Sheryl Kirby is a Toronto-based food writer and editor. She runs Stained Pages Press, a micro-press dedicated to long-form Canadian food writing. She has contributed to publications such as NOW Magazine, The Toronto Star, Edible Toronto, TAPS and the alternative pop-culture website Vermicious where her Betty Crocker-Punk Rocker life philosophy is evident in her writings about comics, fashion and bands of the 1970s. She wears flamboyant headgear and coke-bottle glasses, and curses like a sailor. Her colourful rantings can be found here.
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
Growing up, I was determined to be a fashion designer. I started sewing and designing my own clothes at 14. When I moved to Toronto in 1987, I landed smack in the middle of Kensington Market where I ended up managing a vintage clothing store and working as a designer’s assistant.
But as I moved into more corporate jobs within the industry, I realized it wasn’t for me. I worked some general office jobs before enrolling in the chef training program at George Brown College. From there I actually ended up doing concert promotion and running a small record label before moving into food writing.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Ohh, if I say, I might jinx it.
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Everything you can possibly think of to write about has been done before. Come at it with a unique perspective or risk being redundant.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
The New York Times, Bust, Hazlit, and probably too many blogs of cute animals.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
Mary Mcleod – of the shortbread shop. She was just so charming and her story so interesting and she just loves what she does so much. I literally shed tears of joy writing that piece.
A chef I will not name. After a PR event disaster that was just sheer chaos (the event took place while the space was open to the public, tons of media showed up who didn’t rsvp, and the PRs couldn’t keep track of who was invited media, uninvited media and paying guests). So I arranged an interview with the chef a few days later and he was just arrogant and dismissive. I could have written the piece based on the bad event, but I wanted a good story. Didn’t get it.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
When writing restaurant reviews, sit with your back to the wall and if you get caught stealing a menu say “it’s for the folks back at the office”. – Steven Davey
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Ha! It’s a rude one: Shit or get off the pot.
I’m not much for indecisiveness or procrastination.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Keep your databases updated. And have alternative means of delivering stuff to home-based bloggers and freelancers if you work with them – I’ve had an unexpected package containing alcohol left at my apartment door (where the neighbour’s kids could have found it), and had couriers literally yell at me because I wasn’t home and they had to make a return trip.
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about wins.
Really, any PR who gets to know individual writers enough to be able to streamline invitations to their area of coverage – and keeps great records to this fact. I know this is hard with so many writers out there, but it really makes a difference. Also any PR who gets to know writers as people, as opposed to what a writer can do for you/your client, is always fabulous.
Poorly written press releases.
Writing about food.
A Slice of Britain by Caroline Taggert – this is literally a tour of Britain exploring all the variations of regional cakes like Welsh cakes or Eccles cakes. (I’m a food history nerd.)
Best place on earth?
The middle of the Northwest Arm in Halifax, in a sailboat.
Colette. While her food writing (for French Vogue) has never been translated to English, you get glimpses of it in her fiction and her letters. Plus, you just know it would be the most decadent affair.
Deborah Harry, of Blondie. For just being way cooler than all the rest of us put together, even in her 60s.
I’ve started meditating recently due to a weird health scare (I had a terrifying adverse reaction to a common cold medication that caused horrible anxiety attacks for a few weeks) and I’m really digging an app/website called Stop, Breathe, Think, which is a collection of short guided meditations (including some narrated by k.d. lang) that can be done throughout the day without having to dedicate a huge block of time to sitting. It’s been really helpful and I think it will become a lifelong habit.
Pool or ocean?
I grew up in Nova Scotia and I’m allergic to chlorine, so definitely ocean.