Ontario Food Heroes – Writers

Here we will profile people in this province who help shape the way we eat, cook and think about food.

Canada's youngest baker, Sheryl Kirby. Check out that rolling pin!

Greg Clow and Sheryl Kirby, writers

In the more than 15 years that they’ve been together, the husband and wife
team of Greg Clow and Sheryl Kirby have undertaken many different
projects. From running a record label to publishing a fanzine to organizing music events.

Sheryl ran one of the first web directories for independent shops and businesses in the city, while Greg hosted a long-running electronic music show on CIUT Radio. Parallel to all of this, they’ve both written for an array of local, national and international publications and websites.

The couple’s best-known venture is Taste T.O., a website covering all aspects of Toronto’s food and drink scene that is celebrating its third anniversary this month. Sheryl also has a personal food blog, Save Your Fork… There’s Pie!, where she often writes about the more political side of food, and Greg is the publisher of the self-explanatorily named website Canadian Beer News, as well as an oft-neglected blog called Beer Beats & Bites.

They live in Parkdale with two dogs, one cat, and a well-stocked pantry.

young Greg hams it up at the dinner table

Where did you start out in the food world?

Sheryl: As a kid, I spent my days with my Grandmother, who had a house full of people all the time and had to cook three meals a day on a big old kerosene stove, in a house that had no running water until 1973. She actually hated cooking, so she had all of these tricks and techniques to make it fun. As a kid I thought this was for the benefit of my cousins and me, but more than likely it was to keep herself from going mad. I picked up on baking early on as kid and did pretty much all the baking for my family by the time I was 10 or so, including bread. And I was pretty independent, so it didn’t seem at all weird to come home for lunch at the age of 12 and whip up crepes for my friends.

Greg: Like Sheryl, most of my childhood food memories revolve around my grandmother, who worked in a hotel restaurant kitchen, and who still cooks up a storm even though she’s in her 90s. There’s only a few of those memories, though, as my parents, brother and I moved away from PEI and up here to Ontario when I was quite young. But when we went back for visits, the first thing that Grandma would say when we arrived was “Would you like a little lunch?” Even if it was the middle of the night, it was always a “lunch”.

Aside from that, food really didn’t play a big role in my life until I met Sheryl. While I certainly appreciated food that tasted good, I didn’t give a lot of thought to what I ate until she made me see the light. What I drank, however, was another story. Right around the time I was legal to drink, I discovered early microbrews like Brick and Upper Canada, and while I still threw back a fair amount of Black Label and Molson Dry, I’ve always had an interest in trying new beers whenever possible.

What changes have you seen over the years in how the people you meet feel about local farmers and food?

Sheryl: I guess I’ve been lucky to always be surrounded by people who appreciated food. My Dad hunts and fishes, and we spent our summers in the woods or on farms picking berries or apples. I’ve eaten moose, bear, seal, squid, sea urchin, periwinkles… you name it. There was always preserving done, always a deep freezer full of stuff, always a vegetable garden. We didn’t eat fancy, mind you, it was Nova Scotia in the 70s and 80s, we weren’t very sophisticated, but maybe because we were occasionally poor like Kenny, there was a real appreciation for food that was caught or foraged.

I also grew up going to the weekly farmers’ market in Halifax. It would be bizarre to me to NOT go to market. Moving to Toronto, I lived right in Kensington, with a whole world of tastes and smells and flavour experiences literally on my doorstep. I think that had the most influence on me out of everything – coming from Halifax in the 80s (where there wasn’t even a Thai restaurant) to this cornucopia of exotic stuff.

So while it’s obvious that food is more generally popular, I’ve been kind of insulated. I’ve always either been around people who loved food and cooking as much as I did (had a roommate who was a chef, trained as a chef myself), or people close to me latched on to my enthusiasm for real food and abandoned eating junk food because they were learning more about the good stuff.

Greg: Again, my experience has been a fair bit different than Sheryl’s. While my dad fished and did a little bit of hunting, my family really didn’t do much in the way of “living off the land” or buying from local producers. Pretty much everything we ate came from the IGA where I worked after school, and the same could be said of most of the people we knew.

I took the same approach to food myself for many years, but that changed due to Sheryl’s influence. Even before “local” and “organic” were buzzwords, she had us shopping at farmers markets and looking for more natural and sustainable food options. It’s obviously been gratifying seeing more people making similar choices.

But those of us who are constantly immersed in the world of food that is slow, local, sustainable, etc. need to remember while it might be an everyday thing for us, we’re still somewhat outside of the mainstream. Sure, there are a lot more people making better food choices thanks to the efforts of folks like Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver. But people are also still buying a hell of a lot of McDonald’s burgers and Wonder Bread, and I’m not enough of a Pollyanna to expect that to completely change any time soon, if ever.

what is your favourite vegetable?

Sheryl: Sweet potatoes and fennel.
Greg: Fiddleheads, Brussels sprouts and green peas.

farm animal?

Sheryl: If not for the fact that we rent (and currently live in a high rise) I’d have been a long-term early adopter of the backyard chicken. I’ve always been fascinated by the rare breeds, and having kept various types of birds as pets for years, the idea of keeping chickens seems really reasonable.

Greg: Sadly, your previous subject in this column used my (admittedly unoriginal) idea of quoting the famous “magical animal” exchange from The Simpsons to declare my love for pigs. So instead, I’ll have to give a top 3, in no particular order: lambs (for their cuteness); chickens (for their personalities); and pigs (for their tastiness)


Sheryl: Autumn – good eats without the stanky hot weather.
Greg: Late spring – not too hot, not too cold, and the anticipation is building for the bounty to come.

Where are some of your favourite places in Ontario for food and drink?

Sheryl: Aw, dude, I hate listing favourites or giving recommendations. A perfect restaurant for me might not be the same for anybody else. In terms of markets though, I am a big fan of Nathan Phillips Square. They get flack for the occasional re-seller, but I love that I can go first thing on Wednesday morning when it’s not busy and get my stuff and get home. There’s no crafts or stuff to keep kids busy – it’s just an old-fashioned city hall market. Everything is nicely spread out, there’s a decent amount of competition to keep prices reasonable, and the little mixed baskets of fruit during stone fruit season are perfect for Greg and I to eat out of hand without getting bored or overwhelmed.

Greg: Since I haven’t visited as many of them as I’d like, I can’t really call them all my “favourites”, but I would encourage everyone in Ontario (or anywhere else, for that matter) to visit and support their local brewery. While they rarely have the same sense of romance (or the same marketing budget) as wineries, small breweries have a much stronger connection to the history of our province. Prohibition and consolidation wiped out almost all of Ontario’s local breweries in the early- and mid-20th century, but thanks to the explosion of craft brewing in the last few years, there are now dozens of breweries located in cities and towns throughout the province, with more on the way. Get out and show ‘em some love! The website of the Ontario Craft Brewers has a lot of info to help you get started.

the couple today, all grown up.

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