by Liz Crain, August 28, 2014 11:00 AM
One guy that I dated a while back had a whole brigade of work to-do lists for various projects written in Sharpie on blank white paper. The moment I saw them all lined up on clipboards on his kitchen counter, he had my heart. Another fine fellow in my life left a to-do list out on his desk one morning. In handwriting as close to his as possible, I added "Be wild and free" to the bottom of it. He found it later that day and loved it. I won't tell you if he successfully crossed that one off the list or not.
I'm pretty wild, but I don't have any real fetishes to disclose unless you count being turned on by list-makers, which I don't count because I don't wear heels and step on list-makers' faces. I am, however, attracted to doers and have a hard time with people who make a habit of talking about things that they want to do/need to do but never, in fact, do. If I put something on my to-do list, I do it — and usually in good time. (Exceptions: digging out the tree of heaven and walnut saplings around the yard, taking odd recyclables to the proper drop-off spots. Nobody's perfect.)
I also seem to have a thing for men whose first names start with a certain letter, which I won't disclose but which has become a little curious since I've been involved with no less than FIVE of them in the past year or so. I should probably move on to another letter. Before doing so, however, here's a list of things that I've learned from these men.
- Single people have dirty backs.
- When someone is referred to as One Hot Mess, it's best not to doubt that. They usually are.
- When you're dating two people with the same first name, it's better when in public and talking loudly and drunkenly not to affix the adjective "big" (albeit in the most complimentary way...) to one of them to differentiate. Portland is a small town.
- When someone tells you something that's very difficult and revealing in a not-so-good way about themselves, it's nice to make them feel OK about it by smiling and immediately congratulating them for it with a high-five. That really was the sweetest. Thank you for that.
- It's probably not a good sign, however, if the first time two people say "I love you" is when they're yelling it at each other during a fight. I still think even that's a little sweet. Sigh.
- I will always be Tiny Dancer.
- I will always be wooed by turns of phrase such as "abridged mushroom season," especially when coupled with a handsome belt buckle.
Here's a longer list that I made a couple of years ago as I set into singledom detailing my ideal man:
Despite all of these relationship lists, list making is very much connected to food writing for me. Freelancing of any sort takes a strong spirit, an even stronger work ethic since you're your own boss, and a thick skin because there will always be a lot of rejection no matter how well you do. The nearly constant work to find work part — in the beginning, at least — is exhausting, and lists kept me going through all of that. I moved to Portland in 2002 and in 2003 I started freelance food writing. I majored in English at Vassar and had been writing fiction — nothing published — on and off for years. I'd also been working in food service — cooking, catering, serving — for years and those two things, writing and food, came together for me in Portland.
At a certain point I realized I was starting new freelance to-do lists while items from previous lists stuck around. The tasks that lingered were generally the more intimidating ones — cold calling, setting up interviews, and any sort of direct communication with folks.
I decided to flip the lists and stop putting the scariest tasks at the bottom, where they'd get ignored and eventually shuffled to the next list, and put them on top instead. Do them first. I don't fuck around when I tell myself to do something, so by making myself do the least desirables first, I found myself engaging with people more often for my stories, less self-consciously and after less deliberation. More and more food writing doors opened. I eased up on my overpreparing ways and gained a whole lot of confidence.
My assignments grew in volume and quality, and not surprisingly it turns out that the scariest tasks were the most important and also ultimately the most fun and fulfilling. I don't mean to get too motivational speaky for you because I realize how hammer over the head that can be, but this shit truly revolutionized my writing life. In your work — fuck it, in life — try as often as possible to do what's scariest first. And do it over and over, failing along the way, until you get it right. At some point, it won't be scary anymore.
When my husband Louie CK was on Charlie Rose recently, he talked about a similar tactic that he's used for years with his stand-up. Check it out. (Louie doesn't know that we're married, by the way.) Watch the whole interview if you have time, but if you don't, the part that I'm referring to is about stand-up comedy closing bits. It's in the last 5 minutes of the interview.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that writing a book like Food Lover's Guide to Portland is so much more fun when you genuinely love engagement with strangers. For the first edition, I met with 50-plus folks featured in the book for extensive interviews and tours of their workplaces, and many, many more beyond those special sessions. For the second, it's hard to quantify because a lot of the profiles came from the years in between interactions, meet-ups, and events. These days, after living here for 12 years, there aren't a lot of strangers for me in the Portland food and drink world. This is an intimate, very biased book, and it is by no means comprehensive. I said that of the first one, but I should stress that even more so now with the second edition.
