Giving you a taste of Toronto
Slugging back oysters Best Ginseng in the world
Nuts for Doughnuts!
Food trucks on the move
Top 5 cheeses this season
l a i r o t di
(L- R) Theresa Spohn, Mark Cadiz, Joanne Kaileh, Sun Lingmeng
Bite Magazine explores Toronto’s urban food scene—giving you a glimpse of the city’s diverse culinary palate. It looks at the trends, influences and the culture of food in the Toronto area. This is your chance to dig in. To find out what are the latest glorious food trends you can be tasting right now. All of them here in the GTA waiting for you to discover them. So join us as we make our way through the city one nibble at a time and with an occasional sip or two.
Managing Editor: Theresa Spohn Web Producer: Mark Cadiz Layout Editor: Joanne Kaileh Community Editor: Sun Lingmeng Copy Editing: A Joint Effort
In this issue
4 Food Trucks
They’re on the rise and people are eating it up
6 Rise of Latin Food
Some of the best right in Ontario
More than just tacos
8 TV Shows
14 Gluten-Free Food It’s getting more delicious!
Reality food shows are taking over
People rush online for recipes
15 Oysters A taste delight
17 Chinese Food
To coffice or not to coffice?
It’s time to sip the sweet stuff
How authentic is it in Toronto?
18 Comfort Food Good for the Soul
Doughnuts gourmet style
Street food about
By Mark Cadiz
ome rain or shine, food trucks are here to stay. As the food truck door swings open, a coloured menu board sits by the service window as staff members dash around a retrofitted truck space. It’s high noon and a small crowd gathers closer, looking for a bite to eat. “We can’t change the weather but people come prepared. They know well in advance where we will be and people show up with umbrellas or whatever else they need to get their lunch,” Terry Nicolaou said, co-founder of Latin food truck, Gourmet Gringos. Although lagging behind cities like Vancouver and Calgary, Toronto’s street food scene is finally about to breakthrough. The recent surge in demand for street food has seen the number of
trucks more than double over last year, from 12 in 2012 to 30 in 2013, according to Suresh Doss, Chair of the Ontario Food Truck Association. “We never really had a driving street food scene in Toronto, but since we are a multicultural city there is a lot of interest in street food and food trucks,” Doss said. The Gourmet Gringos truck designed in sunny orange with a stout flamenco dancer plastered on its truck façade, is hard to miss, especially with the aroma of its gourmet-styled Latin food wafting out its windows. Head chef, Jesus Arturo Gress, has explored the culinary scenes of Spain, France and other parts of Europe and is a big part of the business’s success. His mix of authentic flavours has helped catapult the business, leading them to win the 2013 AwesTRUCK People’s Choice Award-the Oscars status awards
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for food trucks held in Toronto this past September. “My dad is Argentinian and my mom is Ecuadorian and no food truck offers what we offer, we are a totally distinct food truck,” Krystian Catala said, also a co-founder. Many would-be restaurateurs see the food truck approach as the first step towards opening up a restaurant. And it makes sense, allowing them to take their concept to the streets and introduce their food and brand to urbanites. Allen Tan, who plans to open up a food truck named ME.N.U, has been focusing on pop-up events to introduce his Asian-fusion cuisine. I’m testing my ideas with pop-ups and that’s where the Toronto Underground Market and night markets come into play,” Tan said. “I can test my market, gain an audience and engage with them prior to starting my food truck.”
to break through
Tan, 24, left his desk job and trav- truck. Now that he has developed his elled to Southeast Asia to better under- brand and attracted food enthusiasts, stand Asian street food. He spent four his truck, upon its launch, will already months there and plans to return in have an established clientele. the near future with goals of bringing Even with the booming interest in authentic Asian street street food, food truck food to Toronto. restaurateurs still face “I want to produce stifling bylaws in Toronstreet food in the city, to limiting where they not only because of can offer their food. my early childhood As the current bylaw travelling back with stands, no new food my parents, but I want trucks can offer their For more on this to be part of the movefood on the curbsides story visit www. ment,” Tan said. “We of the downtown core, thebiteto.tumblr. want to have a say and extending to Bathurst get more food trucks Street to the west, Eglincom onto Toronto streets.” ton Avenue to the north Tan has created such and the Don River to the buzz with his Asian east. rice balls, he has gathThe setbacks have ered nearly 4,500 fans on his Twitter not stopped Gourmet Gringos, one account without yet launching his food of the original 12 trucks, from suc-
AwesTRUCK 2013 winner, Gourmet Gringos, preps up at Sony Centre Performing Centre, one of the few areas in down-town Toronto where vendors can serve street food.
ceeding. They plan to open their first bricks and mortar restaurant on St. Clair and Bathurst with a second location planned in the next six months, all thanks to the success of their food truck business. “Concept is one thing, but having good food is the most important thing,” Nicolaou said. Tan and Nicolaou are both big supporters of street food culture and are playing a huge role in moving things forward. “I definitely believe Toronto is eager for new street food. To be a world class city you need to have a wide array of foods on the street,” Tan said.
