This past Wednesday was sunny and warm – not a day you’d typically consider eating soup. But 400 people lined up at the doors of the Gardiner Museum to take part in Empty Bowls, an annual event featuring local chefs, local pottery artists and of course, great soup.
For $45, attendees not only got to sample soups from 20 different restaurants at the Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner restaurant, they also got a beautiful, hand-made bowl to take home.
This fantastic event is based entirely on donations – from the chefs donating their time and food, to local potters donating bowls, many made especially for this event. With bread donated from Ace Bakery and crackers from Evelyn’s Crackers, plus water from Gaia and cups from Green Shift, all proceeds from the event go towards Anishnawbe Health Toronto, a charitable organization that provides food to homeless people. Volunteers and Gardiner Museum staff also donated their time, and props, kudos and huge piles of thanks and appreciation must go to organizer Siobhan Boyd who pulls this thing together every year with aplomb.
602 King Street West
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip and wine: $150
The recession might have played a role, but Toronto seems especially caught up in the idea of rustic food. We’re uninterested in molecular gastronomy and sundaes sprinkled with gold leaf; we crave real authentic food like (someone’s) Mama used to make.
In the world of Italian food, the leader of this pack has long been Terroni, where Cosimo Mammoliti built his business on food so authentic he wouldn’t allow changes or substitutions. When Pizza Libretto opened last year, some thought (and still do) that the pizza there was better (I’m still trying to get over the soggy centres on the two pizzas I had there) but both now have some serious competition from Buca.
75 Yorkville Avenue
When we last talked to Chef Andrea Nicholson back in late November, she was at the helm of a sinking ship. Despite her best efforts at creating an accessible, locally-sourced menu of classic Canadiana with a fine dining twist, 35 Elm Street, the restaurant where she worked as the executive chef, was failing. In fact, only days after we ran a profile on Nicholson and her work at 35 Elm, the place was abruptly shuttered.
“We were told while we were prepping for dinner service,” the chef remembers. “It was such a slap in the face. It breaks my heart.”
Last Wednesday evening, the line-up outside the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art stretched as far north as Bloor Street. People had come prepared; many had snacks, drinks and umbrellas to shield them from the warm May sunshine, because to be first in line meant having the dedication to wait for hours to get in. But being first in line also meant having first choice when selecting a bowl, as well as getting to the variety of soups from the participating local chefs before they all ran out. And they would run out.
One of the great things about the blogosphere is that anyone with access to a computer can have their say on any topic they’re interested in. The downside to this is that opinions are often voiced without anything to back them up, and bloggers generally aren’t much interested in presenting both sides of the story. A couple of recent articles about the southern Italian restaurant Terroni spawned a lot of opinions and comments (some good, most critical) about the policies that restaurant chain has in place to ensure the authenticity of the food it serves. The blogger, and readers posting comments, ranted about being refused everything from cheese to butter to water. Yet, oddly, it didn’t look as if anyone had approached the management at Terroni to find out why these policies were in place.
Since I’m always interested in the back of house intricacies of the restaurant business – the whys and wherefores of service – I sat down recently with Terroni owner Cosimo Mammoliti to find out what all the fuss was about.