There are a lot of lists in the book. Don't worry; they're not to-do lists. They're lists for Portland businesses, foods, and drinks that I love — everything from urban wineries and brunch restaurants to spicy food spots around town. I don't eat out every meal of every day, so plenty of amazing spots weren't included in the book simply because I haven't been to them. (Although I did eat out A LOT when my kitchen was being remodeled this past summer.)
by Liz Crain, November 20, 2013 2:00 PM
In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily to see the books your favorite authors are gifting.
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I've been no stranger to heartbreak this year, and many of my friends went through heart hell in 2012 as well. So many, in fact, that I created a list of splitting up advice to pass along — pieced together from advice given to me and gained on my own. One of the most important things on the list is #6: Keep your heart open. Don't close that fucker.
It's clear that Found magazine founder and author Davy Rothbart agrees wholeheartedly, as evidenced in his autobiographical essay collection My Heart Is an Idiot. I read it in two sittings and immediately wanted to catch a plane to whatever city Davy was in at the moment and find him. Alas, my own book was about to launch, so I was tied to travels centered around it.
Davy's essays are about wearing your heart on your sleeve and catapulting at breakneck speed toward everyone and everything that you strongly desire. Davy is the best kind of crazy, vital, and always hunting big love. Me too. I'll be giving this book to friends whose hearts have hurt like hell at some point this year. It's better than booze.
In a recent interview in the Believer, Davy sums up why I love the book:
I think it's just always being open to adventure, being open to other people. If you're not sure whether or not you should do something, you probably should. You don't have to make every single day a carnival ride, but it's generally about being more open. This old friend of mine, who hasn't had a drink in like eight years, said, "I try to live every day like I'm drunk." Which is kind of
by Liz Crain, October 18, 2013 10:19 AM
In Barcelona at Quimet & Quimet during our trip for the book in September of 2012 / photo by David Reamer
Okay, so four days of outtakes made for some good stories, right? We could keep doing this for weeks — that's how many good ones are hiding. Nah, we don't want to do that, and neither do you. All good things must come to an end. I'm just happy that we got to share some of the outtakes from the Toro Bravo book here because there are a lot of you, including myself, that read the Powell's blog, and stories get lonely if they aren't shared.
Now that we've done the outtakes, I want to take a moment and tell you a few things straight from my heart. This was a really crazy three-year project, and I'd be lying if I said that it was all golden times. There were some really difficult periods, and in honor of full disclosure: I've cried in the Toro Bravo bathroom. I'm guessing many servers have as well. Or in the basement. There's a little more distance from the fire of the kitchen down there.
When you run with the bulls, sometimes you get the horns, and I most definitely did last year. While we were working our asses off trying to get through the seemingly interminable recipe testing for the book, my boyfriend and I of 11 years were splitting up. That was the hardest thing I've ever been through. One thing that I relearned about myself during that time is that I do well in crisis mode. The truth is I work harder, faster, better. It's a coping mechanism that can be pretty great, actually. In terms of the book, though, there was a decision that I made on my own about it during that time without John that turned everything upside-down.
John has a temper. He generally keeps it in check, but it's there, and when it comes out he can cut people out of his life pretty dang quickly. You'll read about that in the book — not this particular situation but why that is. John's temper came at me head-on early one morning a little less than a year ago, completely unexpected, when he and I were alone at the restaurant. Words were shared and I didn't go into fight or flight mode. I said my piece in my defense and then soon after did my best to shift to all of the work that lay ahead of us that day. I didn't know what else to do.
|David, John, and me at Powell's after our prerelease|
cookbook reading in September
It was, crazily enough, our last day of recipe testing. Well, that's what we thought at the time. We ended up doing a lot more testing, but at the time, the day felt momentous. After we each said what we had to say, we hopped on the line and spent the rest of the day testing. As usual, I took loads of notes and photos and asked a ton of questions, and we worked one-on-one through recipe testing all day while Toro staff did their thing and prepped for service that night. David Reamer
, the photographer for the book, took shots of everything once plated for the book.
John and I pretended like nothing had happened while testing, and we did a pretty great job of it. I smiled and had a laugh as much as I could with all the Toro folks and pretended like everything was just fine, but I'd head to the bathroom whenever I felt like I might cry. That did the trick. I made it from early morning until late afternoon because of that bathroom.
