But let’s start earlier. It’s Sunday, 9:20pm and Enid’s taking a load of stuff back to her house after an evening of treating her friends to dinner at the café. It was North-African cuisine and we walked into the smell of warm spice and a colourful spread of labneh, roasted carrots and beets, beautiful pea and mint fritters and couscous and currant phyllo rolls with hot harissa sauce. As we laughed and drank, frequently with Enid, a second course appeared—crispy saffron rice, spicy harissa chicken, a broad bean and olive stew. Within a beat of finishing, a sweet “simple” basbousa and hot mint tea floated across the table, bookending a perfect dinner.
This was a one-woman culinary opera, an extraordinary magical act, and also, an entirely typical expression of love and generosity from our friend Enid Grace.
I was excited to announce Enid as our newest Artist-in-Residence because I love to shatter the boundaries around what makes art art. And it’s not a stretch to cast Enid as the artist. Her story of the County-girl-turned-city-suit-turned-Italian-gadabout-turned-pastry-darling is widely shared, but few of us have seen behind the curtain or know how Enid does it or even why.
I wanted to go deep with our newest artist—and then it hit me: We would spend the night together.
That is to say, I would go to bed at Enid’s after her dinner and then, some short hours later, I’d get up with her again and engage with the wee small hours as she did, documenting a night in the life of the talented and near-mythical local legend that is Enid Grace.
It’s already a late one for Enid.
Bedtime usually looks more like 7:30pm on any given workday, but tonight, we sit together at Enid’s dining room table to debrief before bed.
“So, what time do we get going—” I ask the big question.
“Tomorrow, I’ll probably leave at five to two, because I don’t have that much to do,” Enid says, matter-of-factly, “—otherwise I would leave at quarter to two.”
I personally don’t differentiate between 1:45am and 1:55am, but that’s how polished Enid’s game is. Ok, um.
“So, what time do we get up?”
“It takes me about fifteen or so minutes to get ready,” she says, starting to list the protocols. “I put whatever work clothes I need in the bathroom. I usually shower the night before. The cats aren’t allowed to sleep in my room because they disturb my sleep, but they rush to be with me when I’m getting ready and they fight to be in the sink while I brush my teeth. I do basic makeup and toss my hair up.”
I notice and appreciate that Enid hasn’t told me what time I needed to leave or get up. She’s left it to me to do whatever I need to do, even though I know it means up at 1:30am.
“Then I come downstairs” she continues, “and make sure the cats have enough food. I open Spotify to make sure I have at least five hours of podcasts downloaded for the day—Mondays are usually shit—not a lot of the stuff I listen to downloads fresh, so I usually listen to 90s alternative or sometimes 80s.“
It will be technically Monday in a few hours and I’m pretty excited to dance with Enid to some retro tunes in the café—but her list of go-to podcasts are too good to gloss over, so here they are:
- The History Chicks
- David Chang Show
- Armchair Expert
- Good Food
- Death, Sex, and Money
- Sam Harris
- Cherry Bomb Radio
- Trashy Divorces
- Bon Appetit
- Unhappy Hour
- Amy Shumer
A solid lineup for a five hour stretch.
What to expect when you’re expecting to hang with Enid Grace from 2am to 7am
- First 15 minutes are me turning the oven on, lighting the gas, cooking things I’ve prepped
- Next, I do the stuff that you see on the display
- While the breads rising, I do menu prep
- Then I set up the display
- Then I go back to bread
- Finally, I prep the restaurant so it looks like I want it to look when the staff come in.
- Then, I feel I’ve earned the break and I have my first coffee.
As simple as that?
“That’s if nothing unexpected happens” she adds. Like what? I think and she answers my look. “Oh you never know. Random power outages at 4am,” she laughs as my eyes widen, “it happened four or five times this summer because they think everyone’s asleep and no-one cares. I just wait there in the dark, hoping the stuff in the oven stays warm until it comes back on.”
We call it a night. It’s 10:20pm.
But I’m lying in bed, watching the minutes tick by and willing myself to sleep. Trying to not look at my phone. I think about how tired I’d be right now if I was up working from 2am this morning, like Enid. My god—she’d started at 2am and worked all the way through the day and then made a huge, complicated multi-course dinner for, like, almost twenty of us. It’s unfathomable. I suddenly feel exhausted, but my mind continues to spin. The thing is, despite being totally disciplined and committed, Enid doesn’t have to compromise everything to do what she does—her life is rich. She makes time for friends. She shows up for us. She shows up at the party. She hosts the party. She shows up with armfuls of beautiful product for numerous charity fundraisers. The first time we really talked, she told me she was providing a community service, I didn’t understand exactly what she meant. It didn’t matter, she kept doing it…
Someone’s knocking on my door.
I sit up in bed bewildered, earth slowly assembles itself around me as the dream slips away in wisps. I’m in the pretty spare room at Enid’s and it’s pitch black except for the glow of a streetlight creeping around the edges of the blinds. It’s 1:48am. I’d deactivated my alarm 18 minutes ago without surfacing even a little. We were officially 7 minutes from leave time.
