The Tomato

The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

Gail Hall 1951-2016


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.

Gail Hall died November 16 after living with cancer for eight years. Gail had a long and fruitful relationship with food in Edmonton, most recently with Seasoned Solutions, her cooking class and tour company and as a Gold Medal Plates judge. Our condolences to Gail’s husband Jon Hall, Gail’s large circle of friends and colleagues and to our entire food community.

Gail was to be our Proust subject for January but we were too late. Instead, here is Gail, remembered by Jon.

Hometown?
Toronto.

Years cooking?
Thirty-three years professionally.

Where would you like to live?
Santa Fe. We went back several times. We were planning to go back next year for the 20th anniversary of our first culinary tour.

Gail’s favourite food and drink?
Gail loved Caesar salad and Pisco sours.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
In her later years Gail wanted to be a nutritionist—a food scientist.

What did Gail most appreciate in her friends?
Gail appreciated passion and acceptance.

Her favourite qualities in a dish?
It had to be local, it had to be fresh, if it had a story, even better.

Who would be at Gail’s dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
Julia Child, Donna Hay, David Garcelon, Dan Barber, me and the KTG (the kitchen table girls).

Who would cook?
Dan Barber.

Which words or phrases did Gail most overuse?
But that’s ok.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?
Focused on food related to breast cancer, foods that were estrogen positive, food as medicine.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
She left a pot on the stove and went to pick me up from work. The fire department came. There was $1,600 damage to the door but the pot survived. She taught the cooking class that night. After, Gail took the pot into Paderno and they cleaned it as good as new.

We did five Alberta culinary tours— Smoky Lake, Gull Lake, Jasper and two east of Edmonton.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
The thing that kicked us off, going to Dubrulle in Vancouver with Judy Schultz in 1983. I surprised Gail with the trip. The light came on. She called every day with a new discovery in cooking.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?
Swiss Chalet was her guilty pleasure.

Philosophy?
Live local.

What’s next?
Launch the foundation for young chefs and donate to programs that will help young people learn to cook and appreciate local food. I was overwhelmed by the response to the funeral. I loved her, but the community adored her. We were just planning a small family funeral. A potluck with 20-30 of her friends has turned into dinner for 200. Bring a dish with the recipe and the story. Her urn will be there, bring a pebble.

Gail’s potluck dinner and Celebration of Life is Saturday, January 14, from 5-9 pm at the Pleasantview Hall. Free tickets required, visit seasonedsolutions.ca.

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