In upcoming days and weeks, things between John and I got so rough that the future of the book didn't look so good. It seemed likely that we wouldn't be able to finish it. Even still, I kept my head down and focused on the project at hand. I just kept crossing things off lists as I'd been doing. After a month or so, things got better. A few months later, much better. And six months later, things were better than ever. I now believe that all of that shit that went down — as crazy and heartbreaking as it was at the time — was for the best. I know John better than I ever thought I would because of it, and there's an even deeper respect that we have for one another now because we got the fuck through it. It was a crazy, stressful time for us both beyond the book, and we weathered it. And now, well, there's a book to prove it.
So here are my words of wisdom for anyone embarking on or considering co-authoring a cookbook with a chef: Don't cry in the kitchen. Don't give up. Find a bathroom with a lock near the kitchen to cry in. You're probably going to need
by Liz Crain, October 17, 2013 10:18 AM
I've loved getting to know Sarah, Mindy, and Ron during the making of the Toro Bravo cookbook
. All three of them are integral to Team Toro, and they all have loads of good stories about the restaurant and John. I put these profiles together from interviews I did with them in the summer of 2012.
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Sarah Scofield, Floor Manager
Started working at Toro:
|Photo by David Reamer|
Favorite album to listen to while at Toro: I always work the weekends, and a couple songs that are always played on the weekends are R. Kelly's "Remix to Ignition" about the weekend starting. John likes to play that on Friday nights at or just after 8 o'clock after the older people have left. That's when we usually switch to hip hop. There's also T.I.'s "Live Your Life" with Rihanna. That's the Toro song. John and Renee love that song and it sounds great in here. After hours we play a lot of Rihanna and Justin Timberlake and sometimes 'N Sync while we're sweeping. Sometimes we get crazy with some Bon Jovi — whatever the kitchen and front can agree on. Whatever we choose, we play it loud so we can get through the cleanup.
Favorite Toro recipe: My all-time favorite is the brussels sprouts. I eat so many of them in the winter and order them almost every night. They're so rich but I love them. By the end of the night I'm starving, so I usually just go with my cravings. I get things like the brussels, lamb chops, and coppa. I always work it off, but now I'm 30 and everything could change. Sarah G. wore a pedometer at work one day and she was at 7 miles. I'm guessing most servers and managers at Toro are at around 7-10 miles a shift. I don't work out on my weekend at all. I just let my body rest.
Memorable Toro story you think should make it into the book: On Saturday nights there's often a line outdoors before 5 o'clock, and sometimes it goes around the block since we don't take reservations. After 5:00, it's usually an hour or more wait. It was a really busy Saturday and Amber had the night off, so I was the only manager. The kitchen was ready for tickets to start flying through, and usually 5 or so minutes after 5:00 orders start coming in for food. It had been 20 minutes, and Kasey asked me if anyone had fired food yet. I hadn't because I was just seating and watering people, but Mindy was getting all sorts of bar tickets. We quickly realized that the kitchen printer had gone kaput and by that point there were hundreds of dishes to be fired in that first turn. It was crazy and we immediately went into emergency mode.
Kasey devised a plan for how to handwrite tickets. Our tech came in by 6:00 and worked on the printer, but it wasn't until 8:00 that he fixed it. When he plugged it back in and the printer started printing, it printed all of those unprinted tickets — an entire roll of them. The fact that we were still able to maintain throughout all of that was a really great feeling. We just took deep breaths and carried on. John said to pour shots for everyone at the end.
It's always something. It's a wild ride here. Anything can happen on any given night. You just have to be ready to adjust and come up with quick solutions. That's a great approach for life anyway — to be ready for anything. We really want the right fit for servers here, and other restaurant skills don't always apply. Toro is all about teamwork — all kinds of silent communication goes on. I felt like a seasoned server when I got the job, but it took me six months to feel comfortable. I honestly felt like I'd never master it.
Mindy Cook, Bar Manager
Started working at Toro:
|Photo by David Reamer|
Favorite Toro recipe: I love our paella so much. Our harira, spicy octopus, and asparagus too (all in the book!). I get that question every day, but I'd say my all-time favorite is the late-spring/early-summer fava bean and cured meat salad with Manchego cheese.
Biggest Toro fuck up to date: When I was doing John and Renee's wedding, I premade all of these cocktails to make out there, and I was also responsible for getting all champagne and sparkling wine into the U-Haul to go to Viridian Farms. The one thing that didn't make it in was John and Renee's special champagne for their table, and it was a two-hour drive out there. In the end someone was able to bring it. That's the most mad John has ever been with me.
