Last night much of Toronto’s food community gathered in front of the ROM for the sold-out Toronto Taste event. In its 22nd year, the event is a cornerstone both of Toronto’s food calendar and Second Harvest’s fundraising efforts for their Food Rescue programme.
Second Harvest’s Food Rescue programme takes perishable food from a variety of grocery retailers, hotels, and restaurants and delivers it to those in need through 200 social services agencies. The Toronto Taste event provides the operating funds that will help deliver an impressive (and startling) 700,000 meals this year.
In a sea of meat-heavy tastes, the stations that went vegetarian stood out. Pangaea–one of the longest-standing Toronto Taste participants–offered a refreshing chilled fava bean puree with an earthy goat cheese ice cream. The Woodlot table was manned by both Chef Dave Haman and baker Jeff Connell and offered a marinated tofu mini-sandwich that, I must admit, was quite delicious.
Obviously, many of the guests came to the event looking for meat and were not disappointed–especially if their craving was for pork on a steamed bun. Chef Victor Barry’s pork belly and spicy kimchi version at the Splendido/County General table was the clear crowd favourite: They had run dry an hour after the general admission doors opened.
Naturally, the Petite Thuet station sat smugly at the top of pork mountain and distributed Chef Marc Thuet’s very luxe, Alsatian take on the donut burger. His had 72-hour braised Mennonite pork belly garnished with Asian mayo and arugula and stuffed inside a light and airy beignet.
Presentation is always a consideration for chefs–most scramble to make their board neater when I ask to take a photo–but no one took it as seriously as Chef Rob Gentile of Buca. His 16-month prosciutto d’Alce with mustard, radish, (deliciously) spiked mascarpone, and pistachio was the prettiest plate. No surprise that Chef Gentile put his best foot forward given that a Yorkville outpost (almost within site of last night’s event) for Buca is slated to open in October.
Guests with a sweet tooth were not forgotten and two of our roving band’s favourites were desserts. Anne Yarymowich (Frank @ The AGO) had crispy churros paired with both chocolate and salted caramel sauces. The combined team from Malena and L’Unita had light zeppole spiked with a bracingly tart rhubarb compote.
Eating all this food without drink would be a sad state of affairs, so among all the great offerings from 30 beverage purveyors I was happy to find a just-released Chardonnay from Southbrook and a long-standing favourite Riesling from Chateau des Charmes. It’s also pleasing to see breweries get an increasingly prominent role. The Boneshaker IPA from Amsterdam and Hawaiian-Style Pale Ale from Spearhead were both strongly-flavoured partners for the food.
From an exercise-or-eating perspective closing six lanes of Avenue Road for this event seems like the mirror image of closing the DVP for the Ride for Heart. Supporting a worthy cause is where the two events find common ground. Second Harvest is a critical link in the city’s food supply chain and it’s heartening to see the food community come together to support their good work.