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Bro-y chef culture, and four more things The Black Hoof’s Jen Agg dislikes about Toronto’s dining scene

The Critic: Jen Agg strikes again with the city's first haute Caribbean restaurant, Rhum Corner

Jen Agg and husband Roland Jean at Rhum Corner, Agg’s most recent restaurant venture

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, the woman behind Dundas West restaurants The Black Hoof and Rhum Corner, was interviewed by tech expert Jesse Brown on his latest Canadaland podcast. The talk basically devolved into a mutual rant about all the things that aren’t great about Toronto’s food scene. Here, five things Jen Agg can’t stand.

1. Kitchen Machismo
Some might hold Jen Agg indirectly responsible for the swaggering, thugged-out boys’ club that currently characterizes much of Toronto chef culture—it was the Hoof’s novel mix of grungy irreverence and great food that heralded in the era of too-cool-for-school dining, with all its gritty, tat-sleeved, testosterone-soaked insouciance. Like Frankenstein, Agg seems to have grown to loathe her inadvertent creation. “It’s mega-bro-y, man. It’s crazy,” she told Brown. “It’s crazy, crazy, crazy. And it’s, like, all bros before hos, 100 per cent.”

2. Food Fashion
The title of the podcast, “Food Trends are for Idiots,” is telling. Agg had harsh words for anyone who spends time tracking the relative popularity of salad greens. (“I hate it. It’s like, ‘Hey, Brussels sprouts are so hot this year,’ and now it’s kale, and now it’s cauliflower, and it’s like—they’re fucking vegetables.”) The culprits? Food bloggers: “It’s so dumb. And I know this is all being fed by people looking to put words on the internet.” Agg does admit that food trends exist (and that charcuterie—the Hoof’s signature mainstay—was a big one), but she concludes that quality transcends fashion: “If you continue to create good food, you don’t have to worry so much.”

3. Truffle Oil
“It’s gross. I’m going to write an essay about it. Who likes truffle oil, people in California? I don’t know.” Another dislike: “super-jammy shiraz.”

4. Chowhound
Social-media sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon get a pass from Agg, who sees the value in democratic food forums. She isn’t as easy on Chowhound, the notoriously finicky online food community, agreeing with chefs who say the site is “just a bunch of fucking jackals and haters.”

5. Bros Supporting Bros
For Agg, Toronto’s dining scene is a bit like a puppy dog: full of youthful exuberance, but lacking the substance and training to back it up. “It’s a really young culture,” she says. “Nobody knows what good is, so they think okay is great.” Ultimately, according to Agg, it all comes back to bros. “There’s like a bro support network where everybody goes to each other’s restaurants and everybody’s like, ‘You’re killing it, you’re killing it, you’re killing it.’ And there’s so much of this kind of inner-circle cock sucking.”

You can listen to the whole podcast here.

  • Chantal

    I LOOOVVVEEEEE truffle oil ;)

  • anna

    how is truffle oil gross? her opinions on Toronto’s food scene are gross and not to mention unenlightening, let me know when she has an actual opinion besides hating truffle oil and the bro culture.

  • kixxxers

    “There’s like a bro support network where everybody goes to each other’s restaurants and everybody’s like, ‘You’re killing it, you’re killing it, you’re killing it.’ And there’s so much of this kind of inner-circle cock sucking.”

    Really? Sounds like a Hipster Chick who her guy friends thinks is Kool when she uses a Expletive word. I take nothing good with me after reading this article. And if there is a bro supportive network that is obviously their are more Bro’s in the Biz.

  • Ian Tuck

    Anna, because truffle oil generally isn’t made from truffles. She’s not the only one with a hate on for it. http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/04/rant-enough-with-the-truffle-oil-already.html

  • Guest

    I think Caroline Youdan is a fucking cow. This little bitch writes about Toronto Restaurants with so much attitude. Maybe she should pull her head out of her fucking ass, wipe the shit off.

