Medieval Times, #metoo and Mourning the Way we Eat

After being hyper-vigilant for a few years, i fell off the blogging bandwagon for most of 2017.  I can probably blame a universal shift or some other cosmic phenomenon but it’s mostly because I got jaded and lazy. I won’t spend much time on the laziness but will focus my efforts on the former.  I’m prone to jadedness…some say it’s in my DNA.  Perhaps it’s that I’m a disciple of Darwin and his theories of natural selection and the theory doesn’t seen to working at the moment.

I’m not about to go off on a general social commentary but I will bring my observations and feelings back to what I love to write about…food.  What we eat and the industry surrounding it has not been immune to the utter stupidity that has infected the world over the past half decade.  Whether it be social media, the deprioritization of what we eat as part of a dining experience or the utter ignorance of everything wrong in one of the most corrupt industries in current society, the relationship between who are and what we eat is at an impasse. Unless we really evaluate what we are doing and rethink things, we may end up severing a relationship that has been evolving for thousands of years.

To this day, one of the most important books I have ever read has been “You Eat What You Are; People, Culture and Food Traditions” but Thelma Barer- Stein.  I first read it during a university course as part of my nutrition degree.  It opened my eyes to the wedded yet delicate relationship between humanity and what we eat.  It used to be quite simple; you ate what was around and developed a culture around that.  With the advent of transportation, increased exposure to foods from all over the earth and a rapid fusion of many cultures in a span a few decades that strong cultural history is being forgotten, opening the doors to those with creative business minds to redefine and reinforce new ways for consumers to belong to their definition of food culture.  Unfortunately, Dr. Barer-Stein left us in 2017 but I would have loved to sit down with her just for a few minutes to get her reaction to how, in a matter of a few years, managed to destroy our relationship with what we eat in the same fashion as what we have done to our precious environment.

Social Media

Social media has been one of the biggest catalysts in the destruction of our relationship with food. At one point establishments survived based on word of mouth and quality of their menu as opposed to their elaborate social media platforms which are endorsed by hipster zombies who know how to use hash tags.  Speaking to a friend, reading a review in a newspaper by a food critic (with proper prose and complete sentences) or getting you hands on a hard copy of a Zagat review has been replaced with uncensored bias reviews written in broken English by people revered for the quantity as opposed to quality of what they post.  Yelp, for example, rewards those who post glowing reviews about every Tim Horton’s in town, citing things like “The coffee was priced similar to the other Tim’s across town” or “I saw they had maple dip donuts which is amazing because we live in Canada”.

Instagram is probably worse. True..a picture does speak a thousand words but unfortunately these photos are usually selfies representing  “look what I have and how cool I am” versus “look at how good this looks”.  Take the Starbucks unicorn frappuccino for example.  Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect nexus of awfulness. Just add pumpkin spice to that mix, and you can nuke the whole county”. I couldn’t agree more. In addition, I would argue it was one of the biggest reasons for truancy in 2017. High school students flocked to their local Starbucks instead of math class to get their hands on one and the main driver was bolstering their social media status.  Being one of the first to post yourself looking like a giraffe sucking back heavily dyed 400 calories (complete with 10 g of saturated fat..the same as a Big Mac) and adding a clever hash tag like #iskippedschooltodrinkthisshit or #sweetthensourjustlikeme elevated your profile to new heights (at least for a few hours or until somebody posted a new puppy or something).  In other words, food has become an accessory in a fashion similar to a designer purse or a pair of Hunters.

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Unicorn Frappuccinos and Social Media- The even more perfect nexus of awfulness.

Medieval Times

In the restaurant industry, food has slowly fallen from the centre of attention.  At one point, people went out to have a good steak or the best eggs benny in town and actually communicated with those around them.  Now it seems an experience out has become synonymous with heading to the CNE for Medieval Times in which you enter a rambunctious environment and watch a bunch of costumed knights put on a show while you wear a crown and slurp cold tomato soup from an iron bowl before tearing dry chicken off a leg bone with your teeth. Now, instead of jousting horses, you can go to most restaurants and be surrounded by similar barnstormers.  Whether you are into pretentious aristocrats with fake accents or sullen hipsters with the menu tattooed on their arm, you can choose your own adventure.  What’s even better is that in most cases the environment is so loud that you don’t even have to have a conversation with the person or people you are with. This is a definite advantage when you have to hang with annoying friends or family members or maybe with a match.com date that just isn’t working. Listen, I not saying that I don’t appreciate spending my money on a good overall experience which includes great service and a cool vibe but it can’t come at the experience of the food.  I don’t think too many people have left medieval times saying the show sucked by the food was great.  We can’t be lead to believe that the reverse mentality should exist for a place where sustenance should be the primary objective. Furthermore, we have succumb to the mentality that, unlike medieval times when servers were servers, it is acceptable for us as patrons to accept and encourage the sadistic attitude of those we pay as part of our bill.  In other words, the acceptance of the current culture puts yet another barrier in the  longstanding and evolutionary relationship between humans and the food we eat.

