Her trendsetting, cocktail-slinging mini-empire includes the Black Hoof, Rhum Corner and soon Grey Gardens. She didn’t get where she is by playing nice. Meet the incredibly talented, occasionally savage Jen Agg

Jen Agg is obsessed with grey. “As a colour and a mindset,” she says. Practically everything in her west-end home is a bluish grey: the furniture, the accents, the walls. Most days, she wears jeans and heather-grey V-neck tees—I saw her fold at least 20 of them while she finished her laundry during our first interview. And, in keeping with her predilection, her next big venture is a restaurant called Grey Gardens, debuting this spring in Kensington Market. For all of its cutesy picklers and bakeries and taquerias, the market has yet to experience the kind of dining boom that transformed Dundas West when Agg opened the Black Hoof in 2008. That’s about to change.

Grey Gardens will be a wine bar with an adjoining restaurant on Augusta Avenue, and she’ll stock natural wines and fancy organic ciders from local breweries, most of it privately ordered. Just as she once declared bourbon the new vodka and rum the new bourbon, cider will be the new rum. “The place is built in my head,” she says. “Every detail. I doubt it’ll change too much from what I already see.” Followed by: “Goddd, I’m insufferable.” Grey Gardens will no doubt attract lines twisting around the block. She could open a restaurant that only served cane-sugar cotton candy, or had an adult-sized bouncy castle in the backyard, or featured nothing but an empty room painted grey, and it would still be the opening of the year.

When it comes to restaurants, Jen Agg seems to have psychic powers: every few years, she reimagines the way we eat and drink in Toronto. First she made Prohibition-era cocktails cool, freeing us from the thrall of appletinis and stoking an appetite for brown liquor at Cobalt, her ’90s drinking hole on College. Before you could get an eye-glazing manhattan at the Cineplex VIP, Agg was mixing her own violet syrups and tobacco tinctures, applying the same rigour to her drinks that chefs exercise on their plates. Then came dining: at the Hoof and its ancillary restaurants, Rhum Corner and Cocktail Bar on Dundas West, she created the deceptively effortless schematic that is now ubiquitous in Toronto—the skinny room and skinnier open kitchen, the breezy service, the chalkboard menus and snackable sharing plates. Each time she declares a trend, Toronto diners—and other restaurateurs—trail her with slack-jawed reverence. And it’s not just downtown art kids who visit her restaurants. Foodies trek down from Thornhill and Brampton, Rosedalers skip Scaramouche for a plate of horse tartare at the Hoof bar, and celebs like Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay and Justin Timberlake stop by when they’re in town. Agg, who is 40, has the canny ability to make young people feel sophisticated and older customers feel cool. Her empire is where they meet in the middle.

Jen Agg: The Black Hoof
The Black Hoof (Image: Dave Gillespie)
Jen Agg: Cocktail Bar
For Cocktail Bar, Agg created a snug salon with vintage fixtures and a pressed tin ceiling (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Agg’s fame has as much to do with her reputation for bluntness as her culinary clairvoyance. When other people call her a bitch, she skewers them. But she uses the label herself, to reclaim its power, weaving it into her provocateur persona and redefining it on her own terms. She’s a feminist bitch, taking pugilistic aim at the sexism women face in the restaurant industry. She’s a cool-girl bitch who does shrooms and swills booze with her staff. And, according to her critics, she can be a mean bitch, sniping at her colleagues, her reviewers and even her customers when they piss her off (which is often).

Agg’s Twitter handle is @TheBlackHoof, but it’s really a personal account—a mercurial geyser of snark, screeds and period jokes. She doesn’t see any distinction between her private life and her business. She wields the caps-lock key like an assault rifle, peppering tweets with aggressive block letters. It’s a mirror of how she speaks in real life—sarcastic, voluble, volatile. “If Jen could speak in all caps, she would,” says David Greig, the manager at Cocktail Bar. He pauses for a moment. “Actually, she does. It’s called shouting.”

Agg built her cult of personality on Twitter, where she has nearly 12,000 followers. Most people use 140 characters to craft crisp bon mots; Agg’s tweets have a strange beat-poetry quality to their jumpy cadence and abbreviations and ellipses. They’re all in conversation with each other, talking about wine, about restaurants and, most often, about feminism. When The Walrus’s editor Jonathan Kay went on the CBC to support men’s rights activists receiving funding on campus, she howled, “My whole life I’ve been condescended to by boring, narrow, specious men just like Jonathan Kay. It’s not disdain I have for them, it’s pity.” She called out Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport as “incredibly smarmy and tone-deaf” after he commented on a podcast that people don’t eat during fashion week (he blocked her that day). In November, she signed and promoted a petition to save her friend Sam James, the café owner, from eviction on Ossington (it failed, but not for Agg’s lack of effort). She feels things acutely and expresses those feelings effusively. Her rage even extends to customers: “Dear (almost) everyone in here right now,” she tweeted once from the Hoof. “Please, please stop being such a douche.”

