Boomers Still Fascinated By Celebrities


Every year in September, low-key Toronto (now the fourth largest city in North America) becomes the centre of attention in the world with A-list celebrities and international media swarming the city for 10 days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, TIFF is in its full glory at the moment. Next to the Cannes Film Festival, TIFF is the most influential film festival in the world. In fact, we can probably argue that the Festival is even more important than Cannes because the largest number of deals on movie distribution rights is usually sealed at our festival. Movies premiering here are also hot favourites for the Oscars: past examples were 12 Years A Slave, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and Argo, to name a few.

Having worked with all kinds of celebrities during my entire career, I usually try to avoid them because they are often ‘high-maintenance’ individuals. But even I could not resist the opportunity to walk the red carpet last weekend to see the premier of Tom Hardy’s Legend. I respect Hardy (Locke, The Drop, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as an actor and the Red Carpet Room VIP pass was too tempting to turn down. So, in spite of the pouring rain that evening, I was partying in my Diane von Furstenberg gown with my champagne in hand and eyes on Hardy walking by the glass door of our VIP room. Having seen him play an American in so many films, it’s refreshing to finally see him portray two British characters all at once in Legend – he played the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history during the 1960s.

American director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Robin Hood, Mystic River) led the cast of Hardy, Australian actress Emily Browning, and American actor Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects, A Bronx Tale, Analyse This) to appear on stage and it’s actually Palminteri who got the loudest applause from the audience. These supposedly “larger than life” characters all dwarfed in real life. Hardy later made bigger news when he shut down a reporter who tried to probe him on his sexuality at a post-screening news conference. As it turned out, the movie was weak and brutally violent, but Hardy’s performance saved the night.

As I walked by the screaming fans outside Roy Thomson Hall, I wondered whether they were fascinated by Hardy being the ‘it’ dude of the moment (he was just named one of GQ magazine’s 50 best-dressed British men in 2015) or whether it was his acting skills that they adored. We boomers like to think that our adulation of celebrities is long gone. But maybe not! We may not be lining up at TIFF in the rain like the millennials so that they could take selfies with their idols, but we continue to be fascinated by celebrities in one way or another. From flipping through People and Hello magazines at hair salons, to following our favourite entertainers in the news, boomers continue to be part of the celebrity culture.

In fact, according to, scientists say they have reason to believe celebrity obsession is on the rise. People high in narcissism tend to embrace celebrity even more. The trend of taking selfies with obtrusive selfie-sticks everywhere is a perfect example of young and old narcissists everywhere. Then there’s technology that’s giving us access to the beautiful and famous. From entertainment news on TV to celebrity web sites and social media, everybody can get to know the famous people. There has always been celebrity worship, but technology has taken it to a heightened level. We boomers may frown upon the fact that Kim Kardashian has more followers on Twitter than President Obama but, in many ways, we are as guilty of obsession with celebrities as the younger generations.

Whether we worship celebrities or not, Torontonians are always proud of TIFF which, without fail, elevates our city to temporary stardom and kicks off our glorious fall weather! Kudos to the tireless Festival organizers and thousands of volunteers who are making this year’s TIFF another memorable one in the international calendar.

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Impeccable Service At New Toronto Restaurant


I’ve finally found a Canadian restaurant that exemplifies smooth, impeccable service together with high-quality food. Apart from the three-Michelin-starred U.K. restaurant, The Fat Duck, there are no other restaurants (at least those I’ve patronized) that proactively offer black napkins to customers sporting dark-coloured clothing and white napkins to diners wearing light-coloured dresses, skirts or pants. Not only have restaurateurs not thought about this common-sense service prior to opening their eateries, but even when I asked many of them upon arrival, they were not prepared and could offer me nothing. I have to give credit to Luma at Bell TIFF Lightbox, an Oliver & Bonacini restaurant, which could at least offer a dark-coloured napkin when requested so that there would be no white, fluffy lint all over my dark pants after the meal!

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I recently dined at the new French restaurant, ALO, where our server brought us a basket of napkins for us to pick the minute we sat down! The restaurant even went one step further – the dark- and light-coloured napkins match the colour of the table cloth and some of the key motifs of the interior design. This sets the tone for the impeccable service and attention to detail at this gem restaurant which has just opened for about two months. From the maître d’ Amanda, who’s actually the General Manager, to our server and sommelier, everybody working in the restaurant is friendly, attentive and charming without being intrusive or overly formal.

