The detestable, wonderful celebration of brunch
“I don’t do brunch.” That’s what I tell people when they ask me if I want to eat out at midday on Sunday. Brunch just doesn’t work for me. Maybe what makes it unenjoyable is that I know what’s involved in getting it on the table. I feel it’s not worth the pain for something so fleeting. It takes too much effort and goes down too fast—it’s just too fragile and sensitive to try to get right on a Sunday. With Monday always coming on fast, people expect so much on such a helpless little day. If the orange juice isn’t sweet enough, the coffee’s too cold. And if the eggs aren’t runny enough, they need more toast, more water, more everything. Throw in a hangover (or a handful of hangovers), and it’s just painful. I have a friend who’s worked her fair share of brunches. She wanted to get a T-shirt that says “Your hangover is not my problem” on the front and, on the back, “But next week, my hangover might be yours.” That pretty much sums it up.
I’ve done a few brunches myself, and I can’t say I’ve had a lot of success. When I cook, I tend to leave space for chance. I won’t worry about something in my prep until it comes up during service—that way, I have to dig my way out. I like to think that it makes me do stuff in the moment that I wouldn’t think of if I were perfectly set up. You can’t do that with brunch. You must be ready—really ready, because everything about brunch is so damn fragile.
I cooked a bit of brunch in Paris. I got a gig doing it one time when I was desperate for money. It was good in the beginning—the owner even let me design my own menu. I tried to do it a little differently, with a spicy pimp (pork and shrimp) burger on a rösti with an egg on top and some seaslaw salad (coleslaw with seaweed) on the side. I did other stuff, too, like French toast with fresh, runny chèvre and maple syrup and peaches. I had poached eggs and hollandaise and cured salmon and warm, spicy cornbread to give out. I even told people to come. It was good in the beginning. Steady. Simple. Easy. I kept myself sober the night before, treating my Saturday night like a Sunday so I’d be rested and ready to work in the morning. But as time went on and my confidence grew, my Saturday night became just that. Soon enough I found myself hunched over a pot of boiling water on Sunday morning, desperate and sweaty, searching for some poached eggs that had become bullets for a table of 14 that walked in out of nowhere. I broke eggs, I stepped on eggs, I threw pans, I broke dishes, I burned myself. I crashed big time. I wanted to die. Or start over again—just walk out onto the street and leave the tables and chaos and disappointment behind me and just keep going. I almost did, too. Brunch can be that bad.
But I get brunch, too. I know it’s like a celebration, an end-of-weekend thing. I appreciate it, but I have to do it a little differently. I read about a guy in New York who does the same brunch every weekend: a giant terrine of eggs stuffed with smoked salmon and whatever else, on a table piled with croissants. That’s good thinking. My kind of brunch is standing around a big barrel table eating oysters and charcuterie and drinking good, cheap wine with friends and old drunk French guys drinking wine out of silver ladles. That’s a celebration. I know I’m not in Paris, but I’d like to try to bring something new to Toronto, something different. So I’m thinking somewhere between those things, something festive, strong, and not so fragile.