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Latin food hitting its
More than just tacos, Latin
By Mark Cadiz
Photo courtesy of Fotolia
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American cuisine has finally made its presence felt
ith the abundance of flavours and ingredients making their way north from Central and South America, local Latin restaurateurs and chefs are contributing to the rise of the cuisine. “A great second generation of chefs, sons and daughters of immigrants, who have gone to George Brown or other cooking schools are becoming great chefs,” says Carlos Fuenmayor, a private chef and caterer based in Toronto who is excited to see Latin flavours hit Canadian mainstream. “We have been here for a long time, but we haven’t been recognized properly,” he said. According to a 2011 census by Statistics Canada, nearly 71,000 Torontonians have Spanish as their mother tongue increasing our exposure to Latin culture. A handful of Latin American restaurants in Toronto have been around for decades, but it’s the new generation of restaurants creating buzz in the city. Before becoming one of the leading Latin chefs in Toronto, former Top Chef Canada contestant, Steve Gonzalez moved to Miami to see what other chefs making Latin cuisine were doing and spent three years learning more
from them. “I came back thinking the French have haute cuisine, why can’t the Latinos have it too?” Returning to Toronto he got the opportunity to showcase the food as chef de cuisine at Origin Restaurant and Bar. In the summer of 2013, he opened his muchant icipated re s t au r a nt , Valdez, located on King St. West. “Sure we are called Valdez Latino Street Food, but that’s only one part of it,” he said. “At the same time I’m bringing things out that are a little more delicate with nice plating.” Gonzalez says they have their own version of ‘Tamales’ a traditional dish made with ‘masa’, which is steamed or boiled in leaf wrapper, but instead he uses different sauces and fillings with some added finesse. Looking to challenge tradition, Gonzalez is also bringing interesting ceviche
flavours to his menu, such as the ‘Mixto’; a ceviche composed of octopus, calamari, mussels, squid ink, maize, citrus and sweet potato. He wants to modernize the cuisine and says Toronto is the perfect backdrop for this initiative. The mosaic of cultures in the city has created an appetite for diversity among Toronto’s food culture with increasing interest in Latin flavours, enough to launch a Pan American Food Festival, showcasing the best food from 41 countries out of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Fuenmayer says exposure to Latin cuisine has also helped its rise in popularity. “Today people travel more and Torontonians are more aware of the flavours and ingredients in Latin food,” he said. “And we are one the most multicultural cities in the world.”
“For me it’s about educating the masses of what Latin American food is and what it could be,” Gonzalez said.
Eduardo Lee opened Arepa Café five years ago and his Venezuelan background set the foundation of his popular restaurant. “We do arepas and we fill them with really delicious recipes,” Lee said. “They have been well received by Canadians and not just the Latin community. Our purpose was to make it a Toronto restaurant so people in Toronto would know about it.” Arepas, a prominent dish in Venezuela, is made out of ground maize dough and served with several accompaniments such as cheese, avocado, or chicken. “All the flavours and ingredients we use are 100 per cent authentic,” Lee said. “And one of our main focuses are educating people.” Compared to generations who came before Lee says, “we are more open-minded and also educated in North America which has created a new generation of entrepreneurs opening Latin restaurants.” The string of new Latin restaurants shows successive generations of Latinos wanting to keep their culture alive and well in Toronto. “For me it’s about educating the masses of what Latin American food is and what it could be,” Gonzalez said.
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The reality is, it’s all about entertainment By Joanne Kaileh
ulia Child pioneered it, Emeril Lagasse succeeded in it and Anna Olson still does it. The one-on-one instructional cooking show is an at-home guide to cooking just about any type of dish. Whether it is boeuf bourguignon or roasted lamb, there is always someone on TV to show viewers what to do, at least there used to be. With the rise of reality TV, where viewers watch everyday people in real-time situations, the traditional cooking show has taken a back seat. Today, viewers are now more interested in the competition of food rather than the making of food. Don’t believe it? All you need to do is tune in and see for yourself. Reality shows like Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped and The Great Food Truck Race are more about entertainment and the drama than teaching the home cook. Laura Calder, host of French Food at Home, is someone who has witnessed the evolution of the food show. “I don’t think there is such a popularity with food TV shows anymore, frankly. Cooking shows are basically a thing of the past [for now]. They’ve been replaced by competition and reality shows,” Calder said. “So now food TV is entertainment, not education.” So what exactly caused this turn to reality-based shows? TV is about ratings, so everyone on it needs to be a performer, including the very celebrity chefs on food shows. Yes, that’s right, even celebrity chefs must perform to entertain. From Emeril Lagasse’s infamous “BAM!” to Pasquale Carpi-
no the singing chef to Rachael Ray’s “E-V-O-O” they are all personalities first and chefs second when the camera is rolling. “Most TV chefs are not true chefs the kind of passionate, artistic madmen who have to cook to be happy. Instead, TV chefs are performers,” Calder said. John Higgins, director and corporate chef at George Brown Chef School, believes celebrity chefs need to keep reinventing themselves to keep their spot on television. “There’s a lifespan. You may be lucky and you run your show for three or four seasons, but if you don’t change it, it’s going to be done. Michael Smith started off with The Inn Chef, then he changed to Chef at Large, then Chef at Home, so he has reinvented himself.” Calder believes one of the reasons reality food TV has become so popular for networks is purely economic. “It is very cheap to use free ‘talent’ as one-offs.” In other words, reality food shows have become a means for those looking for free publicity to be used as, what Calder phrases, “free talent.” It’s a lot cheaper for the networks to have one reality show that changes every season with new personalities and contestants than to re-launch celebrity chefs over and over. But Jennifer Fraser Kerr, a freelance producer who has had a long working relationship with Food Network Canada, says reality shows are all over TV and food shows have hopped on the bandwagon. “I think there has been a shift across
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the entire TV landscape towards competition shows. Just look at the popularity of Dancing with the Stars and The Voice. In part, food television is just following this trend,” Kerr said, adding that the drama and excitement in competition shows are what make any show successful. “Tension, drama and characters. If you have those three components, it is hard to look away,” she said. Kerr also believes that this shift to reality is a move towards attracting a wider audience when it comes to food programs. “Traditional cooking shows—the instructional type— skew towards the female viewer, but both male and female viewers tend to watch competition cooking shows,” she said. “There is still an audience for instructional or traditional cooking shows, but it is smaller.” Food Network Canada has also reported record-breaking viewer ratings in past years with Top Chef Canada. Calder feels the real message behind food and cooking is lost behind the glamour and competition of reality food shows. “The messages that these shows put out have nothing to do with cooking, or with the true spirit of cooking,” she said. “To me, cooking is not about competition. Competition, as far as I’m concerned, is the antithesis of what cooking is ultimately about.” While it looks like reality food shows are here to stay, Calder says she looks forward to the day real food TV comes back.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Galli
Laura Calder, host of French Food at Home.
The recipe writing ecosystem More and more people are turning to blogs to find the perfect recipe, but with this rise in recipe blogs are cookbooks and magazines keeping up with the competition?
