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AwesTRUCK 2012

16 Sep

Food truck at AwesTRUCK 2012

AwesTRUCK was the Double Down of food truck events.  You have a food truck event that showcased Toronto’s fledging food truck scene, which was wrapped with people’s choice awards for food trucks. Around that, you had more pop-up food vendors serving their innovative eats and Ontario beer, wine and spirit vendors serving their unique offerings. The only thing that would have made AwesTRUCK that much more awesome? A LASER SHOW.

The day started with a 2 hour “VIP” event, which allowed all ticket purchasers to, essentially, eat all they could eat for their price of admission. The tickets sold were limited and this left few line-ups and lots of room to enjoy the surroundings, view the artwork hung for the occasion and gawk at the amount other patrons were eating.  This also featured an awards ceremony which highlighted some of Ontario’s cutting edge and new food trucks, as voted by food truck patrons.

El Gastronomo Vagabundo winning an award at AwesTRUCK 2012Dobro Jesti winning an award at AwesTRUCK 2012

Ole! Fidel Gastro wins an award at AwesTRUCK 2012

After the award ceremony ended, the rest of the ticket holders were allowed in. More eating (and drinking) ensued. Belts were loosened.  More food trucks opened up to serve the masses. Here are some pictures of the yumminess served up to over 1500 patrons:

Tacocat menu at AwesTRUCK 2012

Tacocat menu

Babi & Co serving up Indonesian street food at AwesTRUCK 2012

Babi & Co serving up Indonesian street food

Fidel Gastro at AwesTRUCK 2012

Fidel Gastro

Meatball sliders from Rome'n Chariot, AwesTRUCK 2012

Meatball sliders from Rome’n Chariot

Grilled cheese from Gorilla Cheese, AwesTRUCK 2012

Grilled cheese from Gorilla Cheese

Tequila Tromba mixologying it up at AwesTRUCK 2012

Tequila Tromba mixologying it up

Thanks to Suresh Doss, Frank Kocis and the rest of the volunteers who organized the event and made it run smoothly. A big thanks to all the vendors involved:

Food trucks:

Blue Donkey
Cupcake Diner
Dobro Jesti
El Gastronomo Vagabundo
Gorilla Cheese
Rome’n Chariot
Southern Smoke Barbecue
Fidel Gastro
Stuft
Gourmet Gringos

Pop-up vendors:

Babi & co.
Big E’s Grinds
Dat Chick Craze
Grindhouse Coffee
Mr. Spinners with Waffle Bar
Taco Cat
Tide & Vine Oyster Company

TOFoodFest

29 Jul

TO Food Fest - Scarborough

Toronto Underground Market has done a number of great things for Toronto, including launching the careers of a number of aspiring chefs.  It has also inspired others, such as TO Food Fest, to create neighbourhood festivals that promote neighbourhood chefs, bakers, restaurants and caterers. TO Food Fest was held on July 29 in Scarborough and, while not prolific among the Twitterazi, it had many interested Scarborough and Markham residents attending.

How About Those Meatballs at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

How About Those Meatballs at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

TO Food Fest had a mix of established vendors and vendors that were new to the food scene. One of the exciting new vendors was How ‘Bout Those Meatballs?! Meatballs made from a mix of pork and beef, slow cooked in his Nona’s sauce and then served on a charcoal-grilled bun? Yes please! The meatballs were incredibly simple and they tasted just as if they were served from a grandmother’s kitchen. Juicy and tender and very meat forward, they were incredible. The spices were simple and it was all about the meat, the sauce and the technique. I could have eaten twenty of these, but we had other booths to sample.

Bake'n at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughBake'n at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Bake’n was sampling their bacon-laden desserts, like bacon caramel popcorn, bacon cheesecake and sticky toffee bacon cake. The winner was the sticky toffee cake, which wasn’t overly heavy or cloyingly sweet. It was warm, tasty, gooey and delicious and didn’t leave you with a sugar hangover after you finished it.

Fruitysplendour at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughFruitysplendour at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Fruitysplendour were more or less the definition of eye candy. Their designs were beautiful and skillful. We had to get close before we could believe that they were actually made from fruit and vegetables!

Comida Del Pueblo at Toronto Food Fest in ScarboroughComida Del Pueblo at Toronto Food Fest in Scarborough

Comida Del Pueblo is a TUM favourite and makes one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich. Their take on grilled cheese is made with a homemade jalapeño cornbread, refried beans and cheese, then covered with guacamole and sour cream.

Pativa Restaurant at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

I’ve sworn off Indian food for over 5 years. I find that the over-use of ghee spoils a lot of otherwise delicious meals for me. I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to Pavitra Restaurant. Their chef believes in letting the spices and meats do the talking and either minimizes or eliminates the use of ghee in his dishes. I decided to put a halt to my Indian food boycott and tried his samosas with chicken tiki masala.  He was true to his word; the tiki masala gravy didn’t have that greasy heaviness that I’m unfortunately accustomed to, and was rich only in seasoning and flavour. We’ll definitely be taking the trip to Guildwood to eat at Pavita!

Tacocat at TO Food Fest in ScarboroughSquid Taco from Tacocat at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

Tacocat was another newcomer to the food festival scene. Imagine 20 friends – all university grads – wearing Nyan Cat-esque purple t-shirts and offering Asian-style tacos. Robin tried the squid taco and was instantly in love with it. The pineapple mayo and salsa with the deep-fried squid was surprisingly refreshing and not a combination that is tasted often, which is a shame!