There are just a handful of female executive chefs in Toronto, and even fewer female restaurateurs. Agg has emerged as one of the chosen few, and she believes that she has a responsibility to speak out, no matter how many people she bulldozes along the way. She’ll tweet her all-caps agitprop until her fingers blister. And she shows no sign of slowing down.

Despite her affiliation with dandy cocktails, Jen Agg’s true passion is wine. She consumes three or four glasses a night and claims to never get drunk (if she does, she hides it well). She drinks more white than red, more rosé than white, and prefers funky natural wines to chemically sugared ones. She puckers her face into a scowl if she encounters a smidge too much oak or acid or jamminess. Even after eight years of restaurant ownership, she still weighs in on the Hoof’s wine list, swapping bloviated wine-speak for offbeat, Aggian tasting notes. “Just like your favourite ombré muscle tee, this rosé has summer written all over it,” she quipped about a French grenache-syrah blend. Whether you find her descriptions charming or grating is a good way to measure your Agg tolerance.

Last fall, Agg hosted me at her house for an interview. I wanted to bring a bottle of wine and spent 20 minutes equivocating at the LCBO before settling on a sparkling rosé from a winery I knew she carried at the Hoof. She welcomed me into her house—but scrunched up her face when I handed her the bottle. “I should just tell you that I hate sparkling wine,” she said with a laugh. “Better I tell you than be fake about it, right?” Okay, then.

Agg and her husband, the artist Roland Jean, live in a semi just off of Dundas West, a two-minute walk from her restaurant row. It’s the architectural equivalent of Mary Poppins’s carpetbag: from the outside, it’s modest and squat, but inside it opens up into an airy mid-century marvel, styled with a floating staircase, Saarinen womb chairs, low-slung sofas and radiant paintings by Jean.

Agg is tall and loping, with messy mahogany hair that falls halfway down her back and a long Modigliani face. At rest, it conveys a hardened nonchalance, but her features warp into new shapes with every emphatic emotion: a twisty smirk, a brassy grin, a lofty eye roll. Most of the time, she’s friendly, funny, even charmingly conspiratorial. Say the wrong thing, and her gaze ossifies into an arctic glare that makes you feel smaller than an insect. It’s that predictable unpredictability that makes Agg so hard to pin down. She exhibits an enviable self-confidence, yet she’s hypersensitive to any and all criticism. She scrutinizes every Internet comment and bad restaurant review, and responds viciously when she feels attacked. And while she’s a nuanced thinker, she can be a bullish communicator, delivering her message with the bombast of Kanye West.

Jen Agg: Rhum Corner
Rhum Corner, Agg’s laid-back Haitian spot on Dundas West, offers excellent snacks, stews and a mind-boggling variety of rums. (Image: Dave Gillespie)

For the past year, Agg has spent her weekends in Toronto and her weeks in Montreal, where she and Jean are working on another new restaurant in partnership with Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne and Win Butler. The story of how they all met is the stuff of urban fairy tales: one day, Chassagne and Butler dropped by Rhum Corner with the indie violinist Owen Pallett. They loved the strings of swaying twinkly lights, the mural of a nude Caribbean Venus reclining on the beach, the steel drum playlist and the endless churn of rum slushies. The trio drank a pirate ship’s worth of El Dorado rum and blasted Creole rara music on the speakers. When the stereo blew out, Butler and Chassagne banged beats on the table using their cutlery and water glasses. The Arcade Fireists were so seduced by Rhum Corner’s Port-au-Prince charm that they emailed Agg two days later and asked if she wanted to open a similar place with them in Montreal. Agrikol, located on Amherst Street in the gay village, is named for a type of French-Caribbean rum.

