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A Passion for Food: Conversations with Canadian Chefs

by Gerry Shikatani

To be articulate with food is a sapid and tactile art. To be articulate about food is something altogether different. A chef capable of sublime brilliance with a sauce can be illiterate. A brilliant writer might burn water. Each tongue – the culinary and the literary – is as finely tuned as the other, but each has a different role.

In A Passion for Food, Gerry Shikatani, a freelance food writer, interviews 12 Canadian chefs – including Carol Chow, Jamie Kennedy, and Franca Mazza – in an effort to merge these two tongues. That he largely fails isn’t the fault of those chefs. In his afterword, Shikatani writes about the pleasure he gets from talking to chefs, and about a desire to share that pleasure with readers. Unfortunately, the experience is lost, because, while far from illiterate, most of the chefs seem immersed in the colloquial and uncomfortable with precise verbal expression. Again, that’s not their fault; they’re not writers and nor are they public speakers.

The problem is Shikatani. He is a poor facilitator, a poor interviewer. His questions are often vague, relying heavily on feeling, which doesn’t translate well to the page, and which encourages his subjects to ramble and lose focus. One gets the impression that, through poor navigation, Shikatani has missed some great theme. Beyond the repetitive Q&A, there is little form here, little story, and even less illumination. Aside from those readers considering becoming chefs, most will likely find these apprentice-journeyman-master narratives tedious after the first few.

Andrew Dorenburg’s Becoming a Chef, although American, and James Chatto’s The Man Who Ate Toronto, although specific to that city, are both more informative and entertaining books on the culinary profession.

Shikatani’s role here was to translate the culinary tongue into the literary tongue. Instead he leaves us with too many unanswered questions – unanswered, because they were left unarticulated.