In our next article of the new series: "Where Are They Now", Diane Galambos interviewed Gabby Peyton, food writer based in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Gabby is the city’s restaurant critic for The Telegram and her work on travel, food and culinary history has appeared in EnRoute MagazineChatelaineCBC and Eater.

Photo of a person Gabby Peyton eating mussels

Gabby Peyton

Imposter Syndrome. Gabby Peyton refers to this several times in our chat. Wikipedia describes it as “a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”

Attending her first FBC Conference in Ottawa (2017), Gabby said she “felt little” next to some of the people she met. She’d been blogging for only a short while, linked to unplanned changes in her life course. With graduate degrees in history, ancient art and architecture, she’d worked on archeological digs in Turkey, sensing that she was on an academic path leading to a PhD followed by teaching or gallery work.

Seeking work in Halifax while her husband completed his studies, she found that such jobs were filled by students from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). What to do? Gabby loved food and throughout her own studies had worked in bars and restaurants. She was also passionate about writing. It turns out that there was prolific blog scene in Halifax at that time. She joined what was a supportive community of food writers in 2012.

Table set up with food and people reaching out for food.
Restaurant: Tacofino, Victoria

Some of her early writing was restaurant reviews with scores, and then “travelling to eat” was added as a focus. At the core was a passion for learning what people eat and why, how dishes are invented and so on – all origin stories. Gabby began the Iconic Canadian Food series for FBC about Canadian classics such as donairs, beaver tails, pierogi, butter tarts, poutine and Hawaiian pizza. This later served as an asset linked to her book project.

With some blogging experience under her belt, Gabby began freelancing. This translates into “pitching” which for all writers comes with many rejections. Journalism studies came to the rescue and she credits it for boosting her skill set. It was, she says, like boot camp - helping her with things that terrified her – such as pitching! After many moves, accumulating miles pulling a U-Haul, Gabby was back in Newfoundland. She tackled the imposter monster, suggested to the local paper that she should be their new restaurant critic and got the gig with The Telegram in St. John’s.

At the Ottawa FBC conference Gabby had the chutzpah to tell Robert McCullough, VP of Random House Canada about her Canadian Food series and to pitch her idea for a book about where/what Canadians eat/ate. She describes it as an off- handed pitch for a book about iconic Canadian eateries. It was a synthesis of her love of history, food and what people eat and why – and McCullough was interested. Thrilling! But sneaking into her thoughts afterwards was “who am I to write a book for Appetite (Random House)?” It took her 5 years and pandemic shutdowns to begin the book which launches in June.

Cover of the book, men and women in a car
Penguin Random House Canada

“Where We Ate: A Field Guide to Canada’s Restaurants Past and Present” is divided into decades and scoops up stories from across the country with the belief that “the origin stories of our early restaurants (and the latest hot spots) all have a place in the Canadian historical compendium.” One “problem” was that Gabby began with a worthy but unmanageable list of 400 eateries - narrowed down to 150 - from every province and territory. Eighty-five are still open. Some were forced to close by the pandemic which also made it problematic for Gabby to do underact some cross-country travel and visits.

Readers will delight in the many photos and stories about eateries both familiar and new-ish. The book celebrates all who came to Canada for a new life and stresses that “they built that life by feeding Canadians—both new and old—their traditional recipes, alongside new inventions.”

Speaking of recipes, the book includes fifteen recipes – four of which are from Gabby. Recipe development was something she thought bloggers were expected to do, though she was not always keen to do it. More recently she’s worked with Canadian Food Focus. A quick perusal led me to her recipe for “pouding chômeur.” How can anything with a cup and a half of maple syrup be bad? I have to try this!

Fries on a plate with pickled red cabbage
Restaurant: Namjim, St-Johns

Gabby has two websites. One linked to the book acts as a portfolio with a long list of publications and media appearances. We didn’t talk much about media appearances other than the fact that she enjoys them and would love to be on (or maybe host) a podcast. Her more personal blog is The Food Girl in Town.

She admits that both have been somewhat neglected during her book research and writing. She has always used WordPress for her blog which she manages on her own and has never monetized, relying instead on income from freelancing. Gabby says her blog became a place where she posted things she wanted to write about that might not otherwise be published. She recently began a newsletter delivered via Substack. Declaring that she’s a cheese lover, no surprise that the newsletter is called “Au Gratin.” Substack makes it easy to monetize a newsletter, but Gabby has no plans to do that at present. Her most recent edition describes her fascinating trip to Las Vegas – for food. I’m pleased the newsletter incudes photos because Gabby’s photos are gorgeous. Self-taught, she has a fancy camera but now often uses her phone. Her love of colours and natural light are evident.

As for social media, Gabby maintains a Twitter account for journalist-type posts, but shares more on Instagram and Facebook and is no longer active on Pinterest. She has dipped her toes into the video waters of TikTok and, like many of us, has been entertained watching food hacks.

Bottom line, Gabby prefers her photography which reflects that she is an ardent traveler, offering both international and Newfoundland tips. As one who travels to eat, she maintains a restaurant bucket list.

Despite her extensive writing portfolio, it lists no awards. Gabby has served on the judging panel of Taste Canada Awards – though not this year. I am betting her book will be hard to beat in next year’s event. Asked what’s next for her, it will in the near future be book promo events. She hopes for more “travel/eat” writing, will continue working on her newsletter, and would love to do another book and a podcast – or at least be a guest on a podcast. One of her favourites (and mine!) is A Taste of the Past hosted by culinary historian Linda Pelaccio.

Fries on a plate with mussels and bacon
Restaurant: Rants Roars, Elliston

Gabby’s advice for new bloggers? She returns to the themes of imposter syndrome and pitching. Gabby feels that everyone has imposter syndrome to some extent and she’s proof that it can be tackled. She says if you want to pitch for a publication or work with a brand – just do it! And, she says, pitch to the big ones. She relates how she pitched for Eater and got it! Her tips are to aim for a well-crafted short pitch and she does not advise starting with your bio – leave that to the end. If the editor thinks it’s a good story they are less interested in your creds. The mistake, says Gabby, is thinking that the world will come to you. That’s not going to happen. “It might,” she says, “sound easy or even flippant but put yourself out there. That’s what I did.”

One last word about imposter syndrome. The term only applies when the feelings of self-doubt and incompetence are unfounded. Gabby Peyton – food writer, culinary historian, recipe developer, traveler and cheese eater is no imposter. She remains “interested in how food is connected, and how people have moved and how different dishes have moved with them” and is confident that there are still a lot of restaurant stories waiting to be told.

Postscript. One of my own blogposts was a homage to Newfoundland. I cannot say this of all Canadian provinces, but Newfoundland is part of the tapestry of my life – measured less than by the number of visits and more by how my life is affected by its creatives – which includes Gabby. Turns out both of us are fans of CBC’s Son of a Critch. In one episode Mark’s grade 8 class has a “European Vacation” – to the nearby French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Bi-lingual Gabby did the same trip in eighth grade. I’m thinking I’d like to be Gabby in my next life.

Follow Gabby Peyton

Instagram - Gabby Peyton - The Food Girl in Town

Gabby Contributes to Canadian Food Focus

Gabby's Favorite Podcasts to listen:

Eater and Heritage Radio Network


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