Memorable Toro story: Mike and Jo are regulars, and they've followed John since Viande. They're an older couple in their 70s — big foodies who've lived in San Francisco, Japan, and all over. They are the only people at Toro that have a standing reservation, and they come in every Thursday night at 8:15 and have a reservation at the bar. That's been going on for years. Their 50th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I bought them a really special bottle of wine that they love. They love PX wines and they bring me presents all the time. I got them one that they haven't had before. I won't lie; some people think they're a pain in the ass because they're extremely picky, but they're awesome. They bring in their own wine, and we don't charge them a corkage fee. When they started coming in, they brought crappy wines, and now they bring great ones. A while back, they brought me an antique sommelier cup they found in their house when they were moving. Now they always bring in really expensive wines and they'll each have a glass and give the rest of the bottle to me at end of their meal to take home and have with my boyfriend. He's bar manager at Interurban.
When I went to Nicaragua recently for a couple weeks, Mike and Jo took a vacation from Toro too. They are totally a part of the restaurant. They don't want anything with cream or with cheese, and they don't like olives or bacon. Every week I tell them what's on the menu that they'll like and what they won't like. Jo has a beer of some sort — a small one to start — and they always get sherry over ice cream for dessert, but they get vanilla rather than the hazelnut and they switch to a different sherry from the one that we serve. They've been dining out at restaurants regularly for years, and I hope that someone will take care of me at that age too like we do. They have seats at the bar they like to sit at, and sometimes they get them, sometimes they don't. The kitchen always sends out flatbread for free with no toppings, and that comes out when they order. They arrive at 8:08 usually and they're usually out by 9:30. They're really respectful of time because they hate it when they can't get seated right away. Since they only like French
by Liz Crain, October 16, 2013 10:32 AM
This is the last installment of a conversation I recorded between John and Renee Gorham (read Parts One
). It's a long one because I'm sad for you that this is the end of this story. Or the beginning, depending on how you look at it...
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Renee: For a while after John and Courtney split up, she and I still had our weekly Toro Bravo manager brunch. Ruby would come with us a lot of the time, but to Ruby I was just another friend. We'd go out, have brunch somewhere, and talk about the restaurant. These just got weirder and weirder, of course, and more uncomfortable until finally we couldn't do it anymore.
John: The spring before the Fourth of July, 2008 — probably a month or two before that — I had the realization that I needed the marriage to be over completely. I was thinking of how to get out of it in an honorable way. I had gone to a party and played kickball the day before — it was a Simpatica/Laurelhurst Market party — and I woke up in the middle of the night to my chest killing me.
|Ruby, John, Royal, and Renee Gorham|
That spring of 2008 they thought I'd just pulled a muscle, and then I had a major attack on Halloween and was hospitalized for two days. At that point I was having severe stomach pains. I'd had a Sunday dinner, had all our friends over and cooked for them like I've done for years. I woke up with Ruby the next day and rode my bike to my personal trainer. At the time I was training with her every Monday morning. I walked in and said, "Laurie, I don't feel so good," and she said, "You're yellow. Go home right now."
I made it halfway home and started vomiting. I had Ruby in the tow-along bike and we were riding from downtown back home to Northeast Portland. I made it home and me and Ruby just laid down and watched movies the rest of the day. That night I woke up at four with the worst abdominal pain I'd ever had. My intestine had actually flipped over from all of the spasms of my gallbladder, and I ended up in the hospital. They tried to get me into emergency surgery — to cut me open and take my intestine out right then and there, but I had them call my doctor. He came in and said, "There isn't any fever; nothing is going on. Just sedate him and let him go." They did a cat scan the next day and found gallbladder stones, but they couldn't discern how many.
My doctor told me to go see a naturopath and see if I could change my diet and get rid of them. That's what I did, but then I had another attack in December. At this point I'd been hospitalized, had all of these attacks, and paid my deductible, so I said, "I want this out." They did an ultrasound and found that my gallbladder was packed with several large stones. I had it removed on New Year's Eve, 2009.
Renee: I took care of John during that time, and that was a bond for us.
John: When I got out of the hospital, it kept me away from work for about two weeks. My doctor said, "Don't do anything that will hurt you," but beyond that, there weren't any strict rules. He said, "If you can walk, if you can jog, if you can bike, then do it, because the more you move, the faster you'll heal."
