The Art of Food with Sara Waxman

Posted by Stephan Petar, February 24, 2017
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Dine publisher, Sara Waxman, is an icon. She has witnessed restaurants flourish and flounder, new types of cuisines take centre stage and busboys become owners. Her food reviews have put restaurants on the map and she has influenced generations of Canadians with her dining picks and cooking methods.

When Sara entered The Drake Hotel Lounge, I knew I was going to consume a wealth of knowledge. Sitting in our booth, I provided a synopsis of the interview. It was to be served as a three course meal - we’d start with her career, followed by the art of food writing and end with a rich and tasty retrospective of Toronto’s food scene.

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Sara’s impressive career started as an editorial assistant at Saturday Night. She eventually became a contributing editor at Flare and enRoute, wrote for numerous publications including National Post and Globe and Mail and released three books. Her hit column was Supper in a Hurry, which was featured on page two of the newly released Toronto Star morning edition. Targeting working parents, Sara scanned weekly grocery store specials for meal inspirations that could be done quickly and on a budget. “Say that week there were chicken wings and tomato soup on special, I would give a menu and methods,” she explained. The column became a hit inspiring families and university students alike.

In 2006, she began Dine. While at Yorkville’s Maison de la Presse Internationale, she noticed no interesting food magazines. With her passion for food and writing as well as her publishing knowledge, Sara went to an accountant and lawyer who convinced her she could start her own publication. The rest is history.

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As I looked at the latest issue, Sara pointed to the magazine and said, “My name is on the cover. The magazine is reflective of my taste.” Sara is protective of the content featured and carefully evaluates every request, from invites to review to inquiries about advertising. If they don’t align with her values or she hasn’t personally experienced the restaurant, she politely declines.

Dine is also a family affair with son Adam Waxman as executive editor. Since Adam started he has helped reach a broader demographic with stories about his travel adventures and articles relating to digital trends. He is set to inherit the publication in two issues and Sara couldn’t be more proud. “He knows where the future lies in the multimedia projection of our magazine…He will take this magazine into the future…” Sara has also offered to continue to write, but only if Adam wants her too.

Sara’s stories are always descriptive. She has described food as “the foreplay to the palate” and as “carnivorous bliss.” After ordering the Smoked Char Niçoise, I asked how one writes about food. “You need three bites before you can make a decision. The first bite is a shock to the palate. The second bite, you start to differentiate salty, sweet, bitter. The third bite, your palate is primed to enjoy or not enjoy. After the third bite you can have two more bites. Then you are in a position to describe the dish because you’ve had all the flavour nuances, know how it feels and whether there is something that bothers you.” She also advised not to be “writerly” and use fancy words, but to engage the reader, have a conversation and be honest.

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Finally, I asked to hear a vintage story about Toronto’s food scene and the changes she has experienced. She recalled an article she wrote for the Sunday Sun about the future of dining. She smiled and remembered writing, “There will be a new dish called risotto.” From there she reminisced about the debut of pasta on Toronto menus. “There was carbonara with seafood and the big dish was pasta with vegetables. We loved it.” She even told me about Franco Prevedello (Centro, Biffs) who introduced the Italian restaurant to Toronto.

Other noticeable changes include the continued disappearance of the three course meal in favour of smaller plates, the resurgence of cocktail menus reminiscent of the ‘50s, the consumption of more fish and vegetables, and the onset of fusion menus. She then questioned why things change by asking, “Is it the food trends or the people? I think society evolves and everything in it evolves.”

It’s true. Everything that happens in the food industry is a reaction to societal change. In fact, growing diversity plays a big role as people introduce their own food styles to Canada. “I’m waiting for an interesting Syrian restaurant. I’m sure they exist already, but we don’t know them.” The potential increase and awareness of Syrian restaurants makes sense as our society is bound to change with the influences of these new Canadians.

As I asked my last questions I began to notice the lunch crowd was slowly beginning to quiet. I thanked Sara for her time and she finally began to eat the Smoked Char Niçoise she had ordered. As I left her to her meal, I wondered what she thought of the first bite, second bite, third bite and so on.

Posted in: Food + Drink

Tags: Dine Magazine  Food + Drink  Sara Waxman