When she’s not working on her new restaurants, Agg is at the Hoof, or Rhum Corner, or Cocktail Bar, drinking rosé at the bar. She directs her restaurants like movie sets, training her hipper-than-thou staff on exactly how loud to blare the Stone Roses soundtrack so a date-night couple can hear each other but not the people next to them, and how low to dim the lights so they illuminate the diners’ faces in the most flattering way. (She’s fixated on lighting—during one of our interviews, she fussed with the dimmer in her living room for almost 10 minutes before she landed at the right wattage.) She hates what she calls the octopus grab, where a server snatches an empty wine glass from the top. She forbids her staff from wearing perfume or asking if you’re “still working on that” or pretentiously pouring water with one arm tucked behind their backs. “I want my restaurants to be islands of loveliness,” she tells me. “None of that formal shit.” She brags about the superiority of her palate, and by all accounts it’s no exaggeration. David Greig told me about the time he put an extra sprinkle of cardamom in a bottle of infused tequila and served it to Agg in a cocktail. “There’s way too much cardamom in this,” she told him flatly, sliding the drink back over the bar. “I couldn’t taste the difference,” Greig says. “It’s fucking annoying.”

Jen Agg and her father
Happy days: Agg, age 12, on vacation in Nova Scotia with her father, David (Image: courtesy of Jen Agg)

Agg rolls her eyes at everyone—her husband, her staff, her friends. The only person who is immune from her scrutiny is her father, David, who has Alzheimer’s. Agg’s mother, Phyllis, died of kidney failure last year at age 70. Agg had an idyllic family life growing up. She was born in 1975; her brother, Jon, arrived seven years later (he now runs a property management company in Scarborough). They lived in a 1970s-era bungalow on the edge of the Rouge Valley. Her father is still there (though the house has since been renovated), surrounded by live-in caregivers. Agg describes her childhood self as an insolent brat. “I have a theory that people don’t change much,” she says. A school guidance counsellor once told her parents that her forceful personality might indicate she was a lesbian, and that they should be concerned. “I was lucky I had parents who encouraged my individuality, who never made me feel like I had to be someone else.”

When Agg was 16, she left home and moved into a house in Scarborough with three 18-year-old girls while she continued to attend high school (she paid rent using welfare cheques). The house was a hot mess of keg parties and acid trips and boys and sex. Her parents were devastated. “I’ll always feel guilty about hurting them, but they couldn’t understand a less conservative way of living.”

In her senior year, a friend told her that Toby’s, the fratty pub at Bay and Bloor, was hiring bartenders. She got the gig, and, after a few weeks, her boss sent her to work solo in the upstairs bar. She’d sell $1,500 worth of beer by herself, making up to $200 every shift with tips.

When Agg was 18, she enrolled at U of T and majored in English but quit after two years. “I’ve always been extremely okay with dropping out of university. I did not care for it. I was reading all those books anyway. I was like, I got this,” she eye rolls. Soon after, she met her first husband, Tyler Taverner, a 24-year-old server who looked like a young Chris Noth. Within two months, she and Taverner moved in together. Within five, they were married. She also upgraded from her job at Toby’s to a bartending gig at Souz Dal, the flouncy cocktail bar on College. “There were a lot of girls in sequinned tops and boot-cut jeans. It was like, ‘Woo, cosmos!’ ” she squeals in a high-pitched Sex and the City falsetto.

Driving home one night, she saw a storefront on College, previously a bar called Lola’s, up for lease. Agg and Taverner took it over in 1998 and transformed it into Cobalt, the cutest hobbit hole in Little Italy. Agg refinished the old beer fridge while Tyler built the tables by hand. The place, outfitted with candlelit alcoves, was a honey pot for grad students and party kids on their way to a night out at the Midtown.

At first, Agg served the same cosmos and ’tinis she’d learned to make at Souz Dal. Occasionally, though, someone would request a classic cocktail: an old fashioned, a sazerac, a corpse reviver. Agg figured out how to intuit when the drinks had been properly mixed, to tinker with the temperature, to make sure there was just enough sweetness and acid and alcohol (she won’t make a drink with less than two ounces of liquor; she prefers three). It was during the Cobalt years that Agg perfected the art of mixing a manhattan. “It’s the ideal cocktail. I’ll never get tired of it,” she gushes. “The vermouth cuts through the whiskey, so you can get a lot of alcohol into you really fast.” There was nowhere in Toronto to buy quality bitters at the time, so Agg made her own, infusing rye with cloves, cinnamon and allspice. She also tested lots of liquors for the base, settling on 10-year-old Alberta Springs rye and the oaky Carpano Antica Formula vermouth that she imported from Italy (you can now buy it at the LCBO). These days, she also ages her manhattans in oak barrels for weeks at a time, and plunks in a couple of her own marinated sour cherries, steeped in rye with bitter almond tincture, caramelized sugar and spices.

