Editor’s Letter (October 2013): the best of the artisanal food invasion

Editor’s Letter (October 2013): the best of the artisanal food invasion

Toronto Life Editor's Letter: Sarah Fulford
Before the cronut burger arrived at the CNE and poisoned 200 people with the staphylococcus aureus toxin, the cronut—sans beef patty—was the apex of artisanal baking. It is, essentially, a deep-fried croissant, conceived by a French chef in a lower Manhattan bakery last May. People are still lining up for hours to buy them for $5 each. The bakery makes just 350 of them a day (each batch requires three days to prep) with a two-cronut limit per person. The whole thing sounds made up, like a Seinfeld episode or a skit from Portlandia, but not only is it real, it’s at the centre of the cultural conversation. Mid-summer, the apron-clad cronut inventor appeared on Jimmy Fallon demonstrating how he injects his pastries with
sugary goo.

I myself have not had a cronut. Nor have I had a crookie, the croissant stuffed with melted Oreos, baked in Toronto at Clafouti on Queen West. But in the last couple of years, I have eaten some exquisite culinary treats in Toronto, made so lovingly, innovatively and in such small quantities that they attract lineups. The $6 peanut butter milkshake at Rose and Sons diner on Dupont, for example, sounds disgusting (like the cronut) but is a subtle, surprising delight. Rose and Sons is small, and you must show up before the place opens at 9 a.m. to get a table.

Over in Kensington Market, the bagels at Nu Bügel are boiled in honey water and cost $9 a dozen. They come hot and chewy, and are sweet like candy; when I pick some up for brunch, I inevitably devour one on my way home. Mind you, I’m usually starving, since I’ve just waited in line­—in a room that smells incredible—long enough to drain my iPhone battery.

In this issue, we list 50 of our favourite artisanal food products. While the word “artisanal” is now deployed by everyone—including mass market salespeople—in our package, it’s defined by how much of a product was made (small batches), who made it (someone nearby), and how it was made (by hand, with obsessive devotion).

Does that mean my grandfather was an artisan when he grew beets in his backyard in Don Mills 50 years ago, then cooked them following an old Polish-Jewish family recipe? Sure, the term would have applied to him, but today’s crop of food enthusiasts are of a different order: they belong to a reactionary movement. They’re rebelling against processed food, the Kraft Dinner and Chef Boyardee of their childhoods, seeking a more intimate and authentic relationship with what’s on their plates. Just as religious fundamentalists scoff at the emptiness of secular culture, today’s picklers and sausage makers have divorced themselves from the mainstream and devoted their lives to what’s not available at the supermarket.

Any religious movement that proselytizes with wild boar burgers, hickory smoked salmon and peach brandy jam is okay with me. Try to eat your way through the story, and I promise: you too will become a convert.

See our guide to Toronto’s thriving artisanal food scene »