University of Calgary

Unexpected View

Submitted by alumni on Fri, 05/30/2014 - 20:10.

Unexpected View

Take a peek backstage with two drama alumni, John Gilchrist and Rebecca Northan.

John Gilchrist
BA'77, Psychology and Drama

Before he became Calgary’s most notable restaurant critic, he was the original manager of Loose Moose Theatre Company. He has covered 2,000+ restaurants for CBC Radio since 1980 and is on his 720th Off the Menu column for the Calgary Herald. He is a member of the San Pellegrino’s World’s Top Restaurants judging panels and best-selling author of My Favourite Restaurants: Calgary, Canmore and beyond and Cheap Eats. For the last 20 years, he has also taught Continuing Education courses on food and travel at the University of Calgary.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
"I always wanted to work in theatre."

What did you learn at the University of Calgary?
"Psychology gave me the background into how people think and feel, observe and react. Taking drama allowed me to practise what I learned in Psych. And I do radio — that’s a brief five-minute performance every week."

How did you become a restaurant critic?
"CBC was looking for a new restaurant reviewer in 1980. I was always a bit of a foodie so I went in, auditioned and the rest is history."

What’s your earliest food memory?
"I always say I’ve been eating all my life. I grew up on a farm in Wetaskiwin where we raised pretty much everything we ate."

What’s the best place to eat in Wetaskiwin?
"Hong & Sandy’s. [Hong] was one of the family cooks for Deng Xiaoping. This guy knows how to cook."

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
"Thai food."

What’s the worst thing you’ve eaten?
"There are reasons why we don’t eat bugs."

What’s your favourite food?
"Anything that’s well prepared. I’m very multi-dexterous in my tastes."

Your top three places to travel to eat?
"Thailand, France and New Mexico."

What does the perfect meal look like to you?
"At my house with good friends — where I cook something that actually works. A perfect meal out is also nice with friends at a pleasant restaurant that isn’t too loud and not a tomb. Where the food is fresh, bright and true to its culture."

What’s it like being John Gilchrist walking into a restaurant?
"I get recognized maybe 10 per cent of the time. I will know if they recognize me because the service gets worse. It throws them off their game."

Do you make reservations?
"I do make a reservation under a different name. Ideally, I want to fly under the radar because I hate when they fuss."

What motivates you?
"I just get hungry and I have to eat. And the industry itself."

Biggest change you’ve seen in the food industry?
"The emergence of the Canadian chef."

What’s your routine?
"The review starts on the phone. I phone to see how they respond because that interaction is a part of it. I don’t typically take notes and photograph or tweet my meal because I’m just trying to have a normal dining experience. I find that I’ll remember anything that is important enough to remember."

What is your greatest achievement?
"Going undercover for lunch at two long-term care centres and helping change how our seniors are fed in those places around Alberta."

What do you want to be remembered for?
"Helping share what people were trying to do with their culture and food with people who wanted to learn about it."

What are your other hobbies?
"I’m a really crappy golfer."

Lynda Sea