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I Miss the Summer | video | food bomb

Work perks: A roof-top garden can suddenly make
the office a preferred option

Vivian Reiss, left, offers office workers fresh tomatoes during a tasting event at a mid-town office rooftop in Toronto.
Photo by: Dave Chan for National Post

By Ben Kaplan, National Post

There are eggplants and fig trees and artichokes growing in front of the office building just off Yonge Street and a bit south of Davisville Avenue. This six-storey building at 124 Merton St. houses the usual severe-sounding businesses, places like Oral Ceramic Laboratory and Dandx Health Care, but high up above the workplace clamour, there’s an organic tomato farm where the building’s tenants are encouraged to come up and chill.

“It’s the perfect place to make private phone calls,” says Natalia Vitenski, who was enjoying a glass of chardonnay on the roof last Friday when the building’s owner, Vivian Reiss, invited outsiders to sample this year’s 34 varieties in her tomato crop. Reiss says the roof used to be “a black hole, just this horrible waste of dead space,” and so she decided to turn it into something that would improve her tenants’ quality of life.

“People are into the vibe of the building,” says Reiss, a New Yorker who wears pink sunglasses and has bangle bracelets hanging off both her wrists. “Lots of businesses have opened in this building, and when they grow, they just take on bigger spaces — they don’t want to move.”

Office perks around the city have gone above and beyond just tomatoes. At Steam Whistle Brewery, employees celebrating five years at the company will be taken to Oktoberfest in Munich this fall, and at the Kraft headquarters on Moatfield Drive in North York, employees can stop off at the shop on the first floor of their building for affordable chocolate, peanut butter and other Kraft-brand goodies.
And of course, when Sugar Beach opened this month at the bottom of Jarvis Street, employees at the Queens Quay headquarters of Corus Entertainment were immediately packing suntan lotion along with their lunch.

“It’s awesome because it brings people from different departments together,” says Lee Millman, 27, who works in the on-air promotions department of the media company. “Working in television, there’s lots of deadlines, but it’s been so nice to be able to escape at lunchtime and put my feet in the sand.”
For some employees, like Waisee Wong, who works in the IT department at Spin Master, a toy company located at Spadina and Front, the office perks are geared more towards her kids. “My little one, Serafina, she’s turning three, and she was going on and on about coming to the office for her birthday party,” says Wong, who has two daughters, aged 12 and three.

At Spin Master, each employee is given four toys a year, but Wong’s co-worker, Enrico Ferrara, says it’s impossible to bring his kids by the office without leaving with an armful of goods. “My basement’s literally littered with Spin Master toys,” says Ferrara, whose boys are six and 12. Ferrara says he can’t even bring his sons to the office anymore at the same time. “It’s impossible; they fight over everything,” he says. “Although I guess it’s not the worst occupational hazard to have.”

Back at the tomato tasting on top of Vivian Reiss’s building, office workers were faced with an occupational hazard of a different sort. It was just after 5 p.m. and the chardonnay was flowing, but Vitenski, who originally had come up to the roof to make a quick private phone call, decided she’d had enough.

“I’d love to stay up here all evening,” she says, “but I’ve got to go back to work.”

Vivian in the garden

Creatives Spaces: Visual artist greens workplace for 'happiness' — and tomatoes
National Post by Karen Hawthorne

Getting one up on the ultimate foodie

Josh Josephson tells stories at the dinner table
Eyeglasses magnate Josh Josephson tells stories at the dinner table.
Photo by: Corey Mintz

By Corey Mintz, Toronto Star

If Toronto is looking for ways to generate revenue, we need to position speed traps near Josh Josephson's house. Because when he shows up for dinner, having forgotten wine, he rushes from Chinatown to Rosedale and back in the time it takes me to heat up soup.

He needn't have driven like Steve McQueen. As we taste the Meursault 1999 Premier Cru, Josephson's face drops. “This wine's corked,” he says, gathering up our glasses. “Jesus, I can't believe it.”

It's not the loss of a bottle that he's had for 11 years that upsets the eyeglass magnate. Only that we didn't get to enjoy it.

“I started buying wine when I was 19,” he explains. “Don't ask me why, it's another long story that'll bore you but suffice it to say,” says Josephson, in a rare instance of not digressing into a story, or a story within a story. “I started buying wine not knowing what I was doing but having a sense of it because I read Gourmet magazine.”

Josephson began his career as a research optometrist, before taking over the family retail eyewear empire. In 1983, he converted another family business into the Cookbook Store.

But the central preoccupation of his life is food.

Josephson, 66, belongs to that generation that used the word gourmand without malice. He has been engaged in the sport of eating since the days when the Toronto food scene was primarily steak houses. “Up until about 1980,” he recalls, “you really were bored by the food here.”

He asks about everything we eat, tapping notes into his BlackBerry. For any ingredient I mention, he one-ups me with tales of a superior product; something he ate in Rome or Tokyo. My handmade tagliatelle (yes, I bought a pasta roller this week) with tomatoes and anchovy butter elicits a description of colatura, a fermented anchovy oil he tasted at la Rosetta in Rome.

“When you have a chance to use this ingredient, it will change your entire perspective on the complexity of fish-based sauce,” he promises, pausing to ensure that he hasn't offended me. “And that was no statement about what you made.”

I'm able to trump him with the tomatoes though. Each of four courses — mussel and gochujang soup, sweetbreads with tomato and avocado sauces, the pasta, pork shoulder — features tomatoes, all from the garden of Vivian Reiss.

Reiss, showcased in a previous Fed column, grows over three-dozen breeds of tomatoes on the roof of an office building that she and her husband own. The firm flesh of the speckled peach tomato, with its undertone of caramel, succeeds in stopping Josephson in his verbal tracks. “That is amazing,” he exclaims, for once unable to cite something he's had that's better.

To reciprocate, he does what no other Fed guest, in 47 columns, has done. He invites me to his house.

He delights in showing me his drawer of vinegars, dozens of them. We are very alike. I knew, without asking, that he was disappointed in the sweetbread dish. Just like me, he has a glass used only for scotch. After using it to taste from several bottles, he demonstrates how to experience a well-aged scotch; rubbing it into the hands, then cupping it over the nose like some nitrous oxide-addicted dentist.

He shows me a shot of my pork dish, captured by the unflattering lens of his phone. The image is grotesque, roadkill on a blue plate. I insist that he not post it on his blog, even threatening to hire criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby, to bury him in court. Foiled again, Josephson informs me, “Clayton is an old high school friend and wine buddy.”

Josephson eats like a gourmand, blogs like a foodie, but takes photos like a foodster.

Tasting News from Spotlight Toronto

Heirloom Tomato Tasting Party

Vivian Reiss's Rooftop Veg Garden
Toronto Gardens

Secret ingredients are bounty from the garden and dumb luck
The Toronto Star by Corey Mintz