Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a drink. Grab a snack and get comfortable. Sheryl Kirby has invited you to her kitchen party, and she has enough stories of food and drink to amuse your mind and bouche all night. Kitchen Party: Food Stories from Nova Scotia and Beyond is a varied collection of food writing that follows the author’s biographical path through the years and across Canadian provinces. Featuring whimsical illustrations by Katherine Verhoeven, each chapter in Kitchen Party’s three sections combines personal memories with reflections on food politics, trends, and history.
She begins in Nova Scotia, where she was born and grew up: in this section, Kirby recalls clam digging in Upper Economy and devouring donairs on Halifax’s infamous Pizza Corner. She remembers her grandmother’s cooking and the neck-breaking work of picking Nova Scotia blueberries as a child. Next is a section dedicated to Toronto in which Kirby serves up tales of life in a much bigger city. Kirby describes some of the first meals she made and consumed as an independent 20-something-year-old as well as her favourite haunts and culinary hideaways, such as the international food stalls of Kensington Market and Café la Gaffe, where Kirby and her friends once spent countless hours talking, drinking, and living the lives of retro beatniks. This section is largely a work of reminiscence; Kirby reflects on the food adventures that shaped her move from Nova Scotia to Toronto, where she remains today. In the last section of Kitchen Party, we’re fed a very full plate of the author’s most recent and refined food writing. A veritable smorgasbord of Kirby’s work, this section treats us to reviews of Toronto restaurants and her experiences with various foodstuffs − from the haggis to the cupcake, Kirby covers it all.
Kitchen Party is the author’s first full-length publication and is published by Stained Pages Press. Started by Kirby in 2012, Stained Pages Press combines a DIY spirit with a desire to “tell the stories of local restaurants, chefs and most importantly, Toronto food writers.” In both her writing and publication pursuits, Kirby is self-consciously working to expand the current canon of Canadian and, more specifically, Torontonian food writing. Despite the fact that Kitchen Party’s subtitle highlights the author’s Nova Scotian origins, Kirby appears particularly concentrated on elevating and securing Toronto’s spot as Canada’s chief food city.
Arranged in what the author calls a “roughly chronological” order, Kitchen Party is truly a collection: the book combines diverse and often unconnected examples of Kirby’s past food writing, such as restaurant reviews, personal essays, reflections on current food culture, and various histories of foodstuffs. While the collection would benefit from the inclusion of each piece’s original publication date, Kirby’s distinctive perspective makes the blend work. Kirby is unafraid to infuse serious articles with bold opinions. When she writes about the famous Nova Scotian brewery Alexander Keith’s, she offers her detailed tasting notes amidst facts about the company’s history and varied ownership. When Kirby relates her fresh and new opinions about buying and eating local food, she remains grounded in reality and engaging facts and statistics.
It is Kirby’s misfit persona and independent energy that make Kitchen Party such a fun and entertaining read. A self-described “curmudgeon and misfit,” the author unapologetically swears, uses casual language like “yep” and “shithead” and regales the reader with stories of her rebellious youth. Her lack of pretension keeps the book’s messages light and easily digestible, and she is never afraid to poke fun at overly knowledgeable foodies who make the world of food writing inaccessible to the average reader. Reminiscent of food writer Ruth Reichl, Kirby combines provocation and politics with highly reflective prose. The author’s careful attention to descriptive detail results in mouthwatering portraits of meals had and ingredients used. It is clear just how deeply (and often) Kirby thinks about food. Kitchen Party communicates her highly developed food philosophy about respect for and awareness of food origins with thoughtful ease.
With the publication of Kitchen Party, Sheryl Kirby contributes her lively voice to the growing body of Canadian food writing. She re-imagines a Maritime tradition − the Nova Scotian kitchen party − for literary purposes. Around the table, on a Saturday night, she tells stories of Pot of Gold chocolates, Ontario Roma tomatoes, and Maritime lobster rolls. Her rebellious and vibrant spirit, so evident in Kitchen Party, makes you want to sit down and listen to what she has to say − hopefully, there are more parties to come.
Deborah Hemming termine sa maîtrise en études anglaises à l’Université McGill. Sa recherche porte sur les représentations de la banlieue après la deuxième guerre mondiale, en littérature américaine et canadienne.
Stained Pages Press. “About.” Accessed March 12, 2013. http://www.stainedpagespress.com/about/.
Sheryl Kirby. “Home.” Accessed March 12, 2013. http://www.sherylkirby.com/.
Sheryl Kirby, Kitchen Party: Food Stories from Nova Scotia and Beyond (Toronto: Stained Pages Press, 2012), 13.
Deborah Hemming is currently completing her MA in English at McGill University. Her research focuses on depictions of suburbia and domestic culture in post–World War II Canadian and American literature.