Twenty years ago, I published a novel about cooks and restaurants called Stanley Park. The two main characters in that book, Jeremy and Jules, have cameos in my latest food-world novel, The Rise and Fall of Magic Wolf. Since they were on hand, imaginatively speaking, I sat them down for parallel interviews to talk about food and life, and the recent passing of Jeremy’s father, the Professor.
My dad told me about the coywolf clearing last time I spoke to him. He was in his tent down the hill from Prospect Point in Stanley Park. It was February, raining hard. He said he saw this strange glow. So he unzips and looks out and sees a shape in the salal. “Coywolf,” he told me. “Not quite lupus and not quite latrans,” because of course the professor knew his Latin. Lupus-latrans. “They interbreed, you know.”
So he follows this thing into the trees, up this log, along a ledge, and finally into a clearing he’d never seen before. The light was strange, he said, blue and pixelated. The view magical: glistening harbour lights, rising black mountains. And that silver animal, standing there.
Best I can make it out, my dad lived another 48 hours. They said natural causes, like that would make me feel better, him dying of hypothermia in a tent in the middle of a city park when he had a perfectly good roof to sleep under 20 minutes away.
Sorry. Give me a second?
Twenty years is a number I can hardly process. Hard to believe I survived. We were pretty clueless when we started.
Jeremy was clueless about money, specifically.
Jules was Coast Culinary Monterey, right? CCM baby, where you go if CIA isn’t exclusive enough for you. She never talked about that. But she was top five her year, came out and just wanted to cook. Don’t even talk to Jules about the business side.
We met in the Chinatown markets.
She had these beautiful chanties cupped in her hands, breathing in that woody scent. I was smitten. Won’t lie. Instant smote.
They had fresh ones in from Oregon, which was honestly more of a deal back then. We were still sorting out that whole local supply business. Farm to Table. The 100 Mile Diet. Jules and I both read that book. We were like, “This is what we were trying to do, only five years too early!”
I wasn’t smelling chanties, by the way. No idea where that comes from. He hit on me plain and simple.
Big dark eyes. Black leather jacket. Jules was a Ramones chick. Course I asked her out. I was young and single and super confident, which is good, or nothing would have ever happened. The Monkey’s Paw would never have happened today. Way too risky.
He didn’t ask me out. That’s funny. He was this skinny ass kid in black cowboy boots. I was like yee-haw. But here he is chatting me up. He was moderately cute, but he also looked seriously hungry. It was celery root, by the way. I was shopping celery root for this purée we did under chili spot prawns.
She asked me out? That’s what she said?
I remember we went to Save On Meats, which had this old-school burger counter at the back in those days. I remember the guy had this plastic tub of ground meat just sitting on the prep table next to his station. I’m going to say 30 pounds of unseasoned ground chuck.
And he’d just reach in and grab a handful, smack that down on the flat top. Squash it with this cast iron press. Salt and pepper. Served medium rare with a slice of onion, Velveeta.
Mine was like blue rare. I ate it anyway. That was sort of the vibe back then. Jeremy told me he was starting a new restaurant. He didn’t seem to have any idea that people sometimes lose all their money doing things like that. I said, “Careful what you wish for.”
Which is where the name came from. The Monkey’s Paw. That story. Nobody would let you name a restaurant that today. The consultants would freak.
We probably went under because we were doing too much.
We were doing everything. Morning service. Lunch menu. I was getting up at 5. Then I’d walk over to save money on the bus. That was my idea of economizing. Save a freaking dollar. Then spend two-hundred on trout roe, a hundred on mustard greens. Anything good was in the hundreds.
He did breakfast and lunch. I hit the markets in Chinatown. We’d meet around 3 p.m. and the idea was he’d go sleep, but he never did.
I thought I was bulletproof. I thought you could just power it through. Five to midnight, then go drinking at the Marine Club. Get wasted. Sleep a few hours. Wake up and do a line of coke. Repeat.
We can have this whole conversation about unhealthy lifestyles, if you want. I mean, I’d rather not. Twenty years, is that what this is about? Twenty years since the whole thing exploded. Well I’ve been clean 15 of those. Best decision I ever made.
The lifestyle was unhealthy, sure. But I was also having all that with my father.
We called his dad “the Professor.”
Jeremy’s dad was a character. I loved him, honestly.
The Professor started living in Stanley Park around the time. He was writing a book. The one he’d never finish. I’d go visit, and you couldn’t really tell the difference between him and the other people who lived there in tents and lean-tos all hidden in the bush. It was a fairly crazy scene.
I was at Chez Panisse less than a year. I had visa issues and came back to Vancouver. That’s when I took the Tea Grill pastry job. Then I met Jeremy, and he was starting the Monkey’s Paw. We were stripped down like you wouldn’t believe—two people in the kitchen. At the Tea Grill, I’d been working in a brigade of 10.
I wouldn’t say the Professor was sick. I’d say he was having some problems that went all the way back to my mother dying. He struggled with acceptance, which I get. Anyway, I got swept up in things.
Jeremy ended up spending a lot more time in that park than he should have. I don’t think he was worried exactly. The Professor was very independent. He’d catch his own food, ducks, squirrels. I think that’s where Jeremy really got interested, the food. Next thing I know, he’s staying over Sundays when we were closed. Staying over, cooking these huge camp meals for all the locals. I went to one. It was pretty feral. He had rabbits on stakes, basting with soy and sugar made from packets lifted from the dumpster out back of Kamei Sushi. Starlings spit-roasted. You could just chew up the bones. He had some kind of dandelion green salad with berries.
