photos by Madd Hattere
It’s four o’clock in the morning in Montreal at a dive restaurant down the street from a student residence, where you go for the most drunken drunk food of your life.
They're closed, but someone's in there, so a woman starts to bang on the door with six of her friends until they let them in. She demands a pizza, but they remain unswayed: "We're not doing it, we're closed."
"Well I'll do it"
A blur of speed causes them to blink, and now the owners can only account for five girls in front of them -- as they look back to the kitchen, the ringleader has already begun gathering ingredients to make pizzas.
Exasperated, they plea: "You have to take this to go!"
She’s laid back, speaking with a slight slur: "Totally fine man, don't worry about it."
She finishes and even pays for the pizzas, receiving one order free because the owners take a picture with all the girls in the pizza kitchen. The group, now endowed with pizza, walks back home and sits at her home until 6:40 in the morning bawling, for this is her last night in Montreal.
“…and that's not the first time I've been known to make my own pizza at a pizza joint in Montreal. There have been a few... instances...”
This rogue late-night chef is Amanda Garbutt. The Ottawa resident moved to Montreal for schooling in Sociology, but has since completely shifted priorities due to the media force that is her friend.
After growing up in Toronto, April Engelberg was granted internships for CNN in New York and Al Jazeera in Washington after becoming involved with TV McGill; the idea of becoming an official cooking personality would have never occurred to Amanda without April’s background in television. When initially approached with the idea of hosting a cooking show, Amanda's first response was real surprise.
APRIL: "Basically, in second year when everyone moved out of residence, people would tell me they went to Amanda's and instead of going for dinner she made, she actually taught them how to make dinner and they made it together. Then I went over one time and it kind of dawned upon me that I should do the show. Then Amanda laughed really hard for a while, and I had to assure her I was serious."
AMANDA: "It took her a year to convince me."
APRIL: "I started second year, and at the beginning of third year she was still saying 'Yeah, maybe,' and I had to tell her 'I am totally, totally serious,' because she had never done any TV before."
AMANDA: "My first day on camera was the first day of shooting for the Hot Plate. My family isn't even a camera family, so literally no video camera has ever seen my body until this."
Now that the camera has shifted focus to Toronto, the ladies are looking to continue expanding their market. The proud recipients of the Dobson Cup, Amanda and April have decided upon a full commitment to the show.
AMANDA: "Originally when I was moving to Toronto it was to be in the same city as April, so we could pursue the Hot Plate on the side. I had arranged this whole marketing job, I had everything lined up and I said to April: 'You know that if we really want to do the Hot Plate I can't take this job.' She left me alone to think for a few days and then I called her to tell her I quit the job.[April was thrilled]: "Yeah you did!"
The Dobson Cup is an award given to budding entrepreneurs. Looking at the competition for the Hot Plate, the closest runners-up seem intense: WOODSTREAM, a company that makes their own wood-plastic composites as an alternative to mainstream oil-based plastics, and BestSPEC, integrating robots into the inspection and maintenance of wood turbines. Up against extremely business-oriented competition, the Hot Plate found themselves at the top of the podium with their own plans of expansion.
APRIL: "A lot of people ask us 'Oh, so do you want to be on TV?' Basically, we're really happy with the way everything has gone, and we owe a lot to fans on Facebook and YouTube for how well we've done so far. Our goal for the next year is to keep it as a web series, to put out 25-30 episodes in the year, provide a video for each episode that profiles a recipe in the upcoming book that show our audience how to [prepare the recipes], then maybe reevaluate our position from there."
Their upcoming cookbook will transcend the static pages of print-only publication; no longer confined to the old, yellowed pages of your grandmother’s cake book, the Hot Plate fully supports online supplements. Amanda actually taught herself how to improve her knife strokes watching videos on YouTube.
AMANDA: "The new website coming out is a lot more streamlined for people to go get video tips. The glossary of the cookbook is going to be supported virally with 10-15 second video clips. What's going to separate this cookbook from other cookbooks is that we're trying to support the digital age; new cookbooks should have supporting features online for free."
Although currently tackling twelve-hour editing days, before getting into cookbook production April and Amanda became more involved in the Montreal community: after an article from the Montreal Gazette drew the attention of the Loblaw’s Cooking School in Montreal, Amanda taught four classes there between April and May, and while the Loblaw’s classes attract middle-aged women for the most part, a few younger pupils were starting to tiptoe in. After the classes were done, Amanda kept in contact with some of these older women over Facebook, which allows her to continue to coach her followers.
AMANDA: "We want to offer lots of details on how to properly use the book [and website], and how to use the leftovers from the recipes. They're all written for a family of four, but if one person wants to make the full recipe there are tips on how to freeze, save or turn it into an entirely new dish."
The focus of the Hot Plate has become increasingly more interactive: April runs the Facebook and Twitter accounts and offers prizes, such as Amanda’s cookies, in contests for those willing to try their hand at creating picturesque dishes. She’s recently received video entries as well, but my personal favourite is a zealous entry for their Ultimate Egg Competition. A fan plated a portrait of himself with a ham face, mushroom nose, scrambled egg hair and a tangerine smile, and for the eyes: avocado sclera, hard boiled egg iris, blueberry pupils.
The encouragement for ingenuity in these online contests gives viewers an outlet to hone their hands-on cooking beyond the basics of their every day routine. Amanda wants an audience that responds well to new ingredients, and can take her initial instruction to create something new and different.
AMANDA: "Your beginning recipes are your safety net, they're your guideline. [I want people to] get comfortable with them and then push themselves, try new things, experiment, it doesn't matter. You're in here to watch me make this recipe, and I am going to make a version of this recipe, but I'm never going to take a teaspoon measure out. I'll work with a new ingredient and want to know more about it -- I might know how to cook certain things but I'll want to know where the ingredients come from, what happens to them while they cook, and some of the chemistry behind it. While I continuously learn more about food, I have by no means an authoritative stance on everything. I just like to impart what I've learned onto other people."
In the upcoming cookbook, a certain portion of recipes have been chosen to appeal to everyone's dietary needs, such as vegetarian, vegan, or Kosher -- meat and cheese aren't always combined, as much as Amanda may want that to be the case.
AMANDA: "Bacon isn't wrapped around... cereal. We are making a book accessible to everybody's palate. You don't want to exclude anybody, but for some of the recipes I literally have to have a comment at the bottom to say: 'You can leave out the bacon, but you don't have to, and I wouldn't suggest it.' Bacon and I are kindred spirits. When I come back in another life, it will be as bacon."
MADD: "It'll be a short life"
AMANDA: "Yeah, but it'll be tasty."
I've finally met a carnivore after my own heart, one that selects a short-lived reincarnation in the name of a single bacon strip rather than redo the whole human fiasco. Make sure to peruse the Hot Plate, which April and Amanda will continue to spread throughout Toronto. Not only do they support the growth of BYOB restaurants in Toronto (everyone should), but they have recently been adding local guests to their repertoire -- winning their next contest could be your chance to get into the kitchen with Amanda, keep an eye on their Facebook page for all the details. And stream one of their new episodes below for the lowdown on some serious peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.