If you’re tapped into Canada’s food scene, you will recognize the name Suzanne Barr. The chef, who is renowned for her Afro–Caribbean comfort food, has opened two Toronto restaurants (True True Diner and Saturday Dinette), is a judge on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs, sits on our Canada’s Best New Restaurants panel and is a prominent social activist, using her platform to highlight issues like food security and fair wages for restaurant workers. Now the celebrated chef is gearing up to release her memoir, My Ackee Tree, in April. We chatted with her about the book, the future of the restaurant industry and her favourite travel memories.
With the release of My Ackee Tree this spring, the Toronto–based chef, restaurateur, TV personality and Canada’s Best New Restaurants panellist is adding memoir author to her already impressive resumé.
enRouteWhat can your fans expect from My Ackee Tree?
Suzanne BarrFirst and foremost, it’s a story accented by recipes, not a cookbook punctuated with anecdotes. It’s a story that spans several decades of my life that helps to tell the story of who I am. They can also expect lots of tears and laughter, because I’ve laid it all out!
ER Is writing a memoir anything like opening a restaurant?
SB The process of writing a memoir is completely different from creating recipes or opening a restaurant in that it takes a Herculean amount of self–discipline and what feels like an endless rendering of the soul even when there’s no more to give. Opening a restaurant is demanding as you’re constantly multitasking and it’s a lot of physical labour. Writing a memoir is a relentless amount of emotional labour. It’s constantly reliving memories, both good and bad, and endlessly second–guessing myself and censoring what makes it in or not. It’s a lot of crying and wanting to give up. But it’s also incredibly gratifying.
ERYour book visits places like New York, Atlanta, Hawaii, the Hamptons and France. What do you find most compelling about these destinations?
SBThe most compelling memory of all these places would be the music that dominated each journey. New York will always remind me of 1990s hip hop and deep, soulful house. In Atlanta, I discovered Erykah Badu for the first time. Hawaii had me listening to Little Dragon on repeat. In the Hamptons, I embraced the sounds of alternative rock bands like Arcade Fire, Radiohead, TV on the Radio, and every so often, a bit of classic soul from Marvin Gaye. While in France, I treasured Serge Gainsbourg, MC Solaar and John Coltrane. My love for music will always be that tool that guides the soundtrack of my life.
ERThe pandemic has had a huge impact on the restaurant industry and there have been calls for action around everything from liveable wages to addressing mental health. Where do we go from here?
SBI feel like the industry was a ticking time bomb and the pandemic blew it up in all directions. From the “Great Resignation” to supply chain issues and everything in between, we are now picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild in a way that is fundamentally different from before. In that sense, the collapse of the labour infrastructure is a blessing: It gives us the opportunity to pioneer a new framework that embraces fair pay, safe spaces, mental health support, diversity, equity and inclusion.
ERWhat can we expect next from you?
SBMore human rights work – in many ways, this is my raison d’être. We all have different talents and gifts – and if food is one of mine, I will continue to use it as a vehicle to drive the messages of food security, sustainability and nutrition. I’m also super excited to be launching my food company Suzanne Barr Food, a culmination of everything creative and entrepreneurial about me. It will start with three branches: Provision Chips (a line of root vegetable chips), Adassa (sauces, marinades and spices) and Ms. Dinette (aprons, kitchenware and utensils). And hopefully more travel – it’s an endless source of inspiration for me. I can’t wait to get back to connecting with people all over the world, sharing food, stories, hardships and triumphs.