toronto food. right now.

from last night's 4suppers featuring a collaboration between Chef Basilio Pesce of Porzia and Chef Matty Matheson of Parts & Labour
I'd like to preface this post by saying that I don't claim to be a culinary expert of any sort. I am simply someone who has grown up with a deep appreciation for food. I was inspired to write this post following conversations I had with a friend as well as the chefs during (another SUPERB) 4suppers last night. It's also because of other thoughts and observations I've had about the food scene in Toronto. 

The most significant thing I've noticed in the past couple of years after having moved to Toronto from New York is how collaborative and supportive the culinary community is toward one another. I've made more connections in Toronto's food scene compared to when I lived in New York, so perhaps it isn't fair to say. There seems to be a great deal of mind melding and camraderie going on (uniquely) in Toronto than other cities (like New York, Montreal too, apparently). If the same types of collaborations are happening in New York, perhaps I'm just not plugged in. The chefs I've discussed this with in Toronto agree with me. Is New York just too competitive a place in general for the same thing to happen? Maybe? Naturally, there is still competition in Toronto. For the most part, it seems to be a friendly and supportive sort. Toronto chefs seem genuinely excited about what their peers are doing – at least for the most part. The competitive creative energy seems to yield positive results. I witnessed this energy at this year's fantastic Terroir Symposium. I see it in the 4suppers at Porzia (not only because I co-host this event!), in The Group of 7 Chefs, at the many different chef battles at 86'd hosted by Ivy Knight, at Food Truck Eats, at Death Row Meals events, La Carnita's pop-up roots and today at Slurp Noodlefest, etc. I could go on and on. 

What results from these collaborative relationships are dining experiences that are not only incredibly inspired but also really innovative. My friend Socky last night commented that the camraderie is very Canadian. But I'm not sure whether the same energy is happening on this scale in other Canadian cities. What is very Canadian to me is to be shy and humble about the fantastic food that's coming out of this city's best chefs. Is it also very Canadian to wait until people like David Chang or Anthony Bourdain recognize the creative energy and talent that's happening in Toronto for the city to realize it? 

It's the very innovation and inspiration that is making this moment in Toronto a very exciting place to be. Any others in Toronto agree with me?


food is sacred.

Soy Lime Marinated Beef, dressing made with Chef Rossy Earle's Diablo Verde hot sauce on rice noodles (a dish I made recently)

Some recent conversations about food I’ve had with friends in Toronto and New York prompted me to write about it today. I was raised with an almost sacred view of food. I realized how much this has contributed to my perspectives, love and respect for food of all types as an adult. Some of the unwritten rules around food in my childhood were:  

 · try everything once (especially food you’re afraid to try; there were very, very few exceptions)

· never scoff at food you don't necessarily care for (esp. when at people's home cooked dinners or even restaurants) because that would be extremely disrespectful to whomever prepared it – and to food, in general

· meals are enjoyed together and talked about at length

· nothing is ever wasted (before the ‘nose-to-tail’ was ever a trendy thing, poorer countries practiced this as a given), so excess was frowned upon

· processed/packaged food wasn’t readily available in the Philippines and also more expensive. Therefore nearly everything was cooked fresh (thankfully) 

· you ate everything on your plate because so many children around go hungry everyday so a clean plate was a sign of gratefulness

· when dining on the beach, you ate with your hands on picnic tables lined with banana leaves 

All of this taught me to enjoy and respect food as much as I do today. I think it’s normal to have personal preferences. But a narrow-mindedness about food and scoffing at food you didn’t like was looked down upon and simply not allowed when I was growing up. So it drives me crazy when I see narrow-mindedness now. I feel lucky and grateful to have had the upbringing that I had. I love that I was brought up this way. I love seeing children who are growing up with a wider palate and an open-mindedness about food. I have my parents —especially my mom— to thank for this. I was never the kid who was fixated by eating candy. Nor was I allowed to be picky. I was always more interested dinner (not to mention, dessert). Filipino culture centres so much around food in many ways too. So none of this is a surprise. I lived there until I was almost 12 before moving to California. Food was the other religion. Meals were, in essence, pure love and joy. Meals were everything. Not much has changed today.

