“It wasn’t a question of being opposed to imported ingredients, but of preference, of allegiance, of knowing what goodness came from the earth around you, from the soil under your feet.”
Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park is one part food writing, one part social advocacy, and one part artist’s journey. It unfolds gently, only revealing itself to you in memories and moments until, like Jeremy, you’re in over your head.
Jeremy returns from culinary school and apprenticeship in France with a dream to open a restaurant in Vancouver that is Vancouver. Local ingredients, local decor, local talent. We meet him when he has already established his business and is juggling the workload of head chef and business owner. He’s ragged and inspired and we recognize his stress as the perks of being a working artist.
I get it Jeremy, right now more than ever. You have this thing you believe in with your whole self. You throw yourself into that thing, surround yourself with people who believe in it too. You think you plan for it and all it’s growing pains. But you’re wrong. It’s bigger than you, it eats you up, chews on you a little bit, and then spits you out all broken and damaged. Now what.
Taylor’s Stanley Park nudged me to consider insecurities in my own passion and creativity that I hadn’t even realized existed. When Jeremy swipes a near-maxed credit card, borrows from one to pay the other, anxiety for my own financial situation creeps in. When he admits the defeat of his dream and becomes what the industry wants him to be, I take a hard look at the kinds of jobs I’m applying to. Taylor asks about the relationship between success and stability, and passion and artistic fulfillment: what is gained, and what is lost?
Jeremy’s vision for a West Coast menu speaks to the connection of food to place. He develops recipes from the roots of the land, appreciates the soil from which the ingredients originate, and serves it back to those responsible — “high-end urban rubber-boot food.” Full circle. Set nearly 20 years ago, Stanley Park exists in a time before the locally inspired food trend that now pervades this area. If The Monkey’s Paw Bistro opened now, Jeremy would have a whole localized industry to compete with, not simply the displaced, disconnected palates of Vancouver’s diners.
Only after reconnecting with his estranged father, The Professor, does Jeremy learn what a connection to place really means. His father explains why his decades-long research has him living in the woods of Stanley Park with its homeless inhabitants.
“It’s about roots and place. It’s about how people relate to the land on which they stand. In our rootless day and age, our time of strange cultural homelessness—and worse, our societal amnesia about what used to constitute both the rewards and limitations of those roots…”
The Professor gets it. It’s why we do what we do as artists and creators; why we pour ourselves into our creativity; why we embrace the struggle and the ramen noodles; why, perhaps, I have come back to this place, despite uncertainties. Short of a direct call to action, Taylor’s Stanley Park addresses the project of so many artists, researchers, social activists: the story is here, the work is here, on the paths we tread every day. Look up. This is where we go to work.
The story is as much Stanley Park’s as it is Jeremy’s. The park functions as a character of its own. It moves, it grows, and it experiences conflict and resolution. We see its vulnerabilities, its secrets, its ability to give and to take. We feel for the park as we might feel for a nostalgic, tragic character. Taylor’s establishment of place feels so genuine and honest that you recognize the park, not from your own memories, but from Jeremy’s or his father’s.
Taylor’s honesty continues throughout the novel. His characters are raw, flawed and uncommunicative. More is said in between lines of dialogue, in the character’s thoughts and perceptions of the world around them. While not a cautionary tale, he navigates the vulnerability of Jeremy’s situation and the imbalance of power it leads to with the protectiveness of a good mentor. He pulls back the salal bush curtain of a well-trodden Vancouver hotspot and shows us what we do not see.
Stanley Park brought more to the table than I expected of it and I’m lucky for it. If you’re looking to feel rooted to your work and to this place, pick up this book. If you’re looking for a story of triumph over the corporate giant, pick up this book. If you’re looking for some drool-worthy West Coast culinary writing, pick up this book.
“If it has gone well, the moment of understanding about what has been accomplished arrives just before the crest of the hill, just before your objective. Then you reach the summit and for a while there is nothing but the summit. No ascent behind you. No descent ahead. It’s all finished and the finishing is everything.”