ALO is a restaurant where both boomers and millennials could equally enjoy themselves. It is hip but not extremely noisy although most tables in the restaurant are quite intimately spaced and designed. Like a lot of contemporary restaurants, there is no signage outside. You would have to find the heritage-like building at the South East corner of Spadina and Queen and then take an old, shaky elevator to the third floor after checking-in with the receptionist downstairs. The theatre of fine dining begins immediately when the elevator door opens – and I believe this has all been thought out meticulously from the design and conceptualisation stage. You first set eyes on a small podium where the maître d’ and a greeter welcome you. But the most important thing is that visually, you immediately see the beautiful and splendid long bar against a background of the ultra-hip street scene through the windows behind the bartender.

ALO is a Latin word meaning to nourish, cherish, support, sustain, maintain and keep. And I marvel at chef owner Patrick Kriss’s brilliance when he explained his vision for the restaurant on its website: “It is our intention to get back to the roots of hospitality. We want each and every guest to feel welcome in our home, and that home is ALO. A destination for classically prepared, meticulously thought-out French food and service. This no-nonsense approach to fine dining with our combined experience working behind the scenes at some of the world’s best restaurants has led us to this point.”

Thirty-five-year-old Chef Kriss hailed from the renowned Daniel in New York City, Splendido and Acadia in Toronto in addition to a brief stint in France. I remember always entertaining clients at Acadia because of its proximity to my former office and also its great food and service. Dinner at ALO is a five-course tasting menu at $89 each. Without going into details, the food is very good and reasonably priced here with a lot of options. Unlike most tasting menus offered by other restaurants which usually require the entire table to have exactly the same food, this restaurant accommodates dietary restrictions from the same table and is hospitably flexible. Because I’ve only dined there once, I would reserve my final appraisal of the food upon dining there a couple of more times. At the end of the meal, everybody at the table is given a scroll of their menu that evening with an embossed seal of the restaurant logo and a stamped date in a tiny envelope sealed with an earthy-coloured  logo as their take-home souvenir. Once again, I cannot help but notice the same attention to detail as that of The Fat Duck. Given time, I’m sure Chef Kriss could be compared to Heston Blumenthal, the chef proprietor of the U.K. restaurant.

What is remarkable about ALO is the quality and experience of its people. I spent one night with a friend at their bar sampling four items from the bar menu. Once again, the food was exceptional, but it’s the bartender John who impressed me. I’ve encountered a lot of mixologists and bartenders in the city, but John would become your BFF in five minutes without being intrusive because he’s knowledgeable, sophisticated and sincerely welcoming. From the website, I understand that John first became interested in cocktails while he was a PhD student at the University of Toronto. He previously worked at the Toronto Temperance Society and Yours Truly. There are not that many restaurant bars in town that I’m particularly crazy about because bartenders are usually overwhelmed and lack attention and focus. Apart from Nota Bene, I think ALO has definitely one of the best restaurant bars in Toronto.

The other two members of ALO‘s team are equally impressive. General Manager Amanda who also doubles up as maître d’, would chat with you and welcome you in the warmest and most charming way without being phoney. She has also acquired quite an eclectic mix of hospitality experience – from the Stratford Chef School to La Grenouillere in France and, most recently, at George on Queen Street East.

Sommelier Anjana recommended excellent red and white wines to me and my girlfriend over dinner and encouraged us to take photos of the bottles and the menu so that we could cherish our memories.  I gathered from her biography that Anjana had a 15-year career in marketing and communications both in the corporate and non-profit worlds and has run her own business as an independent consultant for seven years. She has worked with Oliver & Bonacini, Auberge du Pommier, America, Luma and Canoe.

I have never written so much about the quality staff of a restaurant than this post. I believe a lot of upscale restaurants can come up with great food, but it’s the combination with sophisticated and confident hospitality that is usually missing, particularly in Canada. I think ALO is the best news to Toronto’s dining scene at the moment and, as a foodie, I sincerely hope that this restaurant will enhance our city’s world-class reputation!




