Meet restau­rant im­pre­sario and fe­male cru­sader JEN AGG.


Meet restau­rant im­pre­sario and fe­male cru­sader Jen Agg

Jen Agg’s suc­cess in the food world is un­de­ni­able.

The 41-yearold restau­ra­teur has made her own brand of ca­sual, cool din­ing with five es­tab­lish­ments in two cities, and helped po­si­tion Toronto as a ma­jor player on the culi­nary map. Her mini restau­rant em­pire in­cludes Toronto’s char­cu­terie-fo­cused Black Hoof, the restau­rant that made her a house­hold name when she in­tro­duced the city to snout-to-tail eat­ing in 2008; the ad­ja­cent speakeasy-in­spired Cock­tail Bar; Haitian-in­flu­enced Rhum Cor­ner and Agrikol (Agrikol is in Mon­treal and co-owned by Ar­cade Fire front cou­ple Win But­ler and Régine Chas­sagne); and her new­est gem, Grey Gar­dens, a wine bistro in Toronto’s Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket.

True to Jen Agg form, Grey Gar­dens, which opened ear­lier this year, feels ca­sual, el­e­gant, and art­ful, with its bent­wood chairs, gray-green botan­i­cal mu­ral, and ac­cents of mar­ble, vin­tage glass, and brass. “I de­scribe it as clean-lined moder­nity meets an­tiqued de­cay,” says Agg who’s a big stick­ler for dé­cor de­tails. “It drives me crazy when I go some­where and on first glance the wash­room seems lovely, but as you sit there, you no­tice the ba­sic waste bin and ugly com­mer­cial door handles,” she says. “It’s not that hard to find beau­ti­ful things, and make them sturdy enough for com­mer­cial use.”

As for de­cid­ing on Grey Gar­dens’ con­cept, Agg ran with what she likes. “I just felt that a re­ally great wine list full of all the kinds I want to drink, cou­pled with truly ex­cel­lent food, hadn’t been done,” she ex­plains.

For Agg, open­ing five prop­er­ties as a woman in a no­to­ri­ously com­pet­i­tive and male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try has been her great­est ac­com­plish­ment. “It’s not an in­dus­try that makes it easy for women to rise to the top, es­pe­cially if you have the gall to have any opin­ions about like, any­thing,” she replies with an en­vi­able self-con­fi­dence.

With that same con­fi­dence and un­re­strained blunt­ness, Agg never shies away from stand­ing up to restau­rant bro cul­ture and call­ing out the misog­yny women face in kitchens: In 2015, Agg or­ga­nized a sold­out con­fer­ence called “Kitchen Bitches: Smash­ing the Pa­tri­archy One Plate at a Time” that ad­dressed gen­der, sex­ism, and in­jus­tice in restau­rants; and a month later, penned an op-ed for the New York Times ti­tled “Sex­ism in the Kitchen” that pas­sion­ately de­scribed the ha­rass­ment women face all too of­ten. Th­ese ac­tions, among oth­ers, have es­tab­lished Agg as a lead­ing fem­i­nist fire­brand in the food in­dus­try. “Ul­ti­mately, my hope is that my at­ti­tude will in­spire other women to feel com­fort­able speak­ing up,” she says. “Strength in num­bers, baby!”

Agg’s fem­i­nist spirit, bold per­son­al­ity, and culi­nary ac­com­plish­ments were the per­fect in­gre­di­ents for her sharp, candid, juicy mem­oir re­leased this past spring. Ti­tled I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, the book was the brain­child of pres­i­dent and pub­lisher of Pen­guin Ran­dom House, Kristin Cochrane, who en­cour­aged Agg to write the book the same even­ing the two met at Cock­tail Bar. “You don’t say no to Kristin. She’s a force, and I love and ad­mire her very much,” says Agg. The part per­sonal nar­ra­tive, part restau­rant in­dus­try sur­vival guide re­claims the b-word. “The un­der­ly­ing theme is that it’s okay to be a woman, and have an opin­ion, and be con­fi­dent, and en­joy sex, etc., etc.,” she dis­closes. “We con­tain mul­ti­tudes!”

Be­tween all the var­i­ous restau­rant projects on the go, what’s next for this culi­nary ex­pert and now-pub­lished author? “Noth­ing, I need to see the world,” says Agg. “But I sus­pect I’m not quite done open­ing restau­rants.”

Clock­wise left to right: A front view of Grey Gar­dens in­side. En­derle & Moll Bur­gun­der Weiss & Grau wine from Baden, Ger­many. A view of Grey Gar­dens’ bar. Sweet potato-stuffed ravi­oli with shav­ings of black truf­fle.

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