Taste of Toronto (2016)

There's no festival better at showcasing the flavours of our city's food scene than Taste of Toronto, a world renowned restaurant festival that takes places in cities all across the world. Each year Taste of Toronto keeps on getting better and better, with the addition of new chefs, restaurants, vendors, and interactive cooking demos where you can either watch it all unfold at the Taste Theatre or sign up for an hands-on cooking lesson at the Metro Master Class.

Celebrity chef Chuck Hughes kicked off opening night this past June leading a live demonstration of gastronomic delights at the Taste Theatre, inside the Garrison Common at Fort York where this festival was taking place. It was only the start of what was to come after opening night as over 24,000 guests sampled more than 60,000 dishes throughout the 4 day festivities from June 23rd to 26th.

No restaurant festival is complete without handing out some hardware! At the Best of Taste Awards this year, Chuck Hughes, Franco Stalteri (Charlie's Burgers), Rebecca Fleming (Toronto Life) selected the top three dishes, plus the best dressed booth handing out four trophies to well deserved winners.

The winners were:

First place: Chinatown Platter, The Drake Hotel Properties
Chef: Ted Corrado, corporate executive chef
 
Second place: Aburi Oshi Sushi, Miku Toronto
Chef:  Kazuki Uchigoshi, head sushi chef
 
Third place: Porchetta Pizza, Carver
Chef: Rob Bragagnolo, chef and co-owner
 
Best dressed booth: Mamakas Taverna
Chef: Chris Kalisperas

Here were some of my favourite dishes at this year's Taste of Toronto.

Kanpai Snack Bar

  Formasa Ceviche   - shrimp, squid, citrus fruits, bell peppers, bird’s eye chili, ontario apples and tromba tequila with Crispy taro chip. Cost - 8 Crowns

Formasa Ceviche - shrimp, squid, citrus fruits, bell peppers, bird’s eye chili, ontario apples and tromba tequila with Crispy taro chip. Cost - 8 Crowns

El Caballito Tequila y Tacos & Los Colibris

  Churro Nest   - with housemade dulce de leche or vanilla bean hard ice-cream. Cost - 8 Crowns

Churro Nest - with housemade dulce de leche or vanilla bean hard ice-cream. Cost - 8 Crowns

The McEwan Group

  Crispy Calamari Po-Boy   - with Ace Bakery charcoal bun, lemon caper aioli. Cost - 8 Crowns

Crispy Calamari Po-Boy - with Ace Bakery charcoal bun, lemon caper aioli. Cost - 8 Crowns

Piano Piano

  Veal Parm Sangouche   - Hot Peppers, Roasted Onion, Mozzarella. Cost - 10 Crowns

Veal Parm Sangouche - Hot Peppers, Roasted Onion, Mozzarella. Cost - 10 Crowns

Richmond Station

  Fresh Waffle Cone with Organic Ice Cream     - waffle cone, organic ice cream, praline. Cost - 6 Crowns

Fresh Waffle Cone with Organic Ice Cream - waffle cone, organic ice cream, praline. Cost - 6 Crowns

If I were to hand out my own Best of Taste Award at this year's Taste of Toronto, it would have to go to The McEwan Group and their Crispy Calamari Po-Boy. A complimentary glass of white or red wine while you waited for your order may or may not have influenced my decision. All I can say is that sandwich hit all the right notes!

Not only did I get a chance to try many dishes from this year's restaurant line up, but I was lucky enough to take part in the Metro Master Class where I cooked a dish following the instructions of a celebrated local chef, Mike Ward. The classes are on a first-come first-serve basis so make sure you sign up early to reserve a spot in one of the three classes for each of the afternoon and evening sessions.

Once you are one of the lucky ones who managed to snag that coveted spot in the Metro Master Class, you will be taken to a make shift kitchen with top of the line appliances, kitchen tools, and fresh ingredients supplied by Metro that you will be sharing with a partner throughout the cooking lesson.

The dish that Mike Ward taught our class was "Chicken with Cumin, Tahini, Lemon & Burnt Onion." The first hurdle to try to overcome was trying to figure out how to operate this very fancy, top of the line Electrolux stove that uses touch sensors to turn the stove on and off and to set the temperature. Luckily there were always experts on site to help us out if we ever had any questions on the cooking hardware.

The first task was to flatten out the chicken breast. Not so hard right? You couldn't possibly screw that up? Wrong. I thought I would be smart and use the pan as a hammer to flatten out the chicken, but I totally forgot that the pan was hot, and as you can see from the picture below part of the chicken got stuck and heated by the pan. Oops. Luckily it didn't affect the end result of the dish and I totally dodged a bullet there and not let my partner down.

The onions then needed to be chopped and put in the pan. The dish incorporates "burnt onions" and burnt is no understatement. Mike Ward re-assured us that even though to the average eye the onions looked overly burnt, that was exactly what the dish requires and was he ever right. I loved the smoky flavours the burnt onions brought to the dish at the end.

We spiced up the chicken with some cumin, salt, and pepper and put some lemon zest over the chicken as well to give it a nice earthy flavour to it. The chicken went in the hot pan and we seared it using a medium to high heat for about a good five minutes on each side. To bring the dish together we mixed in some olive oil to the tahini and used that as the sauce for the chicken. The final touches were to sprinkle on some chopped pistachios and parsley and about 30 minutes later the dish was complete and ready for consumption!

Mike Ward made sure to walk around to each individual several times throughout the cooking lesson to give out helpful hints and tricks while we were cooking to ensure we were all on the same page. He even noticed me using a hot pan to smash the chicken in the beginning and he didn't even laugh at me. I can certainly appreciate that he made me feel like I totally knew what I was doing.

All in all it was another great year at Taste of Toronto and I enjoyed every minute of it. Not only did I just get to enjoy the food at this year's festival, but I also was able to learn and bring home some practical skills and knowledge I can use forever back in my own kitchen. The countdown is now back on until we get to partake in next year's festivities and I cannot wait!