Collaged: Thirteen hungry (and some silly) chefs. Link to larger photo at the end of the post.

Down the stairs of Parts & Labour, under the low ceiling of The Shop, a group of chefs mill about. It’s almost noon, but after a long night of service, it was still considered early. Many are tired, but seem happy to chat with their friends and peers. To the rear of room, lights and umbrellas are directed toward the long orange counter top of the bar. On it, pristine Chinese take-out boxes are strewn across the surface, along with red napkins and disco ball ornaments. Both chefs and photographers are here for a themed photo shoot to highlight a “Wok and Roll” lunch for the upcoming Terroir Symposium (a one-day industry event). And ostensibly, I was there to cover their photo shoot.

The PR sheet tells me that the lunch “pays tribute to the Chinese immigrants who changed the culinary landscape of Canada during the 19th century.” Participating chefs were invited to re-imagine classic Chinese-Canadian dishes for symposium attendees. The obvious dishes like sweet & sour chicken balls, ginger beef, and General Tso’s chicken are all accounted for. But there are also other classics outside of the theme like Swedish meatballs and macaroni & cheese.

Now, food-related press events aren’t what I usually post about (I get invited to so many), so up until the last minute, I wasn’t sure if I was going to even attend. But the location was just down the street from my day-job and I also knew someone else who was going. These points, along with the opportunity to observe chefs not at work was enough momentum to get me going.

And so that’s how I found myself in that basement wondering why, exactly, I ended up on the invite list. You could see the vaguely curious glances towards where I was “setting up” (or what I call “pulling out my point-and-shoot”). It’s rare that I feel the lack of a DSLR, but today was one of these days. I have neither familiarity with these people nor credentials to help smooth things along, and the protective shield of a larger (and more official-looking) camera would certainly have helped me seem less out of place. I gingerly edged the central crowd of gathering chefs, taking photos here and there. Usually, it takes a while for subjects to warm up to the camera. In this case, it was I who needed the warm up behind the lens.

While “shy” and “quiet” aren’t words used to describe my personality, I’ve always found it hard to take that first step in breaking the ice. It never seemed like it was that much effort when I was covering video games (a million years ago), but it wasn’t long before I decided that my asking the chefs about their dishes and motivations ended up sounding both wooden and trite. So I went back to circulating and shooting and let the pros do their thing. And I got down to doing mine. Whatever it is.

From left to right: Dave Mitton (bartender at Harbord Room), Melanie Clancy (Boreal Gelato Co.), Graham Pratt (Gabardine), Alexandra Feswick (Brockton General), Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour), Christine Fancy (Gabardine), Scott Vivian (Beast), Charlotte Langley (Café BeLong). And the back of Renée Suen's head (hi Renée!).

For a long while, chefs were just milling about and talking. There was still some set-up to be done and people were still trickling in.

Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour) and Dave Mitton (Harbord Room) share tête-à-tête time over the bar.

I tried to stay out of people’s way and seeing what random moments I could capture.

The boys of Bonacini: Marc St. Jacques (Auberge du Pommier) and Jason Bangerter (Luma).

I was remiss in not mentioning to St. Jacques that I’d had a lovely meal at Auberge Du Pommier recently. Bangerter’s always got a great expression for the camera – caught him over the summer at 1000 Tastes.

Horsing around. Left photo: Kevin Gilmore (Drake Hotel) and David Givon (Bellevue). Right photo: Alexandra Feswick (Brockton General), Christine Fancy (Gabardine), Graham Pratt (Gabardine), Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour) and Scott Vivian (Beast).

Soon, the chefs began hamming it up for the camera.

Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour) shows something to Scott Vivian (Beast).

And kept themselves occupied.

Melanie Clancy (Boreal Gelato Co.) takes a break. In the back, photographer Phillipa Croft takes Marc St. Jacques (Auberge du Pommier) aside for some solo shots.

Waiting for things to happen…

The chefs eat at long last.

Eventually, the food arrived and the group shots could proceed. Since my camera was running out of juice and I had taken 50 photos of pretty much the same tableau everyone else had, I pulled out my pencils and started sketching. I only managed to sketch a few of the chefs before things broke up, but it was a good exercise. Renée managed to get a good action shot of me at work.

With thirteen people squirming around and shovelling food into their mouths, there was no single shot that caught everyone in their best moment. Luckily, I know a thing or three about Photoshop (see the big version of the group collage from  up top here). It was interesting to see all the chefs interact. It was also interesting to shoot something other than food.

To be honest, I still have no idea why I was there or what I was going to post about, but I had all these photos that I wanted to share.

Menu & Participating Chefs

For the curious (and pretty much verbatim from the PR kids):

Fortune Cookies – Christine Fancy, the Gabardine
Spicy Sesame Squid – Graham Pratt, the Gabardine
Swedish Meatballs – Alex Feswick, Brockton General
Macaroni & Cheese – Jeremy Charles, Raymonds
Baby Bok Choy, Ribs – Scott Vivian, Beast
Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls, Sweet & Sour Tofu Balls – Nick Liu, Niagara Street Café
Pork Carving Station, Peanut Ginger Slaw – Kevin Gilmour, The Drake
General Tsao Sweetbreads – Marc St. Jacques, Auberge du Pommier
Bison Perogies – Aaron Bear Robe, Keriwa Café
Noodle Bar – Matty Matheson, Parts & Labour
Snow Crab – Chris Brown, the Stop
Spring Roll & Cold Roll – Jason Bangerter, Luma
Crispy Beef with Honey, Garlic, Ginger– David Givon, the Bellevue
Salt & Pepper Egg with Rising Sun Sauce – Charlotte Langley, Café BeLong
Sundae Bar – Melanie Clancy, Boreal Gelato Co.
Pink Lady, Stinger & Grasshopper – Dave Mitton – bartender, Harbord Room

More Wok ‘n’ Roll

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157629155857610″]