Au Pied de Cochon

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Q&A: Jen Agg, Toronto’s most loved and loathed restaurateur

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Since opening The Black Hoof in 2008, Jen Agg has established herself as one of the most influential—and divisive—restaurant owners in the city. She’s contributed plenty to Toronto’s food obsession (the city’s love for charcuterie, the cocktail movement, and even just making Dundas West a thing), but she’s also known for her opinionated swagger, which sometimes overshadows her culinary prescience (she often takes her beefs to Twitter, and in one memorable episode, used the social platform to complain about some of her “douchier” patrons). Earlier this month, news broke that she’s starting her biggest project yet: Agrikol, a Haitian restaurant she’s opening in Montreal with her husband, artist Roland Jean, plus Win Butler and Régine Chassagne from Arcade Fire. She’s also writing a memoir called I Hear She’s A Real Bitch that’s set to be published by Random House next year. We caught up with her to talk about her new restaurant, her book and why she thinks she’s got so many enemies.

So your upcoming new restaurant is getting attention everywhere. It’s even been mentioned in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. It seems like that’s not really your style, to hype something up like that.
Well, it was a conscious choice. I knew the cat would get out of the bag, so I wanted to control the dissemination. I wanted to make sure that the story that got out was the story I wanted to tell. A lot of the time when you’re dealing with people who are extraordinarily famous—which, certainly, the Arcade Fire are—people will put words in your mouth.

Does that sort of intense media coverage make it feel like too many expectations are building up for you?
No, I don’t feel like that any more. I just feel like it’s going to be fun, and I’m really excited to do it—I’ve already proven that I can do this.

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QUOTED: Reds chef Michael Hunter on why Toronto chefs should be able to cook off the land

Squirrel Sushi from Montreal chef Martin Picard's Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon. (Image: Martin Picard's Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon)

Squirrel Sushi from Au Pied de Cochon chef Martin Picard, one of the 10 Quebec chefs given permission to serve wild game. (Image: Martin Picard’s Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon)

“It would be amazing for me to go hunt and share that with the public. That’s where food comes from. It shouldn’t be fed GMO corn. It’s the way nature intended.”

Reds chef Michael Hunter, who is, coincidentally, really into hunting. He recently told Eater Toronto that he’s starting a Twitter petition to get Toronto chefs behind a movement to relax laws that currently make it illegal to serve wild game in Ontario. (If you’ve ever eaten elk or pheasant at a Toronto restaurant, it was definitely raised on a farm. Same with “wild” boar.)

A few weeks ago, Quebec green-lighted a pilot program that will let 10 of the province’s restaurants serve wild beasts, like muskrat and squirrel. (The squirrel dish pictured above comes courtesy of Au Pied de Cochon chef Martin Picard, one of the 10 Quebec chefs given permission to go wild.) Hunter, who’ll be self-publishing his cookbook The Hunting Chef in the fall, is optimistic that something similar could work in Ontario. “It gave me hope,” he told Eater.

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Reaction Roundup: what keeps Canadian restaurants out of the world’s top 50?

The idyllic Langdon Hall made the top 100 list back in 2010 (Image: Gabriel Li from the Torontolife.com Flickr pool)

Last week, we told you about Restaurant magazine’s annual list of the world’s best restaurants, which, once again, featured no representation from Canada, either in the top 50 list or in the consolation prize territory of numbers 51 to 100. Amid the usual status anxiety and self-flagellation that broke out on Twitter (along with a few yawns), we found some fairly insightful commentary on What It All Means.

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