The first ever Taste Festival in North America was held in Toronto at the Fort York National Historic Site from July 24 to 27th. This event brought together some of the acclaimed chefs and rising stars of Toronto’s culinary scene, allowing guests to sample over 50 dishes from their respective restaurants.

The festival was split up into six sessions – afternoon sessions from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and evening sessions from 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Food was bought with “crowns” – the festival currency – with each crown equalling one dollar. The idea behind the crown is to expedite your transactions at the restaurants and bars, in that you just have to tap your Crown Card – once to start the transaction, and once again to confirm. Crown Cards are topped up with crowns at various crown banks. A better idea is to register and top up your card online at the festival website so that you don’t spend time lining up at the crown banks. The crown currency worked well in that even at restaurant booths that had seemingly long lines, the actual wait time wasn’t much because payment was no longer the bottleneck. Less time waiting means more time sampling, which is what you want at a food festival.

Each restaurant had three food items, costing either 6, 8, or 10 crowns. As previously mentioned, there were over 50 dishes available to sample. The savvy festival goer would have read the festival guide beforehand and marked the dishes that really appealed to them, as it would be near impossible to taste them all. The first dish we tried was from The McEwan Group’s One restaurant, which was a fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit, housemade slaw, and chipotle BBQ sauce.

Fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit, housemade slaw, and chipotle BBQ sauce from The McEwan Group's One restaurant

Fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit, housemade slaw, and chipotle BBQ sauce from The McEwan Group’s One restaurant

The second dish was from Barque Smokehouse – smoked duck tacos with pickled radish, carrots, crispy fried chicken skin, and a hoisin BBQ sauce on a flour tortilla.

Smoked duck tacos with pickled radish, carrots, crispy fried chicken skin, and a hoisin BBQ sauce on a flour tortilla from Barque Smokehouse

Smoked duck tacos with pickled radish, carrots, crispy fried chicken skin, and a hoisin BBQ sauce on a flour tortilla from Barque Smokehouse

Finally we tried Momofuku Noodle Bar’s offering – a pork bun, with hoisin, scallion, and cucumber.

Momofuku Noodle Bar's offerings: pork bun, kale salad, summer ramen

Momofuku Noodle Bar’s offerings: pork bun, kale salad, summer ramen

All three dishes were delicious, and accomplished what they set out to do – to give a taste of what the restaurant offers, and entice you to visit to them to try their other dishes. Other dishes we sampled from the preview event, expectedly, were also available, like Richmond Station’s Station Burger, and Fabricca’s Lamb Bolognese Crostini.

Besides trying out the dishes from the various restaurants, there were a lot other things to do. To start, at least three Metro Master Classes were held during each session. In these hands-on cooking sessions, participants were led by top restaurant chefs in replicating some of their recipes. In the Electrolux Theatre, guests just sit back and watch as their favourite chefs cook on stage. In the Tasting Room, you can join a wine tasting session with wine experts, winemakers, and sommeliers and learn about food and wine pairings, cellaring, and other wine related tips. There were also over 50 exhibitor booths where you can find out about their food and drink products and even sample some of them. If your taste buds needed a break, there was also a music stage to delight your ears.

Chef David Chang of Momofuku and Chef Chantana "Top" Srisomphan of Khao San Road

Chef David Chang of Momofuku and Chef Chantana “Top” Srisomphan of Khao San Road

All in all, the first Taste of Toronto was a great success. There was a lot of food to sample in a limited amount of time (not to mention stomach space). There were also many activities to entertain yourself in a short four hour session. Our best advice for next year is to plan ahead – read the festival guide to find out which dishes you want to taste, which sessions you want to attend, and booths you want to visit, and top-up your Crown Card with the right amount beforehand so that you’re not spending too much time in line or deciding what to do next. We look forward to the Taste of Toronto festival in 2015.

The Taste of Toronto food festival raised $10,000 for it’s charity partner, Second Harvest, and all leftover food from the event was rescued by Second Harvest and given to those in need in local communities.

For more information:
http://tasteoftoronto.com
Twitter: @tasteoftoronto #tasteoftoronto
Instagram: @tasteoftoronto #tasteoftoronto

Photos by John Tan except where indicated.

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In Photos: Toronto Men's Fashion Week (TOM*) opening party
Christopher Bates does TOM*

John Tan

John is an avid traveller, but equally loves being a tourist in his own city. With camera in hand, he enjoys discovering the sights, sounds, tastes, and everything else that Toronto has to offer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@iam_johntan) to see what he's been up to lately.