How Toronto's Multicultural Food Scene Has Made the City a Celebrated Culinary Destination

Foodable Network is always on the lookout for culinary food scenes with a vibrant, yet unique character.

With our "Food in Your City" series, we visit cities offering food scenes unlike any other.

Toronto is referred to as the "New York of Canada" and for good reason. There's a tremendous amount of flavor.

With the majority of the population speaking multiple languages, it makes sense that this culinary destination would have an equally diverse and dynamic food culture.

"When you're eating out in a city as diverse as Toronto, a whole world of flavors is always within walking distance. From hole-in-the-wall joints with no phone to luxurious tasting menus, Toronto is a food lover's dream city," writes "Bon Appétit."

Popular cuisines include Korean, Cuban, Southern American, Brazilian, and so on. Toronto continues to be rooted in culture and heritage and this reflects in the food.

“Unlike being a melting pot, the diversity still stays, so not only do we have communities and neighborhoods, we also have the heritage of those people who are coming from different countries to live here with us," said Donna Dooher, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada.

Renowned restaurateurs like David Chang and Daniel Boulud have opened restaurants in Toronto, but the local talented chefs like Grant van Gameren, Lynn Crawford and Patrick Kriss are helping to make Toronto the celebrated food city it is.

But it isn't just the local chefs elevating the food and beverage scene either. Toronto is home to some of the best bartenders in the business like Frankie Solarik and Robin Goodfellow. These mixology masters are showing guests a whole new world when it comes to their cocktail creations.

Read more about Toronto's food scene here and watch the "On Foodable Side Dish: Food in Your City" episode below to learn more about this culinary city.

Gusto 101 Serves Southern-Italian Dishes with a Twist in a Converted Auto Body Shop in Toronto

Toronto has a dynamic culinary scene with a sheer diversity of restaurants with so many different flavors.

Since the competition is fierce in this city, a restaurant has to stand out to make a name for itself, especially when it serves the popular cuisine of Italian.

Gusto 101 in downtown Toronto at the Portland and Adelaide intersection, does just that.

We visited Gusto 101 a few years ago, a southern-Italian restaurant known for its traditional cuisine paired with a bold and modern twist. Even the name Gusto, which means tasty in Italian, is a tribute to the restaurant's roots to Italy.

With an industrial vibe, the restaurant is located in a former auto body shop and has a rooftop deck, Gusto 101 has a tech-forward kitchen to match its innovative front-of-house interior.

“[This is] probably one of the most high-tech kitchens I’ve ever worked in. We have a full-induction burners, combi oven, so on and so forth…It’s at the top of the level of, as far as, the future of kitchens, and the future of restaurant design...,” says Elio Zennoni, executive chef at Gusto 101 in the video below.

But it’s what the chefs prepare in the high-tech kitchen that is the real triumph.

Some of the most popular dishes include ravioli alla norma, rigatoni bolognese, branzino grilled paired with escarole, cannellini beans, celery, salmoriglio and the Tuscan wood-fired grill with grilled chicken and seasonally changing sides.

Watch the Table 42 Vignette episode below to see Chef Zennoni work his culinary mastery and prepare the signature Tuscan Wood Fired Grill Pollo with grilled chicken, butternut squash puree, farro pickled radicchio, and toasted hazelnuts dish.

CEO Frank Paci Shares Why Corner Bakery is Considered a Catering Powerhouse

Having a proven strategy for your catering channel can take your restaurant from just making the margins to expanding your concept. The variables for creating a profitable catering channel are rapidly evolving, so best to learn from the best.

On this episode of The Takeout, Catering and Delivery Show, we sit down with Frank Paci, CEO of Corner Bakery Cafe. Corner Bakery Cafe is known as one of the top performing fast casual operations in the off-premise space with nearly 200 locations in North America. Catering makes up over 25 percent of its business.

We discuss how Paci views the concept’s off-premise business strategy, what his vision for off-premises is moving forward, and how the brand was able to build up its reputation as a catering powerhouse.

Tips on How to Work on Your Side Dish Hustle

Culinary-driven sides can make your restaurant the destination for picky eaters

Side dishes aren’t free, right? So why not give them the same nod as the other categories of your menu? Vegetables and non-entree elements can heft 20% of sales, while desserts, for instance, may be only about 3%, yet chocolate gets more attention from the back-of-the-house than the roasted beet salad or the cheese plate.

