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Arlene Stein's Terroir

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By Malcolm Jolley

As Chair of Eau-de-Vie's Steering Committee (full disclosure: a committee that I actively sit on), Arlene Stein is the engine behind

Terrroir, Toronto's premier food professional conference. Now in it's second year, Terroir pulls together the cream of the dining, food and wine worlds with an emphasis on excellence and sustainability. Having been involved with Terroir since last year, I wondered about the origins of the concept and the thoughts of the principal lady behind it. So I asked her in the short interview below, as she rushed about inher capacity as Hart House's Director of Catering and Events..

Gremolata: How and when did you get into the hospitality business?

Arlene Stein: I've been working in the hospitality industry since 1990, in various positions from door attendant, bartender, waiter and management. It started off as a part time job to help fund my way through acting school. At some point I realized that I was committed to being a part of the industry and wanted to do everything I could to create work for myself that was meaningful and rewarding. The hospitality industry suited my personality since it allowed me an opportunity to be social and to work with food, which I love. (I have cooked since I was very young. I sold cakes and bread to my neighbours when I was 7.) But I also wanted my work to be significant so I sought about absorbing myself in all aspects of the industry from culinary arts, food history, etiquette and fine dining as well as food security and sustainability.

Gremolata: How is the fine-dining industry different from the mainstream one?

Arlene Stein: High end dining is about the sensory experience, social engagement and the care taken in the details. When you are in a very good restaurant, every aspect of your experience is considered. The music, the design of the decor, the way the menus are printed, the service and of course the food. The most differentiating aspect should be in the service and execution. How you are treated and how flawlessly your service and meal is executed defines at great dining experience (even in the shortcomings). That is not to say that you can't have an outstanding experience in a casual restaurant - a lot of the best dining experiences are had in the simplest of restaurants. It's just that fine dining establishments should be leaders in the industry, setting the standards of innovation and creativity.

Gremolata: Why put on Terroir? I mean, you're busy enough...

Arlene Stein: The symposium is about bringing together people from all over Toronto's hospitality industry and creating opportunities for engagement and creativity. It should be an acknowledgment of all the effort that is put forth by all of the hardworking and passionate people who love what they do and want to influence others. But most importantly it's about sharing those ideas and creating a community so that we can all build upon each others strengths and rely on each other as resources.

Gremolata: Who should come to Terroir?

Arlene Stein: People who work in the hospitality industry or any student who wants to have a career in foodservice. I think Terroir should be a think tank for people in this business and an opportunity to create relationships. Everyone learns something.

Gremolata: What were some of your favourite parts of Terroir 2007?

Arlene Stein: I loved the energy that people had during the event and how much they wanted to interact with each other. It was tough to bring people back from breaks, because they didn't want to stop talking. They also stayed until the end. It was a long day and everyone was there at the end for the reception, even all of the speakers. I also really value the speaker participation, it is very important to us. The model we have created is about every speaker and guest being present during the day, whether they're Jamie Kennedy or Trish Magwood, to engage with each other and that really seemed to work. I also loved that we weren't selling anything at the event, there was no sales pitch, no trade show. I think people really appreciate that.

Gremolata: What was the industry reaction to Terroir 2007?

Arlene Stein: The people that came, loved the opportunity to engage with their fellow peers. Some of the best moments, were the breaks in between sessions when people had the opportunity to share, discuss and relate to fellow colleagues. The symposium provided a moment to disengage for a moment from the stress of the day to day and allow people to
rethink why the were invested in the work they were actually doing. I think it inspired a renewed sense of creativity in many of the participants that came out. The best part was the buzz it created within the industry from people that did not come. We received many e-mails after the event of people who heard about it in the aftermath, wanting to know when were going to do it again.

Gremolata: What's the Toronto high-end industry good at? What are they not so
good at?

Arlene Stein: We have a tremendous amount of culinary talent - some of the best in North America. Our chefs are setting the standard in the culinary arts and also in being passionate around the providence of our food systems, we are definitely leaders in this area. We need to give more credit to the management and the administration teams that help run our industry. We aren't good at retaining long term employees that want to stay in the business because of work life balance and economics, but the management of a restaurant is every bit as important as the chef and the kitchen. The two sides need more cohesion in order to truly deliver an outstanding experience to their guests.


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