“30 seconds!” I call, scrambling out of bed, pulling myself together. I grab my camera to document the last of the Enid morning time.
It all seems so effortless: showering before bed. Clothes laid out neatly in the bathroom. Simple, classic: grey jeans and a denim shirt. Enid brushes her teeth, but the cats must have had a late one too, because the sink was empty. A few touches with a makeup brush, a misted spray. Her pretty curls go up, casually.
“After a few hours in the kitchen, nothing I do will stand up, so it just goes up,” she shrugs.
There’s no sense of hurry. No pressure. I have no feeling of being an outsider who’s holding up a precisely and masterfully executed show. She slides into a pair of flour-covered ‘Off The Wall’ Vans, puts a few things into a bag, and we walk out into the night together.
Wellington High Street, 2am
It’s really morning, I guess, but quite a bit more magical and less indulgent when viewed from this side. Wellington is decidedly unbustling at 2am.
“Is it always like this?” I ask, trying to shoot photos into the darkness and keep pace with my subject. The effect is blurred and off-composition and somehow feels so accurate.
“In the summer, there might be a few visitors up,” she replies. “Once in a while, a drunk and sometimes I see the Wellington fox just milling about, doing his business—he’s not worried about me.” Everything Enid says is in plainspeak, but her delivery always includes something of a twinkle.
It’s less than a minute’s walk from Enid’s to the cafe. It’s already warm inside and she turns on the lights—the process has begun.
Enid in the kitchen.
In effect, Enid acknowledges, she’s doing the job of three people on a single schedule. Its true that this can’t be possible and because the Enid I know is sensible above all things, there’s got to be a flaw somewhere in this logic…but then I watch her working and it all suddenly all makes sense.
I remember learning that Michelangelo carved his works from front to back, while other sculptors work around and inward, creating more definition as they go. That’s why his unfinished works look like they’re emerging, alive, from the stone. Enid has that kind of vision. Everything that needs to come out of the kitchen on that day is converted through her lens and transformed into a single perfect recipe that she will execute in a totally linear fashion.
I watch her glide from bowl to bowl, tray to tray. Crack an egg into the mixer now, take this out of the oven now, now the bagel dough, now the scones, now the croissants, now the muffins, grande jeté and now to the windowsill to cool. She moves seamlessly in and out of numerous recipes, sometimes talking me through the interesting parts, sharing special notes or, while I’m offside typing out my thoughts, she turns up the podcasts or sings along to the music.
The Four Stage Plan
The most joyful part of this experience, for me at least, is that she has things so very completely under control. She’s calculated and smiling, everything is neatly in hand. She doesn’t check the time.
“I break it up into four stages,” she reiterates for my benefit. “When I first come in I get the morning bake ready—that’s all the things you see on the front counter when you come in—and I get all of the breads started. Once all of that’s in the oven and/or proofing, I start doing stage two: elemental prep. That part is prepping the items that all the pastries require, like the almond cream, lemon curd, butter tart filling, etc. This stage also includes the menu items, like quiche and sandwiches. Stage three is setting up the display—everything is cooling and I’m also starting to set up the breads for their final proof. The last part is about wrapping up any loose ends and prepping for the next day—I start bread 1-2 days in advance. I also do all the cleaning up, sweeping and other tasks to make sure the cafe is ready for when my staff come in.”
Sounds like a great job for three people.
There’s a period where I forget to take photos.
Watching her work is mesmerizing. She cracks 16 eggs, one against the other, and the rhythm is hypnotic. She kneads and rolls out dough with long, powerful movements. Mesmerizing. I remember at the last minute and raise my camera.
At one point I fantasize about living like Enid. Getting up and writing all night, sipping a single Americano until dawn. Could I hack it with the same discipline? Would I be able to do this every day? The café has been up and running for nearly three years. Before that, she worked at the now closed ‘Tall Poppy’ across the street. Before that she travelled and lived in Europe, cooking with chefs and their nonas, falling in love with the pace, the place, a philosophy of the oldest traditions, a heart that sits at the core of that most beautiful of cuisines. Before that she was a marketing exec in Chicago. And before that, a County girl, born and raised in this special place…
“So this is interesting, maybe,”
Enid snaps me out of my reverie. She talks while she works, her muscles guiding her, “I always measure flour and other dry ingredients. Yes, I do it all the time and can eye it—but the reality is that these are the constants while the temperatures change and I have to use my other faculties to feel those changes in the dough.” She smiles, manipulating the batter. “I know what it should look like at this stage, I know what it should feel like at this stage—I use a sensory gauge with the pastry or it would never work. The other ingredients react to the temperature in different ways—the eggs, the butter—and if I was using a measure to guide me with those, it couldn’t come out. That’s why people find pastry so overwhelming.” I feel comfortable sharing here that there are a hundred additional reasons why I personally find pastry overwhelming, but I accept her magnanimous insight on behalf of everyone else.
