Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'll miss you, Ayngelina!

Tomorrow, my friend and Torontoist partner-in-crime Ayngelina will be taking off for a 12-15 month long trip of a lifetime to Central and South America. She's been saving and planning for well over a year, and I can truthfully say I've never seen anyone so prepared. I know she's going to have an amazing time. (If you'd like to follow her on her journey, she created a blog, aptly named Bacon Is Magic, and her Twitter handle is @ayngelina.)

Ayngelina and I met back in 1998 when we were both unfortunate co-op students at the communications department of the Canadian Space Agency (heard of it? It's our NASA) on the south shore of Montreal. We're both from Nova Scotia, so we got together a couple of times in Halifax, but we pretty much lost touch until around 2008 when we both coincidentally started blogging about food in Toronto.

In February 2009, I started writing for Torontoist and quickly realized my mad point-and-shoot skills weren't going to meet their lofty photography standards. So, even before she was officially on staff herself, Ayngelina enthusiastically made herself available and accompanied me to fancy store openings in Rosedale, flavour-tripping Miracle Berry tastings in Parkdale, and everything in between. Not only did she take amazing photographs, but she knew so much about food and PR, which made everything easier for me. Since she did such an fantastic job, Torontoist hired her in June of the same year. I'll miss our collaboration very much.

Since I'm such a sentimental sap, I thought I'd compile a list of my favourite posts we did together over the past year along with a few behind-the-scenes details.

Enough Already with the Bathrooms, Says Mildred - February 2010
Despite the exhausting media circus that surrounded Mildred's Temple Kitchen before Valentine's Day (click the title link to find out more), co-owner Kevin Gallagher graciously spent close to an hour on a busy Friday evening filling me in on his side of the story. Something that I felt was lost in all the hoopla is Mildred's has the most incredible food (Veda's Choice at brunch; there are no words). So, the morning after the interview, Ayngelina, her boyfriend Geof, and I went to the restaurant and she took some of the most beautiful food shots I've ever seen. It all tasted as good as it looked.

501 Queen Car Goes Splitsville - October 2009
On a beautiful day in late October, Ayngelina and I rode the 24-km Queen streetcar route from end to end to test the TTC's experiment of splitting the city-spanning route into two (in the hopes of improving service consistency). We met after work at Yonge and Queen at the height of rush hour and spent the better part of three hours negotiating transfers, picking out landmarks to photograph, and desperately trying to get Ayngelina and her camera as close as possible to an open window. By the time we reached Long Branch (in the shadow of Mississauga), it was pitch dark and Ayngelina had to travel all the way home to Yonge and Eglinton before editing dozens of photos for me.

Oh l'amour - September 2009
Ayngelina was 100% responsible for seeking out this amazing photography exhibit called Thirty in Twenty: An Exhibition of Photography, Food, and Wine. Over 25 years ago, Toni and Ria Harting embarked on what sounds to me like the most romantic trip. Toni had inherited some money from his mother who wanted him to enjoy it, not save it. So, they decided to spend it all dining at ten 3-star Michelin restaurants in France while travelling in a rented van and camping to save on expenses. Toni took photographs of the entire journey and they saved the menus (some of them handwritten!) from all the restaurants. The couple themselves were at the opening and they were the loveliest people. Their sense of adventure is something they have in common with Ayngelina.

Miracle on Queen Street - August 2009
On a hot, sticky August day, we received a last-minute invitation to a small, exclusive Miracle Berry (exotic fruit that make everything eaten afterward taste sweet) tasting at the home of a Parkdale couple who had just started berry distribution business. We were already booked that night to cover the fabulous SummerWorks Performance Gallery at the Gladstone (see below), but we squeezed in a short visit, during which we ate the berries then filled our poor stomachs with tequila, vinegar, sour candy, and lemons (oooo...the heartburn). We felt fortunate to be there as our party companions were all from the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, CBC, and the Toronto Star. No one else's photos were as nice though.

