Mary Bailey, Publisher, The Tomato Food & Drink
In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era—he answered a questionnaire about himself in a friend’s Confession Album.
Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or another, for more than a century. Many have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. The Tomato now gives it a culinary twist.
Mary Bailey started The Tomato Food & Drink (then called City Palate, the flavour of Edmonton’s food scene) in 1996. She wanted to explore and celebrate the people who were creating our food culture—the chefs, the cooks, the farmers, the restaurateurs, the merchants and the diners. She wanted to write those stories and thought people would like to read them.
It’s been quite a ride. Along the way Mary co-founded the local food event Indulgence, a Canadian epic of food and wine in 2000 and started Edmonton’s first Slow Food convivia in 2002. She is also the creator of the Relish Food on Film Festival, called one of Alberta’s Top 10 Food Festivals by Alberta Culture. She is a board member of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance (ACTA) and was co-chair of the Edmonton Food Council. These are all volunteer pursuits.
She wrote two books about Alberta food with Judy Schultz, The Food Lover’s Trail Guide to Alberta, Volumes I & II.
In order to understand winemakers and growers better she continued a lifelong pursuit of wine knowledge. She has pruned vines, picked grapes and tasted wine on five continents. Mary holds the Wines & Spirits Trust (WSET) Diploma, is a certified sommelier (International Sommelier Guild, Diploma) and has certifications in Spanish and French wine.
Accolades include being named a 2015 Global Woman of Vision and awarded a GALA (Growing Alberta Leadership Award) for community spirit in 2007.
Now, 20 years later, her commitment to local food and drink remains undiminished.
Years in food and drink?
All my working life.
Where would you like to live?
Edmonton is terrific, yet a landscape of vine-covered hills and the sea is so compelling.
Your favourite food and drink?
Something grilled fresh from the sea with a minerally white wine. A glass of Champagne, always.
What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
I would be a sports reporter.
What do you most appreciate in your friends?
A sense of humour. Loyalty. It’s nice to know your friends have your back and vice versa.
Your favourite qualities in a dish?
Discipline and drive but also a little wooliness. I find the best chefs have a wild side and are at times a bit excessive (like me).
Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
I had dinner with some amazing German winemakers last year; would love to do that again; Lily Bollinger, the widow Clicquot, Helen Masters and some Canadian wine women I hold in high regard, Sandra Oldfield, Trudy Heiss, Severine Pinte, Heidi Noble and Natalie Bonhomme.
Who would cook?
My mum, Julia Child, Madame Benoit, Rose Gray.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I can’t say them here.
Current culinary obsession/exploration?
Uccellino’s spaghetti bottarga.
Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
Probably Cook it Raw. That was just a tiny bit insane.
I love what’s happening right now in our food scene. Cooks are talking to farmers; people are making beer! Lots of people are going for it, opening independent restaurants, and Edmontonians are going right there with them. It’s all one crazy fun mix and I love it.
Best thing that ever happened to you?
I have been so fortunate: every day I’m inspired by the food and wine people I’ve met.
Getting my Wine & Spirits Trust Diploma (WSET Level 4) in 2012 was a big deal. Also being awarded with a Gala back in 2007 and being named a Global Women of Vision last year—I am grateful for the acknowledgment.
Writing two books with Judy Schultz was like getting a master’s degree in writing.
Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/after work food?
My work involves a lot of eating and drinking, so sometimes I just want an apple.
Stay curious. Be kind.
We have had a great run in print and will continue to do so. I love the immediacy of social media, the idea that you can have a conversation, it’s exciting. We are starting on Snapchat this month. Follow us @tomatofooddrink!