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The Supporting Actor of the Show

#metoo

I want to clarify that I’m not against all social media.  In many cases it can be used to unify like minds, promote a business or allow for free expression.  The #metoo movement has been one of the best examples of an important use of social media…sort of.  The core of the movement is long overdue as sexual harassment by whatever definition you choose to use has been running rampant for years.  Part of the magic of facebook and other outlets is to allow the unification of people with commonality regardless of their position on the social ladder. A 50 year-old business executive who hit a glass ceiling because she wouldn’t engage in relations outside her job description has as much clout as a 19 year-old waitress who was inappropriately touched or verbally by a restaurant manager. Unfortunately, special interest groups (including Hollywood and yes, I do refer to Hollywood as a special interest group) have hijacked the cause. I’m not suggesting that making millions of dollars is an invitation to be sexually harassed.  My point it that turning the Golden Globes into a funeral for the male species fueled by speeches of presidential intention don’t speak for the thousands of men and woman who may live in a constant environment of exploitation not to live in a mansion on the hills but instead in order to  pay their rent in a one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store.

I have a 17 year-old daughter who worked for a local restaurant.  A number of months ago she discussed a sexual  harassment issue with management.  A cook in the kitchen easily 40 years her senior continuing made references about how he would like to have babies with her.  When it didn’t stop she brought it up with management and the solution was “he was warned”. The behaviour stopped but she was fired 6 months later. It was shortly after she was promoted to a serving position by one of the managers although she was not yet of the alcohol serving age.  She was doing well until the owner came in and complained.  The pattern continued…every time he would come in he would complain and harass the staff about an underage server right in front on my daughter. I still remember the night she came home and told me she was fired.  I asked her why and she said they told her she was moved to a job she couldn’t handle and her old spot wasn’t available.  When I went in to discuss it was a manager I was told it was because she missed work too many times (she called in sick once because she was…ummm…sick and other the time was because our dog of 5 years acutely went blind, fell down the stairs, shattered his front leg and had to be put down).  The termination letter stated even a different reason for her dismissal.  My point is, sexual harassment or not, employees in food service are treated like cutlery and other inventory and it has to stop. In general, they are at the highest risk of exploitation given the history of the industry, the need for gratuities to survive and the hierarchy and balance of power that exists. Simply making Mario Batali a celebrity sacrificial lamb and wearing black designer suits and gowns while you sip expensive champagne while ignoring the hundreds of other who wear short black skirts because they are pressured to and SERVE expensive champagne speaks to the Hollywood hypocrisy that plagues most social moments that exist. I really hope we see a dedicated movement in the restaurant business which recognizes harassment and even goes as far as to promote a harassment free menu and environment with the same awareness and passion that has been used for gluten and peanuts.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75
And get Oprah Winfrey to sing my euology….

My Take

Much like our relationship with the environment, if we do not reevaluate our interconnection with what we eat in short order (pardon the pun) then good food will become as scarce as clean air and water.  We need to show some gratitude for the food we eat and the people who serve it to us. I’m not suggesting we bow our heads and say grace (although I’m sure some marketing genius will find a hipster way to do it soon),  I certainly didn’t take a selfie of me gorging on Grandma’s jelly salad or give her a slap on the ass on the way past the Thanksgiving table.   Maybe we can use social media presence to promote the businesses and people who work hard to respect the food we eat and the people who make and serve it instead of using it to pad our inflated virtual egos.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Hooter’s was founded in 1983 and yes, things have changed since then. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that hikes in minimum wage and automatic 18% gratuities do not give us permission to treat food service staff like subordinates (although I’d ask the same in return). Finally, in the words of the late Thelma Barer-Stein, maybe  it’s time to think about eating what we are and not whatever the output of the latest, flashy marketing campaign tells us to.

 

 

 

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Kasa Moto: The Golden Globes of Izakaya

I went to Kasa Moto a few months back and I’ve been struggling a bit with a concept to go along with it.  I’ve pretty much exhausted the Real Housewives so I was in a state of pop culture writer’s block.  Magically, it came to me while I was watching the 2016 Golden Globes because it is a perfect  example of something that is synonymous with hype and phoniness of Yorkville. I’m not a Hollywood zealot but I do love the dynamic and psychology around celebrities.  I’m not talking TMZ; instead I’m referring to the pathological perception that exists in the world of the famous.  I’m no Ricky Gervais, but there are a number of observations I made during the globes that correlate nicely with Avenue and Bloor.

