Let’s say it was fifteen years ago. The phone rang. The caller introduced herself as Joanne Kates. I thought it a joke. A crank call. Thought it was my sister – knowing how much I had admired (since my Toronto teen years) the then restaurant critic for the Globe and Mail – cashing in on an ‘I owed you one’. But no. It was indeed Kates, looking for guidance from the Ottawa Citizen’s restaurant critic on where to eat in Ottawa. Since the Globe was supposed to be a national newspaper she had been charged with getting out of Toronto, seeing what they were eating in other bits of the country. I remember stumbling a bit, drawing blanks on names, and finally cobbling together a list of places I thought worthy of her pen. She ended up pretty pleased with some of them – Les Fougeres, say, and she reviewed Beckta favourably shortly after it opened – but she also wrote predictably about how shocked she was to find decent food in boring old bureaucratic Ottawa. Her compliments were somehow back handed, tainted with the typically tedious clichés of the Toronto-Centre-of-the-Universe lifestyle writer.
Nevertheless, I read her writing religiously. She knew her stuff, she knew her scene inside out, she wrote well-crafted reports, she didn’t pull any punches and, without agreeing with her all the time, I admired her very much.
On Saturday, she announced in her column that it was to be her last. After 37 years, she was calling it quits on the weekly grind of churning out a well researched restaurant column.
The Globe has found and announced a successor. Chris Nuttall-Smith (Toronto Life, among other publications) will take over the Dining Out column on June 3rd.
For her many many years of service to the Toronto diner, and for being an inspiration to me, I thank Joanne and wish her a happy retirement. Best of luck to Chris as he picks up the powerful pen.