If you have seen the latest print issue of Ottawa Magazine, you might have been surprised at the poignant, even dark, photo essay entitled “The Last Service”. But if you have spent time in the restaurant industry — or live with/ love someone who has — the reflections by city chefs about their struggles will be no surprise.
As writer Zachary Resnick notes in the introduction, the restaurant business has always been physically and mentally demanding, but now it feels as if each day could be the last. While the pandemic brings new challenges, and “The Last Service” certainly explores issues involving take-out and every-tightening budgets, the reality is that there are other issues that have been plaguing restaurants for years.
Resnick worked with the team at Transparent Kitchen, who lead the project from start to finish. We wrote about these trailblazers back in 2018. Foodies will recognize their beautiful images from the websites of city restaurants. Beyond photography, Transparent Kitchen describes itself as a “a discovery platform that is focused on sharing the story behind the restaurant, chef, their dishes, and sourcing practices with beautiful photography.”
Check out the online version of “The Last Service” here.
It’s a bold take on a controversial topic. What drove this group to tackle these issues? We caught up with owner Frazer Nagy, photographer Sarah Farmer, and writer Zachary Resnick to find out more.
How did you come up with the concept for “The Last Service”?
Frazer: Like many business owners in the restaurant and hospitality industry, I was faced with the reality of not knowing if I would be able to keep my business, Transparent Kitchen, alive. In fact, we shut down fully for four months and only due to the subsidies were we able to bring back our team.
But as my leadership team and I contemplated the future, we kept coming back to this idea of ‘legacy’. Our passion is storytelling. Whether through cameras, technology, or word of mouth, the Transparent Kitchen team first and foremost cares about telling the stories of the most inspirational chefs, suppliers, and restaurateurs. So we asked ourselves: if we were forced to only tell one more story what would that be? Through those discussions we created “The Last Service”.
What do you hope to achieve through this project?
Frazer: “The Last Service” is a piece of art. As a piece of art we hope to create a dialogue between the subjects, their history, and of course the greater community, whether you work in a restaurant or just simply enjoy dining. I think what became evidently clear during the pandemic is just how much we take for granted regarding our local restaurants. To me, the very act of dining out is a beautiful ritual and one that needs to be cherished.
Most importantly, I hope that Canadians in particular start understanding the true value of their food and dining experiences. Although Canadians already have access to very affordable food, we still think food should be cheaper than it is. In addition to showing compassion for those who run restaurants, we need to start actually paying more for food and shifting our priorities towards what is most important in our society. Should we put quality ingredients in our body while supporting local entrepreneurs who keep the wealth in our communities? Or buy cheap packaged goods that show up on the back of trucks from companies who will never care about our neighbourhoods? To me that’s an easy decision.
Some of the issues are quite personal. Was it difficult to get local chefs to participate?
Sarah: The issues we discuss in “The Last Service” are things that almost every chef can relate to because it’s the status quo in the industry and has been for a long time. They’ve either seen it or been through it themselves, so it was not difficult at all, everyone was more than happy to share their thoughts and experiences with us.
What would you say to someone who is in the industry now, but trying to decide whether it is now time to look for another career?
Zac: That’s a hard question to answer because everyone is in a different situation. I guess you really have to ask yourself the hard questions: What do I want out of this industry? What am I willing to give up? How can I make it work for me? It’s hard to answer those questions right now because the industry is becoming something new. Things are changing in a way they’ve never done before. But, as it stands now, there is still an element of sacrifice required by the industry to really reach its highest levels.
What’s next for “The Last Service”?
Frazer: Our next goal is to take “The Last Service” nationwide. Including chefs from across the country would be so powerful. But we also think there are opportunities to take it abroad as well. We have partners in both the USA and the UK that are interested in “The Last Service” for their own local markets. Lastly, we are in talks with a few networks around a potential collaboration for a TV show. Each of the themes covered have the opportunity to be expanded, this is something that we are very interested in. So look out for that!