rural design ethos) contrasts and yet somehow complements all this wild natural beauty. Morris, in the tasteful, old world fashion-meets-modern-mod-look of Yohji Yamamoto, welcomes you as white-clad servers stroll by.

But don’t let their suits alarm you; the atmosphere isn’t, for a moment, stuffy or pretentious, but quite the opposite. Servers at Rundles welcome questions about ingredients, their source, and methods of cooking. The occasion isn’t just about fine dining, but about making food education part and parcel of the experience. This could be because in the winter, the restaurant serves as a teaching ground for the Stratford Chefs School. The care and attentiveness given food in the kitchen is reflected in a creative, thoughtful mix of visual styles throughout the restaurant. With art by Viktor Tinkl (including whimsical plate covers) set against the white, clean backdrop of Phillip Starck designs, you really don’t feel as if you’re required to wear a ball gown to dine, but rather, you’re in a comfortable, arty, airy space where conversation flows as smoothly as the dishes coming from Baxter’s kitchen. This is a place to learn, grow, and share; it will nourish with both tangible and non-tangible entities, just as any good establishment should do. With huge windows overlooking the lovely English gardens both in front and to the side of the restaurant, it’s a new-meets-old ethos. Rundles was the perfect ending to a wonderful summer. They’re actually open to mid-October –so summer might be extended, for just a little while yet.

Note: Full gallery of from my Rundles experience can be found at my Flickr page.

Michael Jackson: My Original Thriller


I can’t say I have a first memory of Michael Jackson; it’s as if he was there all along, a ghost, crooning in his high-pitched wail and spinning through summers filled with popsicles, and too many pratfalls practicing a moonwalk.

I remember the mad hype that greeted Thriller at its release. As a child of the 1980s, Jackson was the entertainer of his day; with his cool white glove and slick dances moves, he made suburban kids like me want to boogie, shimmy, and shake. He was also safe enough for suburban parents to approve of, coming as he did from the squeaky-clean, sanitized pop of The Jackson 5. There was no come-hither dirtyness of James Brown (the crotch-grab had yet to make an appearance) or the spaced-out musings of George Clinton. Jackson was the epitome of America, and Motown especially, his sound pure soul, his countenance pure pop. His leanings to vanilla became physically more manifest as time wore on, but in the late 70s and early 80s, us kids didn’t notice or care. Michael could dance.

Of course, in retrospect, “Billie Jean” was –and remains –a nasty piece of business lyrically, but us kids had no idea what he was talking about. We were more interested in the groovy bass-meets-percussion beat, and that awfully cool video of Jackson making the floor bright with a footstep on the newly-created music video channel. He was cool, he was clean, and there was something we related to. Michael was our man, for our generation. He didn’t just sing for Pepsi. He sang for us.

Michael was also one of the forerunners of the music video generation. When MTV, and then MuchMusic, first came into being, Michael was one of the things we ran to see. As Jackson grooved in his pleather suit and magically lit up the squares onscreen, my friends and I would groove in a mad kind of tribal celebration. Michael lit up our little suburban lives with two shots of groove, one shot of sass –and a handy little white glove, a mark of class and coolness, nobility and untouchability, theatricality and vulnerability we understood on a grooving, unrealized primal level. Feet lead the heart back then. King, Child, Magician, Conjurer, Mr. Bojangles come alive without strings or tricks –and at that point, we knew nothing of Pappa Joe or the backstage tribulations that would come to haunt him. Time seemed endless and the electro-beats of Thriller were our lifeline.

When the fantasmo-zombie kicks of the “Thriller” music video made its debut on Halloween night, we ran to our television sets. Trick-or-treating got put off and we sat, in full make-up and wiggery, waiting, agog and twitchy, mute and shouty, waiting for our man. It was weird, it was creepy, it was a Very Big Event. It scared the crap out of me, but it was weirdly compelling. The video, with its assortment of well-choreographed corpses, captured the imaginations of a million suburban kids surrounded by newly-built malls and homogenous sprawl. Michael lit up the night brighter than any firecracker, crooning for us to “Beat It” -beat the system, beat the boredom, beat the monsters in the closet and lying in wait in shut-down hearts and minds. His feet beat out a morse-code only us kids heard: this isn’t the way is has to be. Beat it. Beat like poetry, like fighting, like music, all at once.

He was as ubiquitous in the burbs as Shreddies at breakfast. If you didn’t see him live, you could see him on the telly, his natural home, after all. He was everywhere. There were cheers at the Grammys. Squeals at the moonwalk. Big videos. Bigger live concerts. His dance moves were revolutions. Television –and by extension, Western culture –would never be the same.

High school came, and with it, guitars, amps, punk rock, metal, grunge. Michael who? Who cares? Who listens? Didn’t he used to be black? He pleaded for us to believe he was “Bad” but he tried too hard; rebellion makes no such pronouncements, nor has such outright desperation. It was, rather, a rebuke to his father, talking in the mirror, a sad state of affairs: “I’m bad! I’m bad!! I even got Martin Scorcese to direct!” “Martin WHO?” we all said in unison. The child-like wonder was gone, replaced with a harder awareness and more cruel assessment, but Michael was still living like Peter Pan, communing with chimpanzees and marrying the truck driver’s daughter. Boy, Wonder, Wannabe Rock Star singing to his Dirty Diana, with Slash at his side or Liz Taylor on his arm. Invading Heroes Square in Budapest, a relenteless narcissism, creative in-breeding, too many ‘yes’ people and hissing oxygen tanks, ranking himself among the mighty. He was pale and painfully self-unaware, a perenially smooth-faced boy-man, no “Smooth Criminal” and never the badass he so wanted to be. So he stayed young, or tried to. The perpetual innocent going head-to-head with the unabashed egomaniac. We turned our backs.