The night is losing its opacity, still we persevere.
It’s getting fun in here. Enid has rules and tips and notes on everything—
“I add hot butter into the cold mix to create the perfect crumb… I make various muffins throughout the week, but I always make blueberry muffins on Mondays… I always remind myself to ‘protect the knuckle’ when I move the bagels from the pot to the tray… I don’t let myself drink a coffee or pee until the end of phase 4.” Some of these rules are obviously not meant for mortals.
Now the bechamel for the croque madame is on the stove and the lemon curd is in its final mix about to meet it there. Now the cookie dough is being beaten, the muffins are in the oven and we’re about to start quiche. Now the croissants, scones, and galettes have moved onto the cool sill and it seems that all of these things have happened simultaneously, without distinction.
It’s officially early morning and I’m mostly okay.
It’s 5:05am and she’s begun the third phase, ‘setting up the display’.
“Do you put things in the same place all the time?” I wonder abruptly.
“No, I move things every day. If people always get the same thing and it’s always in the same place, they’ll never try anything else. By moving it, their eye is forced to scan what’s out and maybe they’ll decide to try something different.”
“You’re so smart.” I’m too tired to be smart myself, and she laughs.
“People forget that my education is in marketing. That I worked in marketing for five years and I studied food merchandising and marketing. It’s not just off the top of my head.”
It’s not that people forget, it’s just that they can’t deal.
She continues making beautiful shapes with beautiful food at the front counter and I can’t believe how totally great it looks all together. Because I live on the other side of the County, I’ve never been into the café early enough to see the display in its full, untouched glory. It goes fast and there are no stores in the back. Enid works hard to uphold a waste-free philosophy. She caps her baking to the anticipated numbers and offers food until 2pm or sell-out.
Sometimes people are disappointed, but what Enid is doing is more than running a business. She wants to recreate a feeling, a philosophy that has meaning for her. Her hands-on, all-nighter approach means that she attends personally to every part of the workings of the café, her prices are absurdly reasonable (Ed. note: How do you compensate yourself in 2019 for doing something like this, when Linda Evangelista wouldn’t even get out of bed for less than 10k in the ’90s?) But Enid is all heart and all discipline; she does what she does because it’s what she needs to do. She does it for herself and her community and that means that the pricing strategy has to be accessible to both visitors and locals.
I don’t know how, but it keeps smelling better and better in here. I mean, how good can a place smell?
“It’s the pain de mi”, Enid answers the question on my face (again). “There’s so much butter….”
It’s 6:45am and the final phase is nearing it’s end. Enid hasn’t stopped moving in almost five hours and I’m trying to work out how. The counter and display is full and beautifully composed and it puts me in mind of Wonka’s wonderland: everything looks larger, richer, more beautiful and somehow, more alive than any other pastry I’ve ever seen. The bagels are breaking my heart, right now, almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
Enid makes herself a coffee and sits down with me. The day’s staff walk in and it’s officially morning.
It’s done. She has executed this ballet with such relaxed, comfortable precision, such perfect control from the entrance to the bow, and finished literally two minutes before deadline. There was no dead air, no cushion—it was a perfect act.
To me, 7am this morning felt like a triumph, an invigorating win; to her, it was Monday. How? If a person was a robot, maybe. How? If you let your thoughts wander, let the muscles take over, perhaps then? Ok yes, Enid’s a machine—but a machine couldn’t have done this. These beautiful creations smack of heart. So the question turns on its head: How can you consistently put so much love into something so arduous, so intense, so exceedingly demanding every. single. day?
The answer is in Enid herself. The most pragmatic and disciplined person by nature, she’s also the most contradictory thing: a total romantic. The whole premise of this café is a romance—recreating Italy, keeping it purposefully small, not responding to the demands of growth or expansion, not inflating prices to worth, showing up for everyone, all of us, to keep us happy and full, giving us blueberry muffins on Mondays, because we need blueberry muffins on Mondays. Working all night and all day, because those hours after 2am and before 7am are the most romantic hours. Because everything worth doing is hard. Because you’re proud of yourself for doing the hard things. And because you are the unlikely and magical combination of head and heart and both need to be eternally satisfied.
This January, I went to an Oscar Party with Enid and a group of County women. Enid quickly established herself as the most knowledgable of us all. She won most of the predictions, knew all of the facts, details—even the gossip-related asides—about everything we were watching. She had fascinating and deep insight into the films, having watched most of them, and by the end of the evening we were basically all in awe. Enid Grace is a great chef because that’s what she’s decided to do well today. She’s not listening to hours of podcasts or music to escape from the tedium of long nights or hard baking—she’s stimulating her mind and her heart and channeling that knowledge, that energy into whatever art she’s currently creating.
Happily for the people of Prince Edward County who are lining up at her door at ten minutes to opening every single day—Enid has turned her gaze to providing the great food that warms us through, brings us joy, and fills us with just a little bit of her very bright light.