Some of the many vendors at TO Food Fest in Scarborough

With limited time and stomach space, we weren’t able to cover some of the other booths, including Filipino food, beef-cheek buns, pulled pork kimchee sandwiches, macarons and cupcakes. It was great to see strong food options coming out of Scarborough and we can’t wait until next year’s festival.

TO FoodFest
@TOFoodFest
tofoodfest.com

Bees, Mead and Cheese with Rosewood Estates

23 Jul

Getting ready for an evening of bees, mead and cheese

Last Thursday, Le Dolci in Dundas West held an evening of mead, honey and cheese tasting, hosted by Krystina Romen from Rosewood Estates. Rosewood is an apiary, a winery and a meadery. Krystina gave us some background on the beekeeping side of things and explained how they produce honey. It’s a really interesting process. Some quick facts about beekeeping:

-A single honeybee will fly approximately 50,000km and visit over 1,000,000 flowers to make one pound of honey. Good thing that the average number of bees per hive is 75,000!

-A worker bee (most of which are female) lives for about 30-42 days. The Queen Bee, however, lives between 3-5 years.

-Honey never goes bad and doesn’t need to be refrigerated after opening.

-Bees only fly within a 5km radius of their hives. That means that by carefully selecting the location of a hive, it is possible to control the types of flowers that the bees use to make honey. Rosewood’s bees make their honey from wild flowers, clover, mint, goldenrod and Russian sage.

Wildflower Honey tasting

And then we got to the tasting! First we tried Rosewood’s honey. It’s 100% raw and unpasteurized, and because of the natural process of its production, its taste can change from year to year depending on which flowers are more abundant. It was mild and sweet, but the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. I tried it later on some blue cheese and nearly died. That is a pairing that you should try whether or not you’re a fan of blue cheese. It just might convert you!

2009 Mead Blanc from Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery. Mixed with Gewurztraminer juice.

The first mead that we tried was the 2009 Mead Blanc. It’s fermented with Gewurtztraminer juice and aged in a stainless steel tank to preserve its unique aromas of mandarin orange, ripe pineapple  and lychee. We paired this with a mango & ginger Stilton and the two got along very nicely on my palate.

Mead Noir from Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery. Blended with Pinot Noir.

Next we tried the Mead Noir, which is a new release. It’s produced in the same way as the Mead Blanc, but is fermented with Pinot Noir juice. It had flavours of fresh strawberries, dried raspberries, and apricot.

2007 Mon Cherie Sour Cherry Mead

Next was the 2007 Mon Cherie, blended with sour cherry juice. I had expected something much more sour, but it was very sweet. Krystina recommended that we try this one with one with chocolate and it was a winning combination.

2008 Mead Royale

The 2008 Mead Royale is aged in French oak barrels for 8 months. It was sweeter than some of the other meads that we’d had because it wasn’t blended with anything. This is a pure honey wine. It had wonderful hints of caramelized pears, and a very viscous mouth-feel. This paired beautifully with the goat Beemster and would go well with other sharp cheddars. This is the only bottle that we tasted that night that’s currently available at select LCBOs.

Krystina Roman from Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery

I forgot to take a picture of the last glass of mead… After 4 glasses can you really blame me? This was the most luxurious of the meads that we tasted. It was the 2006 Grand Reserve Ambrosia, aged in French oak barrels for 2 years. It had a very rich and complex nose and was nice and full bodied. The sweetness lingered but wasn’t overwhelming. I paired this one with some blue cheese dipped in honey and swooned! Another swoon-worthy food pairing suggested for this mead: Duck liver pate.

At the end of the tasting, Krystina had a bottle of the Mead Royale to give away to the person who could answer this question: Which of Rosewood Estates’ meads are aged in oak barrels? Guess who got the answer right! It pays to be a blogger who takes notes. :)

A bottle of the 2008 Mead Royal, won for correctly identifying which 2 meads from Rosewood are barrel aged.

Thanks to Stella at Food Junkie Chronicles for asking me to join her as her guest for the evening, and thanks to Le Dolci for being such lovely hosts.

Death Row Meals Supper Club: Tacos, Tacos, Tacos… & Booze.

17 Jan

The name of this event kind of says it all: Tacos, tacos, tacos… & booze.

Passing around the tacos

Rossy Earle of SupiCucu and Nick Lau of Niagara Street Cafe

Grabbing a taco

On Sunday, 6 amazing chefs gathered at Milagro Cantina to battle for our tastebuds’ love with their tacos. We were given a score card with a description of the 6 tacos we would be eating. Without knowing which chefs made with tacos, we scored each one for flavour, appearance, and originality.

Nick Liu of Niagara Street Cafe's taco - Crispy octopus and jicama

At the end of the afternoon, the scores were tallied, and Nick Liu from Niagara Street Cafe was the winner with his  crispy octopus taco with smoked paprika caponata, chorizo bacon, spicy tomato aioli on a jicama “tortilla”, paired with Steamwhistle. This was definitely the most original of all of the tacos. I wasn’t surprised that it scored high across the board for taste, appearance and originality. Definitely a winning combination!

Rossy Earle of SupiCucu's taco.