During those few months leading up to my surgery and right after it, I lost a ton of weight, mostly from being sick. I couldn't eat. I was scared to eat because all sorts of things would trigger it. That spring when I saw my doctor, I weighed about 310 pounds, and the day after my surgery I was 190 (before and after photos below). I was working out a lot before the surgery, and I started doing triathlon training right after. I think there were rumors that I had cancer with all of the weight loss, but the whole time I really thought that the problem was coronary. Soon after the surgery, Allison Blythe and Pascal Sauton said that I should do Team in Training, and I agreed. Five weeks after my surgery, I started triathlon training in February 2009. That spring it gets even funnier — I got hit by a car.
John before and after the weight loss in 2008 and 2009 / photo on right by David Reamer
I was training for the triathlon and riding from Northeast Portland to Rocky Butte, and I got hit on the Rocky Butte run that I used to do. It was one of my regular training rides because of all of the hill climbing. I was going through 82nd and Fremont, where it's really flat, so I was going fast. I'd go on these speed sprints on straightaways with no stop signs a lot, and I was going 25 miles per hour — just flying — when this car came up and turned in. By the time I hit the brakes, I clipped his rear and slid in the street. I tucked into a ball. It was so scary.
As I was sliding down the street I remember thinking, Wow, this helmet is keeping my head really straight. I had good bike gear on. The driver took off and I got up and went running down the street after him. Others stopped and they made him come back. There was a little pet store there at the intersection. I was pissed, really mad and saying things like, "You really hurt me. I'm doing the triathlon and you've really hurt me!" It shredded up my gear, crumpled my front tire, did $1,200 damage to a $3,000 bike, and for the next year I had major hip problems and a hernia from it. The lady at the pet store was sympathizing with the guy who hit me, though, because I was so mad and yelling at him. I thought, Are you fucking kidding me? This guy just fucking hit me.
I was scheduled to work at Toro that night but called in. I'm always guilt ridden when I call in — even when it's to my own fucking restaurant. At that point I didn't like to have anyone else do the ordering. I was the one who always did it, so I said that I'd come in and do that at least. The EMTs thought I broke my hip, so off I went to the hospital.
Renee: We were supposed to hang out that day, and I finally got a hold of you and found out you had been hit by a car and that you had called Courtney to come help you. I was so mad at you.
John: This is the thing with cell phones — the only number I remembered was Toro's and Courtney's. No one ever answers phones at Toro, so I called Courtney and said, "I got hit by a car. I need a ride to my house." After that I went to the hospital and got checked out. I iced my hip that night and went in to Toro to do the ordering.
Renee: John and I went back and forth a lot that
by Liz Crain, October 15, 2013 10:30 AM
You ready for this? Of course you are. We're just getting started. Have you been on the edge of your seat since yesterday's post
? Hope not because your ass would really be pins and needles after nearly 24 hours of that. Shake it off!
Here's the second installment of a conversation I recorded in the spring of 2012 between John and Renee Gorham.
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John: My marriage with Courtney was falling apart for a long time before we split up. Neither of us were happy. We were married for 12 years, and for a long time we were comfortable but we weren't happy. We're both good parents, though, so we had this strong idea that we needed to stay in the same house for our daughter, Ruby. That's when we decided that we'd have an open marriage but still live together. I think a lot of people in Portland try that, to be honest — being so progressive. So Renee and I were both in big times of change at that point, and we said, "Let's just have an affair and have some fun."
Renee: John and Courtney invited me over to use their hot tub in the early spring of 2008, which you know means trouble. I wasn't planning on doing anything but having a glass of wine and then going home.
Renee: After the first hot tub night in 2008, I went back a few days later to hang out with John and Courtney. In the very beginning, it was not just John and me together and Courtney and her lovers together; it was all three of us together — John, Courtney, and me. I promised that I would never spend the night there at that point. I knew that I absolutely couldn't do that and wake up in their family home. But four or five Manhattans later and, well, it happened.
I woke up there that morning and Courtney had gotten out of bed to make John and I coffee. She didn't drink it. John and I laid in bed together and that was the first time that we truly connected. When we got up, I got dressed and Ruby woke up not long after and said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Oh, I just came over for coffee."
