Friday, July 25, 2014

Taste of Toronto - Where do all the chefs go?

The Taste of Toronto have been promoting their new Restaurant Foodie Festival for a long time so I went to check out their opening night last night.  I ventured out to Fort York down by Lakeshore Blvd for the first time.  It seems to be a new event destination lately.

Here's where I do a good/bad list again.

There were things I really liked and things that really turned me off.

First I will start with the GOOD:

1.  Being outside on a nice day was great.

2.  All of Toronto's top chefs were around at either a Booth or doing a demo or just wandering around checking out all the food and their buddies.

3.  Lot's of great samples,  I ate a lot of cheese, some delicious ceviche and San Pelligrino clementine drink and some Bloo juice too.  I even had the last little bit of Braised Bison meat.

4.  The tent space looked really nice and lots of booths were set up really well.

5.  There was a great Master Class Tent where you could do a hands on demo.

6.  The Electrolux Stage where there were cooking demos and chats.

7.  The Nespresso Booth giving away great coffee drinks and dessert treats free.

8.  Metro had a tent with fresh fruit, fruit flavoured water and they were also giving out yoghurt bars.

and on to the BAD

1.  NO PARKING and getting there.   I would have driven if there was a place to park.  I had to drive to Wilson Station and take the subway to St. George then transfer to Bathurst and take the streetcar to Fort York Blvd.   then haul it up a long uphill winding road up to the entrance.

2.  The ticket prices and what is involved in the ticket process.  I paid $55 for two people for thursday evening.  Time was only from 5:30 to 9:30 and it took so long to get there that I didn't arrive until way after 6.   The ticket included 6 crowns which translate into about $6 worth of tickets.  Each vendor sells one small dish for between 6-10 crowns or $6-10  most are around $8.   So that means you can only get one of the smaller dishes from one vendor if you stick with that package so you have to top up your crowns before you start.

3.  Lineups,  I got a media pass after I had already purchased a ticket so when I arrived I had to line up for the media pass and then line up to purchase more crowns and then line up to get the actual printed ticket which I printed at home scanned before I went in.   Then you had to line up for a lot of the vendors to redeem your crowns and get your food.  I could smell some great ribs and we finally went to stand in line to get some and after about 10 minutes we found out that they sold out of wings.  We wandered around to see what else we could get.  We got a couple of things from the both next to the ribs and waited a few minutes for them to make it.

Then we really wanted to get some of Top Chef Judge and Restaurant owner Mark McEwan's ONE restaurant's Fried Chicken and Biscuits and the line had at least 40 people in it.  It moved really slowly.  We finally got up to the front of the line just about 9pm and found out that they ran out of chicken.  Bear in mind that we just spent about 30 minutes in line.  So I opted for the Lamb Bolognaise and Lobster poutine after wining to Mark McEwan.. he appologized and said I was going to love the Bolognaise.  Because it was already after 9pm that was pretty much it for getting food from anyone else.  The only thing we were able to get was some great coffee from the Nespresso tent.

4.  The Crown card.  I don't know but I had to make sure I didn't lose the card and juggling food and the card and maybe a drink.  When you have the paper tickets you just hand them over and you are done with it.  If you wanted more you would have to top it up and if you didn't use it the value was donated to Second Harvest.  It's great that it goes to Second Harvest but with the short time you can attend and the long lines it's hard to have enough time to use up all of it if you want to try a few things.

5.  Seating.  There was a large sectioned off VIP section that nobody was in and then there were a few stand up tables and very few seated tables.  A few around a few booths but generally nowhere to sit if you had your hands full of food and had just spent at least a half an hour standing to get it.   I know it's small portions but in the case of the food I got from McEwan's One/Bymark I got 2 dishes because I knew that would be it for the night.   It's hard to juggle 2 dishes when you have a bag to carry and a drink and you have to do it standing up.

6.  The seating area around the Electolux theatre wasn't enough.  David Chang from Momofuku & Lucky Peach Magazine is a very popular chef and there were a lot of people that wanted to see him and there wasn't enough chairs for half of the people.

7.  Back to David Chang.  We were going to try and do a masterclass but it was full so we went back to see David Chang and waited and finally he appeared to just sit down in front of the cooking set up and have a chat with some other guy.  That's not a cooking demo people.  Have another area for chats and leave the kitchen area for people doing food demos.

8.  The Masterclasses.  While I think it's an amazing idea to have these master classes I couldn't get into any of them because they were all booked for the evening.  We were told if we waited 5 minutes before and if people didn't show up we could get in... 10 minutes after and nothing so we left.  It was for Donna Dooher who as it turns out was making some Blueberry pancakes I think.  Not really a master class in my books but a beginner class.  I know kids that can make pancakes.   I am sure they were tasty but it would have been nice to see creative innovative things in these classes.

9.  The first impression.  I guess I should have put this one first.  Just walking there from getting off the street car didn't feel like they paid much attention to the experience of people getting there.  Then you arrive and there is a humungous TASTE sign on the lawn which might have been better served placed before you walked in.  The multiple ticketing booths  and then security going in.  All felt like a bit of a hassle and wasted a bit of time too.

10.  What if it rained?  I was lucky that the night was beautiful but the whole event rested on grass but the booths were tented.   But if we got one of our recent monster storms you would have had to be walking around in a pair of galloshes and umbrellas to get from tent to tent.  I am glad that didn't happen but it's supposed to rain tomorrow.  It would be a totally different experience.

Summing it all up.

I can say that I really enjoyed Chef Roger Mooking's cooking demo because he was funny, personable and provided great information and passed around cardamom pods even to check out.  I was one of the lucky ones that got to sample the sauce of the dish he made and it was delicious and I would have loved to have more of it but apparantly he wasn't allowed to sample his dish even.    I would have paid 10 crowns for that dish.  After we left the demo and were wondering around I kept bumping into him.  I guess we wanted to check out the same booths.  He was gracious enough to let my friend snap a photo with him.   So I would have to say that was the most fun of the night.

There were so many chefs around the place.  Claudio Aprile from Masterchef was wondering around chatting with all of the chefs and there were a whole bunch from different restaurants around town bouncing around too.

I know there were a whole lot of bloggers around that may have had different experiences than I did but I can tell you that by happenstance a blogger I follow happened to be behind us waiting in the 30 minute long lineup to get the sold out McEwan fried chicken and had the same experiences but she got there earlier and was able to try a lot more food.

I tried the Spicy Rice from Khao San Road, the flavour was good but I found it a bit too salty for my taste.  My friend got the Shrimp salad and we shared our dishes.  The shrimp were good but a little more dressing on it would have given it a bit more flavour.

The McEwan Lamb Bolognase that I waited in line for was a bit awkward to eat because it was on a toasted bread. I think it would have been better with pasta.  You couldn't cut the bread so it was a bit like eating a sloppy joe's without the top bun.   The Lobster Poutine didn't have enough sauce.  It was ok but it didn't blow me away.

This is my honest feedback from Day 1 which I paid for but I am going to return using my media pass to see if I can try some more food and hopefully spend less time in lineups and have a better experience and will post an update to my next day's experience after this one.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds disappointing to say the least. I'm surprised you want to go back again. Hopefully your second time around is successful and you get the ribs and chicken & biscuits you were pining for yesterday.


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