Photo courtesy of Fotolia
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Grind By Joanne Kaileh
the cow when you can get the milk for free’ kind of mentality,” she said. Porter currently has her fourth cookbook coming out soon called, Beyond Flour: A New Kind of Gluten-Free Cookbook and says she’s refraining from publishing anything from the book on her blog until after its launch. She feels this will help encourage people to purchase her cookbook. Cookbooks aren’t the only area blogs might be affecting, it’s magazines as well. Angie McKaig, digital product director for St. Joseph Media, believes that mag-
food blogger who has written a recipe it’s very possible that they’ve cooked that once, maybe twice,” she said. inding a recipe these days is really But despite this, McKaig believes simple. Add one computer, a dash blogs and traditional print publications of Internet connection, a sprinkle of can actually work together to grow a keywords and voilà! stronger business. The proliferation of food blogs on the “Bloggers are a way for publishers Internet means recipes are just a click to guarantee audience for new cookaway. Whether you’re looking for a vegbooks, rather than testing an unpuban dish, a gluten-free dish or just looklished author. Some of the more prolifing to cook authentic pad Thai, there ic food bloggers have gone on to have is a recipe on a blog out there to help their books published.” you make that meal. But with this rise Food bloggers also act as public reof food blogs are people turning away lations for existing mainstream cookfrom the traditionally published recbooks by broadcasting favourite reciipes from cookbooks and magazines pes from cookbooks on their blog. and instead clicking away to their taste Danielle Johnson, senior publicist buds’ desires? for Raincoast Books, has firsthand exTaiba Murtaza owns a dessert caperience working with food bloggers tering business called, love, sugand believes they’re a big help to the arplum, and says she uses the Infood publishing industry. ternet to search for recipes for She explains food bloggers ask for her personal home cooking. excerpts from cookbooks to While she does use cookpost online, including a link to books and magazines at where people can purchase the times, she prefers online bebook. This way, both blogs cause it’s quicker and there is and publishers benefit from a larger recipe selection. the exchange of information. “I find online is real“This is publicity, this is exly easy because in a actly what we want, cookbook I’d have for bloggers to proto go to the index mote our books. or table of contents We all work togethand look up what er.” I’m trying to find, Johnson says deand then of course spite the abundance not having the same of recipes found onkind of selection beline she hasn’t witcause it’s limited to nessed a decline in what was printed,” cookbook sales. Murtaza said. “With “It’s a nice gift. It’s Taiba Murtaza the owner of a dessert catering business uses the interonline I can just type nice to have a colnet to find recipes for her own home cooking. in words and Google lection,” she says. does the research for “People love a really me.” good cookbook.” Murtaza is just one of the many peo- azines need to be mindful of the impact While the majority of people, like ple who prefer finding recipes online, food blogs have. Murtaza, now reach for recipes online, something Marie Porter, food blogger But even with the rise of food blogs, many in the publishing industry mainof Celebration Generation and cook- McKaig says magazines are still a tool tain that access to free recipes on food book author, understands. Porter be- people use when looking for recipes blogs is not a bad thing for the recipe lieves the rise in food bloggers can af- because she feels they have a more re- publishing industry. fect cookbook sales. liable turnout rate. “When you take all of it together, I “I definitely get far more traffic on my “One of the biggest things that mag- tend to think [blogs] becomes part of blog than I do in book sales…It’s just azines can offer from a perspective of the whole ecosystem and, if anything, that they’re not investing in my paper recipe and food development is the it’s more beneficial than less,” McKaig product because it’s probably ‘why buy longer testing times. When you find a said.
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Ontario ginseng: By Sun Lingmeng
ccording to Statistics Canada, millions of dollars worth of crops are harvested from the fertile land of southwest Ontario. Among those successful crops, Ontario ginseng may be one of the least known of all. Still obscure to many westerners today, ginseng has been obsessed over by eastern cultures for centuries, and Ontario ginseng has grown from a niche crop to one of the world’s leading products within a few short years. And because there is so much demand this year, most ginseng has been purchased even before it’s harvested.
FAMILY HISTORY WITH GINSENG While conducting a tour at a ginseng farm in Scotland, Ont., Diana Yeh, the vice president of Great Mountain Ginseng Co. Ltd. recalls her first memory of migrating to Ontario and growing ginseng. In 1972, Yeh
moved from Taiwan with her husband and their infant son. At that time, her parents-in-law were one of the earliest Chinese growers in Ontario. “They worked for the local farmers without charge for three years, to learn to grow ginseng. Eventually the farmer agreed to give them the harvest of one-fourth of an acre,” Yeh said. In 1976, the Yeh family founded the Y.E.Ginseng, the predecessor of today’s Great Mountain Ginseng Co. Ltd. in Canada. Today, the company, claiming to be “the first Chineseowned and operated company to establish a major commercial ginseng Agri-business in Ontario”, runs as an Ontario ginseng grower, exporter, wholesaler and retailer, and has nine retail stores across the country.
PAIN AND GAIN Although Ontario has fertile soil, growing ginseng is a risky and costly process. In the first year, ginseng grows to about the size of a human
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finger. Following is two to four years of maturation with flowering once a year. Plucking the flower will leave a hole at the root tip that shows the age of the plant. However, the last thing growers want to see is their years of work damaged by pests and diseases. “The red root disease spreads really fast. My father-in-law once stayed up all night to figure out a solution. And he had to uproot a whole ginseng to prevent it from spreading to the others.” said Yeh. The disease will lead to deeper colour of the root. Once the quality gets worse, the price will drop. Besides natural challenges, human behaviour plays a crucial role in the market. In the late 1990s, due to the tobacco-planting decline, many farmers began growing ginseng as the harvest techniques share a similar drying requirement. Unfortunately, oversupply of ginseng and low selling prices phased out many growers. This year, Yeh says the ginseng yield continues to shrink due to the atrocious weather in the last three years. There was drought in the summer
the obscure treasure of 2011 that dried up the plants, and the excess of rain in 2012 flooded the roots. This summer, insufficient sun prevented the ginseng from growing larger. As the yield is expected to be much lower, the price of ginseng will increase significantly.
