Media, Darling: Jessica Allen

Jessica Allen is an assistant editor at Maclean’s magazine where she writes and edits for the website in the areas of arts and culture, and makes podcasts and videos. After work, she maintains her personal food blog, Foodie and the Beast, and is the editor-in-chief of T Magazine, a bi-annual publication put out by Terroni restaurant, a Toronto Italian restaurant that she worked at for nearly a decade. During that time she completed a Master’s degree in the history of art at the University of Toronto and spent a year teaching art history in Florence, Italy. Jessica’s TIFF coverage in 2011, her first time reporting on the festival, earned Maclean’s a National Magazine Award nomination.


Did you
always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
Well, as a kid I really wanted to be a
cashier, a waitress or a writer because I loved cash registers and typewriters.
I was very good at pressing buttons. Some might even say gifted. I also used to
host my own radio show that I’d tape on a little cassette recorder from the
living room floor, in private, when I was seven. Topics included: Why does my
brother like Star Wars so much? How
do you make musical instruments from stuff you find in the kitchen? How do they
make those Strawberry Shortcake dolls smell so good? And…Holy s- – t. I just
realized I’ve been a cashier, a waitress, a writer and a podcast host, which is
kind of like being on the radio. I have achieved all my childhood dreams.

Where
would you like to be five years from now?
Surrounded by friends and family at an
intimate, modest book launch. And maybe the book would have my byline. Or maybe
not.  But it would still be a lovely evening
with wine, cheese (fancy kinds) and crackers that would all be FREE.

Any
advice for people getting started in your industry?
Most days I feel like I’m still getting
started. But for freelancers, I’d suggest avoiding emailing an editor with,
“I’d love to write for you. What are you looking for?” It’s just a bit vague.
Do a little homework and see what sort of stories are making the cut and then
pitch a specific idea. And ideally, those queries should reflect who the writer
is, that they can write and that they have a clear idea for a solid story. If
the pitch is vague, boring and poorly written, chances are, the story will be
too.

What
are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
Right now I subscribe to three
publications: the New Yorker, the National Post and Bon
Appétit.
My dad suggested to me 15 years ago, when I was probably reading Sassy, to start reading the New Yorker: if you want to be a better
writer, he said, then read good writing and cross your fingers that some of
that fine craft on the page will be absorbed. I don’t read each issue
cover-to-cover, but man, does it manage to both entertain and enlighten. I love the ritual of first looking at the contents
and mapping out what I’ll read. I’ll usually jump to something by my favourite
contributors, like Amy Ozols, Tad Friend or Calvin Trillin. And I especially
love that the stuff I might resist reading at first, usually ends up being my
favourite. Reading the National Post
is my morning ritual. I like to think that it keeps me sharp because I don’t
always agree with the positions of the columnists and trying to articulate—or
at least think about—why that is, is a nice little exercise with morning
coffee. And since Adam Rapaport from GQ
came on board as editor-in-chief at Bon
Appétit,
I’ve been thrilled with that magazine. And I do love television but don’t have
cable so I just keep watching my favourite shows in rotation: The Sopranos, Deadwood and Northern
Exposure
.
Best
interview you’ve ever had?
This September on
the red carpet of a movie called Quartet
,
directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly. We had
a chance to talk with all three of them on the red carpet for the film’s
premiere at TIFF.  And man oh man did
they bring it! That is how you do a
red carpet. And their enthusiasm, humour and professionalism made me feel a
little less sympathetic to other celebrities who slinked their way down the
carpet, with little verve or vigour, giving one word answers.
Worst?
I once had a scheduled phone interview
with a Toronto chef of international renown. He didn’t answer my first three
calls. He picked up on the fourth though, but asked if I could call back in an
hour. There were a couple of more no answers. By the time I got him, he was
talking to three or four other people in the background at the same time as me.
That was a tough one.
Best
advice you’ve ever been given?
There are three, and they’re so simple
I’m almost embarrassed to tell you: First, I was doing a video with Maclean’s colleague Brian D. Johnson,
who’s covered TIFF for 27 years now and appears on CityTV every Friday to talk
about the newest movies to hit theatres. I kept flubbing a take and he told me
to slow down and pause if I didn’t know what to say, instead of blabbering on.
GENIUS! Second, Philippe Gohier, a former editor at the magazine who now works
at enRoute, told me not to be afraid
to focus on what I think the best bits are in a story: think about the stuff
I’d be most excited to tell my friends about. 
And finally, my boyfriend, after being appalled over how many times I
interrupted celebrities on
my first TIFF red carpet
—think Anna Faris, Chris Pratt and Brad Pitt—told
me maybe to stop interrupting people in interviews. It’s just that I don’t like
making people uncomfortable and would always fill in the awkward silences. If
you let them do it instead, sometimes magic will happen.
What
rule(s) do you live your life by?