  • Stephanika

    Truffle oil is too fragrant and leads to unbalanced dishes. Not sure what gross means but I completely disagree with your statement. Sorry you’re not interesting enough to have a Toronto Life article on you.

  • anna

    ok right, so at least you (stephanika) can back up your statement of truffle oil being something that can be disliked, but in this article it seems bizzarre how she can state things and then not justify them from a viewpoint you would expect from someone in the food industry. Also you don’t have to be sorry that I am not interesting enough to have an article written on me, am I sorry for your lack of knowledge or unrefined pallette for truffle oil? Nope, so instead maybe you should re read the article and let me know what really warrants this one as being interesting. I agree with Kixxxers that I really can’t take anything away from this article besides embarassment of who we let represent Toronto’s restaurant scene.

  • Arrrrp

    Are people still listening to anything Jen Agg has to say? Seems like she’s only making news when she’s cutting down other restaurants or chefs. Is anyone else tired of her? Does she ever have anything positive to say?

    No wonder Van Gameren split to open his own place (Bar Isabel); He actually has some talent, he’s not a blow-hard hipster getting funding from her sugar daddy.

  • Diamond

    I do agree with the fact that trends – in food as in fashion are for those who are looking for someone else’s opinion to follow. If you like something, if it makes you happy – it’s irrelevant whether it’s currently 1984 or 2014. Even the comment on patting each other on the back for mediocrity might have some valor. However, I’m not sure why someone’s fancy of truffle oil – or anything for that matter – could possibly be upsetting.. Truffle oil – as bone marrow, is special.

    Her creation, The Black Hoof is refreshingly original – hence a bit of ego might have developed in its wake.. :)

    “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.’
    - Gianni Versace -

  • http://th3hungrycat.ca/ Yvonne T.

    We don’t know what was taken out of context or spinned in a certain way when this article was written. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And Jen Agg, is a woman who’s not afraid to state hers and I respect that. I also initially jumped on the rant but I think I’m going to listen to the full podcast before I make any comments because I find a lot of things can be taken out of context or framed in a way to skew the original statement. Truffle oil is a matter of personal taste, some people find it overwhelming, some people like it. To each their own. I don’t think it’s fair to be placing personal attacks on someone that you don’t know outside of how the media portrays him/her.

  • narrowlanes.net

    When I think of small plates, loud and casual, I think of the original 7 numbers on Eglinton. When I think of lean food, I don’t think of pork or bone marrow. Ya, vodka is vulgar but so are some of the cocktails at Cocktail bar. If you’re making a Dark & Stormy in less than 30 seconds (Rhum bar), you’re doing it wrong. Speaking of trendy, did the hoof always have a pork taco on the their menu or was their pork taco the seed that spawned so many of the city’s “bastard” taco joints? Is it still douche-y to do a shot of whiskey via a bone funnel and is Bourdain to blame?

  • Stephanika

    Anna, yes you are right, I don’t have an unrefined pallette but I DO have a refined palate. I analyze DOC to DOCG wines for fun and clearly enjoy the finer things in life like good food, good wine and spelling.

  • Brownie

    Funny she’s all break down the boy culture but is shifty (dicks around, non committal) with female oriented companies and suppliers of her. I wish she’d live what she preaches. Play nicely in the sandbox with all genders or at least stop being so shifty with suppliers.

  • http://SwallowDaily.com Ivy Knight

    “inner circle cock sucking” – couldn’t have said it better myself. And that goes for the whole country, if not the entire planet.

  • Richard Sharp

    Not to generalize, but i think that anyone who uses the term “Hipster Chick” to describe someone likely took their significant other to The Pickel Barrel on Valentine’s Day. But I do appreciate comments from people such as yourself. You are the ironic vintage sweater of TL’s comments section

  • Richard Sharp

    Ya lost me. 3 ingredients in a Dark n Stormy. One is ginger beer (pre-made in house, I assume). the other is rum. the third is a lime – likely pre-sliced. Ice is also pre-made. Were you looking for a Tom Cruise-like presentation and shaking of the DnS? An umbrella?