By 2006, business was dwindling, and so was Agg’s marriage. She still speaks well of Tyler but explains that they were better friends than lovers. So she closed Cobalt and divorced him. She stayed in their house and took on roommates to make the rent. She’d been single for four months when she wandered into Cocktail Molotov, a grotty dive in the Dundas West space that currently houses the Black Hoof. She sat down at the bar and noticed a tall man in his 50s with dark skin, a tall crest of grey curls and a Vandyke beard that looked like a loofah puff. It was Roland Jean, who owned the place at the time. “I wondered who she was staring at,” he tells me in his languid Haitian accent. “My friend said it was me, and I said ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ ” Ten minutes later, Agg and Jean were making out at the bar.

Jean, who is now 60, comes across as quiet and gruff at first, but after a few glasses of rum or wine—he hates cocktails—he mellows into a quixotic storyteller. Jean grew up in the French Quarter of Port-Au-Prince. His father took off when he was young, leaving his mother, a Creole chef, to raise four kids on her own in a two-room shack. Jean wanted to be an artist and, as a teenager, got a job at an independent newspaper drawing political cartoons. In his 20s, he applied to a cultural exchange program in Canada and chose to settle in Moncton for its francophone community. He married a local woman and secured his permanent residency; they had two kids, Ilsa and Dominic. In 1982, he started drawing political caricatures for the CBC.

When Jean and his first wife divorced in the late ’80s, he moved to Toronto, where he transitioned from cartoons to louche pop art paintings that depicted women’s lips splattered with semen and black characters in whiteface. This was around the time Basquiat broke out, and Jean rode the Haitian wave, exhibiting his work at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Smithsonian. He married a second wife, with whom he had another son, Jamal, and together they bought a building on Dundas, which they transformed into a design studio called Cocktail Molotov. Jean would buy $5 stainless steel bowls and refashion them into repro mid-century modern standing lamps, which he would then sell at New York design shows for $500 apiece. By 2004, Jean and his second wife were separated, he’d turned his studio into a drinking hole, and he was living in the apartment upstairs.

Jen Agg and her father
Agg with her husband, the artist Roland Jean, at their 2009 wedding reception at the Niagara Street Café (Image: Dave Gillespie)

After their initial assignation, Jean and Agg fell into a rapid romance. They married in 2009, and Jean’s youngest son, Jamal, moved in and lived with them part-time. Jean’s wary reserve buffs down Agg’s edge; when she reacts with hair-trigger outrage, his stillness calms her down. She talked about Jean with the kind of breathless swoon you might find in a Brontë novel. “It’s an extraordinarily romantic relationship,” she sighed. “It makes me question my feminism because I get so much strength from having someone who believes in me, who supports me, who’s attracted to me. He gives me armour to take on the douche-bastards on the Internet.” Jean was a little more succinct. When I asked him to tell me his favourite thing about Agg, he said, with a smirk, “She’s a good fuck.”

Two years after Cobalt closed, Agg was fed up with the city’s Waspy dining scene, its collective obsession with fusion and foam and formality. She wanted to open the kind of place where she could wear Converse and T-shirts, where she could play the Pixies and Jesus and Mary Chain. “A huge problem in the food industry,” she says, “is that owners think, What do the people want? I think, What do I want? It comes off as arrogant, but it’s not.” She’d eaten charcuterie at the Montreal brasserie Au Pied de Cochon and decided she wanted to be the one who brought it to Toronto.

More about Grant van Gameren

Jean sold the Cocktail Molotov building to help fund Agg’s restaurant, and the new owners agreed to rent them the bottom floor, which already had a bar and a liquor licence. In 2008, no one was making charcuterie in Toronto—except for Grant van Gameren, a self-taught meat master who was experimenting with his own soppressatas, prosciuttos, salamis and blood sausages as a sous-chef at Lucien. He’d already perfected 20 varieties of charcuterie and was eager to make more. So when Agg posted a Craigslist ad seeking a charcutier, van Gameren leapt at the opportunity. They entered into a partnership and together put $80,000 into the restaurant. By October 2008, the Hoof’s doors were open. By November, lineups were stretching down Dundas.