I wish I had more
rules to live my life by, but here’s one: Be nice to people. And hopefully not
because your motivations are selfish: be nice to people, including the security
guard, the cashier, the 
sales clerk or the taxi driver, because
being polite and nice are just good things to be in a world that sometimes
lacks those basic courtesies.


What’s
the most important tip you can give PR pros?
I suppose to do a little research before
emailing a press release or pitch: For example, while I’d love to cover a media
scrum on the Hill in Ottawa that you’ve emailed me a press release about, there
are probably far more capable reporters at Maclean’s
to do the job, even ones who actually work in Ottawa. Also, peg the person,
place or thing you’re promoting to a specific section of the magazine or
website that you know would be a good fit for your pitch. And don’t be alarmed
if I choose not to write about those chipotle-yogurt-acai berry gluten-free
chips that you’ve sent. I’m sure they’re amazing, but our readers might not
understand why I just dedicated 500 words to them. 
Best
experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
Last year was my first time covering
TIFF. I was so naïve and had to count on the kindness of PR strangers
(including you fine folks! But it might be considered gauche to recount here.) I
managed to connect with Jennifer Love of Duet PR, who practically held my hand
after I flat out admitted that I was new to TIFF and usually wrote about food. She
did her best to include me at events that might have a culinary focus. One was
a private dinner for a movie called The
Artist
where the star,
Jean Dujardin, director
Michael
Hazanavicius
and producer Harvey Weinstein would be
in attendance. Media wasn’t supposed to be there but I promised to behave and
be a fly on the wall. I ended up sitting with two of the smartest people I’ve
met working in media—Anne Thompson and Dana Harris of Indiewire—and had the time of my life. Hearing Thompson over dinner
confess that:
“I’ve been quoted in print as saying
Ewan McGregor has the most beautiful penis I’ve ever seen. Well, the title now
goes to Michael Fassbender,” was especially memorable, not to mention watching
the Weinstein brothers work the room, or rather, the room working them, and
being privy to New York PR sensation Peggy Siegel doing her thing, were like
scenes out of a movie on the business of making movies. And I
got a great little story out of it to boot
.

I hate?
Chicken on pizza, or in pasta. And
strawberries in rhubarb pie.


I love?
My bike. I ride it everywhere. Sometimes
in heels (don’t recommend.)


Reading?
Currently on the bedside table are A Room With a View (because I just
re-watched the Ivory-Merchant film), Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound, and a food history called Consider the Fork.


Best place
on earth?
Lately, my couch, in home-time comfy
clothes, fire going (in fireplace), one of the above-mentioned TV shows
playing, with my feet on my boyfriend’s lap and a glass of Sancerre resting on
my tummy. (I will take a cheap Italian white, if funds are limited, which is
more often than not.)
Dinner
guest?
Daniel Day Lewis as Nathaniel in Last of the Mohicans, Matt Damon as
Jason Bourne and Brad Pitt as Tristan from
Legends of the Fall
. And if there was room, Russell Crowe as Gladiator. Okay, and Daniel Craig as
007. They would arrive in costume, and be in character the whole night. After
dinner, which I’d prepare at my place, we’d all go sit on the couch with
glasses of bourbon and watch the movies they’re in, or maybe deconstruct
episodes of Girls, and eat a Deep and
Delicious cake out of the container. I’ve said too much.


Hero?
Professionally speaking, Elaine Lui of LaineyGossip. Her writing is not only
hilarious, but it also, for me, blurs the line between high and low culture. If
I’m ever feeling lazy, I think of how much she works, and how she manages to
pump out copy on pop culture that is often so acute and illuminating that I
wonder why she’s not a f–king university professor. (Probably because having
your own gossip website is more fun, and you still get to do TED Talks on the
side.)
Favourite
app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I use the LCBO App quite a bit. Probably
too much, actually.