    One day, I’ll write a book called The History of the Taco in Toronto. It will be a best seller. Pork taco was started by one of The Black Hoof’s chefs, who then left to open his own restaurant called Grand Electric. the taco stayed on The Black Hoof’s menu.

    I have never witnessed anyone do a shot of whiskey via a bone marrow luge other than on television. After I saw that, i also saw a man ride a balloon into space and parachute back down to earth. I turned the television off, reflected, and decided that I don’t need to repeat either of those events because neither were appealing to me. Then I went to bed.

  • Bristol Yard

    Jen Agg is the best! Finally someone has the nerve to call it exactly like it is. Bravo, Jen!

  • http://narrowlanes.net Gilberto

    Ya, I was looking for an inspiring, 10 minute long, bar tending contest style, 3-5 shaker juggling act, perhaps with flames. Actually I was just looking for a good DnS, which I’m assuming you haven’t had, because well, I have a sensitive palate.

    Thank you though for enlightening me with that taco story. You answered my question brilliantly, albeit in a roundabout sort of way. Again, thank you for connecting the dots. I happen to like GE and been there so often that I fear that I’ve been conditioned, like a Pavlovian dog, that whenever I hear ’90s hip-hop I begin to salivate for scrapple. Looking forward to your taco anthology.

    I applaud Ms. Agg and her off-cut, concept place and its menu choices. I think she’s definitely an influence. I’ll leave it at that.

  • kixxxers

    LOL!

    I have never eaten at at the Pickel Barrell, Jack Astor type of establishment. Valentines Day Dinner was spent at a lovely off the beaten track Korean BBQ (Family restaurant with a very intimate feel). This is the Restaurant that Koreans who miss home food go to. Is the Food at the PB that bad? It must be for you to use it in the Backhanded, forked tongue, way that you demonstrated

    I am guilty of possessing 2 or 3 Vintage sweaters though

    Kind Regards

  • Staempfleas

    Poor boor. To proclaim a liking of truffle oil is not a signature of refined/expensive taste. Put the Uggs and Louis Vuitton wristlet away now.

  • DirtyBurger

    “And there’s so much of this kind of inner-circle cock sucking.” Sounds just like the hip-hop scene in this city.

  • Jimmy

    I’m always looking for some profound progressive social commentary from celebrity restaurateurs. Their opinions matter not only to the upper middle class who subscribe to this magazine but to everyone. They are the true leaders of our community. Our lives would be vapid otherwise.

  • bhotchkiss

    I’m with Ivy Knight and Jen on the never ending “cock-sucking” And by that I mean the hyper-bowl of accolades. I’m all for supportive networks but can we get a little more creative. I’m tired of “Cabins” and “Fats” and “Crisped Skins” and “Kale” and “Feasts” and wood boards and chalkboards…and I also feel like I’m also “sucking de cock”. I need to get to Mars 1

  • SneakyBill

    How many female chefs has Blackhoof employed in their kitchen? How many female head chefs? sous’s? line cooks?

    Claudio managed to put together an entire team of female chefs at Origin Liberty, but I don’t ever recall hearing of a female chef cooking in BH – let alone a Head Chef.

    If you’re going to talk the talk, make sure you’re walking the walk.

  • Orson

    Common TL! You’re kinda better than this.

    Maybe.

  • tikiliberationfront

    Leaving aside, for a moment, the merits of her complaints, this is an astonishing display of arrogance.

  • saddened

    give me a break! don’t follow trends? she’s opened a charcuterie heavy place (before it was trendy here it was trendy in places like san fran before the hoof opened), she tried to open a raw bar, and now owns a haitian rum bar.

    just cook tasty food. that’s it! that’s all you gotta do man.