And then came the charges he’d taken the Peter Pan too far, directing wishes to hands to children. A step too far, and so far removed. I remember being in Copenhagen listening to ZOO-TV live from Dublin on the radio, and hearing Bono say, “you’re not Bad… you’ve been deemed guilty before being given a chance…” Vulnerability recognized itself and saluted. On a cold, late-summer Copenhagen night, tears welled up and suddenly the dance moves and memories of one-gloved Halloweens and television-squealing came back. The joy, the exhileration, time stopping in the moments between the beats. Concern for being cool, for being angry, for or kicking out… vanished, and was replaced with joy. No ego… just sound and light and wonder. I remembered dancing in my empty garage with the ghetto blaster blaring for hours on end, pointing at cobwebs as if they were sets of eyeballs, staring at me. Michael would go on tiptoe and the world would stop. I remembered those days amidst a starry Scandinavian night.

But time moves on from its heroes. “They want you to be Jesus / you’ll go down on one knee…” Michael never bowed, except to his own image his handlers presented back. What happened to the boy I loved who crooned “I wanna rock with you”… ? He turned his face into something I didn’t recognize. We loved him the way he was -but he didn’t, and he posted his heartbreak across his ever-changing mug. His Motown-meets-modern world sound morphed into music for the dental office. He moved on, or tried to. “You’re a big smash… you wear it like a rash… ” Court dates, threatened bankruptcy, a Neverland that never was, revealing interviews and backstabbing friends. Failed marriages. Children. Baby-dangling. The spotlight became Michael’s cocaine, and we were his rolled-up $100 bill.

I don’t remember when I Michael left my consciousness, but I wrote him off as an eccentric a la Howard Hughes. For his children, I felt grief; for his relatives, I felt contempt. For his die-hard fans, always a sense of wonder. How did they maintain such faith, such commitment? A school acquaintance had seen Michael multiple times, had a trophy case filled with mementoes which she showed off to me during a party, as if it was her own child. She and her sister ran the Canadian MJ fanclub. Even through the scandals, the skin dyes, the sensationalism, they never lost their faith. What was it –is it –about this man, this boy-child, moonwalking between the worlds of black, white, dance, disco, rock, pop, art, image and sound, that captures our heads and hearts?

I’m still trying to work it out. But a piece of my past died today. And along with it, a piece of America and its past –a piece worth celebrating, remembering, and most of all, dancing to. Rumours or not, “Billie Jean” has the greatest bass line in the history of music. Thriller, killer, pumped up and maxed out with a pink bow tie, his beautiful black self commanding the world with a wiggle of the glove –that is the sound of America, the groove of a nation, the rallying call for every suburban kid who saved up to buy a copy of Thriller. Michael’s my generation’s man, and we’ll always remember him this way.

Reason #3 I need to go to New York

Jenny Holzer is at the Whitney. But only until May 31st. Eeek.

Little did I realize, all those years ago as a teenager I was witnessing a wonderous marriage between high art and pop culture courtesy of Jenny Holzer and a little tour called ZOO-TV. There I stood, pie-eyed and mute and entirely overwhelmed, as thunderous drums and crashing guitar lines rumbled through my consciousness, and my eyes attempted to absorb messages like CONTRADICTION IS BALANCE and EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG and ART IS MANIPULATION and (still my favourite) TASTE IS THE ENEMY OF ART. I don’t recall if it was by accident or design that I discovered Holzer’s work that very year, but it was then I started keeping journals of my own observed Truisms -a strange kind of poetic observation that was, depending on my mood, one-part snide to two-parts smirk, or some combination therein.

Years later, I wasn’t a bit surprised when Holzer’s work was chosen to be displayed at the site of the World Trade Center. Looking over the exhibition now on, she seems more relevant than ever.

That’s it. I need to go to New York. Soon.

Cell Sell Cell

I attended the opening of the new Rick Miller show Hardsell Thursday night. Still not sure what to make of it, really -there are a lot of ideas around selling and advertising, and what that means to not just the wider society that created the selling culture, but to culture as well. Aren’t performers -of any ilk -essentially trying to “sell” you something, tangible and otherwise? I’ll be interviewing Rick Miller next week (Friday morning, in fact), so maybe I’ll get some answers, or at least ideas, about how the show came to be.

Hardsell is another collaboration between Miller and Daniel Brooks. The pair previously worked together on the alt mega-hit Bigger Than Jesus (which a former editor of mine called “a ninety minute religious rant with TVs” -he also added that he liked it, natch). Like “Jesus” and Roberts’ other hit, Machomer, Hardsell mixes improv, Pirandello-esque meta-theatre, sharp observations, role-playing, nods at past conventions, and Miller’s own awesome gift of mimicry. In the show, he accurately imitates (vocally) a wide range of folks, including Morgan Freeman, James Brown, and Richard Dawkins, as well as perform a clever riff as a German marketing expert.

Mainly, though, he plays Arnie, the supposed mirror-twin of Miller himself, a bitter, washed-up entertainer tossing out proclamations, observations, cynicisms, witticisms, fantasies and hard-to-soft pitches. With his clown-like makeup and slick white suite with shocking-red satin lining, Miller gave a nod to the many mimes, clowns, and stylized performers within the cultural spectrum –Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, the Joker, Kabuki performer, Mexican wrestler, Godot’s tramps, and even… Tom Wolfe.

And yet, this is the main reference that came to my mind:

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén