Fomo: Fear of missing out. For the past two summers those fears came true for me, as I desperately scrolled through my various social media feeds in an attempt to live vicariously through the lens of all of the lucky attendees at Taste of Toronto. There's no doubt about it, since Taste's inception in Toronto two years ago, it has been the food event of the year with the likes of David Chang, Mark McEwan, Massimo Capra, Carl Heinrich, Christina Tosi, Anthony Rose, Chuck Hughes and more having participated in what is often considered to be one of the best restaurant festivals in the world. Summer in Toronto can get very busy, so it's easy to miss out on at least a few of the food-focused events that take place throughout those few warm months, but this year there wasn't a chance I was going to miss out on Taste of Toronto again.
With an invitation from Metro Ontario this year to attend the festival as their guest, I was able to gain access to the exclusive Metro Master Class kitchen to watch and participate in an interactive cooking demo hosted by Chef Anthony Rose (no relation to me) of the Anthony Rose empire (ie. Rose & Son's, Fat Pasha, Shmaltz Appetizing, Big Crow, Big Crow But Little, Rose & Son's Swan, and Bar Begonia...wow that's a mouth-full!). Representing his Middle Eastern influenced restaurant Fat Pasha at Taste, Chef Rose taught myself, along with a group of other food bloggers and Taste attendees how to make Msabbaha, a vegetarian dish featuring creamy hummus, whole chickpeas, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, halloumi, and Schug, a spicy and herbaceous green sauce with cilantro, parsley, hot peppers, and spices. All of the fresh and local ingredients were provided by Metro Ontario, making the recipe very accessible for participants like myself to be able to recreate at home.
As I was guided to my cooking station, I was happy to find a familiar face as my cooking partner for the demo, the lovely Isabelle Boucher of Crumb Blog. We were given a quick overview of our station, learning how to use the Elextrolux induction cooktop, and the Braun immersion blender that were provided for us, and we were on our way to get cookin'! As Chef Rose began the demo, he told us a little bit about Fat Pasha and Israeli cuisine, teaching us how to pronounce some Yiddish and Middle Eastern dishes with that classic "chhh" sound that comes from throat. Ironically enough, Isabelle and I happened to be the only participants who had ever traveled to Israel and tried authentic Israeli cuisine. If you've ever traveled to Israel yourself, you will know just how extraordinary Israeli hummus is. The flavour and insane creaminess is unlike anything you can find in Toronto, though you can get awfully close at Fat Pasha, which was why I was so eager to learn Chef Rose's secret.
Though Isabelle's research had taught her that that creamy consistency in Israeli hummus is thanks to taking the extra step of removing the chickpea skins, Chef Rose gave us another great tip, which was to add ice water to the mix when blending with the immersion blender. It was so amazing to be able to be so hands-on with the cooking demo, as well as have someone so well respected like Chef Rose on hand to come around and look at all of our dishes, and guide us to the result he would be proud to serve in his own restaurant. How often do you have a renowned chef looking over your shoulder to guide you, as you learn to cook one of their signature dishes? To a food nerd like myself, that was so cool! With his classic laid-back charm, Chef Rose made the experience of participating in the demo not only incredibly informative, but also a lot of fun.
When the demo was over, it was time to head back into the hot sun and check out some of the restaurants that were stationed around the Fort York grounds, serving some of their signature dishes. We began our tour at Little Sister Indonesian & Noorden Food Bar's stand, one of our favourite restaurants that's known for serving up big-flavoured dishes, that are meant to be shared. We opted to share a plate of their Satay Ayam, which are chicken satays with peanut sauce, pickles, and shrimp chips. As always, they were an overwhelmingly-wonderful flavour explosion and were a great way to start our circuit around the grounds.
With a pint of Mill Street in my boyfriend Chris' hand, and a Walter's Caesar in mine, we were ready to grab our next bite. Mamakas Taverna's stand was directly next to Little Sister's, tempting us with the smoke and smells of their roasted Ontario lamb, churning on a hot spit. There wasn't a chance we were passing that up! Their vibrant stand full of multi-coloured vegetables, beautifully displayed on wooden crates, was just as eye-catching as the lamb spit, and was most definitely the most aesthetically-pleasing restaurant stand of the day.
Though the lamb served with bulgar salad and Tzatziki was an absolute must, we also couldn't resist getting an order of their Baklava Soft Serve, garnished with a Baklava crumble and Ontario strawberries. Though we felt slightly guilty over the fact that we were ordering two dishes from the same restaurant, when we should probably be expanding our choices over the breadth of restaurants that were featured at the festival, we had zero regrets! The succulent lamb was incredible, though quite difficult to eat with plastic cutlery, but that didn't stop us from demolishing our plate. The Baklava soft serve was one of our favourite tastes of the day, partly due to the insane humidity we were faced with at the festival, but largely because it was just so damn delicious.
After scoping out the rest of the grounds, we headed over to Anthony Rose's Fat Pasha stand to get more of our hummus fix satisfied. We ordered a plate of Falafel Hummus with tahini, lemon, pickled cucumbers and peppers, olives, pita, and a drizzle of that incredible Schug. We found a shady spot under a tree and dove right into our falafel plate. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that it all came straight from Israel, it was so delicious! The vegetarian plate was a great way to finish off our savoury tastes of the festival, as the humidity began to affect our appetite.
With $5 left on our American Express Crown Card (the official currency of the festival) and sweat on our brows, we could think of no better way of sending off the festival than with a cool and refreshing popsicle from Chill Pops, a local company churning out all-natural pressed juice ice pops, hand-crafted in small batches in Toronto. Though all of the flavours sounded enticing, we chose the Pineapple Kiwi flavour. We annihilated the tasty ice pop in what felt like seconds and said our farewell to Taste of Toronto 2016.
After years of envy, watching others enjoy the flavours and sights of Taste of Toronto, it was such a pleasure to be able to attend and participate in this years festival. Though we got to try so many wonderful tastes, my favourite part was definitely being able to take part in the Metro Master Class cooking demo. While dishes come to an end, the knowledge that I gained from the cooking demo is something that I can carry with me each time I approach a Middle Eastern dish in my own kitchen. I'm looking forward to making Chef Rose's Msabbaha at home and sharing the recipe with you. There's a new Rose in the kitchen now!