James Barber, 1923 - 2007 & French Onion SoupMonday, December 03, 2007
James Barber, 1923 - 2007
Shortly after I photographed Barber in his kitchen in his Commercial area home (perhaps early 90s), I had a business lunch meeting (the well paying Salmon Marketing Council, as they had lots of salmon then) at Cin Cin on Robson. During lunch I had to bring up the subject on how I had photographed Barber. I wanted to describe the apalling state of Barber's pans. They were all blackened and seemed like they had never been properly cleaned. One of the women winked at me but I kept going. Finally she said, "Alex aren't you aware that Christina [Burridge, the other woman and marketing head of the Salmon Marketing Council], is Barber's partner?" I was but I had forgotten. I did not know where to hide from my hideous faux pas.
I first met Barber at the CBC in the mid 70s when I was doing stills. I remember him fondly particularly because he wrote one of the two best restaurant reviews I ever read in Vancouver.
The first one involved Province music writer Tom Harrison who took alternative rocker Art Bergmann to dinner to a ritzy French restaurant. The pair was served and Bergmann demanded to talk to the chef. The chef arrived and Bergmann asked the chef what they were eating. The chef answered in a long description in French. Bergmann countered, "Isn't this pan fried salmon?"
The second one by Barber was similar in nature as it served to call a spade a spade when iit was so. In this instance it happened to be French onion soup. Barber's review appeared perhaps in Vancouver Magazine (I don't quite remember) but it is a review that would probably not be written today in magazines that court restaurant ads. Barber ordered French onion soup in the best of our city restaurants and wrote in which ones the kitchen may have used two ingredients, anathema to Barber himself:
1. Flower used to thicken soup.
2. The use of Bovril (chicken or beef) instead of the real thing.
With Barber sadly gone I hope that one of the finest food writers in Canada, Christina Burridge, continues in her profession. I will never ever forget a third essay on things gourmet. Burridge wrote one on absinthe that made me want to catch the first plane to Paris.