The runner-up was Rossy Earle of SupiCucu. Her taco was a green plantain tortilla with avocado cream, braised & pulled chipotle smoked duck, chayote & tomato pickled slaw, culantro lime cream, duck skin chicharron, paired with Spearhead. Rossy always does an amazing job with making food that is the perfect combination of spicy and smokey without being overpowering. Her taco was actually my favourite of the day in terms of taste. When I ate it, the juices dripped down my wrist, which to me is always an indication of a good taco. The Spearhead was a great choice for a pairing and the pineapple notes in the beer played nicely with her smoked duck.

Steve Gonzalez' taco

Steve Gonzalez’ taco: a grilled adobo pork tender, tomatillo and corn relish. roasted garlic and lime crema on a refried bean tortilla, paired with Corona. This was very similar to the taco that he made when he was the guest chef for one of La Carnita’s pop-ups, so even though we weren’t told right away that this was Steve’s taco we figured it out. The refried bean tortilla was unique, and the salsa was perfectly smokey and sweet.

Tom Davis from Stockyards' taco

Tom Davis from Stockyards‘ taco: braised beef cheek and smoked beef tongue with avocado crema, pickled red onion, cilantro, and duo of house smoked hot sauces, paired with Trapiche Malbec. This one had me at “house smoked hot sauces” and was another one of my favourites of the day. Though tacos seem to go hand-in-hand with beer and tequila, I thought that the Malbec was a very nice accompaniment and would have gone well with some of the others as well.

Andres Marquez of Charlies Burgers' taco

Andres Marquez of Charlies Burgers‘ taco: Carne asada of smoked and grilled marinated kobe knuckle, fresh flour tortillas, salsa taquera garnished with grilled scallions, paired with Tequila Tromba Blanco (available soon at the LCBO). Compared to some of the other tacos we had seen that afternoon, this one looked very plain. I didn’t see any of the promised grilled scallions, either. But the beef was well cooked and the fresh flour tortilla was pure simplistic perfection.

Arturo Anhalt of Milagro's taco

Arturo Anhalt of Milagro‘s taco: Longaniza (spicy street style chorizo) with salsa verde, onion and nopales (cactus), paired with with Don Julio Blanco. The chorizo wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was very good.

Joel Solish with Nick Liu, the winner of the Death Row Meals Supper Club's taco battle.

The man behind the afternoon’s festivities was Joel Solish, a food blogger, local food advocate and all-around amazing guy. He promises that there will be more exciting installments of the Death Row Meals Supper Club soon. The next event will be showcasing some of the city’s best sous-chefs; Sort of like a preview of Toronto’s up and coming stars. Stay tuned to Living.Loving.Local’s Facebook page for information about upcoming dinners.

Photos and Words by Robin

Toronto Underground Market, Part 2

23 Oct

Last night we headed to the Evergreen Brickworks for the second installment of the Toronto Underground Market. The first event, held last September in the same space, was wildly successful and last night’s event sold out in just a few days! The cold weather didn’t deter anyone and there was a huge crowd of hungry foodies waiting outside the doors at 6pm sharp, waiting anxiously.

Among the vendors were some old favourites (La Carnita was back and so were Comida del Pueblo and Popover Girl), as well as many new additions. While I did a lap to see what was new, Richard volunteered to go and wait in the line at La Carnita, which was strategically placed at the end of a hall of old brick kilns so that their predictably massive line-up wouldn’t impose itself too much on the surrounding vendors. Richard said that as he speed-walked towards their booth he saw people actually sprinting to get there first. By the time I joined him in line fifteen minutes later he was near the front, but the line was easily over 20 feet long by then.

The line-up for La Carnita at Toronto Underground Market Part 2

Andrew Richmond of La Carnita serving up tacos at Toronto Underground Market

Tacos and art from La Carnita at Toronto Underground Market

This time they were serving up their famous Voltron fish taco (which I’ve raved about before) and there was a new guy in town: Cochinata Pibil pork taco. The Voltron fish taco was just as perfect as I remember it, and though the presentation seemed to have been sacrificed a bit in the name of speed, which was understanable.  This time around there was a very generous amount of Voltron sauce. It still had that perfect amount of heat and cinnamon, and the breaded fish was crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. I love this taco to death! I think that I’d request it as a last meal.

The Cochinata Pibil taco certainly gave the Voltron fish taco some healthy competition for my heart, though. The pork was juicy, spicy, tangy and almost tasted a bit smokey, which may have been because the meat was cooked in banana leaves. It was well balanced by crumbly cheese and little pieces sweet and slightly tart fruit, and topped with pea shoots and a ring of something beautifully bright and pink which I couldn’t identify. One of the many things that I love about La Carnita is their attention to detail. They always make sure that the ingredients in their tacos are as interesting to look at as they are to taste.

Kurt from Westside Beef serving up his delicious beef Po Boys at Toronto Underground Market

We visited Kurt at Westside Beef again so that my dad and his girlfriend, who came all the way from Brantford for the night after hearing about the last event, could try his beef po boys. They were just as good as last time!

