Toronto Taste 2011: We get the latest news from top chefs and restaurateurs from Woodlot, Buca, Nota Bene, O&B and many more

Toronto Taste 2011: We get the latest news from top chefs and restaurateurs from Woodlot, Buca, Nota Bene, O&B and many more

Rob Gentile (Buca), David Lee (Nota Bene), Andrea Nicholson (Great Cooks on Eight), Paul Boehmer (Böhmer), Teo Paul (Union)

Two thousand of Toronto’s food lovers and makers gathered at the ROM on Sunday for the 21st edition of Toronto Taste. The annual fundraiser—which raises money for Second Harvest—saw more than 60 restaurants and 30 beverage purveyors offering their best to the guests. Burgers and tacos might have been the plats du jour, but new restaurant openings seemed to be the hottest item on the plates of many chefs and restaurateurs we spoke to. Here’s what we heard from Buca’s Rob Gentile, Woodlot’s David Haman, Scarpetta’s Scott Conant, Splendido’s Victor Barry, Top Chef Canada contestants Dustin Gallagher and Andrea Nicholson and many more. 

Start the slideshow »

Ed Ho, owner of Globe Bistro and Earth, served attendees a yellow tomato gazpacho infused with Ontario saffron and topped with grilled smelts and sunflower oil. Although Ho’s still settling into his new Bloor West space, he did note that he’s got an official patio opening and winemaker dinners in the works.

Executive chefs Manuel Vilela (centre) and Dave Kemp (second from right) from Chiado and Salt Wine Bar, respectively, pose with their crew. Last year we reported on the impending opening of Salt; this year the restaurants worked together to offer patrons two dishes, including these duck prosciutto–wrapped tilefish served on a parsnip purée with diced pears in port wine.

Chef Didier Leroy, pictured with partner Tory Edwards, served Didier’s classic beef tartare made with finely diced beef tenderloin, capers and mustard. Edwards was happy to report that the Spring for Wildlife fundraiser she organized last Friday raised close to $65,000 for the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

Chef Rob Gentile of Buca once again challenged palates at Toronto Taste. This year the chef served torta sanguinaccio—a Southern Italian tart made with pork blood, chocolate and espresso-poached figs that’s topped with crema di buffalo and macerated almonds. But the big news was that there will be a new 60-seat wine-focused spot opening up in a few months’ time on Portland Street under the same Buca brand. The traditional Italian bar will be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Expect apperativi-type plates, with espresso and dolce served in the morning and panini in the afternoon.

Besides a fifth cookbook coming out this fall, chef Michael Smith, who has long been a partner with food services company Sodexo, told us he’s giving Ontarians something to really sink their teeth into: a new burger joint in Kingston. The Canadian Grilling Company will be serving, as Smith tells us, “a burger you can really believe in,” made with ethically sourced meats and local and sustainable ingredients. Although the first outpost will be at Queen’s University, Smith did divulge that more locations are on the horizon. For Toronto Taste, Smith served a miniaturized shore dinner that involved seared Manitoba pickerel and wild boar bacon on a fingerling potato confit raft, all topped with tarragon mustard foam and a whimsical potato anchor chip.

Celebrity chef Scott Conant (centre) served two crowd-pleasing plates, including Scarpetta’s creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushroom. Conant told us that the restaurant has been tweaking its menu with new items like the salted caramel budino. He also said the restaurant will begin offering a special Signature Sundays and Mondays menu, which will allow guests to order the restaurant’s signature items at a reduced price.

College Street favourites Woodlot and Grace joined forces for what they called “Gracelot.” Woodlot chef and co-owner David Haman (second from right) told us that the restaurant is planning two big changes in the coming months: 1) a new patio space with a lighter menu by the end of summer and 2) an expansion of their kitchen in August (the restaurant will be closed for a week). Although the latter change will give the busy kitchen crew some much-needed room, it will absorb some of the space taken by the bread racks and communal table, translating to fewer covers per night.

Meanwhile, Grace’s executive chef and Top Chef Canada contender Dustin Gallagher (centre, bottom, with the cherub smile) served a hot smoked turbot with potato and radish salad. Gallagher was eager to promote the return of barbecue nights and lobster and clam boils at Grace Upstairs. He also told us that a Top Chef menu will be launched at the show’s conclusion, featuring the best of Gallagher’s creations from the show.

We caught up with chef Marc Thuet (left) and Biana Zorich (Petite Thuet)—pictured here with chef Tom Brodi of Toca—who wowed the crowds with pork belly that had been cooked sous-vide for 24 hours, lightly smoked, then set on a fried wild-rice bannock with Asian slaw. The smorgasbord also featured smoked pork loin with dijon mustard and surprisingly non-gamey beaver salami on a slice of pain noir (pumpernickel).

Splendido’s chef and proprietor Victor Barry with manager and sommelier Matthew Roulston, pictured here with grilled white asparagus with pancetta and lemon, offered a few hints about the new bar they’re opening around Labour Day in the space vacated by Oddfellows. We were told that the bar will be open from lunch until 3 a.m. and will focus on bourbon and rum (“Because bourbon and rum are delicious,” Roulston says), but will also offer sandwiches (“Because I like sandwiches,” Barry adds) and bar food.

Although the deep-fried baccalà with tripe ragù and aioli served by chef Rocco Agostino and his Enoteca Sociale crew—including hostess Lauren Wilton—was excellent, it’s the anticipation of Agostino’s second Pizzeria Libretto location that had our pizza-loving hearts pounding. The opening date for the Danforth and Carlaw location is projected for September. Wilton also told us that the patio is now open at Enoteca, translating to 40 more seats and a slightly better chance at snagging a table at the restaurant.

