Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Taster Too?

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

I learned recently that these little boat-shaped dishes are called barquettes. These barquettes hold an asparagus dish from Woodlot.

Roger Mooking had the best display of the night, serving up his meat lollipops cooked in his spice rub via holes drilled in copies of his cookbooks. There were also little bags of spice mix to take home.

Duck confit tacos from FRANK Restaurant.

The most creative and unique dish of the evening goes to The Chef’s House where they filled egg shells with a foie gras custard along with quinoa and lobster. Pity the poor culinary students who had to get 1200 egg shells topped off perfectly.

The Counter is known for its mac and cheese and they served it up last night in little cones with some bacon.

Greg dared me to go find Scott Conant of Scarpetta and kiss him for bringing his famous polenta with truffled mushrooms to Toronto Taste. While there were many amazing dishes at this event, I’ll admit to having seconds of this.

beer bistro had potato skins topped with smoked salmon.

I didn’t actually try this French onion soup dumpling from Hiro Sushi/Forte (it was one of the shots I grabbed on the way in as I tried to get photos before too many people overwhelmed all the stations), but it got rave reviews on Twitter.

Ah, the gentlemen at Splendido have such a sense of humour. Grilled white asparagus, wrapped with … prosciutto, I think. It even squirted juice when bitten into.

Gnocchi with lamb from Ciao Wine Bar.

David Lee of Nota Bene always does some kind of burger for Toronto Taste. This year it came with kimchi.

Steak tartar from Didier. There were a number of tartars last night, including a venison version.

Sous vide pork belly sandwich from Petite Thuet. It was nowhere to be seen when we were there, but there were rumours that they had a beaver sausage or salami as well.

From Great Cooks on Eight, Andrea Nicholson offered a chilled artichoke soup with crispy duck skin and pickled pears.

This kebab from George included a fluffy spaetzle, venison salami and thinly-sliced roasted beets.

A salt cod fritter from Enoteca Sociale sits atop tripe in tomato ragu.

I never take photos of people at these events, yet someone I always end up with a pic of Martin Kouprie of Pangaea in my camera. Here he proffers a serving of his beignet with an orange cardamom shooter, which got rave reviews from guests.

More barquettes, this times filled with smoked turbot and potato salad from Grace.

Chef Michael Smith was on hand to offer confit of fingerling potatoes, topped with Manitoba pickerel, boar bacon and tarragon mustard foam.

The much-discussed pork blood and chocolate tart from Buca. Last year Chef Rob Gentile served us all brains (which briefly earned him the nickname Rob Zombie) so you had to figure he was going to do something equally outrageous this year. But it was a great hit, the blood adding a richness to the chocolate and the espresso-poached figs, macerated almonds and creme di buffala adding to the contrasts.

A more sedate dessert – coconut meringues from Dufflet.

And finally, the last of the cannoli from L’Unita – the perfect way to end the evening.


8 thoughts on “Wouldn’t You Like to Be a Taster Too?”

  1. Great rundown of some amazing dishes, Sheryl. It was my first Taste, and I was blown away by both the variety and quality of the dishes. It says something that, of the 23 dishes you’ve posted here, I only managed to get to about 10 of them – and yet, I think I tried 10 or 15 things that aren’t pictured here. An amazing event.

    1. It’s true, Neil. For anyone who is a completest, it’s utterly frustrating. 🙂 I missed almost everything inside – it was just too packed. There are some logistical/flow issues that need to be dealt with if they plan on using the same venue next year. The idea of keeping the inside portion closed until 6:30 and then letting VIPs in one door and regular guests in another – at the same time – was not a great one. There were line-ups at every station inside and portions of the outside area were almost empty.

  2. Agreed. While it would have been logistically difficult – if not impossible – for even the most organized and hungry person to have successfully consumed everything on offer, the layout and flow made it more challenging. I couldn’t deal with the crowd inside at the start of the night, so I headed outside. Then when the crowd started getting heavier outside, I headed inside – only to find several booths empty.

    Fortunately, there seems to be a really great team behind Toronto Taste, so I’m sure the small kinks will be ironed out.

    1. Well, they’ve been doing this for 20+ years. And were at the ROM last year. That should be enough time to do the ironing.

      I can’t help but compare it to Foodshare’s Recipe For Change where there were maps, a program that indicated what every chef was serving and where they were located, and a curated menu to ensure diversity and vegetarian options.

  3. The pictures (great shots by the way) made me want to spend the money to go next year, but the comments about the crowding and empty booths quickly changed my mind.

    It costs too much to not be run properly.

    1. I’m not sure why they did it that way – last year, iirc, the regular admission crowd came in the same gate and ended up outside first, which allowed for better flow.

      Consider Foodshare’s Recipe For Change, Brad, if you’re looking for a similar event for a worthy charity. 30 chefs, only 400 tickets sold and everything nicely spread out.

  4. Sheryl – just to clarify, we had 1,475 guests join us (and more than 400 volunteers) on Sunday.

    You’re correct in stating that ironing can certainly be done, as is the case with any event. That is something that Second Harvest staff and the Toronto Taste planning committee of volunteers address each year right after the event ends. We survey our guests, volunteers and chef & beverage participants to solicit their feedback, address those concerns and improve Toronto Taste year after year.

    The change in flow that you noted was as a result of feedback from guests and chefs last year. Having all guests in one part of the event space was not ideal either. The reason the doors open when they do is because the ROM is actually still open for business as usual the entire day.

    I would like to point out that overall feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We know guests, volunteers, chefs and beverage purveyors had an incredible time. Most importantly, collectively, we raised $325,000 which will provide 600,000 meals to those in need in Toronto.

    Tonia Krauser,
    Second Harvest

    1. Apologies about the incorrect number Tonia, I had seen 2000 quoted elsewhere. And congratulations on the monies raised.

      However, I’m sensing some defensiveness in your comment. Having done event planning myself for many years (on a slightly smaller scale, usually 100 – 500 people), I understand that you can’t please everyone and that there are logistical issues that you have to work around, such as the ROM’s closing time. But someone had to figure that opening up the inside space from both sides would cause the traffic that occurred. I tried one thing inside and then fled. I’m not the only one. That everyone else you talked to has positive feedback is great, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the points that have been brought up here. Are mine and Neil’s concerns less valid because other people haven’t said the same things?

      Your cause is an important one, but I’m betting that every other event organizer out there feels the same way about *their* cause/event, as well. From the standpoint of an attendee, with so many worthy causes to contribute to and a limited amount of money with which to do so, people can’t help but assess each event in terms of value for money. 60 chefs isn’t good value, regardless of the ticket price or the cause, if you can’t actually get to half of them. Especially when there are other, similar events, for other similar and worthy causes, that are easier to manoeuvre. I am very appreciative and grateful to have been able to attend on a media pass. If I had paid full price and run into the same problem, I’d be considering other events instead when next year’s charity season rolled around.

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