OVERSEAS RIVALRY In recent years, farmers in northeast China began growing Jilin ginseng, which puts Ontario ginseng into a tight spot. “Surprisingly, North America is the biggest market for the ginseng from China.” said Yeh. Jilin ginseng roots are largely exported to North America. And they are fobbed off as Ontario ginseng and sold at a lower price. Because of this, it is believed that some restaurants that use ginseng as an ingredient in Toronto are using Jilin ginseng to lower costs. To cope with foreign imports, Yeh emphasizes the uniqueness of Ontario ginseng, “Once a professor told me, Ontario ginseng has a kind of
ferment. When you leave them in the sun, the Ontario ginseng will turn sour but the other kind will not. In this way, you can tell which the real Ontario ones are.” She said. According to Yeh, it is the ginsenoside of the Ontario ginseng that makes the product stand out. For years they shipped their product to Taiwan and worked with institutes of biotechnology to develop new products such as a face cream that contains extracts of Ontario ginseng launched this year. Besides overseas competition, Ontario ginseng is also facing the return of locally grown tobacco. Due to the drain ginseng has on the soil, it can grow only once on each piece of land. John Lessif, the mayor of Tillsonburg Ont., points out that tobacco is making ginseng a less attractive crop for farmers. “What is concerning to ginseng growers is that growing tobacco is becoming more popular. So there is a little bit of concern, not so much of running out agricultural land, but
who uses it for what.” Lessif said.
MORE THAN JUST EATING Nowadays, Ontario ginseng is more than an ingredient, it has been reinvented in several different ways. Lijuan Wang, a tourist from China, spent over five hundred dollars at Yeh’s ginseng farm tour. Her trophies include fresh ginseng to make soups, bag-packed crumbs for tea, soft and hard ginseng candies and the newly developed ginseng facial cream and masks. “Ontario ginseng is a kind of ‘musthave’ souvenir when we visit Canada. And we are excited to see the new developments as a smart way to preserve this valuable plant.” Wang said.
For more on this story visitwww.thebiteto.tumblr.com
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tastier than you think! By Sun Lingmeng
luten-free foods used to be reserved for people with celiac disease and specific food allergies, regarded as dull and even unpalatable for everyone else. But today, gluten-free fare has grown into a trend that attracts those who don’t necessarily need it, but feels it’s a healthier way to eat. It means great-tasting foods without the gluten are becoming more readily available in Toronto whether you want to eat at home or dine out. Ricki Heller, a Toronto-based food blogger and cookbook author, says she was first introduced to gluten-free foods back in 1999 when she was suffering from a lot of allergy symptoms and put on a strict diet that cut out all gluten products. Despite all the food restrictions, she was determined to enjoy great-tasting food. “We all love our food. Even if it is gluten-free, you don’t want feel punished when you’re eating. You want it to be a joy,” she said. Determined to make her restricted diet a better experience, she began re-creating recipes from other cookbooks, magazines and food blogs, playing with the ingredients to try and reinvent her childhood snacks. Eventually, she had enough of her own original recipes to publish a cookbook, and recently released her second hardcopy cookbook, Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free (2013), full of desserts without gluten, eggs, dairy or refined sugars. “I think gluten-free foods are just delicious as any other food,” she said. The book became an instant bestseller on ama-
zon.com on the day it was released. Rachael Hunt, the founder of a new blog called Gluten Freedom Toronto, explores Toronto’s gluten-free food scene. “I liked to go out and eat,” she said. “It was a big part of my social life before I developed the gluten sensitivity. I made it my mission to go out and find these places.” Hunt was diagnosed with a gluten allergy at the beginning of 2013. In August she set up her blog reviewing restaurants with gluten-free menu items in Toronto. She not only focuses on the quality of the food, but also on the way that gluten-free foods are prepared. “Another big concern is determining what they currently do to avoid cross-contact, which is a big concern for my audience,” she says. If a diner has celiac disease, a gluten allergy or sensitivity, Hunt points out they have to make sure the food they’re eating is prepared in a safe environment. Hunt sees the gluten-free trend as a new profitable option for restaurants by accommodating the customers with special needs. “I think there is a huge opportunity for restaurants to get involved and be a part of the gluten-free community, because that market is growing at a very fast pace,” she said. “I believe a
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lot of people will be attracted to the restaurants that offer gluten-free options because, chances are, they have family members or friends who are allergic to gluten.” And that both pleases and frustrates RonniLyn Pustil, founder of Gluten Free Garage whose sevenyear-old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of four. “The positive side is that it’s creating a lot more awareness about gluten-free, gluten intolerance and celiac disease, so I love that,” Pustil said. She’s also happy there are a lot more options out there for people like her daughter. “While on the other hand, a lot more people just see it as a trend. For us, it is not a trend and it will never be a trend, because celiac disease (for my daughter) is not going away and the only treatment for is a gluten-free diet.” Gluten-free or not, Torontonians can celebrate the food variety and reinventions happening in the city.
Oysters: Today’s shellfish of choice for all the right reasons By Theresa Spohn
hey’re salty, smooth and creamy, here’s why it’s great to eat oysters. Oysters are red-hot on restaurant menus but why should you head out to your local oyster shack for a taste? Oysters are the ultimate sustainable seafood and who doesn’t want to feel good about what they eat. They’re fresh-tasting, go well with a drink and are great to share with friends. SUSTAINABILITY The public often gets confused and thinks oysters are bottom feeders but they’re not, according to Patrick McMurray, owner of the oyster house Starfish. Oysters are filter feeders because they eat plankton. McMurray explained that the more plankton there is in the water the cloudier it gets and with no sunlight other sea life dies. He sums up his take on sustainability in one line. “Save the ocean, eat an oyster.” Dan Donovan who owns the organically sourced seafood shop, Hooked Inc., says oysters have always been sustainable. He explains just how much water an oyster actually filters. “An oyster will pump about 70 gallons of water a day which is a lot of water for a tiny little oyster,” he said, adding unlike other acquaculture production oysters are less demanding on the environment. “Oyster growing is a pretty solid enterprise: it takes no feed, no harvest of wild fish to feed oysters, soy or antibiotics,” he said. Essentially,
oysters just do their own thing. Growers put the oysters in the water and they proceed to mature for three to eight years. McMurray and Donovan both mentioned the Billion Oyster Project in New York City as an example of what oysters can do for the environment. The project is designed to clean up the murky waters left by Hurricane Sandy. These oysters are not intended for eating but their beds will clean out the water over the next hundred years. Rodney Clark, owner of Rodney’s Oyster House, one of the oldest establishments in the city, sources his own oysters through both his international licences and his oyster farm Rodney’s Oyster Depot in his native P.E.I. He says oyster sustainability is a “no brainer”, but that stewardship of the water is what often gets missed. There is no point in having good oyster farming methods if they’re exposed to run-off from fertilizers and animal waste from nearby agriculture which ruins the nitrate levels in the water. A nitrate imbalance stimulates the growth of other forms of vegetation while sucking all the oxygen out of the water and killing the plankton the oysters need to survive.