Pool or
ocean?
Always the ocean.

Voicemail
or email?
Always the email.

City Living: Classes in Toronto

The same old grind of work, friends, sleep, do it all again can leave your brain a little under-used. Sometimes, we pine for the days of sitting in a university classroom learning and being challenged. We’ve realized that just because we’re all grown up doesn’t mean we can’t continue to learn new things in a formal way. In fact, since we can take classes just on a whim or to satisfy a certain curiosity, learning outside the structure of finishing a degree can be an amazing experience. From wine tasting to a new language, there’s a whole range of new skills to develop.

Wine classes
It’s highly doubtful that you learned about wine as a child, so now is the time to take a wine class if you’re looking to learn something new and practical. Now, we’re not suggesting you become one of those wine snobs that cause everyone to cringe as they describe the subtle hints of berries and aroma of hickory smoke in your wine. But, we think it’s pretty useful to know which wine goes with what food, the differences between wines from various countries, and even how to distinguish a Gewurztraminer from a Riesling by smell alone. 

George Brown Continuing Education offers great introductory classes, like Grape Comparison, New World Wines and Sensory Evaluation of Wines. The Independent Wine Education Guild is another a great option to brush up on your knowledge. The program was developed as vocational training for those working in the hospitality industry, but it is also available to the keen amateur. There are three levels – Intermediate, Advanced and Diploma. The LCBO also runs one-hour tutored tastings and two-hour wine appreciation courses at select stores across the province. 


Cooking Classes
Because you’ll need something to serve with all that delicious wine you expertly purchased, why not try some cooking classes? Whether you’re a total beginner or looking to expand your repertoire, there is a class for everyone. Again, George Brown is a great option with pretty much any type of cuisine or skill level possible (Butchery and Charcuterie? Yes, please!).  Dish Cooking Studio offers perhaps our favourite selection of classes including Demysitifying Macaroons, Date Night Spice up your Life, Nonna’s Kitchen Italian Comfort and Healthy Mediterranean, to name a few. Other options include classes at the Market Kitchen at the St. Lawrence Market, The Culinarium, and The Good Egg.


Language Classes
Being Canadian, we should have at least a basic knowledge of French, but most of us have left that skill in the past, alongside our teenage angst. Because languages seem to immediately disappear from our tongues and memories if we don’t practice, why not re-discover your high school French skills with a language class? Or better yet, learn that sexy Italian or Spanish that you’ve always dreamed of. Being the multicultural city that it is, Toronto has no shortage of language learning options, with literally almost every language you can think of being taught in some pocket of the GTA. The Alliance Francaise offers the largest selection of French courses and study options among Canadian language schools. U of T’s School of Continuing Studies also offers instruction in 15 languages, including Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Russian (!). пойдите, научитесь.

 

Dance classes

While you may be past the age for recitals, you’re never too old to dance. Just like languages, learning ballet, hip hop or jazz can be both fun and nostalgic, as well as a pretty amazing work out. Gone are the days of just gazing up with envy at the beautiful ballerinas in the windows of the National Ballet School. NBS actually offers recreational adult ballet classes that include seven progressive levels of instruction. The program allows you to advance at your own pace through a carefully constructed series of increasingly complex exercises. If ballet is not your thing, Shawn Byfield’s dance school offers a wide range of levels of hip hop and tap dance. As well, the Joy of Dance school offers everything from Latin ballroom to Bollywood-style to burlesque.

While we’re not suggesting that you undertake a new degree, we are suggesting that learning something new might be the perfect cure for restlessness, or at the very least, give you something to chat about around the water cooler at work.

My Hood: Summerhill/Rosedale

Next up in our My ‘Hood series, Kylie chats about living north of Bloor in Rosedale/Summerhill.

I moved to the Rosedale/Summerhill neighbourhood last January. What I love about the area is that the location gives you an uptown family ‘nabe feel, but you are also blocks away from Bloor street, and a quick jump on the Summerhill or Rosedale subway to downtown. Because most of my week is spent downtown at the office, I enjoy sticking around on weekends and browsing through the local shops, restaurants and all the other fun spots that the area has to offer.


