END OF THE BE­GIN­NING

When restau­ra­teur Jen Agg opened the Black Hoof, it changed ev­ery­thing. Sud­denly, ev­ery­one was slurp­ing bone mar­row and fine din­ing was tossed aside for bold food with an in­die rock vibe. Now, it’s clos­ing, and it’s a big deal. Post City caught up with Ag

Thornhill Post - - Contents - by Ron John­son

Restau­rant icon and trail­blazer Jen Agg on clos­ing the Hoof and plans for the fu­ture

The Black Hoof is clos­ing this month. If you could con­trol these things, how would you want it to be re­mem­bered? Who says I can’t? But re­ally, I just want it to be re­mem­bered as the mould-crack­ing, cor­ner-turn­ing restau­rant it was. The restau­rant was the launch­ing pad for quite a few culi­nary ca­reers and def­i­nitely a turn­ing point in the lo­cal restau­rant scene. What did you do dif­fer­ently that made such an im­pact? I just made the restau­rant that I wanted to hang out in. No pan­der­ing, but still very hos­pitable. And it was the right time for that mag­i­cal combo of great food and ser­vice in a cool ca­sual space with loud in­die rock and low light­ing. Tell me about the photo of you and the late An­thony Bour­dain with him do­ing bone luge shots. LOL, OMG, so em­bar­rass­ing! I was (God, it still doesn’t feel right to use the past tense) fa­mously very fond of Tony, but I def­i­nitely felt like a shooter girl in that mo­ment. I can’t look at that pic. Was there any­thing that helped you to re­al­ize it was time to close the Hoof? I de­cided years ago that 10 was the magic num­ber — I’m lit­er­ally walk­ing away from the Hoof on the cover of my book. It’s hard to leave money on the ta­ble but feels very good to be the ar­biter of a dig­ni­fied death for a thing I deeply love. Go­ing out on top is al­ways how to leave. You’ve said Grey Gar­dens was your last open­ing. What was so great about this new op­por­tu­nity to take over the Swan that changed your mind? I mean I only said that be­cause the build was so stress­ful, and I was just com­ing off it. What can I say? I’m mer­cu­rial. And I f***ing love build­ing restau­rants. What is your vi­sion for the space? Se­cret! But ob­vi­ously it has great bones. We’re do­ing some re­uphol­ster­ing and mak­ing some big light­ing changes (but ones that’ll look like they’ve al­ways been there). What do you find to be the most chal­leng­ing part of open­ing a new restau­rant? All the hoop jump­ing with per­mits and the city and the AGCO [Al­co­hol and Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of On­tario]. I hate it. And am very grate­ful I can pay some­one to deal with it at this point. You've been at the fore­front of gen­der equity is­sues in the restau­rant in­dus­try. We see cases such as Nor­man Hardie (a wine­maker fac­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct claims), but is that the tip of the ice­berg? Yes, tip of the ice­berg, for sure. What’s par­tic­u­larly funny is watch­ing men I know hor­ri­ble sto­ries about con­demn men like Hardie. Like LOL. I mean I’ve said it a mil­lion times: fear is a far greater mo­ti­va­tor than benev­o­lence, and it’s what’s push­ing the nee­dle. Peo­ple don’t want to be called out as abu­sive ass­holes, so I’m sure they’re some­what ad­just­ing their be­hav­ior, but it’s just so in­grained. Then there’s the prob­lem of men who are per­haps ter­ri­ble but not “rape-y” enough to be brought down, and that’s such a part of restau­rant cul­ture. A lot has to change.

I wish us good luck! You have a knack for see­ing what Toronto re­ally needs in its culi­nary land­scape. What are we miss­ing right now? I re­ally think we could use a French diner with well-ex­e­cuted com­fort food in a su­per-cool room. What restau­rants in­spire you? Sqirl [L.A.] is the restau­rant I most wish we had here: Jes­sica [chef Jes­sica Koslow} please! I love Su­pe­ri­or­ity Burger [N.Y.C.], Brooks [Headley] is just a ge­nius. And Wil­dair [N.Y.C.] (ba­si­cally what­ever those guys do is cool). Mo­mo­fuku is amaz­ing. I don’t know how he does it. And closer to home, I think what Ter­roni has done is to be hugely ad­mired. I eat at Fox­ley and Iman­ishi weekly, and not just be­cause I’m a crea­ture of habit, but be­cause they’re awe­some restau­rants. What is your idea of per­fect hap­pi­ness? Laugh­ing with my hus­band and pals, chug­ging great wine (or maybe it’s watch­ing some ’90s rom-com alone in my room. Why not both!). What is your great­est fear? My great­est fear is that life with­out my much older hus­band, Roland, won’t be worth liv­ing. What is your most trea­sured pos­ses­sion? My col­lec­tion of fam­ily pho­to­graphs, so when­ever I start to feel the ter­ri­bly de­press­ing iso­la­tion of be­ing or­phaned too soon, I can live in my beau­ti­ful child­hood for a mo­ment and see my par­ents as I re­mem­ber them. Which liv­ing per­son do you most ad­mire? Sorry, but it’s Roland, whose story is filmic and grand and who has my heart for­ever.

© J e n a M a ri e W a k n i

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