FRESHNESS What makes oysters particularly appealing as a seafood choice is that they are always fresh although those in the business argue that the word fresh may not be the most accurate term. For Clark, “fresh” means 24 hours out of the ocean. McMurray states oysters travel so well since they are “technically speaking” still alive in their shell after harvest and have a shelf life of one to four weeks. Clark, McMurray and Donovan have delivery schedules to ensure their establishments receive fresh
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Chew oyster shipments daily. When unsure, ask your oyster provider when their last delivery was. When unsure, ask your oyster provider when their last delivery was. FLAVOUR Each oyster space has its own unique characteristics and where they come from makes all the difference according to Donovan. “In the wine industry there’s a term terroir, it is an expression of the earth through the wine, you should be able to taste the mineralities in the wine,” he said. “The same thing in oysters, we call it merroir because the oyster takes all the characteristics of that place it was in, generally in the last four to six weeks.” According to Clark, northern oysters can have a more nuanced flavour because of the changes in temperature. In colder weather the mollusc increases its omega fat growth taking on more salts and sweetness. Cress LaFavour, author of Fish: 54 Tasty Feasts likes the big juicy Pacific oysters for cooking because they have a “ton of flavour”. Her recipe “Kimchi Oyster Dog” calls for frying long enough to get them crunchy. Her
description of the end result is enough to make your mouth water. “You throw a bite into it and you get this lovely centre that is almost liquid,” she said. Lafavour feels there is something “deeply elegant” about having oysters with either cocktails or great-tasting wine. Clark, on the other hand, cautions his restaurant guests against drinking liquor with oysters since alcohol is a “hardening” and “pickling” agent, taking away from the oyster’s natural flavour and texture. Clark feels the oyster offers an alternative to what he sees as an increased “corporatization of food” and Toronto’s increasing uniformity. He works hard to assure his customers really enjoy themselves when they come to Rodney’s. But most of all he feels those who love oysters are a breed apart. To make his point he compared oyster eaters to crayon users. “People who eat oysters in the urban area are people who colour with all the crayons in the big set, “ he said. “So much of the city is homogenized into the short pack, the three colours, the beginner set. The real oyster eater uses the big multipack and they’re not scared to pull out the silver one on occasion.”
“People who eat oysters in the urban area are people who colour with all the crayons in the big set. So much of the city is homogenized into the short pack, the three colours, the beginner set. The real oyster eater uses the big multipack and they’re not scared to pull out the silver one on occasion.” - Rodney Clark, Rodney’s Oyster House 16 TheBiteTO.tumblr.com v December 2013
How authentic is Toronto’s Chinese food scene? By Sun Lingmeng
any Torontonians take advantage of the city’s ethnic diversity and enjoy all the great food our cultural mosaic has to offer. But when it comes to Chinese food, these days authenticity triumphs. As a newcomer to Toronto from southern China, finding my favourite comfort foods in Toronto has been a challenge. For example, growing up in a food culture that suggests no dinner should be served without fresh chicken, I was shocked to learn live chickens are not allowed for sale in Toronto. The meaty taste and chewy texture of a freshly butchered chicken is so different from the frozen poultry people pick up in the supermarkets. No matter how you prepare chicken—barbecued, broiled or fried— to me nothing compares to the taste of fresh and Torontonians are missing out. But Gizelle Lau, a freelance travel and food writer based in Toronto, feels differently. Lau was born in Toronto and her parents are from Hong Kong. Over the past few years, she has been busy reviewing newly-opened Toronto restaurants. After her trip to Hong Kong, she thinks Chinese dishes in Toronto are better than those from their place of origin. “That’s because the ingredients in Toronto are better than those in Hong Kong,” she said. Sam Guan agrees, a cook now working in one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Toronto. Guan first came in Canada in 2008. About four years later, he graduated from the culinary program of
Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., and embarked on a career in Chinese food culture. He shares Lau’s feeling that access to better quality ingredients makes Chinese food served in Toronto better than back home, but the overall restaurant experience leaves something to be desired. “The Chinese foods in Toronto are not bad because the ingredients are much better. But the service and decoration in many Chinese restaurants often lowers the customers’ experience,” he said, adding sometimes Chinese restaurants change the way they cook traditional dishes to try and attract more western palates. But it is not just western palates affecting the style of Chinese food being served in Toronto. Guan feels Chinese-Canadians have just as much impact on the quality and style of Chinese food as everyone else. “What is affecting the Chinese food culture is more and more Chinese people just want to fill their stomachs. They don’t really care about the food,” he said. In contrast, he went on to explain French cuisine has been highly valued by both the French and the rest of the world, and that’s why you don’t find cheap, low-quality French restaurants. After one year working in a Chinese kitchen in Toronto, Guan says he’s inspired to bring real Chinese food to hungry Torontonians. “It is a matter of authenticity. Western food is the authentic here, not Chinese food,” he said. Guan wants to open a fusion restaurant
where he can prepare Chinese dishes with a slight western twist. But to be fair to Toronto, China is another country on the other side of the globe. So how does our city compare to Chinese food served in other cities? Lau says it’s is one of the best. “My friends from Vancouver and Chicago, they all think Toronto has better Chinese food than where they come from. So that’s something you want to appreciate more,” she said. So what makes the ingredients better in Toronto? Shirley Lum— Toronto-based culinary historian of Chinese descent—credits forward-thinking Dutch farmers from the Holland Marsh, a rich agricultural sector just an hour north of Toronto, for catering to the Chinese food market. Back in the 1980s, they began growing Chinese vegetables such as bok choy to feed growing demand for these vegetables. Guylan (“Chinese broccoli”) used to be an expensive dish back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But today, one can find dozens of different locally-grown leafy vegetables originating from mainland China to Taiwan. Having experienced the early dismal supply of Chinese vegetables at restaurants and grocery stores, Lum is satisfied with what Toronto now offers. “It was mostly imported and dried vegetables. Now we can get Ontario-grown Asian vegetables. You can virtually cook to reflect the different cultures that are here: Cantonese, Shanghainese, Shandong, Uighur, and Tibetan.”