Night at the Performance Gallery - August 2009
We arrived late due to the Miracle Berry party (see above), so some of the performances we wanted to see were already done for the night. But happily, several of the performers offered to stay and do extra shows just for us. I fell in love with haunting opera singer Anthony Bergamin in Quietness and beautiful Hannah Cheesman in My German Lollipop. The performances took place in the small rooms on the 2nd floor, so Ayngelina took many of the photos while lying on the floor to get a good angle. These dark, moody images captured them perfectly.

Toronto Tastes Great - June 2009
The great people at Second Harvest very generously invited Ayngelina and I to attend and cover their swanky fundraiser, Toronto Taste, in Yorkville. We dressed up in our best and tenaciously interviewed some of Toronto's most famous chefs and Food Network personalities (Michael Smith, Laura Calder, Bob Blumer). Needless to say, I was scared to death and Ayngelina provided much needed moral support. All of the food photos she took were glossy magazine quality, but I think my favourite was of chef Marc Thuet. We couldn't get close enough to interview him during the event, so we gave up and started making our way to the subway. Then, all of a sudden, there he wasleaning against a nearby building, taking a smoke break with one of his cooks. We scooted over, chatted for a bit (he was so sweet), and Ayngelina took his picture. He's the most physically majestic person I've ever seen (not unlike a lion), and I think this comes across really well in Ayngelina's photo.

Small Boxes at Summerhill - June 2009
Thanks to my wonderful and talented friend Olivia Bolano (head chef at All the Best Fine Foods), I get invited quite often to events at the Five Thieves, a group of well-respected and long-standing gourmet food shops in Rosedale. The 19th-century era buildings have been undergoing lengthy restoration and renovation, so back in June, Woodcliffe (their landlord) held a press event to unveil of the first four shops to be completed. The stores were beautiful, especially Pisces Gourmet who had a stunning array of exotic fish on display. Funnily enough, even though there were tonnes of "press" in attendance, we were the only ones actually working that night. Some of the shops owners told us at the after-party that no one else took any photos or asked questions. And we didn't see any other articles about it in the following days. Score one for Torontoist!

The Original Fifteen - June 2009
"The Original Fifteen" is the nickname we gave to the Basic Culinary Skills Training program at the YMCA because they've been helping people on social assistance learn to become working professional cooks decades before Jamie Oliver. Ayngelina and I got up at the crack of dawn and visited them at their training facility before going to work. I can barely put into words how wonderful the whole endeavour is. The chef instructors are kind and caring, but serious, and they are always thinking about how to make the program better in order to get their cooks into stable and enjoyable employment. I've never seen anything better in my life.

Shang to Shang in Thirty-Six Hours - April 2009
This was a such a fun piece. Back in April of last year, Susur Lee had just opened his New York restaurant, Shang, on the Lower East Side. Since many people here were curious about the food being served there, Susur simultaneously offered a sampling of the same dishes at his Toronto restaurant, Madeline's. Coincidentally, I had a weekend trip to NYC planned at the same time, so within two days, I dined at both Madeline's (with Ayngelina and my friend Marcelo) and Shang. I was so nervous taking pictures that would be laid side-by-side with Ayngelina's!

The streetcar went by like I wasn't there - April 2009
I've been a big fan of Toronto textile artist Yasmine Louis for years. I cherish a dark (now faded) grey hoodie I bought years ago that has what might be my favourite line written by anyone screenprinted on it: "The streetcar went by like I wasn't there." It's vulnerable and sad; I love it so much. I was so happy to finally meet and interview her for Torontoist. Ayngelina and I visited her in her sunny, peaceful Queen West studio and had so much fun talking about her work and travels. Yasmine only sells through shows like the One of a Kind Show, so it gives her ample time to take long, adventurous trips to exotic places; much like Ayngelina!

Have a fun and safe trip, Ayngelina, and thanks for all the photos! I'll miss you!

Photo by Yasmine Louis.