I'll never forget the first thing she said to her dad when she was still in her nightgown. She looked up at John and said, "My papa has a big heart." I've never to this day heard her say a thing like that. It was so poignant. He picked her up, gave her a big hug, and I saw John then as a papa for the first time. It melted my heart. I knew I was in trouble at that point. Then we sat around the breakfast table and had coffee. I was in the clothes that I'd worn out the night before, and I thought, I've got to get the fuck out of here.
John: A few months later, on the Fourth of July, 2008, Courtney talked to Renee about how she was uncomfortable and wanted to put an end to our open relationship. We'd gone white-water rafting with the entire Toro Bravo crew for our employee party. This was a few months into the affair. It ended with Renee leaving and me saying that I didn't know what we should do.
Renee: Something dramatic always happens to John on the Fourth of July. It's a big day in his life. I cooled down and came back to the party later that night, and I was the last person there. The next morning...
John: I packed my stuff and never went back. I knew I was over our marriage and needed to go. I went to Renee's house that night. In the morning I called my buddy Mike and asked him what to do. He said, "You're a grown-ass man; you're making money; you can afford it. Get a fucking apartment right now."
|John and Renee in Spain|
Let's backtrack for a minute. For a few months before Fourth of July, John would come over, and I swear to God we never slept. There were times when John would get an hour of sleep, but Courtney and John had Ruby, so they were living these double lives. When Ruby woke up, Courtney and John were always both home because it was supposed to seem totally normal — as if nothing had changed. There was a lot of driving home in the middle of the night.
What started off as really fun pretty soon became not what we signed up for. I really fell in love with John, so watching him leave at 5:30 a.m. was hard. There were times when I was at his house and Courtney was at her lover's house and we would drive past each other on the road at the crack of dawn. I still to this day have this image of all of us doing those drives of shame. It was kind of comical but, of course, bittersweet.
I'd been good friends with Courtney and felt horrible because here I was in a situation where I knew I was hurting my friend, but I was so madly in love with John. My rule from the very beginning was: I will never get fired for this and I won't leave work. I'm really stubborn and I always put work first.
John: After I left the house on the Fourth of July, the three of us — Courtney, Renee, and I — continued to work together for several months until New Year's, 2009. Courtney and I didn't work together too much, though, because of co-parenting. During most of that time, she and I only worked one day a week together.
Renee: Here's a story that kind of shows you how tense it was for the three of us to work together then. We were using these cheap glass Ikea pitchers at Toro, and the metal ice scoops would click on the edge of the pitcher, and the next thing you knew, broken glass would be everywhere. That wasn't okay, of course.
John: Renee had come to me because she was manager now. Well, Renee was managing five days a week and Courtney was managing two days a week. So Renee says, "I have a solution. We should buy plastic ice scoops and we'll have less breakage." So I put the metal ice scoops in the basement to use with dry storage, and I went and bought all new plastic ice scoops. When I got to work the next day, Courtney had been working and there were brand-new metal ice scoops everywhere. She had pitched the plastic ones and bought new metal ones. From there on out, if Renee was managing, the staff would bring up the plastic scoops, but if Courtney was managing they'd bring up the metal ones. Our staff was protecting the integrity of the restaurant with fucking ice scoops.
Renee: At this point in late 2008, just shy of a year into our affair, John and I had a relationship, but there was so much guilt and turmoil surrounding it. I put the restaurant first still, even though there were a lot of stolen moments and kisses and "catering meetings." John had a lot of guilt because he felt like he was breaking up his family. During that year, we broke up and got together over and over. We couldn't stay away from each other, but we also knew our relationship was full of strife, and we thought maybe we were making things worse. It was really painful.
John: I wouldn't share Ruby with Renee that first year so, as far as parenting went, I was always alone with Ruby. Courtney and I had our friends that were on the
by Liz Crain, October 14, 2013 10:00 AM
With the Toro Bravo
cookbook, three of my very favorite things have come together — Toro Bravo
, and Powell's. One of the reasons that I moved from Catalina Island to Portland in 2002 was Powell's. I can't count the number of times over the years that I applied for jobs at various Powell's locations around town. Unsuccessfully. Although I've never been gainfully employed by Powell's (and I know a lot of great people who are and have been), I am very happy that I get to take over the Powell's Blog this week in honor of the book which I so luckily got to coauthor with chef-owner extraordinaire John Gorham and which officially launches tomorrow from McSweeney's — Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull.
