Saturday, July 4, 2015

Top Chefs return to the Taste of Toronto

The Taste of Toronto brings some of Toronto and North America's Top Chefs of Toronto's Historic Fort York for a fabulous weekend of fantastic food sampling and demonstrations.  The Taste Festival came to Toronto for the first time last year but by no means is this a first time festival.  It operates in 22 cities in North America and is considered a very high end food festival that attracts the best of the cities restaurants to participate.
It hosts about 25 of the top Toronto restaurants that set up shop at the Festival from July 2 -5 that are broken down into 4 hour sessions.  Ticket entrance fee is $19-$25 depending on the day and to purchase food samples you load a credit card called a Crown Card for as much money as you would like.  Each dish costs between 6-10 crown points.  1 Crown point = $1.

This is by no means an inexpensive festival if you add up the cost of parking in a nearby lot at $14 and the entrance fee of $25 and then for 4 dishes plus 2 drinks could cost you about $50 and that's not over doing it.  It does turn into an expensive day/night out but the benefit of this festival is it's like restaurant hopping or somewhat of a Tapas experience in one place.  You get tapas sized plates but from the best restaurants in the city all in one location.  It's a bit like Summerlicious with small plates in one location.

I think it's a great way for people that don't have the time to get to all of the restaurants or who want to see what the food is like at a restaurant without paying for a huge meal.  If you don't like a dish there is always another one to try and you can set up your a la carte meal the way you like it.   My friend joked that I would write about her only having desserts at the show which she did mostly.

The features of the show include the Metro masterclass sessions which I have yet to experience because they fill up so fast.  I am determined to try and get to one with Chef Lynn Crawford this sunday though as she is always hilarious and I am sure it will be a great session.

There is also the Cadillac Theatre where Chefs like Iron Chef Masuharu Morimoto, Michael Bonacini,  Mark McEwan, Masterchef winner Eric Chong and Alvin Leung and Jonathan Waxman have had cooking demos.  I was lucky to attend all of these sessions and they were entertaining and informative.

The demo that blew my mind was Iron Chef Marimoto breaking down a 100+ pound fresh Tuna in about 15-20 minutes all while cracking jokes and promoting his upcoming restaurant opening Morimoto Toronto in April 2016.  

He is much funnier in person than he appears on Iron Chef and I had a little fun with him at the Morimoto booth when he got up close and personal with my cell phone camera.

I also had a chance to chat with Demon Chef Alvin Leung from Masterchef Canada.  He was super friendly and his demo was so funny.  I wish he was that funny on Masterchef instead of his demon chef persona.

Another feature at the show is the Toronto Life talks with Chefs doing more informal sit down talks.  I didn't get to any of those sessions so I don't know exactly how they operate.

Besides the 25 restaurants with food booths there are a large number of other vendors set up either selling or sampling their products or both.  Some of my favourites included Craft Soda, a farmer's market, Blackbird bakery and I also stopped by the KitchenAid booth where the ladies were telling people about the Culinary Showdown that is coming up in November to raise funds for Breast Cancer.  I am participating in fundraising and you can find more info on a previous post.

Now to the Food.  I have to say that you really can't try it all in one session and I went both thursday and friday and am returning with a friend on sunday to try a couple of things I missed.   You can't try it all in one session for a couple of reasons.  The sessions are 4 hours long and by the time you walk around to check out all the booths to decide what to eat you have spent a lot of time and then some of the popular booths have lineups to get the food and if you want to do any of the sessions it doesn't leave you much time to get in a lot of food unless you just power through and load up all in one shot.  My stomach doesn't allow me to do that so I have to spread it out.

I tried the following dishes:

Paella from Patria, this humungous dish takes 30 minutes to make and there is a video monitor that counts down the time until it's ready.  It was the first thing I tried when I got to the festival on the thursday and I had some from the very first batch so you could say I got the freshest plate you could get.  It was the best Paella I have ever tried with the rice perfectly cooked and not too salty and perfectly seasoned for my taste.

Babi Panggang Roasted Pork Belly, chili sauce, bean sprouts and red onion from Little Sister, the smell of this pork belly was incredible and it was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  It won the Silver Taste award and I can see why.

1.  East Coast Fish Fry with Clams and Haddock by The Drake,  this was actually the last thing I ate on the second day after my food blogger friend told me it was great.  This one was worth it for 6 crowns.  Also worth getting for me because I don't like to deep fry food at home. The fish was perfectly cooked with a simple batter.
2.  Uni Carbonara from Morimoto Toronto,  It's the first time I have ever tried Uni which was pretty interesting.  It was a good dish but not my favourite of the day.
3.  Toro Tuna from Morimoto Toronto, this was a tiny little bit but full of flavour with the caviar, sour cream, wasabi and dashi soy sauce.  This one was 10 crowns.
4.  Funnel cake, vanilla ice cream and blueberries from Richmond Station, I love Richmond Station and their desserts but this wasn't one of my favourites, it was just ok where most of their desserts are spectacular.  I do plan on going back for their signature Station burger though.
5.  Fried Chicken from Weslodge, it was great fried chicken with a jalapeno sauce but the coleslaw and biscuit weren't as impressive.
6.  Ceviche from Los Colabris/El Cabalito,  It was ok but I have had better ceviche recently.
7.  Crispy Black Vinegar Chicken from Bosk which was one of the winning dishes. It really hit all the flavours and was worth the 10 crowns.
8.  CSB (char siu bao) bbq pork buns, I liked this so much that I had it on both days.  It's a sweet bun with a special glaze put on the top of the bun that really sets this milk bun apart from all of the other regular dim sum pork buns that you normally see.

This year I figured out how to do this festival with a lot more enjoyment.  The first day I took the TTC and found a much easier and faster way to get there.  Last year it took me an hour and a half of multiple transfers, standing and waiting.  This year it was one subway and a streetcar and a closer stop to the entrance.  On the second day my friend drove and I found a closer lot although parking is still expensive but it was the same distance as the streetcar stop to the entrance.  I also tried to pack light and make sure you skip the high heels because you will have to walk on gravel to get there and the whole festival is set up on the grass.

I wish I could get some of the foods I tried at take out restaurants because some of the dishes would make perfect quick lunches.  Something to hope for the future of food.

There are still a couple days left for the festival at the time of this posting so I hope this reached you in time to check it out.  Maybe I will bump into you in one of the food lineups at the festival.

Disclaimer:  The entrance ticket was complimentary but the food was paid for by me and as always the opinions in this post are my own.

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