The boys at Popover Girl stuffing popovers at Toronto Undeground Market

Eggplant Popover from Popover Girl at Toronto Underground Market

Mini Walnut and Fig Tapenade popovers from Popover Girl at Toronto Underground Market

I didn’t try the popovers from Popover Girl at the first Underground Market, but there were healthy debates about her popovers in the comments on my post. People thought that the flavours weren’t very prominent and wanted the popovers themselves to be served hot. Lora, Popover Girl herself, said that next time she was going to focus more on just a few different kinds of popovers and stuffing them with fresh, hot fillings. When I saw the big trays of hot fillings behind her booth this time around I couldn’t resist finding out how these changes would affect the quality. I ordered an eggplant popover, which was filled with a deconstructed eggplant Parmesan and my dad’s girlfriend got the mini walnut and fig tapenade popovers. There weren’t many people in line ahead of us, but they had lost power right before the market opened and they were playing catch-up trying to get things hot again. They were worth the wait and I really respect a person who takes constructive criticism and comes out on top. When we walked past her booth at 8pm it had a line that was almost as long as La Carnita’s line! I wish that I had tried the porchetta popover since it seems that it was a huge hit with everyone I talked to.

Oatmeal Coffee Stout from F&M Brewery (Guelph, Ontario) at Toronto Underground Market

Right beside Popover Girl was F&M Brewery‘s booth. They’re located in Guelph and I’ve heard good things about them but hadn’t had the opportunity to try their beer yet because it’s hard to find in Toronto. I was thrilled to see that they had an oatmeal coffee stout on tap because I love dark beer. The darker the better! And this beer was definitely dark. Not a single wave of light was penetrating this glass. It was a very good stout with lots of deep flavour and a good amount of bitterness. Other breweries at the event were Mill Street, Spearhead (Richard had their Hawaiian style Pale Ale, brewed with pineapples) and Flying Monkeys, all of whom are great local craft breweries. There was also a hard alcohol vendor selling rum, but his booth looked pretty lonely every time we walked by.

Romanian Meatball Soup from Hai La Masa at Toronto Underground Market

I was starting to lose some steam at this point, but Richard wanted to try this Romanian meatball soup from Hai La Masa. It had meatballs and roasted vegetables, and the sign said that it was “soured with bors and lovage”. Bors is a fermented wheat water, and it did have an interesting sour taste, but nothing overwhelming. For the most part it tasted like a comforting homemade soup, like the kind your grandma would make for you on a cold day.

Bacon caramel popcorn from the Picnic Society at Toronto Underground Market

Bacon caramel popcorn from the Picnic Society at Toronto Underground Market

Bacon caramel popcorn from the Picnic Society at Toronto Underground Market

This was a very smart choice for the Underground Market: Bacon Caramel popcorn from the Picnic Society! It was easy to serve quickly, so there were virtually no line-ups even though they were cranking this stuff out like crack. Foodies love their bacon, especially when it’s combined with something sweet. This popcorn was a perfect combination of sweet and savory and had a little bite of heat to it at the end. It went really well with my oatmeal coffee stout from F&M, but probably would have been well complimented by their homemade lemonade, which was being served with cute paper straws. I loved their branding.

We really wanted to go to Comida del Pueblo after tasting their jalapeno corn bread grilled cheese at the last market, but their line-up was huge! It snaked around the space in a semi-circle and I’m sure that it would have taken nearly half an hour to get to the front. They were serving the corn bread grilled cheese again, and this time they also had a water buffalo empananda and banana beignets with a caramel filling. Friends told me that the beignets alone were worth the wait.

Samosas at Toronto Underground Market

Just when I thought that we were done eating, Richard appeared with 3 samosas in his hand. I thought that I was full, but I couldn’t resist. They were piping hot and crispy and they were filled with chicken and beef with lots of bright vegetables. They weren’t ground-breaking, but their ingredients were of a much higher quality than most of the samosas that I’ve had.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pie from Morsel at Toronto Underground Market

For dessert we had a cute little pumpkin whoopie pie from Morsel. It had an amazing pumpkin pie flavour and the filling was creamy and sweet.

Mini cupcakes from Sullivan & Bleeker Baking Co. at Toronto Underground Market

Mini cupcakes from Sullivan & Bleeker Baking Co. at Toronto Underground Market

How cute are these mini cupcakes from Sullivan & Bleeker Baking Co.? I couldn’t resist this little guy. They looked like itty-bitty ice-cream sundaes! I’m sorry to report that shortly after Richard took this picture of me, I was trying to balance my camera and my cupcakes and my cell phone and I dropped a cupcake on the ground! At least it wasn’t my camera, right?

Jerk Chicken plate at Toronto Underground Market

Why is it that you always find such delicious food when you’re way too full to eat it? We ran into a friend who had just picked up this plate of jerk chicken, slaw, plantains and rice from a vendor whose name he couldn’t remember. The jerk chicken smelled so peppery and good! Another vendor that I really wish I had seen earlier was the one right at the entrance. The booth was run by the Thistletown High School Chefs – A group of high school students under the guidance of a teacher/chef. They were serving a few different types of pasta and while we were milling around the doors getting ready to leave we smelled their food and saw people walking away with the most beautiful looking pasta dishes. I wished that I had room in my stomach for some of it. I hope that they’re at the next market in November. Apparently there were also some lobster churros being served somewhere. I wish that I’d seen those, too!

All in all, this month’s market was a big success. I think that Hassel and the other organizers learned a lot from the inaugural event last month. It seemed less crowded this time (even though it was sold out like the last one) and we were able to stay until 8pm without feeling like we might get trampled. I think that part of the reason for this was that the vendors that they expected to draw the biggest lines spaced apart from each other so that their lines don’t converge and cause congestion. The list of vendors was well chosen with lots of variety and a good balance between professionals (caterers, bakeries, breweries) and home chefs.

The last Underground Market of 2011 will be on November 19th (but there will be more events in 2012). Tickets sell out fast, so watch Toronto Underground Market on Twitter or Facebook to find out when you can buy yours.