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MAC & CHEESE: EVERYONE’S FAVOURITE By Theresa Spohn
s the weather gets colder, it’s not unusual to crave the kind of food that sticks to your ribs. Toronto restaurant menus with tasty ingredients, despite the price, always leave us wanting more. There was a time when comfort food was just the purview of home cooks and was not considered something to eat dining out. Now restaurant menus have traditional favourites like macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches and the great Canadian favourite, poutine. According to Michael Hay, chef at O&B Canteen, located at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, comfort food started showing up more often on restaurant menus after the economic crisis of 2008 and to satisfy a public that is increasingly eating out.“I remember when that crisis happened there were a lot of people (chefs) who immediately started doing comfort food or recession menus that seemed a little too knee-jerk reactionary to me,” Hay says. He also sees restaurant goers want-
Michael Hay, Canteen
ing simpler fare versus fine dining with multiple courses since they are dining out more frequently. “But now that we have more of a “foodie” culture, people are eating out more and they want more of what they like,” he says. “I think they want something that is at a better price point for them to go out once a week versus every two to three months.” But that doesn’t mean the price is cheap for what was once considered simple fare but then again Toronto chefs are using ingredients that aren’t always found at home. Canteen’s comfort food is done with top ingredients and is a priced accordingly. The grilled cheese is make of butter toasted O&B artisan bread full of grains and seeds, the smoked mozzarella cheese, pickled eggplant and homemade tomato pesto in place of the traditional ketchup. The macaroni and cheese is created by blending parmesan cheese with five year-aged cheddar, a light béchamel base, pasta water, garganelli pasta and topped with cheese curds. On a daily basis, the Canteen sells 60 of its $15 grilled cheese sandwiches and about 50 of its $16 mac and cheese dishes. Chef and owner Trevor Wilkinson, of Trevor Kitchen and Bar in the St. Lawrence Market area, doesn’t see
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comfort food as a trend but more as a cooking style. “The style of cooking I do has never been trendy or it might seem to be right now but really it is just good wholesome food,” he said. He developed his mac and cheese recipe 12 years ago and has used it ever since. It is 50 per cent asiago cheese and 50 per cent equal combinations of parmesan, romano and aged cheddar. He chose these ingredients since they are all “flavourful, hard white cheeses”. He adds them to a cream sauce made with a white wine and shallot reduction, whipping cream and chives. The noodle is giamelli. Wilkinson describes why his mac and cheese tends to satisfy.
Chew “The style of cooking I do has never been trendy or it might seem to be right now but really it is just good wholesome food,” -- Trevor Wilkinson
Trevor’s mac & cheese “It’s not rocket-science, it’s just simple good quality ingredients, properly prepared and you end up with a tasty pasta,” he says. But this mac and cheese comes with an added layer of decadence, foie gras and costs $24 a bowl. For chef Wilkinson it offers a taste sensation without equal. “It’s rich and decadent as butter, more flavourful and tasty,” he says. “When you pan sear it, when that fat explodes in your mouth, you bite into a plump juicy piece of foie gras there’s nothing like it, it’s unbelievable.” Also on the menu is the perennial favourite, poutine. The truffle and goat cheese version with seared
foie gras ($25 ea.) has been on the menu for the seven years since the restaurant opened and remains a big seller. The dish is made with a mouth-watering beef cheek gravy with black truffle paste, and a small roué (cream, butter and flour), combined with a white Canadian cheddar, chevre noir (pasteurized goat milk cheddar) and truffle oil finish to make a “really tasty fry”. According to Wilkinson there are usually one or two reasons we desire home-inspired cooking. “For me comfort food is something you are craving because of environmental considerations or what kind of day you are having,” he says. The dietician Leslie Beck, of Medisys, explains we tend to associate food with a specific situation. In the case of comfort food, it’s often a psychological positive from childhood when we remember feeling safe and secure. On a scientific basis, our cravings are often related to the weather according to Beck. When it’s sunny outside we’re happier and more energetic. But when there’s less sun-
light we crave food with seratonin to help improve our mood, reduce our appetite and help us sleep better. It also triggers dopamine that blunts negative feelings. When such tasty, refined versions of traditional comfort food dishes are available on Toronto menus, like those found at Trevor Kitchen and Bar and O&B’s Canteen, and we’re craving a seratonin rush, it’s little wonder why we are willing to spend more for what was once considered simple fare. As Beck points out, it all comes down to good taste and positive feelings. “We eat this food since we love the taste of it” and these “hot delicious dishes that warm us up and make us feel good,” she says.
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O& B’s Canteen
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Doughnuts to go nuts over By Joanne Kaileh
he fluffy dough, the shiny glaze and the crispy contour is enough to make your mouth water. The doughnut has come a long way since the ’60s when doughnut chains first started popping up in Canada. It has evolved into an intricate dessert with bursts of flavours, unique toppings and surprising ingredients. What was once known as ‘petty consumption’ because they were so cheap to enjoy, the doughnut has gone from humble to haute and you can now find these ‘gourmet doughnuts’ selling for around $3 a piece—a typical coffee shop pastry hovers around $1. Ashley Jacot De Boinod, the owner of Glory Hole Doughnuts on Queen Street West, is a pastry chef with a passion for the gourmet doughnut. The artisanal bakery, which opened in 2012, has a welcoming aroma of freshly made doughnuts wafting from racks behind the counter. Tempting signs reading Toast and Butter and Fluffer Nutter line the rows of doughnuts in the glass display. For Jacot De Boinod the rising demand for gourmet doughnuts in Toronto couldn’t be better for business. “We’ve had months where people are literally lining out the door and around the corner… Still to this day if we don’t have certain flavours or if we run out, people go nuts.” Food and recipe developer, Adell Shneer, has watched the Canadian doughnut evolve over decades. She says she remembers when doughnuts were a huge hit back in the late ’70s and remembers the popularity died down but maintains they never went away. Shneer believes the gourmet reinvention is a way for pastry chefs to explore new territory. “I love it…I think just the whole trend for everything is to become more interesting and people are taking chances and trying to be creative. It’s great for our industry.”
