Taste of Toronto Festival

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Toronto may not be included in the Michelin guide, but we’re the only North American city to be part of the Taste Festival series, which visits 22 cities each year, bringing together some of the best local food businesses and restaurants for a weekend-long celebration of cuisine.

A well-curated selection of small food businesses (Mad Mexican, Mary Mcleod’s Shortbread), innovative products (Ninutik Maple Sugar, hisbicus tea from Nuba Tisane), local restaurants both small and large, and some larger corporate exhibitors (Pilsner Urquell, San Pellegrino) along with a variety of stages featuring chefs both local and international (Mark McEwan, Jonathan Waxman, Masaharu Morimoto, who is opening a restaurant in Toronto soon), make the Taste of Toronto festival accessible and interesting to everyone.

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Chowing Down for Change

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Last week I had the chance to attend a fantastic dinner event called Chefs For Change. Yes, there are a variety of these types of events taking place throughout the year, many of which are formal with a high ticket price. However, this very reasonably-priced event ($75, drinks extra) not only directed funds to a very worthy cause, it was one of those great occasions when guests got to see a gang of local chefs from different restaurants all working together. Food was mostly served family-style with all the chefs and a team of students from George Brown College creating the dishes.

This series of events (there are three more – Jan 30th, Feb 20th & Feb 27th – all sold out) all take place at Propeller Coffee, a spacious coffee roastery on Wade Avenue (Bloor/Lansdowne) that has both a huge prep area and event space.

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Lucky Dip – Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

In Toronto:

Chef Anthony Rose announced yesterday via The Grid that he’ll be leaving The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West) at the end of the month to open a place of his own. Darren Glew, who has been at The Drake for the past five years, will take over the kitchen.

Simple Bistro (619 Mount Pleasant Road) had rolled out a new spring menu. Chef Matthew Cowan is offering up lots of tasty local fare such as rainbow trout, Grey County rabbit with prunes (put this in my belly now!), venison tartare and mushroom crepe. And brunch offers something called “The Cure” which is not Fat Bob singing Lovecats, but looks instead like the ultimate fry-up with eggs, bacon, sausage and duck confit hash.

Emma’s Country Kitchen (1108 St. Clair Avenue West) is not open yet, but hopes to be serving salads, sandwiches, soups, brunch and pastries to the folks of Corso Italia within the next couple of months.

The folks at Slow Food Toronto are looking for volunteers to help out at The Green Living Show (April 13th – 15th) at the Farm Fresh Fare area they run each year. People who help out and work a 3-hour shift will get a free pass to the show and some food tickets to try some of the food prepared by local chefs.

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Lucky Dip – Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The response to Jennifer Bain’s request to visit people’s homes for dinner was so overwhelming, the Star has turned it into a regular column. The first article (and I suspect the rest will be as well) is a voyeuristic look into one couple’s cupboards. [Toronto Star]

See, now this… THIS is how you do an underground, pop-up, flash-mob dinner. [New York Times]

Happy anniversary to sliced bread. [EuroNews]

The question you were thinking, but were afraid to ask… no, Brad Moore of School is not impressed with the inaugural theme for the Drake‘s new pop-up dining room. [NOW]

And I’m delighted that Steven Davey digs Ortolan – the place is adorable, and this review reminds me how good those dandelion greens were the last time I was there. [NOW]

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School’s In For Summer at the Drake Hotel

Okay, so let’s be honest, it’s like no school cafeteria you’ve ever been in before; the tables are made from old bowling alley floors, the wall are covered in kitsch, and the juice boxes are spiked. But if you’re going to convert your hotel restaurant dining room into an ongoing art project, one in which the whole thing, including the menu, changes up every few months, school cafeteria food is surely a fun place to start. And of course, the food has got to be memorable too.

Chef Anthony Rose and the staff at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West) have a winner on their hands with the first instalment of the “Dining Roadshow”. Recent popular culture is rife with grown-ups wanting to act and look like children, so an opportunity to return to summer school for an evening and reminisce goes over like gangbusters with the crowd at the media preview earlier this week. We flipped through a menu presented in duo-tangs (menu order forms look like those dreaded fill-in-the-circle test sheets) and pulled condiments out of lunchboxes on each table.

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Recipe For Change Recap

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.

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They’ve Got Sausages at Marben and They’re Happy to See You

It seems as if every chef worth their weight in pork belly has been playing around with sausage-making lately. And with sausage and hot dog restaurants showing up as the next big trend, we’re all going to be eating many more of the things in the near future. So why not pit local chefs against each other to see who truly makes the best wurst.

Ryan Donovan and the gang at Marben (488 Wellington Street West) have decided to do just that. Throughout the spring and summer, select Wednesdays (2 each month) will see Sausage League take over the restaurant. While Marben’s regular menu will still be on offer, guests will have the option of ordering the sausage special for $25. What they’ll get is two dishes – one prepared by each chef – and they’ll get to choose their favourite. The chef who gets the most votes each night will move on to the next round of competition.

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BBQ and Temaki Too – Fall Food Promotions at the Drake

Word spread like wildfire last week when the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West) announced they would be shutting down their Drake Scoops + Tees ice cream shop located a couple of doors east from the hotel proper and replacing it with… the Drake BBQ shop. Featuring sandwiches made with Carolina-style pulled pork and Texas-style beef brisket, and open Thursday to Saturday only from 6pm (starting October 22nd), the shop will offer counter seating and is geared towards the club crowd looking for a quick bite. Although I fully expect that, living a few blocks from the hotel, it will also become a quick and easy dinner option for Greg and I when we don’t feel like cooking.

