Thursday, 16 May 2013

Good Morning, Barrie! Say 'Hello' To A Foodie Girl.

Mother's Day is not long past, as I write this, so there's still a bottle of Carolans Irish Cream Liquor on the counter top next to the coffee maker. It's nice little thing to look forward to, that cup of slightly boozy joe ... after I drive the kids to school, of course.

So now you know I have kids. I have five in fact, four boys and 1 girl, all now teens and young adults, the last two arrived in a pair just to make life interesting. I should mention that all five were born in the span of six plus years, beginning in 1990. The nineties is my missing decade. Those were the years of breast feeding and non stop diapers. Those were the years where getting a shower was like a mini vacation and my lunches were slapped together peanut butter sandwiches and ginger snaps!

Once upon a time, before my little ones stampeded into my life and before I met my husband of nearly 24 years, I signed up for the Food Preparation (now called Culinary Skills) course at Georgian College here in Barrie. I packed up my belongings and left my home on an isolated farm on the Holland Marsh, for the big city of Barrie, population 45,000 souls. The Food Prep program was in it's infancy then too, as even Georgian's Barrie campus consisted only of 3 buildings, and the student population hovered somewhere around 3,000. That was in 1982. I haven't found a good reason to leave yet, so I here I am, still in Barrie today.

In thirty plus years, I've seen quite a number of Barrie eateries come and go, and I've worked in the kitchens of several as well, some good and some atrocious in varying ways. The bad ones are gone, but you would be surprised how popular they were in their time. Feel free to comment any additions that come to mind, but the only dining establishments that I can recall from my earliest days in Barrie that still operate today are the Crock & Block, Midway Diner and Players. I would be happy to learn of more.

After I finished my schooling, I began collecting the required work hours that I needed to write my cook trade papers exam and earn a red seal, that would entitle me to work as a qualified cook (chef if you prefer) anywhere in Canada. I didn't mind the terrible hours or low wages, as I was working towards something bigger and better. One summer, I travelled to Scotland and worked in the kitchen of a 400 year old in, which was fabulous experience seasoned with some old school apprentice abuse by the chef and a liberal dash of home sickness. Again, I was on my way to a red seal and then everything would be wonderful!

You sense a but coming, don't you? I earned my red seal in the first half of 1985 and learned some harsh lessons at the same time. First, I was told straight out by the manager of the restaurant I was working at, that they could train someone off the street to do the same job, so why would they pay me more money simply because I was experienced, educated and licensed? Disillusionment number two was that some restaurants were quite vocal about their policy of hiring male cooks only. I was young and Barrie was much smaller then. Likely, if I'd stood up for myself or relocated to Toronto to find meaningful work, I wouldn't have burned out, but burn out I did.

I took factory work for a number of years and was overjoyed with the prospect of working 8 - 4, Monday to Friday, like normal people do! Honestly, it suited me fine at the time and I made some good friends there. Next, I married and started my family, and as you can tell by the size of my above mentioned brood, I had no ability to work outside of the home. I would have needed a lottery win just to afford the day care for them all! So I did a little day care myself, and a little Avon, Discovery Toys and later on started my own small catering business I called Thistle Occasions. I worked from home, producing party platters for funerals and showers and creating custom wedding cakes. Today, I still do a little catering, mostly special orders from friends and family.

I had once promised myself I'd never work in a kitchen again, but when an ideal job option presented itself, I took a chance, another kick at the can. The ad in the paper said "Casual, call in dietary aide. 15 hours a week". I could probably do that! What I can say about working in long term care is the hours are steady, the clientèle is constant and they pay is decent, and so I stayed for 6 years. The work is also very hard, the government rules regarding food service are extremely strict and the opportunity to be creative is fairly non existant.

As much as I loved it at the nursing home, I started getting the feeling that I needed a change. I wanted a new experience and so I went looking for it. That's when Dishcrawl came along. Have you heard of it? I sure hope so ... I spent many hours researching, networking and promoting it so that Barrie might know what dishcrawling was all about! In a nut shell, it's a culinary tour of four restaurants in one evening, so think pub crawl with food instead of booze, if you will. The local restaurants were extremely enthusiastic about the idea, which actually surprised me, so I had four eager beavers sign on quite quickly. On May 8th just past, I led 15 food enthusiasts on my first Dishcrawl event through downtown Barrie and I tell you I thoroughly enjoyed that evening. I expected it to be a rather business like affair, but by the end of the night, I felt like I was out on the town with a group of friends.

If you're sensing another but coming, you're right. After that fun tour of downtown eateries, the Dishcrawl parent company decided they didn't wish to go forward with the Barrie market any more. Perhaps, as a city, we're not ready for it. Perhaps they didn't feel I was up to the task. Let me tell you, disappointed hardly covered it, but I'm fired up now about Barrie restaurants like I haven't been for a long, long time. In between my years dancing the night away on the Queen's Hotel lighted floor to more recently pureeing liver for the elderly in nursing home, Barrie grew up and I didn't realize it.

I have just appointed myself head cheerleader for Barrie's restaurants. My recent foray back into the local restaurant scene has ignited a passion for fabulous food and awesome chefs. So I'm going to gather everything I can for you about cooking, dining, entertainment and more around this beautiful waterfront city, and put it right here for you to read. Comment away ... I'd love to hear from you! Follow me on Twitter at @barriefoodie or you can find me on Facebook too. 
Mary a.k.a. Barrie's Foodie Girl

No comments:

Post a Comment