I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague
It’s funny how things happen.
In 1999 I was a university dropout working at the bingo hall, and slopping drinks at a local bar. Not that there’s any shame in either of those occupations, but they didn’t present much in the way of future career opportunities. After repeated suggestions that I parlee my smooth bingo calling skills into a career in radio, I threw caution to the wind, along with a fair amount of borrowed cash, and enrolled in the radio broadcasting program at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Two years later I was working an internship at CBC. That turned into a six-year, four-city turn with the corp.
During that time, I met Peter Richards, and he offered me a restaurant column in The Buzz. I had no experience writing for print and I was only learning how to write like a reporter, but I guess he saw something in me. It’s been 12 years now.
I never dreamed I would end up writing a restaurant column. I might have guessed sports broadcaster, or rock radio DJ back in 1999, but a restaurant writer? What did I know about food, other than the basics so lovingly passed onto to me by my mother? Not to mention the fact that in the late nineties the culinary scene on the Island was limited, to put it mildly. How would I do a monthly column that would last more than a couple years?
Well something happened over the last twelve years that has literally changed the way people talk about our province and our food. Our culinary scene has absolutely exploded. We are as well-known now for the quality of our food, and our service industry as we are for our world class golf courses and beaches, probably more so. That’s made it easy for a hack like me to produce about 110 “I’m dining out here”’s over the years. I still can’t, and usually don’t provide a detailed critique of the food. I’m by no means qualified to do that. But can I tell you if I liked it? I sure can. Can I tell you whether there was too little rosemary in the Beef Wellington? Hell no. Did I eat all the Beef Wellington? Did I ever.
The column opened other doors for me.
I got a book deal [Taste: Recipes from Prince Edward Island's Best Restaurants, Nimbus]. I sold some books. I freelanced for a few other publications. I also got a lot of respect from restaurant owners around the city. They treated me well, but I tried my very best to never take advantage of that. If they insisted on a discount, or any other special treatment, I insisted right back until I knew for sure it wouldn’t get me anywhere. Having said that, I can only think of one occasion where I got the food for free or at a discount, and a column was published. I disclosed that in the article itself.
But life has a way of carrying on and taking you in different directions. These days I spend a lot more time parenting and a lot less time eating out. I’ve also recently become deeply involved in the local pool scene, and much of my time is no longer my own. With all that in mind I’ve decided to retire my column here at The Buzz, and this will be my last.
I want to thank everyone who’s read the column and offered kind words over the years. It’s been such a pleasure doing this, and knowing people look forward to it has meant the world to me. Thanks also to the gang at The Buzz. Bon appetit.