Here is how you can find me spending my ideal Saturday:

11 a.m. Head over to the Rosedale Diner for brunch. A classic spot where the food is definitely more gourmet than greasy spoon. While your basic breakfast options are available, I usually go for the Eggs Benny and Brioche French Toast (not to mention some of the best Caesars in town). 

 Image source.

1 p.m. Wander down Yonge St. for some window shopping and retail therapy. Whether it’s clothes or home decor, there is no shortage of selection in the area. With brands like JBrand, Equipment, James Perse and Dolce Vita, Shop NYLA is a great store for essentials like jeans and T-shirts, but is also the perfect destination for that awesome party dress. As far as home decor goes, look no further than the five blocks between Summerhill and Rosedale station. This interior design mecca has something to fit everyone’s taste. My personal favourite is the shabby chic store Putti where you can find everything from bedding and lighting, to furniture.
Image source.

4 p.m. Get pampered at Mani Pedi. Good prices and good service (not to mention an amazing selection of nail polish).

5 p.m. Pick up wine and groceries for dinner. Lucky for me, the city’s largest liquor store is located just steps from our door. The train-station-turned-LCBO is hard to miss with its surrounding moat and huge clock tower. Not only is it convenient, but the selection is better than almost any other LCBO in the city. On my way home, I often head to the Five Thieves for groceries. The Harvest Wagon is perfect for picking up some extra veggies last minute, or, if I’m feeling indulgent, splurging on some prepared food at All the Best Fine Foods.

Image source.

11 p.m. My day ends at Le Petit Castor with wine and friends. Nights there tend to start off innocently enough with a glass of wine at the bar or one of the cozy booths, but their signature Pink Panthers (the menu advises you not to have more than one) typically lead to at least one person dancing on a table, and without a doubt a big dance party at the back of the bar. Their food hits the spot, too.

Image source.
That’s my perfect day in my ‘hood. See you at LPC for a Panther.





Rave: Spain vs. Portugal Wine Tasting at the University Club of Toronto

We work with a private members’ club called the University Club of Toronto. Recently, they held a private wine tasting, featuring wines from Spain and Portugal. We were able to invite a few of our food-loving friends to the evening, and we all enjoyed the delicious dinner and wines at the Club.


Tucked away in an innocuous-looking building on University Avenue, the UCT is a bit of a surprise when you first enter through its simple doors. The gorgeous black and white checkered floor leads to several little rooms tucked off the main hallway, each decorated with original Canadian art (from the likes of Tom Thompson and A.J. Casson). At the end of the hallway is a cozy, wood-panelled lounge, complete with overstuffed club chairs and a crackling fireplace.


Upstairs, the Club has several formal dining rooms, each with soaring ceilings, pillars and pretty chandeliers (they rent out these spaces for private events – it’s one of the best-kept venue secrets in the city, and you don’t need to be a UCT member). Here, amongst the crisp white linens, candles, and even more original artwork, is where we experienced the featured wines.



The company was great, and the talk quickly turned to a serious discussion about wine with William Delgado, member of the Portuguese Wine Trade and Arlindo Beca, also representing Portuguese wines.


Each dinner course was paired with either a Pieropan or Resalte wine, matched to chef Patrick Desmoulins’ precisely prepared dishes. As others have mentioned, the discreet service was impeccable, allowing us to enjoy every moment of the night.

Resalte’s winery in Spain.



Among our faves were the grilled prawns with garlic sauce and red pequillos. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the garlic sauce was delicious. We had to stop ourselves from licking the plate.



The homemade Parisienne-style gnocchi was light and melt-in-your-mouth, with a savoury pomodoro sauce. For dessert, the whole plate was amazing, which included brandied plum ice cream, but the handmade Spanish churros were the stand-out for us.


Of the fantastic wines sampled, the clean Pieropan Soave Classico White (2009) and the Resalte Vendimia Seleccionada Red (2009) pleased our palates the most.

The UCT offered a unique experience to taste wine and sample delicious cooking. Of course, a night with good conversation and good food will make any wine enjoyable, but this experience taught us to look for Spanish and Portuguese wines the next time we’re at the LCBO. Oh, and if you’re interested in becoming a UCT member, make sure to check out their membership offerings. Salud!