Toronto Underground Market, Part 1

25 Sep

The food revolution in Toronto started with events like Food Truck Eats and La Carnita’s pop-up taco stands, and it continued last night at the Toronto Underground Market. 25 vendors without their own restaurants or food trucks came together to share their food with Toronto’s hungry masses. Organized by the ambitious Hassel Aviles, it took place at the Evergreen Brickworks, nestled between old brick kilns.

Toronto Underground Market at the Evergreen Brickworks

I loved the Brickworks as a venue for this event. Before Evergreen bought this building and renovated it, Richard and I used to sneak in with our cameras to take pictures. It was strange and nice to be back in this room, buzzing with life, when we had spent so much time there in silence and darkness. It created a great vibe for the market, which wouldn’t have felt quite as cool and underground if it had been held in a more modern or sterile venue.

We wanted to get some tacos from La Carnita, but the line-up was huge. It stretched from their booth in the corner of the market all the way to the seating area in between the kilns! It’s amazing to see the response that La Carnita gets everywhere they go. They’re celebrities of the underground food scene in Toronto. People love their tacos, and for good reason! You can see my behind-the-scenes post about one of their pop-up taco stands here.

Beef PoBoy from Westside Beef at Toronto Underground Market

The first thing that we tried was the beef po boy from Westside Beef. Kurt, the owner, is one of the guys who is usually helping with La Carnita, but Westside Beef is his baby. The po boy was small, but what it lacked in size it made up for in taste. The beef was hearty and saucy while still being easy to eat while standing, and it was incredibly tender. This was one of my favourite dishes of the night!

Scotch Eggs at Toronto Underground Market

Scotch Eggs at Toronto Underground Market

Next, we tried some traditional scotch eggs. These were good, especially after drizzling them with some Tabasco, but I think that they would have been better if they hadn’t been so cold. I know that they’re traditionally served at this temperature, but I think that they would have been much better if they were a bit warmer. They didn’t even need to be hot, they just needed to be closer to room temperature. This is probably just a personal preference.

Bacon and Egg Dumplings

Next up: More eggs! These were bacon and egg dumplings from Les Amis d’Oeuf. I have no idea how they made these, but they were very interesting. The egg seemed to be steamed in the wrapper, and the yolk was still runny in the middle. It was an inventive dish and it was very well executed. This was another favourite. I’d like to see them do other breakfast dumplings for next month’s market.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry at Toronto Underground Market.

A nice change of pace was the chicken curry from The Backyard Kitchen. It had a nice coconut taste and a bit of spice and heat. It had wonderful little beads of oil on the top. It wasn’t as rich was I was expecting it to be, but I really enjoyed it. We were lucky to find a table to eat it on, though. It would have been quite difficult to eat this while standing up. This booth was also serving pulled pork sandwiches that looked really good, but at this point we were trying to save room in our stomachs.

Bahn Mi at Toronto Underground Market

We got a sneak peek of some of the dishes that would be at the Underground Market a few months ago and this was one that I was very excited to try. It’s a Latino bánh mì from Comida del Pueblo. It looked very similar to a traditional bánh mì, but it tasted unlike any bánh mì I’ve ever had. The buns are homemade! There was chicken hiding behind the pickled carrots and the cilantro and it was well complimented by a tangy sauce.

Jalapeno grilled cheese on corn bread at Toronto Underground Market.

Also from Comida del Pueblo, we got this grilled cheese sandwich. Like the bánh mì, it wasn’t your average grilled cheese. It was made with homemade jalapeno cornbread. Sharing space in between the slices of cornbread was the cheese and some refried beans, and on top of the sandwich was some very exceptional guacamole. I would have eaten a bowl of that guacamole on its own. This was a good sandwich, but it was so hard to eat! The cornbread was crumbly and it fell apart as we picked it up. Still, after finishing his half and some of mine, Richard wanted to go back for seconds!

Macarons at Toronto Underground Market

Macarons at Toronto Underground Market

We’d had our fill of savory treats, so we moved on to the sweets. The macarons from Katrina’s were so beautiful! We got the salted caramel and the lemon marscapone, and I wish that we’d bought some to bring home. The salted caramel were especially good. The flavours were a lot more intense than I’ve tasted in other macarons.

Ice cream sandwich at Toronto Underground Market

Ice cream sandwich at Toronto Underground Market

This ice cream sandwich was confusing. I wasn’t sure if it was a dessert or not! It certainly looked like one, but the ice cream was made of cream cheese and instead of chocolate chips there were little chunks of smoked salmon and lemon zest in it. The concept was a good one, but something about it wasn’t quite right. When you got a bite of the smoked salmon, it was really salty but there wasn’t anything to balance it out. The savory foods in ice cream thing seems to work a lot better with bacon than with fish.

Creme brulee from the Lunch Room at Toronto Underground Market

Creme brulee from the Lunch Room at Toronto Underground Market

This was our last treat: Creme brulee from The Lunch Room. I was really full at this point but I did find some room and I’m glad that I did. It was one of the better creme brulees I’ve had. I find that some creme brulees are a bit too firm and Jello-y in texture, but this had the velvety texture of soft ice cream. The custard underneath was flecked with vanilla and the burnt sugar topping was perfectly crunchy. Definitely a nice way to end the night.

