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I Cried in the Toro Bravo Bathroom

Barcelona 2012
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 hornsWhen 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 it.

÷ ÷ ÷

Liz Crain is the author of Food Lovers Guide to Portland and Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. A longtime writer on Pacific Northwest food and drink, her writing has appeared in Cooking Light, Budget Travel, VIA magazine, The Sun magazine, The Progressive, The Guardian, and The Oregonian. She is also an editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books, as well as co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Food Lover's Guide to Portland (2nd... Used Trade Paper $12.50
  2. Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull.
    Used Hardcover $24.00


Liz Crain is the author of Food Lover's Guide to Portland (2nd edition)

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