My family is not religious. Most of us have been baptized in the Anglican church, but aside from weddings, baptisms and funerals, as a child growing up, I can’t ever remember getting up to go to church. In fact, when questioned about religion, I’ve often joked that our religion was the flea market, because that’s where you could find us on any given Sunday morning in the late 70s or early 80s.
As far back as I can remember Halifax had a Sunday flea market at The Forum, an aging sports arena in the north end of town. But especially in the summer, the flea market motherload was just outside of town, in Sackville.
Originally held during the summer months at the Sackville drive-in, vendors would pull in, park their cars and open their trunks to willing shoppers. There was a parking hierarchy, with regular vendors of new goods (yay, tube sox!) taking the best spots by the entrance, followed by farmers, antique dealers and then the non-regular vendors who were looking to unload crap from their attic or basement. The ground got worse the further back you went, transitioning from pavement to crushed gravel to something akin to boulders near the back, but in the summer, there would be vendors crammed in, sometimes two to a space, selling everything under the sun. Literally – few people used tents back in those days.
I’m not sure how I failed to attend a dinner by the Group of 7 Chefs up until now. Timing, finances, their predilection for odd bits of the insides of animals… all may play a role. But when they announced they would be doing a fish and beer dinner, teaming up with Bellwoods Brewery and serving sustainable fish, Greg and I knew we had to go.
The Group of 7 Chefs is actually comprised of more than seven local chefs. Scott Vivian (Beast), Rob Gentile (Buca), Mark Cutrara (Cowbell), Kevin McKenna (Globe and Earth), Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour), Chris Brown (The Stop), Bertrand Alepee (The Tempered Chef), and Marc Dufour (Globe and Earth) are the main crew, but they have been joined occasionally by local chefs Nick Liu (GwaiLo), Guy Rawlings and others, depending on the specific dinner and individual availability.
The premise is that the chefs get together once a month, on a Monday, when they’re all off from their regular gigs, and work together to create a multi-course dinner. There are a few sous chefs helping out, but most of the work is done by the chefs themselves, with everyone helping to cook and plate each others’ dishes, and a grand sense of fun and camaraderie, despite the stress and hard work.
A couple of weeks back, I got an email inviting Greg and I to a pop-up dinner called The Loving Plateful. This was the real deal, taking part in a wood shop at Dufferin and Dupont, and organized by First Drop Canada, a group run by Adam Pesce of Reunion Island Coffee, that works to improve the lives of coffee farmers and their families. The $100 donation for the dinner went to Greenest City and Food4Farmers.
What intrigued me about this particular dinner, though, was that the food would be prepared by Chef Ben Heaton (formerly of Globe), as a preview to his soon-to-open Dundas West restaurant The Grove. A sneak peek at what Heaton would be offering his customers come (hopefully) mid-December would be quite a coupe.
Yeah, I know, I’m a slowpoke these day when it comes to getting event reviews up. Life overwhelms me, what can I say?
In any case, last Wednesday (November 2nd) was the 2nd annual Chowder Chowdown at the Royal York Hotel. Sponsored by Oceanwise, the premise is simple, restaurants create a chowder made with sustainable seafood, and pair it with a beer from Mill Street Brewery. A panel of judges chooses their favourite, but the crowd also gets to vote for a people’s choice selection.
And while Pangaea easily took the prize for both awards last year, there were a couple of upsets this time.
When I interviewed Len Senater of The Depanneur (1033 College Street) a few months ago, he was adamant that the space wouldn’t just be a cafe serving coffee and toast. That was to be its daytime persona, but he also wanted the space to be home to the Rusholme Park Supper Club, a pop-up type restaurant that hosted byob events. It took some doing, but now that The Depanneur is open and running smoothly, Senater has progressed to the point where they’ve started doing dinners.
One of the first in the October series took place last Friday, when Emily Zimmerman took over the kitchen to prepare a vegan Italian dinner meant to evoke the casual Beatnik gatherings of the 1950s when even the most basic of Italian cuisine was considered avant garde.