This was the inaugural Toronto Underground Market and there will be many more in the future, with Part 2 on October 22. Tickets for October’s market go on sale on Monday September 26th and if the response is anything like it was for the first market, you should buy your tickets soon because they’ll sell out quickly!

yumtum.ca | @TOundrgroundmkt

Chef Steve Gonzalez Breaks a Barbecue World Record.

16 Sep

Chef Steve Gonzalez of Top Chef Canada, breaks the world record for longest barbecue in Toronto

Chef Steve Gonzalez of Top Chef Canada, breaks the world record for longest barbecue in Toronto

Chef Steve Gonzalez of Top Chef Canada, breaks the world record for longest barbecue in Toronto

Chef Steve Gonzalez of Top Chef Canada, breaks the world record for longest barbecue in Toronto

On Labour Day weekend, I was an official witness for Chef Steve Gonzalez’s attempt to break the Guiness Book of World Records’ record for longest barbecue marathon. He grilled for 32 hours and broke the record! I wrote about my experience for Spotlight Toronto (run by Food Truck Eats organizer Suresh Doss). You can see the post here.

 

 

La Carnita’s Pop-Up Taco Party

27 Aug

One of the hottest new restaurants in Toronto isn’t even a restaurant. On Thursday I had a unique opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of the purveyors of what is arguably Toronto’s best taco: La Carnita, headed up by Andrew Richmond who, when he’s not making tacos, is the creative director at OneMethod digital & design agency.

La Carnita Pop-Up Taco Shop at F-Stop in Toronto

In the beginning, La Carnita was nothing more than a concept test. The concept: A pop-up taco shop. Buy a piece of limited edition art, get a few free tacos. Matt Webb, one of the graphic designers at OneMethod, made the logo and the iconic “meat-head” artwork that was handed out on the first pop-up day. Andrew originally just wanted to see what the reaction would be. “I think that the concept has been proven successful,” he said. The first pop-up was at lunchtime in the OneMethod studio (where Andrew and the rest of the La Carnita crew work) and sold out in 45 minutes. The second pop-up (also in OneMethod’s studio) with guest chef Scott Vivian of Beast Restaurant sold out in just 18 minutes. Their 3rd pop-up and their stand at Food Truck Eats were just as successful.

Last night’s pop-up was different from previous pop-ups because it was at a bar where patrons were able to get a beer and eat their tacos at a table and it was the first pop-up so far to happen at after work hours, starting at 6pm. The guest chef for the evening was Top Chef Canada contestant Steve Gonzales, formerly the Chef de Cuisine at Origin.

Anyone who’s watched Top Chef Canada will remember Chef Steve Gonzales as the fun-loving Latino chef who liked to put a modern spin on classic Latino food. So it’s fitting that he would partner up with La Carnita, making a taco called “The Latino Five-Spice”. I got to follow Steve and Andrew and the rest of the La Carnita crew around for the afternoon to see what goes into preparing for a pop-up restaurant.

Steve Gonzales grilling some corn for the La Carnita Pop-Up Taco Shop at F-Stop in Toronto

When I got to F-Stop, Steve was outside on the patio grilling corn that was still in the husks for a tomatillo corn salsa while tinny Latino groves played from his iPod. He explained that by soaking the husks in water and making sure that they’re moist during the grilling process, you can get an amazing smoky flavour on the corn. Andrew said that he loves having guest chefs come in to cook with him because he learns a lot from them, and I can see why. I learned a lot about grilling just from watching Steve and asking questions.

Grilling corn for Steve Gonzales' La Carnita taco

Grilled spanish onions for Steve Gonzales of Top Chef Canada's taco for La Carnita's pop-up taco shop

Grilled corn for Steve Gonzales' La Carnita taco

For every pop-up, there’s a new location and therefore new challenges to overcome regarding the space. Deep fryers and tables were moved around, then moved back, then moved around again as Andrew and the crew tried to find the best possible set-up for the evening. I asked Andrew if he found the uncertainty to be frustrating, but he said that it’s one of his favourite things about the pop-up. This is clearly a man who likes a challenge.

Throughout the afternoon, everyone was going back and forth between F-Stop and OneMethod studios where the kitchen was located. Luckily, the two were only a few minutes’ walk from each other.

Interior of OneMethod, home of La Carnita

Illustrations at OneMethod, home of La Carnita

OneMethod, home of La Carnita

OneMethod’s studio is super cool, and it’s the kind of place that I’d hope to be lucky enough to work at if I were a graphic designer. I loved the quotes on the office doors. My favourite one was, “People ignore design that ignores people.” I also give kudos to everyone who continued to work hard all through the preparations for La Carnita, and to Andrew who was managing to do design approvals in between prep tasks.

Steve Gonzales prepping for La Carnita in OneMethod's kitchen

Steve Gonzales and Andrew Richmond prepping for La Carnita in OneMethod's kitchen

Steve Gonzales' charred tomatillo and corn salsa for La Carnita

The atmosphere in the kitchen was all business as Andrew and Steve finished their last bit of prep before heading back down to F-Stop to start cooking. Steve’s salsa was starting to take shape and the discarded corn husks were filling the whole studio with a warm smokey smell. I wonder if the graphic designers were getting hungry as I was?

Meathead arrives on the scene for La Carnita

The line-up outside La Carnita at 5pm, one hour before opening!

Matt carried “meat-head” down to F-Stop, a sign that things were really getting close. One hour before the doors opened there was already a line-up.