I haven’t thought about any of this in a long time. You can’t be teaching students about catching starlings on a stick with peanut butter and glue.
Jeremy and I lost touch for a while after the whole thing crashed.
I was kiting credit cards. Turns out that’s fraud. Then I had to let Jules go, which just about killed me. But I had a new partner who was calling the shots by then. He wanted to go a different direction.
I was pissed about it, for sure. The guy paid off the debt, at which point he owned Jeremy. Then he goes and designs this monstrosity. Gerriamo’s. I can’t even say the name without laughing.
We had pizza and tagine on the same menu. Burgers and sushi. You get the drift.
So Jeremy has this crisis of conscience, no surprise. I suppose he told you the opening night story. Or you heard. A lot of people heard.
Park-to-table cuisine. Hey, it was my best idea ever. And we cranked out a helluva menu, I’m telling you.
That was some fine racoon, I’ll say that. With leek frites. Very refined.
Massive NDAs were signed. I’m not going to confirm or deny those details.
Goldfish escabeche. He really brought his A-game. Of course it all came out, and he ended up doing community service. Gerriamo’s went down in PR flames. The rich friend dumped him. And that’s when Jeremy came looking for me.
The Food Caboose.
Very underground. Very illegal. Word of mouth only. You wanted to eat there, you had to be approved. If you’ve heard of the Hunger Hut, this was the same idea. If you were approved, you got a date.
Shop in the morning, cash. One seating around 8, cash. We weren’t getting rich, but we were nailing it. Happy times.
And then, of course, you know what happened.
Right. So Vegas. And we go and decide to get married.
Technically we are still married.
I told Jules we could get a divorce if she wanted it.
I’d moved to Ireland by then.
We made bad roommates, what can I say? Jules went to live in Donegal and raise this particular kind of sheep. Adopted a baby girl. I still loved her like crazy, but it just went down like that. Not sure I understand.
Was it a bad idea, like marrying your cousin or something? Jeremy and I were closer than close. But we’d been bumping hips for the better part of 10 years by that point. Behind, behind. We’d get changed in front of each other. He saw me in my underwear more than any boyfriend I ever had. There wasn’t much about me he didn’t know already. Maybe it killed the Food Caboose, losing the pure chemistry of being flat-out illegal. He told me he opened two more places with money from his dad.
I got good at opening and closing places. I did a Nashville hot chicken sandwich concept. I did a burger bar and craft food thing. I got killed by the chains, honestly.
He ended up at Duke’s, that casual fine place. People wrote about it like he was going over to the dark side. I don’t know about that. He had a paycheque. More-normal hours. He could spend time with his father.
The Professor moved back home for about five years. Then he moved back to the park. “Gotta finish that book,” he told me. I’d seen “the book.” Pages and pages of scribbles. Thousands of pages.
Then the teaching gig, which I told him not to do.
Jules really didn’t like the teaching idea. But Duke’s was setting up an academy, trying to make a move into that food-ed space. Brought in a very senior guy from CCM to run it.
Jeremy was self-taught, just not a culinary guy. He could teach a student plenty, but working with other instructors, I just didn’t see it. Then the professor died.
Duke Culinary had been open a year.
Something slipped in him. Something changed.
Jules came back for the funeral. She loved the Professor as much as I did. I remember that night we went walking. Stanley Park, of course. She gets it in her head we’re going to find that same clearing where he said he’d seen the coywolf. I was like, “Are you sure? It’s seriously raining.”
It was February, raining hard. But we had raincoats. So we start exploring different directions from his camp, which had been completely dismantled and removed by then. Then we saw it. Something kind of silvery in the trees.
I was not in favour of following. Don’t they attack people on occasion, even the ones that aren’t half wolves? Classic Jules, though of course she was going to go crashing off into the bush.
I remember finding that log and climbing up under Prospect Point. Then there was this ledge. Jeremy was freaked. So I held his hand, and we inched across this ledge, up into the brush under the bridge. There’s this flicker of light ahead, and then suddenly we were there. Harbour lights, black mountains. The light was blue and grainy. It was magical, really.
And there was something there. Something in the bush on the far side of the clearing.
You could feel it, almost see it. Sort of silver, sort of sifting between the trees. Sort of half there, half not. I said to Jeremy, “Are you feeling this? Being watched?”
Like eyes on us, but those eyes were our own, a really strange sensation. Like we’d circled the whole world and were now approaching ourselves from behind, up the log, around the ledge, through the brush. I was convinced if we turn around, we’d be right there, locked in our own gaze.
Eternal return, who said that?
Nietzsche. Jules read a lot of Nietzsche back in the day.
So 20 years, and things reverse themselves. Is that a thing, or did I make that up?
Jeremy told me he’d been to a fortune teller once who told him he’d be very lucky at first in life, then unlucky for a stretch, then lucky again in later years. He thought the Food Caboose was early luck. Everything after that was the middle phase.
Jules told me I had to force the third phase into existence, like just decide.
No one’s getting any younger.
People get older. People die. I’m going to miss my father terribly, but I can do that from Donegal just as well and have a job for as long as I can stand the weather, and my boss.
Did he say that? He should be careful. I can always change my mind.
Valais Blacknose, by the way. That’s the breed, black face and hocks. Like a sheep wearing socks and a balaclava. Would you like to see a picture?
Read more from the Winter 2021 issue.