10 “Yorkville Personas” that I saw at the 2016 Golden Globes

  1. The I Can’t Believe it Although I Already Know it Girl- Why the hell does Kate Winslet act surprised when she wins anything?  That ridiculous look on her face is the same look that a trophy wife gets when she recieves a gift she “wasn’t expecting” at a Yorkville soiree.  I think what Kate really wanted to do is strut over to Helen Mirren, look her in the eye, slam down the statue and say “Who’s the Queen now, bitch!?” which in all likelihood would have also solicited an answer from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  2. Thinks He’s Deeply Philosophical but is Actually Quite  Shallow Guy–  WTF was Tom Hanks talking about when presenting the Cecil B. DeMille award? Even Denzel was looking at him perplexed as hell.  Yes Tom, we know you were incredible in Philadelphia 20 freaking years ago.  It was listening to that dude at the dinner table who name drops and talks to hear his own voice.  Guys like this are usually the only reason I wouldn’t order dessert because it’s sweet to just get away.
  3. The Old Patriarch we Respect Because he still comes to the party Guy– The standing ovation for Sylvester Stallone was almost pathetic.  If you want to honour the guy, give him the Cecil B. DeMille award.  Otherwise, don’t treat him like the guy at the table you need to congratulate because he’s done absolutely nothing  for longer than anybody else.  You want a reason why he hasn’t won a golden globe since 1977? I’ll give you 12; Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash,  Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Judge Dread, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and the Expendables One, Two and Three.
  4.  Funny Drunk Guy- Both Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell remind me of the the guys who need a prop to be funny.  What was with the 2016 new year’s glasses.  In the case of the Yorkville funny guy, the prop is usually booze but could also include you tube clips, memes his wing man (see below).
  5.  I’m Better Than you Because I’m not Funny Drunk Guy-Toby McGuire was the guy who missed the “try to be funny” memo or read it and didn’t give a shit. His stunning performance as…umm…spider-man…must allow him to portray  himself as the serious actor and elevate himself above the other Hollywood asshats by presenting with a demenor that makes a eulogy exciting. Look for serious guy to overdress, repeat looks of disapproval and check his phone repeatedly for stock prices even though the market closed hours before.
  6. I Used to be Freaking Crazy but now I’m Normal so now Respect Me Girl-  First, Lady Gaga already has the Kate Winslet “I can’t believe I won” look down to a science.  Then she throws Leo an elbow and proceeds to spew an acceptance speech that makes less sense than her  Rah rah ah-ah-ah! Ro mah ro-mah-mah, Gaga ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance lyrics. In Yorkville terms, she’d be the one who went to rehab, was released and then thought she was better than everybody else because of the experience.
  7. Wing Man- Much like funny drunk guy, the wing man is the life of the party and does his best to take care of his buddies, even if he looks like a jackass in the process. For example, Jonah Hill, along with the bear on his head, was a great wing man for Channing Tatum’s hair which looked like an animal just as wild or just an unfortunate attempt at a comb over.
  8. What do People See in This Guy? Guy- Most Yorkville dinners usually have a guy who people look at and say why? Whether it’s the dude with a table of beauties or the loud, obnoxious guy with a group of friends, it’s a real head scratcher.  I usually fill out a Golden Globe ballot for shits and giggles. Usually I haven’t see 90% of the nominated movies or shows which is an advantage because I can’t introduce my own bias. However,  I started watching Mr. Robot a few months back. I quite enjoyed it with the exception of Christian Slater.  As the title character, his acting is an painful as ever (remember “The Forgotten”?..it’s hard to forget) so there was no way I was scratching his name on my ballot.  I would have rather him nominated for his role as composite Santa Claus in Robot Chicken.  What’s worse is that he won while the creepy kid who actually makes the show lost (albeit it was to Jon Hamm).  It just makes me mad, man.
  9. BFF Girls– The Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer thing was the best example of this. In a way, Schumer is Lawrence’s DUFF (sorry I saw the  bad movie with the same name recently). In this case, DUFF means Designated Undervalued Funny Friend.  Sure, Schumer got a  golden globe nod but it pales in comparison to Lawrence who beat her and has already fetched an Oscar, a previous Golden Globe and numerous teen, people’s choice and MTV awards.  Looking around any Yorkville venue, you can see a classic example of this BFF/DUFF dynamic at a number of tables, especially the loud ones.
  10. Lives As Her Character Girl- I’m sure most people have no idea who Taraji P. Henson is and many would guess she has something to do with the Muppets.  Most people know the name “Cookie” from Empire however.  I found the fact that her acceptance speech was delivered as Cookie as opposed to Taraji quite reminiscent of the Yorkville patron who mimics the role of whatever famous actress, designer or other mogul the band wagon is hauling around at the time.