Prepping for the crowd at La Carnita

The Voltron fish taco from La Carnita

Steve Gonzales' Latino Five-Spice Taco for La Carnita

Look at these beautiful little things! The Voltron fish taco (which I raved about in my post from Food Truck Eats) was looking just as dashing and delicious as I remember it. Steve’s Latino Five-Spice taco was a beautiful grilled adobo pork loin, re-fried black beans and charred tomatillo and corn salsa. It was true to Steve’s “Latino with a twist” style of cooking. The pork loin was moist and tender, and the salsa took it to another level. It had a perfect balance of spice, acidity and sweetness with a touch of smokiness.

Dushan Milic, La Carnita's featured artist, holding one of his prints.

And let’s not forget about the art! Thursday’s artist was Dushan Milic. Go and take a look at his work! I was really impressed by both his illustrations and his client list. He’s done work for The Walrus, The Globe and Mail and the New York Times, to name a few.

Andrew Richmond making tacos for La Carnita

Andrew Richmond and Steve Gonzales making tacos for La Carnita

The La Carnita Crew

Andrew Richmond and Steve Gonzales making tacos for La Carnita

In about 90 minutes, 200 limited edition prints were sold and over 400 tacos were made. It was a thing of beauty to see how smoothly everything went. These guys are like a well-oiled machine. Considering that none of them has had professional training in the culinary arts (aside from Steve, of course), they worked like pros.

Andrew Richmond of La Carnita with Steve Gonzales

Andrew, Josh, Kurt and Steve - The La Carnita Crew

So what’s next for La Carnita? They want to keep doing pop-ups and have a few more ambitious ideas floating around (a whole-pig taco dinner with another well-known guest chef  might be in the works but you didn’t hear that from me). Although nothing is in the works yet, Andrew would love to open up a full-out taquería where he could serve his tacos along with craft beer and local wines in a laid-back atmosphere. He worries that there might be a negative reaction from people who want them to continue to do the underground pop-up thing, but suspects that most people will be pretty receptive to the idea. I think so too. I mean, can you really imagine someone saying, “I don’t like being able to get this Voltron fish taco whenever I want it. I liked it better when I could only get one every 2 weeks and I had to wait in a huge line first!” ….Yeah. Neither can I.

To find out when the next pop-up will be, follow @la_carnita on Twitter.

La Carnita will be at the Toronto Underground Market on September 24.

Food Truck Eats, Part Two

21 Aug

This afternoon, the Distillery District in Toronto was transformed into a wonderland of foodie fun. 13 food trucks and 13 vendors set themselves up along the cobblestone streets and served their delightful dishes to thousands of Torontonians. Word on the street is that 10,000 people came out to the event today. It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that this city of ours is starving for a food truck culture of our own.

We got to the Distillery at around 10:30, even though the trucks weren’t supposed to start serving til 11. Second Harvest was collecting donations, and for a $10 donation you could get a wristband that would allow you “VIP access” to the trucks and vendors before the official 11am start. Second Harvest is a great charity and I had no problems giving them a bit of money so that they could help hungry people while we stuffed our faces at 10:30am.

Roast Beef Sandwich

While I was lined up at El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (one of the longest line-ups), Richard wandered off and found a truck with a short line (I think it was Big Grill Catering) and came back with a roast beef sandwich. It was a good warm-up. Nothing overly exciting, but it was great comfort food and it was really moist and saucy.

el gastronomo vagabundo

Corn Fritter at el gastronomo vagabundo

Bangkok Dangerous Taco at el gastronomo vagabundo

El Gastronomo Vagabundo’s truck had a huge line-up, even at 10:30am when the only people in line were the VIPs. They’re very active on Twitter, they were at the last Food Truck Eats event, and they’re at Flat Rock Cellars in wine country on the weekends. They get around! I’d heard great things about them and I was eager to try what they were offering today: Chili Corn Fritters and the “Bangkok Dangerous” Taco. The corn fritters were amazing. The outside was lightly crispy, the inside was fluffy and slightly sweet, and the cucumber with the basil and hot&sour sauce gave them a nice light crunch and a punch of flavour. I wasn’t as big of a fan of the taco. It was supposed to have green curry coconut cream and pickled lotus root, but I didn’t really taste any of those things. There wasn’t any bite from the curry, the coconut was very subtle and I didn’t taste anything pickled. I was expecting a bit more from them, but the taco didn’t blow me away.

Maple Bacon Donut from Po'Nuts (aka Beast Restaurant) at Food Truck Eats II

Our next stop was at Po’Nuts (aka Beast Restaurant) for a maple bacon donut. I’ve had their donuts before, and Richard couldn’t resist their sweet & salty goodness so we got one to share. It was actually even better than the one that we had at the restaurant! I think that they were being made fresh right there, because they still felt warm. Can you really go wrong with maple, bacon and a donut? I don’t think so.

Menu

Wasabi Lobster Wrap

The next thing I tried was a wasabi lobster wrap from Simple Fish & Chips. This was one of the larger portions that I found today, and it was soooo filling! I would have preferred to pay $3 or $3.50 and get half as much. At an event that’s centered around eating, you want small portions so that you can sample a lot of different things and this wrap was so huge that I wrapped 75% of it up in newspaper to save for later (and now I’m craving it!). It tasted really good, with a bit of lettuce to give it some crunch and the right amount of wasabi to give it a bit of a bite without being overpowering, but it was also quite heavy. I hadn’t even eaten that much at this point, but after biting into this wrap I felt like this (and Richard caught me off guard, by the way. This is not a pose. This is actually how I was feeling):

Overeating

But I’m not the kind of girl who stops eating when her stomach starts to hurt! Oh, no! I’m a trooper. I paid good money for that wristband and I was going to get my money’s worth out of it! I told that stomach ache to shut up and then I went to visit La Carnita.