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Stratford Hotel Needs To Progress From Good To Great

Life and Death I’ve now eaten at The Bruce Hotel in Stratford, Ontario, no fewer than 10 times since May this year – from breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea to a nine-course tasting dinner. Sunday brunch was a bit inconsistent in standards, but all other meals were just superb! Stratford does not lack wonderful restaurants, but none is as creative as The Bruce Restaurant. Executive Chef Arron Carley hailed from Canoe in Toronto and the Michelin-starred Noma in Copenhagen. During a night in August when I was staying at the hotel, Chef Carley explained to me how he named some of the dishes in the exquisite nine-course tasting menu for my dinner. “Life and Death” in the middle of the nine courses was a mix of wild rice, mushrooms, flowers, koji and wild ginger broth. There’s nothing more ‘dead’ than mushrooms which are fungi, and nothing more young and fresh than the flowers and vegetables. Chef Carley told me that the recent passing of his mother gave him the inspiration to express himself about mortality in the naming and creation of this dish.

Another main course, 1450, comprised bison loin and braised short rib, chanterelles, maple-fired root vegetables, carrot moss and Saskatoon berries. The dish was so named because all its ingredients, including the meat, were first developed in the year 1450. Another dish, MTL Deli, paid tribute to the famous Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal, Chef Carley’s favourite Canadian city. So he created a mini version of what you could get at the Montreal deli – beef tongue, hay sticks, faux pickle, rye, mustard, cherry syrup and buttermilk powder. There was a S’Mores dish among the three desserts created to represent a small version of the traditional nighttime campfire treat popular in North America. While it usually consists of a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker, the S’Mores dish at The Bruce contained a flavour of Coors Light which represented an adult version of a fond childhood memory. At $90 before tax, the tasting menu was plentiful, delicious and good value for money.

Apart from the occasional flaws such as cold bread, frozen butter and lukewarm coffee, the Restaurant at The Bruce is undoubtedly one of the best upscale eateries in Stratford. I also think Chef Carley’s vision of New Canadian Cuisine is a creative, magnificent culinary success.

If only fine dining is judged merely by the quality of the food! My overall experience at The Bruce with both its accommodation and restaurant can definitely be improved. The service at the restaurant is inconsistent – some servers are more mature, knowledgeable and experienced while others are young and serve like apprentices. What is missing is the essence of hospitality and the lack of attention to detail. Having dined there so many times, never once did anybody address me with my last or first name or even say “welcome back” even though most of the staff recognized me.

Surprisingly, even though the main dining room is small, it can be quite noisy. On the evening when I opted to dine alone and try the tasting menu, I had to ask to be seated  in the innermost section of the dining room to ensure a pleasant and quiet dining environment instead of being forced to overhear a lot of private conversations from fellow diners. To make things worse, they had Tony Bennett music during the night when I was there. Unless it’s a supper club, a restaurant should understand that for fine-dining environments, the background music – whether it be jazz, classical or contemporary – should only feature instrumentals and not any specific singer or group as the latter would only be an annoying distraction. With the huge space that The Bruce owns, there really should be no excuse for a noisy ambiance.

The hotel itself is quite beautiful – set on six-and-a-half acres of land and with only 25 rooms each of at least 600 square feet, the accommodation is luxurious. All rooms have gorgeous chandeliers and a balcony. Because the clientele in Stratford is usually older, they were wise to design wheelchair-accessible rooms and spaces almost everywhere in the hotel. The lobby is gorgeous with a huge world map as depicted during the Shakespearean era and a giant chess set in the gardens. One of the biggest strengths of the hotel is its beautiful garden and grounds and its 10-minute walking path to The Festival Theatre. There are also nice creative touches such as two bottles of complimentary water in the fridge, fortune cookies with Shakespearean quotes and a muffin shaped like a cell phone as a farewell souvenir.

However, in spite of the Frette linens and the Molton Brown amenities, the facial tissue is short of Kleenex quality and texture. Even though I consider myself quite tech-savvy, I had to ask for help from the front desk to figure out how to operate the two remote controls of the television set.

Coming back to the essence of hospitality, there was no greeter at the hotel entrance when I checked in and no help offered to assist me with my luggage or escort me to my room. I had to ask for turn-down service before I left for dinner. Upon check-out, there was no thank you acknowledgement of my patronage and no articulation of wishes to having me back again at the hotel.

The Bruce has a lot of potential to become a great hotel. What the property needs to progress from good to great is, perhaps, an in-depth hospitality training for all its front desk, restaurant and management staff. At a room rate of $500 plus tax in the summer, hotel patrons would definitely expect excellence and perfection.

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To Retire Or Not To Retire?


