Jen Agg (owner of Black Hoof, Rhum Corner and Cocktail Bar) is in the middle of controlled chaos. She’s planning a conference to talk about patriarchy in the world, writing her first book, opening Agrikol this summer in Montréal with Arcade Fire, running Hoofland’s empire and tweeting updates all the while.
To add to the frenzy of media attention, I tweeted Jen to ask a few questions about Kitchen Bitches, Djon Djon mushrooms, Sam James cappuccinos, and what it’s like to write a book. So ladies, listen up: Jen Agg doesn’t bullshit, and she’s about to give you some really valuable life advice that you all need to listen to right now.
Tell me about the conference, “Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time.”
Kitchen Bitches is a conference conceived to address the suffocating patriarchy we must all endure in the world and in the world of restaurants. It was inspired by Kate Burnham, the pastry chef who came forward with allegations of the toxic environment and sexual harassment she endured for over a year while working at Weslodge restaurant in Toronto. Ticket sales are going towards making the conference happen with leftovers and silent auction proceeds supporting a women’s shelter that wishes to remain anonymous.
Ultimately, the point is to change the antiquated, ridiculous notion still held onto by far too many – that women don’t belong in kitchens or leadership roles in restaurants. We hope, as well, to make clear that quietly laughing along or otherwise condoning abuse or harassment is tantamount to participating in it. The appalling behaviour Kate was subjected to, sadly, is not isolated to one Toronto restaurant. It’s an industry and world-wide problem. We want it to stop.
Kitchen Bitches is for everyone – it’s designed to be the least exclusive event possible – but buy tickets fast as space is limited. $50 advanced tickets / $75 at the door.
Unlike Toronto’s restaurant community, you spoke out about Kate Burnham’s sexual harassment at Weslodge. What will it take for restaurants to diminish top-down tolerance of emotional, physical and sexual abuse for women and men?
I really hope to address all of that at the conference. We plan to ask tough questions and address our own culpability. But it will take a huge shift in attitudes and a shift in the bullying culture that dominates restaurants.
What does it feel like to be writing a book right now? Tell me about your daily writing routine. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you drink a lot of tea or cappuccinos?
Weekly routine – more like we are back and forth between Toronto and Montreal almost every week. I’m a night owl AND a morning person. I get about 7 hours [of sleep] a night and wake up on my own time without an alarm. I never schedule morning meetings. Mornings are for hanging out at Sam James (we waffle between Harbord and Oss) with my husband, running into pals, not rushing. Tea. I love coffee but can’t drink it every day. The caffeine doesn’t agree with me so I allow myself two or three perfect cappuccinos a month (Sam’s really are the best) and the rest of the time it’s black or green tea.
What were the runner up titles for your book, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch?
No runners up. It popped into my head and never left. I’m very decisive.
If you could ask anyone in the world (dead or alive) to write your prologue, who would it be?
No prologue. But for the sake of this I say either Chrissie Hynde or, I dunno…Dorothy Parker.
Everyone’s talking about the culture war between restaurant owners and customers. But the real question is, how can patrons stop being so douchey?
Most customers are pretty great. A handful aren’t. It’s all very logic-based. Just don’t be an asshole.
What is the difference between a good menu and a great one?
Great menus read well and deliver on that promise.
When you’re developing a new menu, do you have a specific crowd in mind?
Jesse Grasso does all the food for the Hoof and Rhum but we are definitely running everything through the lens of the Hoof, so it makes sense in our menu. Even though it seems like a narrow focus (off-cuts), it really isn’t and our regulars get that.
Being a well-known figure in Toronto’s Food and Drink industry is next to walking on water or giving birth to stylish unicorns. How have you kept your ego in check over the years? Any advice to women who are chasing “it” (money, fame, gold teeth and followers etc.)?
I guess I don’t really see it that way. I have a healthy, defined ego but my husband and friends would NEVER let it rule me. Again, don’t be an asshole. Always good advice.
Agrikol is set to be the next cultural hub in Montréal. What’s the deal with Djon Djon mushrooms? Can you sneak them into Toronto for us?
Nope. Too much of a pain in the ass. You’ll have to come to Montréal.
You’re having the longest day ever and need to chill the fuck out. What wine are you drinking?
Rosé. Good, cold rosé.
What Toronto handles should we be following on Twitter right now?
I’m a shaman and I’m taking you on an ayahuasca trip in Christie Pitts. I give you an iPhone17 to text Jen Agg (age 21). What words of wisdom do you text her? What emojis do you add? Any pictures?
Seriously: DONT BE AN ASSHOLE!