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Suzanne Barr
No. 77

Suzanne Barr speaks the truth

Chef Suzanne Barr didn’t mince words about the closure of Toronto’s True True Diner. “We didn’t want to close…. The decision was made for us,” she posted on Instagram last summer. Barr created the restaurant as an homage to civil rights dissidents who staged sit-ins in diners across the U.S. True True celebrated BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) chefs, nurturing an inclusive and safe environment for people from marginalized backgrounds. “During the pandemic struggles, our white privileged partners got a big slice of that hand-out pie and didn’t even think to offer us a bite,” she wrote in her post. That whole experience has empowered Barr to continue moving BIPOC culinarians out of the margins and make the industry a safer space.

What does the future of the restaurant industry look like to you?

We are looking at terms and words and spaces. What does “safe spaces” mean? What does psychological safety mean? What does honouring your cultural identity within the kitchen mean? What does it mean to be a part of a restaurant group or a brand that chooses not to recognize you and your talents? There are so many parts of this industry that have the opportunity right now to…make some real change.

What’s your role in that?

I’ve taken so many different roads to reimagine myself. During Covid, I found a partner I really respect, and we’ve decided we want to focus on creating stories, whether it’s through podcasts, film [or] television. [We want] to tell the stories that aren’t always told, the stories of cooks and of farmers. This part of food and storytelling — it’s quite personal for me.

You’re featured in the book Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs (Phaidon, 2021). Is there a certain responsibility that comes with the title “emerging chef”?

It’s in line with what I will continue to do — speak up and speak out, advocate, create, inspire, listen, be a mentor, be a mentee.

What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of the year?

Spending some time with my family and embracing, possibly, a summer that can look a little bit more outdoors. And hopefully, one of those productions might find some real landing places.

—Tiffany MayerPhoto Credit: Samuel Engelking

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