The Hoof’s seismic success owed as much to timing as it did to the quality of the food and atmosphere. The recession was at full tilt. White tablecloths and $30 entrées seemed tone-deaf, if not outright insulting. Agg and van Gameren offered affordable booze, snackable plates and low-budget decor. Agg outfitted the space with vintage-looking woods and tchotchkes. There were three cooks working a four-burner stove instead of a full staff and kitchen. And van Gameren’s meaty menu used up every ounce of the animals he cooked: he served pig’s head tacos, tongue pastrami sandwiches and luges of bone marrow, which you were meant to slurp like an oyster from the shell.

Jen Agg: The Black Hoof
The Black Hoof’s house-made charcuterie continues to be the most popular dish (Image: Dave Gillespie)

Over the next few years, the Hoof’s influence trickled outward, catalyzing a full-fledged casual dining revolution in Toronto. Restaurants like Beast and Enoteca Sociale and Marben put sweetbreads on the menu. Parts and Labour became known for a pig platter of belly, foie gras and ear in trotter sauce. All over town, people mimicked the Hoof’s artfully bedraggled room and the low-key service, the sharable menu and indie soundtrack cranked just high enough to cocoon you from the outside world. Agg and van Gameren refused to take reservations, which turned into a game of chicken to see how long diners would wait on the wintry sidewalk for a table.

Neither of them likes to talk about their breakup, but Agg says that she and van Gameren had a tumultuous partnership. In 2011, Agg bought van Gameren’s share of the business, and she went into expansion mode. She opened Cocktail Bar, a Midnight in Paris fantasy of wrought iron, leaded glass and antique tin. The following year, she took over the space next door to the Hoof and turned it into Raw Bar, a Cape Cod–style fish shack that was one of the first restaurants in Toronto to offer seafood charcuterie. It closed in under a year. Agg places the blame entirely on the Globe and Mail’s review, which lauded the room and the drinks, but condemned the food.

She still gets worked up about that. “The kitchen may have fucked up the night [the critic] visited, but it also crossed my mind that maybe we got a harder time because of who I am.” She believes that her success in the industry made her a target, and that reaction cuts to the crux of her thorny temperament: she disguises her fragility in the language of steely self-possession. For all her bluster, Agg takes every insult personally, internalizes every offhand critique. But within three months, inspired by her husband’s heritage and rum’s burgeoning status as the new trendy spirit, she had converted Raw Bar into Rhum Corner. Jean brought his sister over from Haiti to teach then-chef Jesse Grasso how to cook djon djon rice and salt cod patties.

Between the Black Hoof and Rhum Corner, Agg employs seven cooks, two of whom are women. She has worked with four executive chefs; so far, they have all been men. She says that while she’s a proponent of women holding senior positions, she doesn’t believe in quotas and insists on having only the best people work in her restaurants. When she hires a new cook or server or bartender, she doesn’t interview. Instead, she invites them to work a paid shift or two so she can assess them in action. Often, they’ll never hear from her again. Agg believes this is how she earned her reputation as the restaurant world’s Maleficent. “I don’t apologize for my behaviour, and that’s why people think I’m a bitch,” she says. And to some extent, she’s right.

Jen Agg: Rhum Corner
The Black Hoof (left) and Rhum Corner (Image: Dave Gillespie)

In the last decade, chefs have undergone an existential crisis. Once they were models of propriety, known for their punctilious plating, starched white straitjackets and militant management. Then Emeril Lagasse came along. And Mario Batali. And Gordon Ramsay. In 2000, Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential, glamorizing the terror of the restaurant world the way Apocalypse Now glamorized the Vietnam War. He wrote about shooting heroin and snorting coke on the job, about anonymous sex in the yard beside the restaurant, about the toxic yet thrilling atmosphere inside the kitchen. Suddenly, at least in the public imagination, chefs were rock stars. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Bourdain,” Agg says, “but that book gave chefs a licence to be dirtbags. It perpetuated the idea that it’s all about drinking and getting laid.”

In June 2015, Kate Burnham, a former pastry chef at the schmoozy King West saloon Weslodge, filed a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging prolonged sexual harassment in the kitchen. Over the course of a year and a half, Burnham said, male cooks had grabbed her breasts and genitals, unclasped her bra, humped her from behind, and called her “dyke.” As Burnham’s story went viral, more and more women took to social media with stories of overt harassment and assault. Ivy Knight, a Toronto writer who quit cooking five years ago after a decade in the industry, talks about being shut in a walk-in fridge by a chef who then pulled out his penis and wagged it at her. Once, while working as a line cook, she told her male sous-chef to fuck off. He slammed her up against a counter and choked her. “I don’t know if he’d have done the same thing to a man. I was five foot three and 95 pounds, so I know he wasn’t scared of me,” she explains. When she reported the incident to her boss, she was told to suck it up.

