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Q&A: Beer and Butter Tarts publisher Sheryl Kirby

Sheryl Kirby started her food-writing career in 1994, co-publishing a zine called Stained Pages with her husband, beer writer Greg Clow. For each issue, Kirby would stain individual copies with food and wine to turn them into original artworks.

The couple went on to found one of Toronto’s first food blogs, Taste T.O., review restaurants for various media, and self-publish Kitchen Party, a collection of stories and essays about Kirby’s life in food. They are also co-organizers of the Toronto Indie Arts Market.

Stained Pages has returned as a small press. Their second publication, Beer and Butter Tarts: A Canadian Literary Food Journalfeatures essays, short fiction, poetry, photography, and art that dig into the experience of cooking and eating.

Q&Q spoke to Kirby about Beer and Butter Tarts in advance of the launch party at Toronto’s Rhino Restaurant and Bar on Jan. 28, 7 p.m.

How did you settle on the title? When we were running Taste T.O., we got really ambitious and thought we could do a Canadian website called Beer and Butter Tarts. We quickly realized we did not have time to do two things at that level.  when Taste T.O. shut down we kept the name and the domain.

I really wanted to concentrate on long-form literary food writing as opposed to restaurant reviews. The title is a bit on the cutesy side, but I think it touches on where we are in Canadian food at the moment.

Where does the journal fit in today’s food scene? I look for the stories behind the food. Even when I was doing more mainstream daily food writing, I was much more interested in the stories than restaurant openings and closings. There are people who want those stories, who love reading essays and fiction, and who also love food.

How has the food press changed? There was a point when I was literally reading every food blog by Torontonians. In four or five years, it has gone from 10 or 15 to 200 food bloggers. I like to think it makes people who are being paid to write about food a little sharper, a little more professional, and care a little more about what they’re doing.

What kind of submissions are you looking for? In the first issue I’m running a debut piece by an author from Newfoundland. She submitted another piece for the second issue about her dad hunting moose and eating seal flippers. There’s a story in this issue about a Ukrainian family who have just moved to the Prairies. They bring perogies to a town picnic, and they’re embarrassed. But then a town councillor says they are the best he’s ever had, and that’s how they are accepted into the community.

That’s what I want. Stories about the Canadian food experience are vast because our country is vast and made up of people from every nation.

This interview has been edited and condensed.