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The pen is mightier than the fork, so Jamie Maw has demonstrated over the 13 years he’s spent reviewing the city’s restaurants and nurturing its culinary talent. When a restaurateur opened a new room, or introduced a new chef, the judgment that really mattered was Maw’s. If he loved your room and reviewed it glowingly, you were off to the races-there was a noticeable spike in reservations. If he panned it, you were in trouble. “I don’t think there’s any question that he could make or break a place,” says Jim Sutherland, who for four years edited Maw’s work in this magazine. “He was the critic whose opinion was most valued and most feared.” Maw’s reviews were taken seriously because he took his subject seriously. Over the years (and innumerable late-night chef’s table meals and Heinekens), usually accompanied by his striking partner and dining companion Yvonne Drinovz, he came to know practically everybody, evolving into a sort of one-man job placement centre and career counsellor. Being a businessman himself, he understands the economics of restaurants as few food writers do. He’s deeply knowledgeable about design, and has firm notions of what true hospitality and expert service entail. Having dined extensively in the world’s culinary capitals, he can place a meal or a room or a chef in the larger context. And he knows food-how ingredients are sourced and prepared and combined and cooked and plated-in a way that few local critics would claim to match.
“There are people in this city who really understand food,” says Jack Evrensel, owner of West, Blue Water Cafe, CinCin, and Araxi in Whistler, “and there are people who write beautifully. But Jamie’s the only one who combines those two things. While you were reading his reviews or food criticism, you always knew who the writer was. This is not something you can say of every food critic.”
That’s not to suggest that what appeared in these pages was always what Maw submitted, exactly. “My rule, handling Jamie’s copy,” recalls Sutherland, “was no more than one sexual reference per column, which usually meant editing out a couple of others-this was especially important when James Barber was also in the magazine, since he too was fond of being suggestive. Jamie loved similes like ‘as easy as a Sunday-morning legover’-I bet I took that one out about once a year.”
“He embraced the idea of dining out and eating well and writing about it,” adds Barbara-jo McIntosh, a former restaurateur who now owns Books to Cooks. “He brought great enthusiasm and passion to what he did. He really went above and beyond.” As cofounder of the Chef’s Table Society, which encourages the exchange of information and ideas, Maw helped turn a group of disparate people in the restaurant business into a culinary community. As an early proponent of the Ocean Wise program, which encourages environmentally friendly seafood choices, he helped bring the sustainability movement into Vancouver kitchens. And as a mentor to some of the city’s young culinary talent, and a model for many young food writers, he’s created a legacy that will last as long as Vancouverites go out for dinner.