Right that wrong for the sake of driving sales, keeping your menu sharp, and making good restaurant sense.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Side dishes make the meal. Just don’t call them side dishes.

Add-on dishes drive top-line sales and raise the per-person average (PPA.) Desirable side dishes jazz guests - even picky ones -  with more opportunities to be impressed by your food.

What do interesting ‘sides’ look like? Start by not calling them sides. Just like the value of vegetables is diminished with “veggies,” find nomenclature that works for your brand, but stay away from sides. Vegetables, shareable, or ‘for the table’, are more marketable terms than sides, unless you are pedaling a 2-ounce soufflé  cup of coleslaw or apple sauce, you can do better. Also, bump the list to better menu geography to raise the dishes’ status.

Feed the table

Portions large enough to make a lap around the table impact more guests and fetch bigger sales; that’s easy math. Take Toronto’s Fat Pasha’s roasted cauliflower; the whole vegetable is roasted with tahini, skhug, pine nuts, pomegranate, and halloumi. Something for guests to talk about (and post on Instagram) and it pays your rent.

A fundamental ingredient upended with a culinary flourish can coax some of the reluctance out of those less food-forward. Again, another win.

Take the lead from Joe’s Stone Crab and label the vegetable category “...large enough to share.” Why? Group mentality. If it’s for the table, then there’s no guilt about ordering too much food. A humble order of grilled asparagus or onion rings both could fetch a cool $10. That translates to one dish dropping an extra $2.50 to PPA.

Easy on the season

An accompanying dish is easy to re-engineer with the season versus a main course that may have a multi-pan pick-up. Who says specials are only for main dishes? When Mark from the produce company calls with a deal on a bumper crop of little eggplants, make the move. Deliver the vegetables as a feature, share it with the table, and put good margins on an item at the top of its seasonal game.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

In the era of community tables and shared dining experiences, having dishes designed to divvy is an automatic. Cleveland’s Flying Fig boasts only two sections on their core menu - entrees and everything else. It’s the latter that ups the stakes for the culinarily enchanted. Their taleggio polenta, tempura green beans, or bacon wrapped dates tickle the right spots.

A concert is live music. Garnish the performance with lights and some crazy-ass visuals and you have a happening! The same goes for a meal, right? Some devil is in the details, all the way across the menu, not just center stage. There is the same seismic emotion in great food - regardless of where it falls on the menu - as the charged arm flailing at a great show. Do not diminish the value of righteous cornbread studded with currants and caressed with maple butter. A dish is a dish is a dish. Allowing any victual to languish as “just” a side, is a culinary felony. Get each dish up and moving.

Looking for some more words of wisdom from Chef Jim? Check out the latest Chef AF podcast episode below where he discusses with fellow Chef Derek Stevens about cities where the culinary scene is somewhat forgotten in the food world and which cities are now seeing a food resurgence.

Why the Food Scene in “Forgotten Cities” Is As Important As Those in New York, Chicago, and L.A.

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman sits down with Chef Derek Stevens— a Steel City “burning star,” as he calls him, for shining bright in the local food scene. Stevens is the co-owner and executive chef of Pittsburgh’s Union Standard. Both gentlemen are Pittsburgh-natives and they focus their conversation around those cites that seem “forgotten” in the food world.

The two agree that as chefs they are always on the hunt for honest food. Chef Stevens is candid about his favorite Pittsburgh food spots, highlighting establishments like LeoGretta located in the Carnegie neighborhood and ran by Chef Greg Alauzen; as well as, DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip District and ran by Chef Dave DiAnoia.

“When I talk about those chefs… when I eat their food, I think ‘Damn, I wish I could cook like this guy’ you know?,” says Chef Stevens. “It’s really heartwarming in a way, you know? They really got it figured out. And sometimes they’re thinking the same thing [about other chefs].”

Listen to the podcast above to hear the full conversation, Chef Steven’s thoughts on the resurgence of downtown areas in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee, and how to cultivate interest for a local food scene in a “forgotten city.”


Show Notes:

  • 1:55 - Chef Derek Stevens’ Background

  • 4:07 - Favorite Pittsburgh food spots

  • 7:37 - Comfort Food vs. Fine-Dining

  • 12:47 - Cultivating Interest for local food scene

  • 17:19 - Incubators and the food scene

  • 23:13 - Labor Shortage

Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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