Bonus: Ben Mulroney’s post Golden Globe commentary was ridiculous.  Maybe bragging about the fact that J Lo actually stopped to talk to him makes him feel a little better about being the less popular of the two silver spoon fed sons of a former Canadian Prime Minister.

Kasa Moto sounds more like a Victor Hugo character than a fancy Yorkville destination but I’m sure many of the area’s regulars were thrilled that it brought a face lift to the namesake street after Remy’s had become so passe. This renovation  has resulted in a big, bustling and oddly laid out dining room that in some cases gives you a surprising amount of privacy in the midst of a few hundred other people, especially if you are seated on the bottom level. Although it is generally Japanese, it is less sushi (although there is a small selection) and more izakaya without the need to remove shoes or deal with happy people and an artificially  loud environment.  The menu is divided into numerous sections including hot, cold, robata, large plates and ends with the sushi/sashimi platters and maki rolls.

While perusing the menu,  I ordered  the Origami in Flight, a bourbon based cocktail finished with chartreuse and citrus.  It was respectable cocktail at a relatively acceptable price of $14.  This was followed with a carafe of one of the many sake choices available from the bar.

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Origami in Flight $14

We started with some edamame $7 which was served with nanami  and hoisin sauce on the side. The hoisin sauce itself was delicious and the extra heat was a  brilliant  spin on this traditional staple.

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Edamame with Hoisin $7

From the cold menu we agreed on the hamachi ponzu ($18).  The crispy carrot seemed a little odd but added a nice contrast to the fish. The quality of the hamachi itself was good and it was seasoned nicely.

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Hamachi Ponzu $18

From the hot side, the kinoko salad ($13) was really only a salad because it was in a bowl. Otherwise, it was more a spin on a  mushroom tempura than anything.

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Kinoko Salad $13

Robata is one of many words which describe Japanese barbeque.  The literal definition is slow-cooking using  charcoal.  From this menu, we ordered shrimp ($16) and pork belly ($12). I’m not sure if the shrimp is still on the menu but it was bland and overpriced.  The pork belly on the other hand, was nicely rendered and melted in my mouth.  It was nicely complimented with a ume glaze which added a great sweet flavour and caramelization to the dish.

The kamameshi ($18) is a rice dish mixed table side. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong dish to order since the flavours were very similar to the kinoka salad.  Regardless, I wouldn’t have been a fan even if I didn’t have the precursor.  It was a greasy bowl of overpriced mushroom rice.

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Kamameshi $18

Another favorite at many Japanese drop-ins  is the hot stone as a table side cooking vessel. Normally, an advantage of this cooking style is the ability to use less expensive meats such as tongue since you can use really thin cuts.  In Yorkville style, however,  Kasa Moto glamourizes it with either a 4oz Amercian Waygu cut for $24 or 5oz of Japanese Waygu for $80. We opted for the cheaper of the two which was served with a house made ponzu and steak sauce.

I couldn’t leave without trying the sushi, so I reverted to my standard choice of spicy tuna rolls.  They were average at best and overpriced at $12.

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Spicy Tuna Rolls $12

My Take

Izakaya restaurants are the rage in Toronto but have typically opened as boisterous and inexpensive destinations.  Kasa Moto is like the golden globes of these trendy eateries.  It smartly glamourizes the experience in Yorkville fashion by offering a classy decor, professional service and upgraded ingredients at a premium price.  (eg. Waygu beef instead of a cheaper cut for the hot stone).  In many cases the food was prepared nicely.  The pork belly was rendered and seasoned with brilliance and the simple twist on the edamame was divine.  On the flip side the shrimp was bland and the kamameshi was mushy and oily. Most of the menu was rather overpriced but this is to be expected in the heart of Yorkville.

In addition, if you go there is a good chance you will see one of many of the aforementioned Yorkville personalities in full action.  The BFF girls are almost a guarantee and I had the privilege of being within earshot of  “thinks he’s deeply philosophical but actually shallow guy” whose ridiculous banter was lapped up by”lives as her character girl”.

In the end, it was a decent dining experience but if you want true izakaya there are cheaper choices in the GTA that will give you food just as good. That said, a visit to Kasa Moto  will give you countless opportunities to witness the best of Yorkville personalities even if you if you only end up being  a seat filler.

Kasa Moto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato