Book Review: Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor

Last night I stayed up a little later than usual to finish reading Timothy Taylor’s book, Stanley Park. As you can probably tell from the title, the novel is based in Vancouver. What you can’t tell from the title, however, is that this is a total foodie book.

Let’s start things off by explaining why I’m writing a book review on my blog – the first review I’ve ever done here, in fact. It’s because there are some interesting ideas in the book that need to be shared with my people, and there are some turns of phrase that I want to enter into our daily lexicon. Finally, there’s something that I said to my neighbours last night about being totally post-food, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

So back to the book. It was a good read, but not great. The author is a bit heavy handed with the allegory. For instance, one of the main characters is called “Dante Beale”, and his chain of coffee shops is called “The Inferno”. I think you see where I’m going with this. While that kindof annoyed me, I got over it. It’s an easy read without being super simple, and is a respectable size. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I really like reading long books because I read quickly, so short ones are over too fast. I know, I could probably moderate my reading speed, but I do like the thickness of books to be over an inch, preferably closer to three. My love affair with David Foster Wallace’s writing may have something to do with that. Anyway, I digress.

There are a couple of really fun things about this book. First, it was written in 2001, so well before the start of what we can call the modern foodie movement. In the book, the main character, Chef Jeremy, is all about using local produce. It’s a very current book from that perspective, but it puts our current obsession with local, organic, natural food in perspective a bit. More on that later.

The second thing that I really liked about the book, and what I need more of in my life, is the author’s descriptions of types of chefs. Basically, he writes that you have “crips” and “bloods”. Here’s his description:

“Crip cooks were critical. They fused, they strove for innovation, they were post-national. They called themselves artists. They tended to stack things like mahi mahi and grilled eggplant in wobbly towers glued together with wasabi mayonnaise, and were frequently suspicious of butter. Vegetarianism was an option for Crips but not for Bloods. Blood cooks were respectful of tradition, nostalgic even. Canonical, interested in the veracity of things culinary, linked to “local”…They used lard and as much foie gras as they could get their hands on.” (excerpt from page 32)

There’s also another passage where Jeremy, the main character, describes how to build a Crip menu: “Classic ingredient A plus Exotic Technique B plus Totally Unexpected Strange Ingredient C.” (298) I think I’ve eaten at this restaurant before.

Finally, there’s a great description at the end of type of food that Jeremy winds up making at the end, but I’ll leave that for readers to discover. Can’t give away all the good bits here!

For me, the book introduced a few new and interesting ideas, and got my brain moving in a direction that it’s been going in for a long time. I think the crux of the issue for me is that I’m so over the foodie movement. I’m sick of the fetishization of food. It’s food, just eat it! I’m sick of spending a bunch of money on pretty good food, and sick of waiters and waitresses being overly enthusiastic about the food their chef is preparing. At first, it was pretty fun…now, it just seems “done”. Every time we eat out, I’m finding myself being super critical. I also find that I’m put off by the consumption of it all – good food has become a commodity that people are peddling everywhere – it doesn’t feel special anymore. My tastes are running more simple these days – nice quinoa, a bit of marinated tofu, a plain mushroom risotto.

I’ll be fair though – I think a lot of the “put off-ness” that I’m feeling these days is revulsion at the amount of meat that is being served on restaurant menus. I’ve never seen so many meat-heavy dishes in my life. I get the sense that people are taking the “nose to tail” movement as a carte blanche to eat as much meat as they can, and I find it very off-putting. Don’t get me wrong, people should eat what they feel is right for them, but the nose to tail movement seems to have become perverted of late and simplified into the “eat as much meat as you want and don’t think about the consequences” movement. It’s a real blood movement, but has lost much of the charm of the original blood ideas.

But I’m in a bit of a tough spot here, aren’t I? I still enjoy food, and I still need to eat it (I have yet to master the diet of living off prana), and I still enjoy the experience of going to a restaurant. I maybe just need to diversify and check out some really crip places.

My rant is now over. You can check out Timothy Taylor’s books on his website, here.

Are you a blood or a crip?

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor

  1. I am currently reading this book. I don’t know that I’ll finish it- Taylor’s description of the economics of small-scale restaurants is giving me anxiety.
    Also, I am a blood, obviously. My Chef’s nickname for me is ‘old-school’. Heh.

    • Yes! You are a true blood. Oldschool? I like old things. (you’ve met Ross). Also: push through the terrible bits about his financial problems. They’re mostly self-inflicted by his crazy. But for sure they’ll give you heart palpitations.

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