John and I had our first meeting for the book in the Orange Room of Powell's downtown location. At a panel for the book at Wordstock, we talked about that meeting a bit and how he and I walked up and down the cookbook aisles grabbing books that we liked, didn't like, books that had something in common with our project. Once we both had sizable stacks, we took them all up to the bookstore café, flipped through them, and talked about them. It turned out that we saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things — look, feel, content. It was a great book first date. So great, in fact, that the cookbook was born three years later.
A couple of weeks ago we had a prerelease book reading at the downtown Powell's, and maybe some of you reading this were there? It went great despite the fact that we were a little nervous. It was our first official Toro book event, so that's to be expected. I had a bottle of bourbon in my bag, though, that we lightened a bit prereading and, well, that helped.
John and me after the Powell's reading signing books in the Pearl Room
There are so many stories that we could lay down here about the making of the book — blood, sweat, tears sorts — but John and I decided that the best way to go about this week of guest blogging would be to offer some tasty bits that didn't make it between the covers for one reason or another.
During the three years that it took to put the book together, I recorded 50-plus hours of audio of John talking story about everything from a tattoo on his ass to tales of his Grandad Gordon and coming up as a chef. We tested many recipes that didn't make it into the book; I conducted loads of staff interviews and sat down numerous times with John and his wife, Toro proprietor/executive assistant Renee, to get all the steamy details of their relationship and then some. I also shadowed John at Toro one day from early morning until late evening. All of these things are lonely and quietly biding their time in folders in my laptop, so we're going to let them out and share some of them here with you in five daily installments.
I hope that you like them. And I hope that you don't think we're jerks for not including them in the book. Installment #1 is the first part of a conversation between John and Renee about everything from the crazy early days of their much-talked-about relationship and John's dramatic weight loss in 2008 to his bike accident during that time and how all of this and more played into the making of Toro. I recorded this conversation at their home in the spring of 2012, and it's unedited in every way. Some parts are in the book in the timeline, but most aren't.
John and Renee Gorham / photo by David Reamer
Renee: John and I met in the summer of 2003. I'd just started working at Paley's Place in Portland, and John's now ex-wife, Courtney, was the floor manager and my boss. After closing we all went out to this little wine bar up the street called M Bar. That was the first time I met John. Later that night we all went skinny-dipping in the Paley's home pool.
John: At that point I was a chef at Tuscany Grill just up the road from Paley's Place.
Renee: I hadn't technically been hired at Paley's — I'd just done my first serving stage. Courtney liked me but the rest of the staff were like, "Don't hire this girl; she doesn't know shit." And they were right. I was 22 and really didn't know anything about service. So Kimberly Paley came home that night and found me naked in her pool. She didn't have her glasses on and she said, "Suzanna is that you?" Suzanna was a bartender at Paley's at the time. I said, "No, Kim, it's Renee," and she said, "Did we hire you?" I thought, well, you did now! I got hired, but I honestly don't think I would've if I hadn't had the balls to get naked in her pool that night.
John: And then Renee and I became friends. I'd go to the Paley's bar after work and talk to her along with everyone else there. It was a regular thing for us all to go to M Bar after work since there are only 15 or so seats there and we could take it over.
Renee's boyfriend at the time, Benny, worked for me at Viande. He was doing his externship at Paley's and on his days off he came down and worked for me at Viande. So there was also that connection between Renee and me.
Renee: Courtney left Paley's when John and Courtney's daughter Ruby was born in 2004, and that's when John started Simpatica. In February 2005, after Simpatica had been going for several months, it was that horrid Valentine's Day when a group of us went to Simpatica for dinner and then proceeded to get wasted and go from strip club to strip club. That was the first time that I partied with John. We were friendly at that point but not friends.
John: Renee had really excelled at Paley's, so when we were opening Toro Bravo in the summer of 2007, we thought of her. Vitaly Paley, the owner of Paley's Place, and I used to be pretty good friends, and I told him, "I'll never steal any of your people. If they drop off a resume, I'll let you know, but I'll never steal anyone." So we got wind that Renee was leaving Paley's when we were opening, and we knew we couldn't hire her right away because they'd think we'd schemed. We really wanted to, though.
Somehow we got a hold of Renee and let her know that we were opening Toro and asked her what she was up to. She said she was going to Clyde Common, a restaurant that opened right before we did in Downtown Portland, to serve, but she didn't want to be held down by one restaurant. She came in and staged a week or so after we opened, and then we asked her to be our manager. She left Clyde. We used to do a lot of catering up in the ballroom above Toro at that point, and Renee