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Another gourmet doughnut business happy to see so much demand for the unique fried creations is Paulette’s Original Donuts, an online wholesale and order-only business. Devin Connell, the co-owner, says she started the business a year ago because it was missing from the Toronto food scene. “We wanted to do something different. We saw an opening in the market for a really great gourmet doughnut. There are so many people doing cupcakes…we’re sort of a little more old school.” So why are people eating the gourmet doughnut? Connell explains the demand for these gourmet doughnuts is because people want to invest in eating handmade “higher quality” food, much like the artisanal doughnut shops provide, instead of “splurging on a doughnut from an assembly line.” In other words, it’s cool to eat a fancy doughnut. Jacot De Boinod feels it’s also because people aren’t afraid to satisfy their cravings. And what better way to do that than with a fried, flavourful, creamfilled creation? “People are really into indulging themselves fully. I think doughnuts are a natural pairing to that trend,” Jacot De Boinod said. There’s another thing that draws people in that both Jacot De Boinod and Connell agree on: it’s sheer curiosity for what some of the unusual flavour combinations will taste like, such as blueberry-balsamic and maple-bacon. And Shneer accredits chefs for putting the magic back into plain old doughnuts. “Chefs have been working to come up with wonderful flavours and the creativity is something that’s awesome and inspiring to see. To take something that’s fairly standard and it’s sort of been elevated. I think it’s really fun,” Shneer said. But with all these fancy flavours and ingredients are people reaching for the traditional doughnuts any less? Tiny Tom Donuts has been around for 53 years. You’ve probably tasted their bite-sized doughnuts at the CNE, Canada’s Wonderland and other fairs across the GTA. The video on their website says, ‘Bite size is the right size,” and for many people that’s absolutely right. Derek Brazier, one of the owners, says that while the gourmet doughnut is here, it’s not influencing them to change their well-known traditional doughnut.
“We stick with our four flavours [cinnamon, icing sugar, chocolate and apple and cinnamon] that everyone knows and loves. I enjoy all those other kinds of doughnuts just like everyone else…[But] We don’t want to mess with our success that we’ve already got established.” Brazier says business has not been affected by the gourmet doughnut trend. In fact, Tiny Tom Donuts has recently opened their first year-round store in Markham. But for Shneer, just because the gourmet doughnut trend is here it won’t mean everyone will get on board. She believes there is an audience for each type of doughnut. “I’m sure there’s still demand for the regular doughnuts like the honey dip and the staple Canadian Tim Hortons style. I think there are palates for both.” Whether you’re willing to pay a premium for gourmet or are craving more coffee shop classics, it’s a great time to grab a doughnut.
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When a coffee shop is no longer just a coffee shop.... With more people using the local coffee shop to do work on their laptops the new workplace office, known as the “coffice”, is born. By Theresa Spohn “There’s an app for that,” today that phrase is a sure guarantee of an instant trend in our internet-based culture. For ACe Callwood and his partner, Justin Kauszler, it was designing their coffee shop noise app, Coffivity. Kauszler saw his creativity plummet when moving from the coffee shop where they worked on one of their joint projects back to his oh-so quiet office generating business plans. Callwood recalled reading research stating coffee shops generated just the right level of background noise to stimulate creativity before creating the coffivity app. That’s what inspired Callwood to develop their coffee shop noise app, Coffivity. “I actually told him it was one of the dumbest things he had ever thrown at me,” Callwood said. But Kauszler insisted. Today, their website has gotten over 4.5 million page views, the app is selling on the Apple store and an android version is planned. What does all this mean for coffee shop owners whose patrons are coming armed with laptops, and a predilection to sit there for hours while sipping their favourite cup of Joe? It depends on whom you ask, since opinions vary. Seventeen years ago Derek Zavislake, owner of Merchants of Green Coffee started selling green coffee beans in a large cafe, a former jam factory with rustic charm. He encouraged customers to roast their own.