Peppermint Iced Tea from La Carnita at Food Truck Eats

Tacos from La Carnita at Food Truck Eats

Fish taco from La Carnita at Food Truck Eats

Yay, I finally got to try the tacos from La Carnita! These guys have been the talk of the town since they started doing their “pop-up taco stand” in random locations in the city. I’m always busy on the days that they’re popping up, so I hadn’t had a chance to try their tacos… Until now! And wow, these tacos really live up to the hype. First of all, look how pretty they are! I love the bright, fresh colours. Second, they are just crazy-amazing. The “Voltron” fish taco was lightly crispy and the “Voltron” sauce had the most amazing little zing of heat and cinnamon. The chorizo taco had what I first thought was mango, but it was actually Ontario peaches! Although mango is what you’d expect, using local peaches, which are in season and delicious right now, was a really great idea. The mix of sweet and spicy was really nice and kept the taco from feeling too heavy. I really both of loved these! We also got a peppermint iced tea, which was really nice and perfectly refreshing.

Chorizo Empenada from Supi Cucu (aka Chef Rossy Earle) at Food Truck Eats

Chorizo Empenada from Supi Cucu (aka Chef Rossy Earle) at Food Truck Eats

Chef Rossy and Bret

Our last stop was at our friend Chef Rossy Earle’s booth to get some of her Panamanian food. We had a chorizo & queso empanada and got a bottle of her amazing “salsa de fuego” hot sauce, which is quite possibly the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted in my life. It’s super spicy but not overly vinegary and it has the best smoky taste. I want to eat this stuff on everything! Also, how cute is she with her son? The two of them were having a blast together!

It’s safe to say that Food Truck Eats 2 was a huge success. Most of the vendors sold out close to the end and I heard lots of positive feedback from everyone I talked to.  The man behind the event was Suresh Doss, who deserves a huge pat on the back or a high five or something for all of the hard work that he put into this event, the one before it, and the final event that is rumored to be happening in October, as well as his efforts to try to bring awareness to all of the awesome food trucks that are in Ontario. Thanks for a fantastic day, Suresh!

Suresh Doss, organizer of Food Truck Eats

Oh, wait! Our last stop wasn’t TRULY our last stop. After leaving the Distillery, biking up to the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers’ Market and coming home to shower, we went back to the Distillery to buy a Growler of the German Weissbier at Mill Street Brewery. Food Truck Eats was winding down and it was technically over but Thundering Thelma, the Caplansky’s truck, was still there and I just couldn’t resist. I got a deep fried pickle on a stick:

Deep Fried Pickle on a Stick from Caplansky's Deli at Food Truck Eats

If you love food trucks and you want to see them in Toronto on public property, please sign the petition! http://www.gopetition.com/petition/38953.html

You can also show your support by like-ing Ontario Food Trucks on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ontariofoodtrucks

And you can find out about the next Food Truck Eats event as soon as it’s announced by RSVPing to the event here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=154590901289307

Toronto Bakes for Japan @ The Evergreen Brickworks

9 Apr

This morning I woke up early and headed down to the Evergreen Brickworks to volunteer as a photographer for Toronto Bakes for Japan.

I’m going to try to avoid being wordy here. Let me just gush a little bit about this beautiful bakesale. Heena (Tiffin Tales) and Niya (Destiny, Domesticity & Dirty Secrets) decided to organize Toronto Bakes for Japan after seeing the footage of the tsunami on TV. It started out as just an idea, but shortly after putting out a call for help the support for their cause came pouring in. It started as a single bakesale at Liberty Noodle and quickly snowballed into 6 bakesales across the city! Most of the sales are on Sunday, so if you’re reading this on Saturday night you might want to clear your schedule and make time to visit some of the other locations tomorrow. A complete list of venues (and lots of other important information) can be found on their official site: Toronto Bakes for Japan.

The organizers, Niya and Heena, with one of their awesome volunteers.

See the machinery behind the table? Evergreen Brickworks used to be a real brick factory. For the longest time it was abandoned, and I remember sneaking in with my camera to take pictures inside before it was renovated. Also, the line-up looked like this pretty much all day!

The table was overwhelmingly full, but as you can see from the last photo there were also loads and loads of baked goods waiting in the wings for restocking. It warms my heart thinking about the amazing generosity of all of the people who donated their time, money and elbow grease to the event. I wish that I could gather them all up and hug them.

If you’re reading this and you volunteered, please let me a comment and tell me what you made so that I can give you proper recognition, because you REALLY deserve it!

One of my favourite things about the whole day was watching the look of pure bliss on the faces of the kids who came by the table. I’m sure that a lot of adults felt the exact same way when they saw us, but as adults we learn to get better at concealing our excitement about cake. :)

After seeing this are you understanding why I told you to clear your schedule for tomorrow? I’m actually planning on getting to one of the venues tomorrow as well, because I know that there will be totally different things tomorrow and I’m really excited to see what everyone has come up with! If you’re baking for one of the venues tomorrow, leave a comment and tell me where you’ll be and what you’re baking! Inquiring minds want to know.

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