I’ve posted many times on this blog about redefining retirement. But still, people seem to have a difficult time in understanding retirees. I’ve concluded that there are three kinds of boomers each with their own perspectives towards retirement:

Happy To Retire

These are the privileged few who have planned early and are financially secure to retire at their desired age – whether it be 55 or 65. They are also boomers who have worked all their lives and want to pursue their own passions once they’ve retired. Lifetime savings or defined-benefit pensions might help them attain their ‘freedom’ goals more rapidly than the rest of the aging population. Because they are debt-free and do not have to support elderly parents or younger kids, they are free to enjoy life, pursue their passions in life, pick up a new hobby, spend quality time with friends and family, travel the world, give back to the community and check-off items on their bucket list.

Live To Work Forever

These are the boomers whose sole meaning in life is to work. Their lifestyle, home location and family must conform to the demands of their job. These are the boomers who would totally lose their identity if they are not working – no title or position, no perks or benefits, no friends (because their coworkers are their friends) and no interest in life. When they are working, they would keep saying that they have no time for anything or anybody else; when they are not working, they simply lose their purpose of existence. These people can and will never retire, whether they have the financial security to do so or not, because they are only happy when they get up to go to work everyday. If forced to retire, these are often the people who would wither away or die very soon.

Work To Live As Long As Possible

This probably describes the majority of baby boomers or trailing-edge seniors who do not have the financial means of retiring entirely, but would want to delay their retirement until they have enough savings or to continually work on a part-time basis. This group of people may change their careers in ‘Act II’ of their professional lives and embark on part-time projects that would either utilize their talents in a different way or capitalize on their experiences to mentor younger co-workers with the same employer. They might be motivated by financial reasons to supplement their living or support their stay-at-home kids or parents, or they might just want to kill time.

I’m obviously generalizing a bit by only categorizing would-be retirees into three categories. Maybe you’re a combination of these types or you might even be in a fourth category?

For those of you who are interested in exploring the concept of retirement, please listen to my radio interview with 105.9 Seaside FM sponsored by, a website specializing in matching experienced professionals with employers who are looking for talents on a part-time or term basis.

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Canada Needs Healthcare Innovation

Photo Courtesy:

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Since the release of a new report on July 17 by the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation, a lot of media and members of the medical community have been weighing in. The panel, led by David Naylor, a physician and former president of the University of Toronto, stressed that “Canada has no shortage of innovative healthcare thinkers, world-class researchers, capable executives, or dynamic entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the health sphere.”

Yet, according to the report, innovation is stifled by the structure and administration of the health system, and a lack of leadership. According to The Globe and Mail, Medicare is, in fact, not a system at all; it’s a collection of 14 federal, provincial and territorial programs that are neither integrated nor coordinated. Worse yet, within those programs, there is a near total absence of vision and goals.

The report warned that “absent federal action and investment, and absent political resolve on the part of provinces and territories, Canada’s healthcare systems are headed for continued slow decline in performance relative to peers.”

So, the panel recommended creating a Health Innovation Fund with a $1-billion yearly budget to invest in changes to the healthcare system in conjunction with willing provinces and healthcare institutions. But, of course, just before a federal election in October, the Harper government would want to balance the budget rather than consider adding $1 billion a year to spending.

This was further exacerbated by the recent fiscal sustainability report released by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Confirming what we boomers and, of course, seniors most fear was the report’s warning that health spending won’t meet needs of aging Canadians. While the federal government has been saying that provinces should be increasingly responsible for healthcare delivery and sustainability, provincial Premiers, who met earlier this month, called on the federal government to provide more money for health.

But it’s not just a matter of more money. Our healthcare system needs a major overhaul! According to the Naylor report, it has to begin with leadership, and it should come from Ottawa. Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail nipped it in the bud today by pointing out what the real problem is: it’s not more money the healthcare system needs, it’s culture change – a shift from perpetual pilot projects to embracing best practices. He said, “For decades, we have produced reports about the need to transform healthcare delivery and funding while, simultaneously, clinging to the same old ways of doing things. It’s a fundamental disconnect between evidence and action. If you don’t take risks, you will never innovate.”

Healthcare is probably the number-one priority for all boomers. Any political party candidates who can and will show some guts to take risks and innovate; to drastically overhaul our healthcare system to meet its current and future needs; and to show that they have listened to the people’s concerns will get the boomers’ vote in the upcoming elections! And it is not likely to be the Conservative Party!

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