His goal was to instruct the public that coffee like every other food commodity is perishable and best enjoyed at its peak of freshness. Zavislake actively encourages cofficers. His coffee is so good, one person kept staying all day. “We had one person who kept working here on his laptop and having meetings with clients,” said Zavislake. “Eventually, A cofficer working at Merchants of Greem Coffee he asked if he could use one of our meeting rooms and now he rents office space in the back of the building. His whole their dollars for positive consumption business just grew out of this café.” and welcoming cofficers means more And Zavislake is just fine with that. people are drinking his organic coffee. Today, it is typical to find business Across town, Kyle Debouvrie owner people holding a meeting, half a dozen of the Bickford Flexitarian has a diflaptop users working, someone playferent opinion. He does not offer free ing the piano and the barista having a Wi-Fi and has limited the number of chat with folks around the counter. He outlets. Before he took over, the shop wants to encourage consumers to use had been a typical café serving caffein-
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Sip ated beverages and sweets but after consulting with the community he found there is a need for something different. “I don’t want to come across as anti-laptop because I am not,” he said. But his customer told him when they are having a meal they don’t want to eat beside someone who is working. They want to forget work but that is hard to do if someone is using a laptop at the next table. So Debouvrie compromised, allowing laptop users to sit at the counters at the front of the shop while those who prefer to eat
can do so in the main dining area. Beware those of you who are anti-laptop, there are signs the coffice trend is here to stay. Canadians are dedicated coffee consumers according to Food and Agriculture Canada with 64 per cent of Canadians drinking daily coffee in 2011 (the most recent figures available). Canada has a “high-
ly developed away-from-home coffee market and is only second to Italy in the highest percentage of total cups of coffee drank outside the home,” according to the ministry. Café and bars in Canada grew by four per cent in 2011, according to Euromonitor International, with 37 per cent growth being specialty coffee shops. Also, of the fourteen million Canadians who commute to work 44 per cent have telecommute-type jobs according to Global Workplace Analytics. Sam Title launched his Twitter feed The Coffice two years ago which brings together a wide community of cofficers. He is now working on developing an interactive website for cofficers. Title thinks more companies are recognizing that where the work gets done is unimportant as long as the quality of the work remains consistent and is done on time. He recognizes that not everyone can work from home. At 3:30pm when his children arrive home from school, his own home office becomes noisy, so he takes refuge in his local Starbucks to stay productive. If he wants to be completely undisturbed he wears his earplugs, the universal coffice sign for “do not disturb”. Vicky Weiss who tweets for a living, she epitomizes the coffice trend by working in coffee shops on a daily basis. Three years ago she left her sales rep job to become a social media consultant. She conducts “tweetups” where a group of cofficers get together to tweet about their current location and generate a “buzz” about the business. She joined 12 other freelancers recently one morning as they tweeted from their location, sent out photos on social media and provided the bakery in question with a unique promotional opportunity. She “spreads the love around” by go ing to a different coffee shop everyday with her laptop. Her favourite haunts include Mad Bean Coffee Shop, Jimmy’s in Kensington Market, I Deal Coffee and Starbucks in Forest Hill Village. She use to go to Aroma but lately the decibel level is a little loud and Ezra Pound is nice place but a little short on outlets. These are all things that matter to Toronto’s growing band of cofficers.
Derek Zavislake, Merchants of Green Coffee
Kyle Debouvrie, The Bickford Flexitarian
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Gold all around for icewine Although Canada racks up the medals for icewine, most Canadians are blind to their very own ‘liquid gold’. By Mark Cadiz
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ave you had a glass of icewine lately? If you are like most Canadians, probably not. What’s more, most of us are unaware of the award-winning icewines being produced right here in our own backyard. Home grown, handpicked and vinified in the Niagara Peninsula - the world’s largest producer of icewine - this sweet treasure deserves a second look by epicures and oenophiles alike. Wine connoisseur and marketing director for Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, Franco Timpano says our icewines are under-appreciated by Canadians due to the lack of education. “The sweet wines around the world would be classified historically as dessert wines,”
Timpano said. “But what we are trying to do is position icewines as a wine that can pair well with any course and food.” And what makes our icewine world-class? If you didn’t already know, the Niagara Peninsula is a very unique place in the world where a warm growing season is followed by a sub-zero winter. The combination of both creates ideal conditions for making good quality icewines, often reffered to as ‘liquid gold’. But the final product doesn’t come easy. Icewine production is a very long and rigorous process: the grapes have to freeze naturally on the vine at a sustained minimum temperature of -8 C before they can be harvested, an industry
Sip standard enforced by Ontario’s Wine Authority under the Vintners Quality Alliance Act (VQA). But vintners aim for even colder temperatures to ensure a certain level of sweetness. Timpano says when people begin to realize how intense and delicate the process is they begin to develop a deeper appreciation for it, and for him, that’s where the magic lies for icewine. “That’s when people click and say ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s such an intense process to making such a magical wine.’” The Bosc family, led by Paul Bosc, founded Château des Charmes in 1978. This award-winning winery—including the prestigious Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada—produces top-quality icewines. Marketing director, Michele Bosc, says they’ve been diligently spreading the word about icewine. “We are trying to help people understand how they can drink it, because it is a versatile age-worthy wine.” Although the demand is growing every year in Canada, it’s growing at a slower rate when compared to c o u nt r i e s like Japan and China. Tony Aspler, wine critic and founder of the Ontario Wine Awards, says Ontarians are generally not sweet wine drinkers and when
you factor in the cost of a good bottle of icewine it could be enough to sway your average Canadian drinker to cheaper alternatives. “In order to make it affordable the winemakers are bringing them in smaller sizes, like 200 ml,” Aspler said. For example, a 375 ml bottle of the 2009 Château des Charmes
“That’s when people click and say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s such an intense process to making a magical wine.’” Riesling Icewine, which won ‘Gold’ in the vinifera varietal category at this year’s Ontario Wine Awards, retails for $60 at the LCBO, a hefty price for your everyday wine consumer. Price aside, some of Canad a ’ s top icewine makers—Château Des Charmes, Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs— continue to rack up the medals in Canada and a b r o a d , bringing attention to our worldclass, locally-made wines. Proving its versatility, Timpano says icewine is not only meant to be for dessert, but also pairs
well w i t h cheeses and different charcuteries. “There are so many other ways to drink it. I’ll do an assortment of different cheeses, dark chocolates and nuts and pair those with the different varietals so the proper flavour profiles match quite wonderfully,” he said. If you’re not keen on icewine’s intense sweetness, Bosc suggests mixing it with a sparkling wine, making a fabulous drink as an apéritif or digestif. She says you can also have it with a vodka or gin martini and throw in a dash of icewine to enhance the taste. As Canadians become more wine savvy, local wine producers hope we’ll start enjoying the sweet stuff and take more pride in it. “It is completely unique and absolutely explosive in your mouth,” says Bosc. “If you have never experienced a really well-made icewine, and you put your nose in the glass, or you sip it for the first time, your eyes will pop because the intensity of the flavor and the aromas are spectacular.” Photos courtesy of Inniskillin
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Leslieville Cheese Market’s Top Five 1. Presqu’île 2. Avonlea Cloth Bound Cheddar 3. Sheep in the Meadow 4. La Délice de Bourgogne 5. Le Chèvre Noire 6.
Say Cheese! For full details, including pairings please see our website TheBiteTo. tumblr.com
Cheese Boutique’s Top Five 6. Monteforte Toscano 7. Valençay 8. Époisses Berthaut 9. Buttermilk Blue 10. Vieux Bruges
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“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” - Julia Child