Good Food and Good Intentions

Ever been to a potluck? Five bowls of hummous, ten salads, one dessert? I haven’t been to a decent potluck since the mid-1980’s. A little while ago, I was invited to a potluck dinner where I was asked to bring a dish for ten people, a bowl, a fork, and a cushion to sit on. I politely sent my regrets.

But this week, I went to a potluck that blew all the others out of the water.

I’d been invited to speak at a benefit for Spezzatino Magazine. “Spezzatino” is Italian for a stew with small pieces of meat. It’s also the name of this Toronto-based food magazine that raises money to provide healthy food to people in need.

The Tennis Player accompanied me. We did not know what to expect. The invite said 6:30. Should we eat beforehand, plan for a drink afterwards? I’m so glad we went hungry.

The event was held in the recently refurbished Artscape Wychwood Barns. We entered a beautiful, high-ceilinged room, home of the amazing Stop Community Food Centre, which provides nutritious and culturally appropriate food to low-income people. It does this in a multitude of ways: a food bank, a green house, community cooking and advocacy to name just a few.

Delicious aromas greeted us. This was no ordinary potluck. Farmers, vintners and foodies of all stripes had arrived bearing salads made from freshly picked greens, soups, casseroles, organic chocolate, and a plethora of desserts. One generous dude brought bottles of wine from his vineyard, and set up a bar in the greenhouse. A huge pot of spezzatino drew people like moths to a flame.

Make. Sure. You. Try. The Poutine. Outside. said Krista, the organizer, rather distractedly. Poutine? Outside? We grabbed one of the takeout containers piled on a table and wandered confusedly into a courtyard with a garden full of cabbages. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. I half-expected a rabbit to rush past, muttering to himself.

Oh. Wow. Look. said The Tennis Player, awestruck. I followed her gaze. There, glowing in the dark like a drug-induced hallucination was a takeout truck covered in lumberjack plaid with the words Smoke’s Poutinerie emblazoned on it. Smoke’s is the Julia Child of poutines. It was recently mentioned by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker food issue.

We approached the truck warily, hopefully, glasses of wine in hand. Two unbelievably cheerful men filled our containers with artery-clogging love: pulled pork poutine and country style poutine (slow-roasted chicken breast, double-smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onion – and of course, cheese curds, gravy and fries).

The rest of the evening was quirky and slightly chaotic and heartwarming. Spezzatino made a donation of $15,000 to Stop. Farmers, food activists, and even the poutine guy told food stories. I read a story about perogies from my book, Comfort Food for Breakups: The Memoir of a Hungry Girl. The Scrabble Player, who also showed up, said to me as she left. This. Was. Incredible. Please. Invite. Me. To. All. Your. Foodie. Events. All. Of. Them.

It was an evening unlike any I’d been to, where foodie-ism and food security, sensuality and politics, good food and good intentions, mingled together like the most delicately flavoured yet robust stew.

Starting to think about Christmas shopping? Buy someone a subscription to Spezzatino, Toronto’s most beautifully- designed and well-written food magazine. Wondering whom to make your end-of-year charitable donation? Make a tax-deductible donation to Stop. You can do it right now by clicking here. Got time but no extra cash? You can always volunteer at the Stop Food Bank (416 652 7867 ext 249.) , or organize a healthy food drive on your block.


  1. I got a crazy poutine craving yesterday so I went to Smoke’s Poutine. I have actually read a review that said that Poutini’s on Queen West came out on top due to higher quality ingredients, but they were closed. I ordered “Hogtown” and my companion got “Prime beef”. I’d say the first half of the the chow down felt great, but I slowed down in the second half. I’m wondering if you would be willing to try out both of the Poutine places and let us know what you think? Have you ever made home-made poutine? I think that’s what I’ll do from now on when I get a poutine craving just to cut back on the grease….

  2. Jamie – Well, since i have already tried Smoke’s – I say we head to Poutini’s and do a scientific compare & contrast!

    Homemade poutine? why???

  3. you gotta admit that homecut wedge potatos browned perfectly in the oven with garlic beat mass produced french fries hands down. i know, why go to all the trouble just to make poutine. well, let’s add that to our circuit. poutini’s then homemade ok? we’ll include labour / convenience in our judgement criteria.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.