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Market Mondays – Radishes

The first root vegetable of spring is also the most under-used. Besides putting them in a salad, what do you DO with radishes anyway?

Related to the mustard plant, radishes come in several varieties, ranging from sweet to spicy and peppery in flavour and from white to vibrant red, and even grey and black in colour. They are a favourite of the home gardener because they’re easy to sow, grow quickly, and offer an early sense of accomplishment. Cultivation of radishes dates back to Roman times and records suggest that the plants were domesticated somewhere in Europe.

Which begs the continued question – why do we mostly eat them raw in salads? A perusal of the Internet led to me recipes for pickled radishes, roasted radishes and one in which the roots are boiled until tender and then tossed with butter and brown sugar, much as you’d do with carrots or parsnips. Having tried this, I think I know why we prefer to eat the things raw – boiling saps out all of the lovely crisp peppery flavour.

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Tasty Tasty Iceland

What do you know about Iceland? If your first thoughts are snow, fermented shark meat and Björk, then you’re probably about on par with the typical North American. But Iceland is, in fact, a gorgeous country full of waterfalls and hot springs, unique artists and musicians, a cool underground music scene and a fair number of hip shops and restaurants, especially given that the population of the entire nation is about 300,000, less than that of metropolitan Halifax.

And while Iceland should be on everyone’s travel wish list, in the meantime, it might just be easier to head down to the Drake Hotel later this week, where they’re throwing a big ol’ festival called A Taste of Iceland. Along with music by Icelandic musician Mugison and his band, film screenings and an art installation, there will be food. Of course.

Innovative Chef Thorarinn Eggertsson of Orange in Reykjavik will be in the house from March 17th to 20th, teaming up with the Drake’s Chef Anthony Rose to offer a 4-course taste of Iceland.

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I Could Appreciate Art More if There Weren’t so Many People Standing in Foont of It

I guess I’m late to the party in posting Nuit Blanche photos. For those not aware, Nuit Blanche is an all-night art event in Toronto (copied from a number of European cities), where art installations, galleries and clubs are open from sunset to sunrise the next day, and it’s all free.

This year’s event supposedly attracted almost 1 million people over the course of the evening. The events were divided into three “zones” and since we live smack in the centre of one, we decided to stay close to home and only do what we could walk to.

It was an enjoyable evening, with only a few disappointments. We walked along Queen West, but didn’t go into any of the galleries that were open because they were all just too packed with people. We also didn’t stay out all night, although we did consider getting up early and returning to the nearby stadium for the mascot exhibit, just to see how many of them were still dancing 12 hours later.

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Not So Many Fish in the Sea

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There’s an old cliché that goes “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. This is meant to convey options and opportunities, but nowadays, it’s not a particularly apt analogy. Because fish stocks are dwindling due to poor husbandry and overfishing, and there aren’t a lot of fish in the sea anymore.

SeaChoice is a program by Sustainable Seafood Canada designed to mobilize consumers and industry to buy sustainable seafood, which is caught or farmed with consideration for the ocean’s ecological balance and the long-term viability of the fish. SeaChoice offers guidance to restaurants and consumers on what to buy and what to avoid.

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Taking a Walk on the Green Carpet

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Normally, the north building of St. Lawrence Market is the focus of local food only on Saturday mornings as farmers and food producers fill tables with all things edible and Torontonians descend upon the place in search of tasty treats. This past Tuesday evening, the market building was a bastion of local food again as a number of chefs and wineries offered samples of their wares as part of An Evening of Local Cuisine, one of the many events put on by The Green Carpet Series.

Attendees had the opportunity to wander the space sampling food from local restaurants that had been paired with wines from Ontario wineries. Participating chefs and restaurants included Chef Ben Heaton from Globe Bistro, Chef Marc Breton from the Gladstone Hotel, Chef Nathan Isberg from Coca, and Chef Anthony Rose from the Drake Hotel. Participating wineries were Henry of Pelham, Frogpond Farm, Flatrock Cellars and Vineland Estates Winery.

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The Official Dinner

Living just a couple of blocks from both the Gladstone and the Drake hotels, it’s not uncommon for me to be strolling along Queen Street West and come across something that sets my eyes rolling back into my head in annoyance. More and more often, my neighbourhood is too damned pretentious for its own good.

So it was an ominous feeling in the bottom of my gut as Greg and I headed to the Drake hotel on Wednesday night and a block away we could hear bagpipes. As we approached, we could see that the sidewalk was blocked with a carpet and red velvet ropes. In the curb lane in front of the entrance were two Royal Mounted Police officers in the full dress uniform worn when presented to royalty (black serge and pith helmets as opposed to the traditional red serge and stetson), atop two gorgeous horses.

We stood on the sidewalk; confused, embarrassed and guiltily gleeful. If those officers and bagpiper weren’t actually there for us, I’d have growled about how pretentious the neighbourhood is getting. But all I could actually do was give the horses a scratch on the nose, and smile self-consciously as the piper piped us in to the Official Dinner.

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