Suzanne Barr, the chef behind beloved Toronto restaurants, Saturday Dinette and True True Diner, released her first book earlier this week.
, co-authored with Suzanne Hancock, is a memoir about Barr’s life and how she found (and built) a career in the kitchen. Barr left Canada after True True Diner closed in 2020 and is now living in Miami with her husband and son, where’s she consulting on a new restaurant. We recently sat down with her to talk about her new book, her favorite food, what’s next and the sage advice she once received from Mark McEwan. My Ackee Tree
Scroll down for the full interview, plus enjoy recipes from her new book!
House & Home: What are you hoping that people take away from the book?
Suzanne Barr: The major thing I want people to take away is that everyone has an origin story, and everyone’s story has value — whether it’s for the many that might read it, the ones closest to you, or even just yourself. When I was writing the book I thought “who cares about me?” but I think everyone can pull something from the book, whether it’s a memory or a desire to pursue something that they thought they couldn’t. And I want people to know that the recipes are real recipes to try, with all of the love and passion that I put into writing this book with Suzanne Hancock.
H&H: What’s one recipe from the book that you want everyone to try?
SB: For anyone who thinks they’re a horrible cook, please make Nicey’s Dutch Apple Pie. And for anyone who is a bit of a chef in their own right, I want to see them make the Ackee Terrine with Whipped Coconut Salt Cod. It’s the staple dish of Jamaica and traditionally you’d have it hot but we wanted to serve it cold and turn it into a terrine.
H&H: You mentioned earlier that you used a few other cookbooks as inspiration for yours. Which books did you look to?
SB: One was Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi . His book was something I read before I even knew that I was going to do a memoir, but I think the shining star was The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis. She was a major inspiration because she talked about food, her experience traveling and living in France, and her devotion to her family and her heritage. Her journey was an inspiration.
H&H: When did you write the book?
SB: We originally presented a modern Caribbean cookbook to Penguin in 2018, and the publisher came back and said they wanted my story. Then in 2018 and 2019 we were writing chunks at a time, and in 2019 I opened up True True Diner and things were really busy for me because I was also running Avling. My schedule was too crazy so we asked for an extension. Then 2020 hit and we rented a cottage in Tiny, Ont. and we went and just turned off our phones, TVs, turned everything off and we just wrote. We finished the book in three days.
Photographer: Ackee illustration by Kamoy Nicola Williams
H&H: What’s one dish you miss from True True Diner?
SB: There are so many! But the one dish that I loved the most was our Sweet and Sour Braised Beef Back Ribs with a Plantain Mash and our Sautéed Greens. That dish to me was a fusion between Saturday Dinette and the future of my cooking. You don’t see beef back ribs on many menus and we put so much time and care into the braise.
H&H: Brunch has been such a big part of your career and you’ve even been called the Queen of Brunch. Which brunch item from Saturday Dinette do you miss the most?
SB: I’m torn between the Fried Chicken ( pictured above) and Pancakes and our Mushrooms on Toast with Ricotta Cheese and a Fried Egg. We sourced the bread for all of our toast from Dough Bakeshop (on Danforth Ave. in Toronto), which I miss with all of my heart. We always told people, whatever you do at least get an order of pancakes on the table.
H&H: If you had 24 hours in Toronto and no plans, where would you go to eat?
SB: Maha’s in Leslieville and Greta Solomon’s. I’m an East End person but if I had the chance to go West End I would definitely hit up Union.
H&H: Will you ever open another restaurant in Toronto, or Canada?
SB: Anything’s possible. I don’t feel like I’m done with Canada, I was born there and spent 10 years of my career there. I’ve always been very intrigued by the other parts of Canada. I had a chance to go and visit Vancouver and absolutely fell in love with that area. I absolutely adore Montreal.
H&H: Is there a type of cuisine that you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to experiment with?
SB: That’s actually the one I’m doing right now! In Miami I’m consulting on a restaurant that pays homage to German cuisine. It’s comforting food and I can do comfort food. I’ve made sauerkraut before, but never anything like this. It took me six months to figure out how to make the perfect schnitzel and I even asked Mark McEwan on the set of Wall of Chefs how to make the best one and he said “clarified butter, there’s no other way.” Also, we’re in South Florida so we’re using Latin American styles of cooking and seafood.
H&H: What’s next for you?
SB: The restaurant in Miami has decided to move forward with a food truck using a shortened menu from the restaurant. I’m also inching closer to the launch of Suzanne Barr Food, which is my new brand of food products, kitchenware and equipment, which includes several collaborations with other Canadian companies. I’m also working on more TV shows and pitching a few ideas in California.
Try three of Suzanne’s recipes from her new book My Ackee Tree , including: Rosemary Socca, 100K Curry Chicken and Nicey’s Dutch Apple Pie.