Mark McEwan (North 44, Bymark, One, Fabbrica) served a delightful fresh smelt fritti with lemon caper aioli. The Top Chef Canada head judge tells us that he’s really been enjoying the show, in particular the chefs’ stories, although he noted that he comes across too serious. “I’m a really happy guy,” he insists. When we asked him about season two, McEwan told us that he hopes to see a greater representation of cultures and more balance in the female-to-male ratio, but says merit will remain the deciding factor.

Chef Andrea Nicholson from Great Cooks on Eight served chilled cardoon velouté with crispy duck, truffle and pickled pear. The (recently eliminated) Top Chef Canada contestant told us that Great Cooks will be hosting two events this month, including a six-course Beer vs. Wine dinner on June 24 and a Top Chef Canada competitors’ dinner on June 30. The five-course tasting menu for the latter will reunite Nicholson with Steve Gonzalez, Mike Stauffer, Patrick Wiese and St. John’s Todd Perrin, with $50 from each ticket going towards establishing the Great Cooks Young Chefs Fund, which will support aspiring chefs in their schooling.
Chef David Lee of Nota Bene served the crowd his signature wagyu beef brisket burgers topped with kimchi. The succulent dish was recently featured as part of a burger and Sapporo combo, with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross in support of its disaster relief efforts. Lee also told us that for July and August, a hog-tasting menu will be available on Tuesday nights. Expect to find everything from suckling pig tacos to porchetta.

Executive chef Olivia Bolaño offered up a taste of home with 1,200 Filipino sio pao filled with braised pork shoulder and pickled root vegetables made from 100-kilometre ingredients. The fresh steamed pork buns were so popular that Bolaño is considering making them a regular item available at All the Best Fine Foods.

Pangaea’s table could hardly keep up with the demand for pastry chef Colen Quinn’s warm citrus donuts, which chef de cuisine Derek Beding explained were filled with house-made ricotta (from their in-house cheese program) that was rolled in sugar and served with an orange-cardamom shake and slice of Arrack-poached orange.

Chef Paul Boehmer (from Böhmer) served a venison tartare and updated us on his upcoming Queen West restaurant and Ossington food shop. Scheduled to open in July, the neighbourhood-friendly Bohemian Gastropub will serve Germanic and Austrian foods using Canadian ingredients, and 12 different draft beers. Füüd by Boehmer will open in September and will sell Boehmer’s own food line with everything from pickles to store-baked breads and prepared foods.

Union’s chef Teo Paul filled us in on the restaurant’s new late-night menu, which will start in July: from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Monday nights, the restaurant will serve up classic bistro foods such as steak haché and croque madame. While no name has been coined for the new menu, Paul did mention that the staff had just done a ’50s-themed photo shoot, which will likely inspire a name.

Oliver and Bonacini’s corporate executive chef Anthony Walsh (right) introduced us to Auberge du Pommier’s new executive chef Marc St. Jacques (left). The chefs served a duo of non-traditional soft tacos, one filled with pork, crackling mayonnaise, napa cabbage slaw and sweet and spicy peanuts, the other with chocolate-braised lamb, arugula salad, grana padano and pickled red onions. Walsh also mentioned that Bannock, the group’s new restaurant at The Bay on Queen Street, may be ready in as little as 10 days (O&B is hosting a job fair at the end of the month to staff up).

A crowd favourite: L’Unità’s cannoli, a restaurant signature filled with white chocolate mascarpone and candied orange.

Executive chef David Garcelon of the Fairmont Royal York and Epic Restaurant’s new chef Tim Palmer greeted guests inside the ROM with a cider-braised pork belly on a smoked trout and potato salad. Although Toronto Taste is a big event, Garcelon told us that the hotel and its restaurants will be hosts of the IIFA Awards—also known as the Bollywood Oscars—next week, including an after-party that will seat 200 Bollywood stars. Indian food will be served in all of the hotel’s restaurants for the week. Also, starting this weekend, Palmer will be launching a new à-la-carte brunch service called the “Authentically Local Brunch,” which will be available every Saturday and Sunday.

We stopped by to chat with chef Brad Long, who was manning his table inside the ROM. Although he’s still waiting to open Café Belong at the Evergreen Brick Works, Long is hopeful that the space will be ready for service in July, complete with the highlight of the room—a 60-foot bent-pipe chandelier.

Culinary coordinator John Higgins (George Brown College) and chef Oliver Li (Chef’s House) are pictured with students from the chef school, who prepared an impressive foie gras custard that was baked into 1,500 hollowed eggshells and topped with a quinoa salad, crème fraiche and chervil.

Besides reprising last year’s cigarette girl and boy truffle stations, chef Chris McDonald (Cava, Xococava), pictured here with Susan Willemsen (The Siren Group), told us he will be spinning for Bikes for Tykes on June 22 at the Bay Adelaide Centre. McDonald, who is an avid cyclist, will be joined by Bob Blumer of Glutton for Punishment fame to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters Toronto. After the event, the pair will head back to Cava, where Blumer will pour cava from 5 to 7 p.m.., with the proceeds from the cava going to the same charity. Sponsorships to Team Cava can be made through the Bike for Tykes website.

Finally, a crowd-pleasing beast to feast on: Noce’s whole-pig porchetta.