Chef Barbara-Jo McIntosh

From Paris, With Love

She will always have Paris.

Twelve years before making her first solo sojourn, Barbara-Jo McIntosh, proprietor of Vancouver’s Books to Cooks, vowed to herself, “one day, I’ll be able to take a month off.”

And so she has, re-emerging not only rejuvenated but most recently with a book that captures the culinary ethos of her adventures, Cooking For Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes.

The slim, grey volume both provides ample forum for recipes that speak to the simplicity of good food and diarizes McIntosh’s pilgrimage to Paris’s varied markets and restaurants.

“When I was young and lived at home with my mother, I was not allowed to cook,” McIntosh shares. “My mother was an independent career woman with feminist ideals, but I don’t think that was why she discouraged me from cooking… My desires in all matters, particularly when I was preparing food, were too extravagant. So, naturally, when I left the family home, I was determined to prove her wrong.”

Over the course of 25 years, she has done just that, albeit with unswerving good taste, with a career that has won her both accolades and the friendship of some of the world’s top culinary talents. For McIntosh, that journey began with selling seafood to some of Vancouver’s top restaurants, led to opening a restaurant of her own, Barbara-Jo’s Elegant Home Cooking, and onto creating Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, the ultimate one-stop knowledge shop for all things culinary.

From the heart of her Kitsilano epicurean enclave, replete with its fully appointed demonstration kitchen, McIntosh has welcomed the wider world of cookbook authors while giving chefs a stage for working their own magic.

In 2004, she immortalized 40 of her favourite evenings and published Great Chefs Cook at Barbara-Jo’s. Sharing tables and melding memories and recipes with an ineffable ease that both inspires chefs and home cooks alike, she has already received a Lifetime Achievement Award compliments of Vancouver Magazine.

When McIntosh talks food, people listen. When she cooks, they eat.

Good food brings people together, but cooking well for oneself is key to McIntosh.

“As a rule of the table, I make the time to take the time in the kitchen and sit down to eat a good meal. Food is cathartic in that sense, nourishing not only in the ingredients but in the preparation.”

Moreover, as evidenced by the recipes in her most recent book, it need not be overly complicated, but more of a daily observance – especially for those dining alone. A firm believer in the philosophy of the everyday market shop, her approach to the home kitchen is one of simplicity: keep things lean and pop out for something fresh to bring it all together. Vinegars, oils, salts, eggs, lemon, parmesan, butter, white wine and a good assortment of root vegetables round out her winter larder.

As for the rest? Popping out to source is simply part of the romance of real cooking.

“People need to understand how easy it is to buy little bits. Don’t be embarrassed. Good places sell for individual shoppers and the entire process can be transformed from ‘grocery shopping’ into something far more pleasant and inexpensive.”

Ultimately, good food is simply the truest path to a happy life that McIntosh knows.

“You make a decision to take care of yourself. For me, the best way is through food and the rest just falls into place.”

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