  • disqus_VuTWBbhYKR

    I know for a fact that The Black Hoof has employed female cooks in the past. I know this because both of them are friends and former colleagues of mine. They both worked the electric coil stove at one point or another over their times there, and at one point one of them was responsible for processing all of the salumi, upon which The Black Hoof built its stunning reputation and notoriety.

    The walk has been walked, you just missed it.

  • SneakyBill

    Sorry, I lost count. How many head chefs does that make?

  • SneakyBill

    Are you doing anything to improve the situation for women’s issues in the industry other than complaining about it? Just curious. Hilary Clinton said in a speech in Vancouver last week that women should be “agents of change, drivers of progress”. (because we all know just complaining about something doesn’t really accomplish anything).

  • disqus_VuTWBbhYKR

    …you asked how many head chefs/sous/line cooks were females in the history of the Hoof. I named two line cooks off the top of my head. I’m quite certain that if Jen were in a position to hire a head chef more talented than Grant/Colin/Brandon or Jesse, she would have. The point isn’t to favour one gender over the other; the point is to not let gender be a hindrance when pursuing good food.

  • SneakyBill

    … and the message you seem to be failing to comprehend is that this individual is taking issue with the “bro” culture, but has done nothing to take a stand against it (that either I or anyone else seems to be aware of), other than perhaps actually perpetuating the problem. If she was truly passionate about the issue, she would probably have an all female cast, or at very least a significant number of female chefs on her team (past or present) – and saying that there was a couple line cooks, out of all the line cooks, sous chefs and head chefs that have been through the restaurant is further testament to apparently how little effort she’s actually made to dismantle the “Bro culture” that she so laments.

  • Bob Caygeon

    Ugh. I too can’t stand the tatted up bro chefs and I certainly love some peoples’ tats.

    Also spot on re: brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale. Not that they’re not delicious (which they always are) and that they are just vegetables (the more veggies the better!) but eating out should be much more of an adventure.

  • Iamthedifference

    I would not expect a person who opens a restaurant like the black hoof to even begin to appreciate something as fine and delicate as truffle oil or truffles.

  • maxvaliquette

    Bill: yes she is. Are you?

  • maxvaliquette

    EXACTLY! If you’ve ever had a truffle, truffle oil is like a slap on the tongue.

  • SneakyBill

    How so?

    And I’m not the one complaining about it, nor am I a part of the industry. So the answer would be no.

  • maxvaliquette

    1) Do your own research. You’ve asked a question, the answer to which is readily available through Google. Posing the question with your follow-up comment creates the very strong suggestion that she isn’t. You don’t know her at all. Why are you assuming she isn’t?
    2) What are you doing to prevent seal hunting? Like, other than talking about it, what are you actually doing? Just curious, since you’ve complained about it at length but you’re big on this whole agent of change thing. You’re the same agent of change, right? I don’t have your real name or I’d look myself.
    3) Sorry, I’m being pedantic because your question is a little ridiculous – this is the comment section of a website, it’s where everyone goes to complain.

  • SneakyBill

    1) She made a comment, I asked a question. It’s how forums such as this generally work. If she’s so passionate about how she feels, then it would be responsible of her to address the question and educate everyone as to what she’s doing, rather than ignore it.

    I googled and haven’t found anything with regards to any female-oriented activism she’s undertaken. Can you help me find it?

    2) I’ve contacted and written letters to the government, donated to anti-sealing causes, publicized sealing practices as much as possible, archived documents that are evidence, etc., among many other things.

    See how that worked? You asked a question, I answered it. Amazing, isn’t it?

    3). It’s not ridiculous at all. It’s an honest question posed in response to a highly vitriolic and hyperbolic comment.

  • luckylilly

    I think what your making assumptions about Bill, is that she wouldn’t hire a female chef if one applied and was the most qualified person. The fact is, the talent pool for female chefs is smaller. I am sure Jenn would not be opposed to hiring the most qualified person at the time regardless of gender.

 

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