Guests paid $40 for a 1-day “membership” to the supper club, and brought their own beverages to the 3-course meal, which is how the Depanneur gets around licensing issues.
Sometimes it’s hard being a princess. As a food writer, when it’s my job to eat what’s put in front of me, I try not to be (a princess, that is), but sometimes, it just can’t be helped. Sometimes, when it comes to eating lamb, other people get all princessy on my behalf, as was the case with the Beau’s beer dinner at Queen & Beaver on September 19th. Before I arrived at the Toronto Beer Week event, Greg had already mentioned to Chef Andrew Carter that I don’t eat lamb, which was to be the main dish of the evening.
Instead, I got the very tasty duck leg (above) with Spanish cherries. What I also got was an unmercilessness teasing from Chef Carter for well, being a princess.
There is no reasonable excuse I could give for not getting around to posting these photos earlier, because the dinner at Great Cooks on Eight with Top chef Canada competitors Andrea Nicholson, Todd Perrin Steve Gonzales, Mike Stauffer and Patrick Wiese took place on June 30. I know, I am a deadbeat.
And despite knowing a couple of the chefs involved from eating at their restaurants or interviewing them for TasteTO, I have to admit that I’m not a huge Top Chef fan. I lost interest in the middle of the 2nd US season, so while I kept track of who was doing well in the Canadian competition, I was not a weekly viewer. I joked on Google + recently that I’d happily watch “Top Chef Historical” where modern chefs had to cook Careme-style banquets without gas or electricity, but my reality-TV watching does lean towards the historical stuff anyway. (And I suspect potential competitors would have my head if such a show actually came to fruition.)
In any case, 5 of the Canadian competitors got together to do a dinner – here’s what they cooked.
As the food charity season winds down, we finish off with the biggest of the lot. Last night, Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste took over the lobby of the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as much of the street along Queen’s Park as 2000 guests descended upon 60 chefs and restaurants, and over 30 beverage purveyors for a night of eating in support of one of Toronto’s most beloved food charities.
There is no possible way the average person can sample every item, and even though Greg and I tried to share things, we still couldn’t get to even half of the things on offer. But here’s an idea of what we came across.
Above: steamed pork buns from All The Best Fine Foods and 100km Foods
Foodshare‘s fabulous Recipe For Change event migrated to the North St. Lawrence Market this year, allowing for more space, which in turn allowed for more chefs and more guests. I love that organizers make a point of not overselling the event, so it’s never packed; line-ups at food stations are short or non-existent and there is no sense of frenzy involved.
Recipe For Change is FoodShare’s annual fundraiser in which they raise monies directed toward their Field to Table Schools program which teaches school children about where their food comes from. Everyone I talked to on Thursday night considered the event a great success; hats off to Adrienne De Francesco and everyone at FoodShare for a fantastic time.
Below, check out some of the offerings from participating chefs. We didn’t try everything (and I somehow missed most of the desserts, which has got to be a first), but everything we did have was wonderful.
Above: Chickpea polenta topped with ratatouille and fresh mozzarella from Chef Marc Breton of the Gladstone Hotel.
Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste is one of the biggest and most important food events of the year. In its 21-year history Toronto Taste has raised over $4 million, enough for 8 million meals. Yes, we know the $250 ticket price is out of reach for many people, even if half of it is tax deductible; and yes, we know that articles about swank expensive events like this can make some people feel bad because they can’t afford to attend. But Toronto Taste deserves to be written about because it does really fantastic work in helping to feed underprivileged people in our city. And from a food perspective, it deserves to be written about because, really, where the heck else are you going to get to eat food by 60 of Toronto’s top chefs?
Having attended a couple of Toronto Tastes now, I’m offering up a survival guide. How to get the most for that $250 ticket and have the best time possible. This takes some planning if you’re serious about it, which is why I’m offering my tips now, even though the event doesn’t take place until June 12th. You need to be planning, people!