Gina Mallet, influential theatre critic, food writer and restaurant reviewer, was a force majeure in both her chosen areas of writing. Talented, highly opinionated and known for her outspoken views, she was never concerned over ruffling the feathers of an on-stage ego or a renowned chef.
A positive Mallet review could ensure full houses for a theatre production. A negative review could damage box-office takings and reputations. Actor Peter Hutt recalls a review of George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance in which Ms. Mallet referred to him as “a useful prop.”
“Many of her reviews were favourable,” Mr. Hutt said, “but from time to time she could be incredibly sarcastic. She was clever with the pen. She had teeth as a writer. She was acerbic, astute and often personal. Not all my colleagues, however, held her in the highest esteem.”
During her later incarnation as a food writer for the National Post, Ms. Mallet had the power to close a restaurant, or pack it to the rafters. Her critical senses were constantly on high alert.
Even when confined to a hospital bed last fall, she couldn’t resist taking a swipe in a National Post column at what she’d been served: “A sea of anemic scalloped potatoes, four times the amount of a regular side. Shouldn’t hospitals be at the sharp end of the obesity problem? Shouldn’t they be leading a Jamie Oliver crusade to slim down the population? This is a diabetes-inducing helping if I ever saw one.”
Noisy restaurants and trendy wine labels were but a few of her pet peeves. After receiving a waiter’s recommendation for a wine called Wildass, she wrote in her column: “I’m so tired of snickering wine labels. Imagine asking a guest, ‘How about some Cat’s Piss?’”
While raves were rare, when she liked something she could be effusive. “I put together a taste of the spicy lobster claw, the scallop, crab, pear, caviar and sop up a little of the buttery jus with the most delicate tinge of the mild espelette pepper. The mix is so good that I’m loath to swallow it, it’s gone too quickly.”
Ms. Mallet’s writing garnered her a 2005 James Beard Award, the food-writing equivalent of a Giller Prize, for her book, Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World.
When the book was released, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, no slouch in the cuisine and food-writing departments, said Ms. Mallet was “right about everything.”
Benjamin Errett, managing editor of features for the National Post, where Ms. Mallet ended her career, was recently quoted in that paper describing her as “serious about food but irreverent about most everything else, which made her a great restaurant critic.
“She could be equally rapturous about a good onion ring or perfectly seared goose foie gras, and woe to those who would keep her from the latter, what she deemed the holy wafer of haute cuisine.”
Before moving to Toronto’s Kensington Hospice for her final days, Ms. Mallet requested a dozen oysters. “She downed them with gusto,” said Pat Softly, a neighbour who was with her at the time. “I sometimes wonder if she knew it was her last meal.” Ms. Mallet died July 18 of cancer, aged 75.
A friend and colleague from her Toronto Star theatre-reviewing days, James (Jim) Bawden, wrote on his blog that he was shocked to learn of Ms. Mallet’s death because it was “so out of character. I thought she’d be shouting and fighting to the end but she finally just slipped away ever so peacefully.”
The formidable and frequently volatile Ms. Mallet was born on April 5, 1938, in London, England. She was the second daughter of Arthur Mallet, a Royal Navy officer who went on to become company director of a chain of hotels that included London’s swanky May Fair.