A few of the female chefs I spoke to described a form of Stockholm Syndrome—they didn’t realize kitchen culture was so toxic until they’d escaped it. Like many women in male-dominated fields, they felt they had to adapt, that this was normal. “The thinking goes that you can’t beat ’em, so you have to join ’em,” Knight says. “You’re convinced if you complain that some chef slapped your ass, you’ll be labelled a pussy.” Léonie Lilla, the former chef at Farmer’s Daughter on Dupont, believes the culture of hostility and harassment is not a gendered issue. “Chefs will scream at you during your shift, then buy you a beer. That’s the way it is. You have to deal with it or get out.” Agg argues that this kind of thinking demonstrates a warped internalized misogyny. “Older women in the industry often say, ‘I had to tough it out, I had to go through this shit, so should you.’ That’s not helpful!” she tells me, her voice rising. “Why the fuck should you have to do that?”

When Agg read about Kate Burnham’s experience, she got mad. She had been talking about sexism in restaurants for years, so while she was horrified by the allegations, she wasn’t shocked. What enraged her was the silence she perceived from other chefs and owners. Her fury metastasized over the next couple of days, and her Twitter followers watched it develop in real time. “A lot of us seem to agree that the machismo-soaked ‘leadership’ performed by SO MANY chef-bros is THE WORST. WHY does NOTHING EVER CHANGE???” she tweeted. “Snicker, mutter about what a crazy bitch I am GO AHEAD I don’t give a FUCK,” she wrote the next day.

Agg says she has never been sexually harassed at work, but she’s also her own boss. “I don’t have the kind of personality that invites that kind of behaviour,” she says, and pauses. “Not that I’m saying other women do,” she adds carefully. When she heard about Burnham’s suit, she decided to do something about it: she organized a conference called Kitchen Bitches at Revival Bar on College, and invited female chefs and cooks to share stories. She figured if people started talking about harassment and sexism in the kitchen, they’d be one step closer to stopping it. Most of the restaurant workers I spoke to were thrilled about the event, praising Agg’s conviction and persistence. But a few told me they think she’s going about it all wrong. One chef argued that by threading the word “bitch” into her branding, Agg is perpetuating the idea that it’s okay to use derogatory language. Another said Agg had no right to speak out on behalf of chefs when she has never worked in the kitchen. A couple insisted that her activism seems designed more to draw attention to herself than the issue.

They might have a point. At her best, Agg is a compelling speaker who uses her magnetism to get people onside. She has wit and confidence and clout in an industry where most women don’t speak out because they report to male employers. She is well known in the Toronto culinary scene, and certainly the most recognizable woman. And most of the time, she uses her powers for good. She recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that eloquently and passionately described the misogynistic miasma of kitchens. There are times, however, when she gets so caught up in her message that her rhetoric hardens into rigidity, her outrage into dismissiveness. It isn’t productive, for example, to lambaste one generation of female chefs in order to liberate another, or to lump every tattooed male chef into the same Neanderthal underclass.

On the defunct TV series Hannibal, the titular cannibal had a motto: “Eat the rude.” Jen Agg has the same philosophy when it comes to her customers. Her Twitter account is a feminist foghorn, but it’s also where Agg calls out people who insult the servers or sneer at the offal-heavy menu. “When people see the charcuterie, they’re like, ‘That’s just deli meat, I could buy it at Loblaws!’ ’’ she says, in a faux whine that sounds unnervingly like Estelle Costanza. “Do they know how much time and money and man power and woman power went into this dish? They can fuck off.” She rarely berates customers in person—shaming them on the spot would disrupt everyone else. But on Twitter, she lets loose. Same goes for when she’s stuck behind a slow mover at the grocery store, or seated next to a nose-picker on the streetcar. “I don’t care if my Twitter account alienates people,” she told me. “If it alienates you, I don’t want you there.”

Agg claims she’s quitting her foray into activism, that she can’t handle the time and energy it takes. I call bullshit. When you’re Jen Agg, there’s no such thing as retirement. She may not organize any more conferences, but she’s proselytizing in every other way that counts—on podcasts, panels, social media. And in the fall, she’ll release her first book, a sprawling memoir about her family and restaurants and feminism that she wrote on the train between Toronto and Montreal. It’s called I Hear She’s a Real Bitch.


February 19, 2016

In a photo above, Agg and her father are seated at a café in Nova Scotia, not New Brunswick, as was originally stated in a caption.