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Punk musician and Coronation Street junkie, Cher aficionado - he loved the dresses - and Jersey Shore fan, NOW food editor Steven Davey was a true original, especially when it came to writing about food. He died suddenly last week at his home on Queen West.
I vividly remember his application for NOW's food writing position. He had a resumé thick with music credits - I love the fact he was in a band called the Dishes before he took on the restaurant file. He was a voracious pop culture vulture and a central player in the Queen West punk scenes in the 70s and the 80s.
But the dealmaker was his knockout politically sophisticated food story pitch. He wanted to try the David Tsubouchi diet. Tsubouchi, then minister of community and social services in Mike Harris's cabinet, was set to slash the welfare rolls, blithely counselling those losing funds to haggle over the price of dented cans of tuna and to adopt his soul-crushing sample menu of what he called affordable food.
Steven couldn't wait to dig in. But we wanted a food review, and he wound up launching his NOW career with a piece on the eatery Amadeus (January 9, 1997, p. 43 if you want to check the archives). It wound up being emblematic of everything that mattered to him. First, there's the quality of the writing, evident in his first line about how the place was half diva, half dive. Then there was the Kensington location. He much preferred writing about affordable joints in funky neighbourhoods to blabbing about high-end snooty spots. In that inaugural review, he devotes 60 words to the soup. Price of the menu item? $1.75.
He was fiercely ethical, determined to protect his identity lest a chef give him special treatment. He always paid cash so no one could trace his name or association through a credit card, and often went to restaurants in hilarious disguises. On one review date with me, he dressed as a priest.
Before coming to NOW, he contributed to the Toronto Star, Xtra and Maclean's as well as General Idea's FILE magazine, in addition to his role as a key player in the nascent Queen West music scene. His two collectable 7-inch vinyl EPs with the Dishes - Fashion Plates (1977) and Hot Property (1978) - have since been re-issued on CD as Kitschenette: The Best Of The Dishes (Bullseye, 2002).
He then formed the Everglades to perform I'm In A Coma and Rock 'N' Roll Cliché on the legendary Last Pogo LP (Bomb, 1978). He also wrote the song Rebel Unorthodox, the B-side of the first Viletones' single Screaming Fist (Vile, 1977).
Thirty years later, he produced Drink To Me (Bullseye, 2007), a CD of demos he recorded in the early 90s with Keith Whittaker of the Demics.
But even with those stellar credits, we remember him best as the guy who introduced us to Banh Mi Boys, Pam's Caribbean Kitchen, Rebozos Mexican Restaurant and other holes in the wall with delectable food at bargain-basement prices. He wrote about restaurants for everybody, not just those who could afford to drop $300 on multi-course tasting menus.
Not that he avoided those special places - he never forgot to find spots for that big night out.
Of course, now everyone's a food expert. When foodie culture started to explode and Twitter feeds from random resto freaks had tables at new eateries instantly filled, most restaurant critics were sitting around waiting for a press release.
Not our guy. He'd hop on his bike every morning and go for a spin just to see what was new or under construction - all over town. He was insanely proud of being more on top of T.O.'s food scene than anybody else. Few things got him more chuffed than being the first person to discover an eatery. I can't remember how many times he sent me a link to a competitor's review with the note, "Didn't we do this five weeks ago?"
It is astonishing that even the most rabid food fan could not keep up with him. He was almost always first out of the gate.
And boy, could he talk. There was no such thing as a short phone conversation with Steven. He'd always start by saying, "I know you're busy [true] but I won't keep you long [false]." He would provide much more detail than necessary about, well, everything. I could always tell when somebody in the office was on the phone with him. They'd be saying almost nothing except maybe, "Okay," "Uh-huh," "Yeah." When they finally got off the phone, I'd say, "Steven, right?"
Can't believe I've said, "I'm hanging up the phone now, Steven," for the last time.
According to Marshall Funeral Home, there will be a private funeral service for family, as per Steven's wishes. There will be a memorial service at a later date.