Living in New York starting in 1999 only helped enhance and widen my perspective and palate. I'm surrounded by even more people over the past two+ years who regard food in this same way in Toronto. It's an endless journey of discovery. It's so fantastic and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 


bob blumer : a glutton for pleasure

I had the privilege of being invited to a very intimate book launch for chef, Foodnetwork show host and author/adventurer, Bob Blumer. I had no idea there would only be eight other people in attendance apart from the man himself. Bob Blumer had prepared a few nibbles for us at the Drake Hotel just prior to our arrival – all recipes from his new book Glutton For Pleasure (great title). He came in and chatted with us about one of countless unique, global culinary experiences and about the experience of putting together his book (his third to date). He was a great story teller, very down-to-earth, irreverend and, I must say, rather sexy. I almost lost my composure when I had a bite of the Cocktail Dates. It was indescribably good. Medjool dates, chunk Parmigianno Reggiano in the center and wrapped in bacon. A great version of Devils on Horseback. What could be better? Obviously, I will be preparing those for the next party I attend or throw. The other delicious treats we enjoyed: Chicken Popsicles and deep fried Chocolate Wontons (filled with peanut butter, bananas and Rolo or Caramilk bar segments – oh YES.).

Upon initially flipping through the book, the photography is undeniably gorgeous. It makes for a very colourful, visual feast. He was quick to point out that the dishes are photographed just as they are – with no manipulation or additional 'styling'. The recipes are prefaced with interesting or funny personal stories and anecdotes that give context to the dishes and how they came to be. The book is also filled with his trademark quirky ingredient combinations and unconventional cooking techniques. I really appreciate his anti-elitist approach to cooking. I'm looking forward to trying the recipes out myself. 

Many thanks to Suresh of Spotlight Toronto for the invitation. 



a thanksgiving palette

I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend with my family. It was the first one in years and years that I spent with my sisters. I really enjoyed cooking alongside my brother-in-law. He took care of the roast chicken (we skipped the turkey this year). I took care of the rest – including dessert. 

I was reminded this weekend of just how consistent the colour palette is for the fall. You could say that everything we see and eat is, well, orange. :)

the sign on the door read 'cookbooks'

While strolling down Greenwich Street late Saturday afternoon this weekend with a friend, we stumbled upon the
cutest little shop I had never seen or heard of before. It looked to be closed for the day, so we couldn't walk in. But
the old iMac and the clutter suggested that there would normally be some level of activity taking place in the room.
I wasn't sure what it was at first. Only a curious sign that read 'Cookbooks' on a metal plate adhered to an old door. 
When we looked inside, I was fascinated. It was like a room you would see in an old doll house. There was dusty
old wallpaper on the walls and the doorways looked shorter than usual. It was filled with – safe to assume – cookbooks.
It (and the old building it was in) was adorable. I had to find out more. 

I discovered that this charming little shop is actually Joanne Hendricks, Cookbooks. It is filled with all types of
cookbooks and books about food, wine, dining, etiquette, old and out of print books, obscure books, menus and
paraphernalia. There's even a corresponding online shop called Greenwich Street Cookbooks. I would love to
come back and look around. There's no end to great little places to discover in this city. I love it. So if you're ever
near the corner of Greenwich St. and Canal, stop in.


caramelized black pepper chicken love

Vietnamese food rocks my world. I love this quick, easy and flavour-packed recipe from GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow's weekly newsletter. In fact, I've made this several times already. It was lifted from Food & Wine magazine and it's by chef Charles Phan who runs Slanted Door, a great Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. My variation of this recipe uses less sugar and fish sauce. I also like to marinate the chicken in the sauce ingredients for at least a half an hour before I stir fry – this gives the breast meat the chance to absorb more flavour.  Most importantly, I top the dish with a TON of fresh cilantro before I devour it! Just thinking about this is making me salivate. I'm looking forward to making this again... tomorrow night. 

View or download the recipe here (scroll down to the bottom).