Toronto Tastes Great
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Toronto Tastes Great

On Sunday evening, more than thirty of Toronto’s most celebrated chefs congregated in the open air of Yorkville Park for Toronto Taste, Second Harvest‘s biggest and most lavish fundraiser. Honouring its nineteenth year, the event raised $250,000 in just one night—enough to provide 500,000 meals for people in need. Torontoist was lucky to snag a couple of these hot tickets and chat with some of our city’s food glitterati who—despite the challenges of running restaurants in this economy—are continuing to do their part to fight hunger.

Mark McEwan—superstar chef of Bymark, ONE, and North 44 fame—is on Second Harvest’s board of directors and helps out with Toronto Taste every year without fail. “It’s my favourite charity,” he told us. “It’s fabulous because they take food that would otherwise go to waste, they package it, and feed it to people in a very meaningful way. It’s a beautiful thing.”
McEwan is largely responsible for recruiting these famous chefs, his peers, to join in on the cause. “We try to create a level of excitement amongst the restaurants in the city…a little bit of competition…a little bit of pressure to be there.”
The result is an affair that’s a “who’s who” of the city’s high-end restaurant scene, which in turn attracts a crowd that is more than willing to pay $225 per ticket—all of which goes to helping Second Harvest.

Food Network host Michael Smith charms visitors at the Sodexo booth.

Michael Smith, known to most for his shows on the Food Network (Chef at Large, Chef at Home, and new Chef Abroad), flew in that very day to attend the event. Smith is closely involved with Feeding Our Future, a joint project between Sodexo and Second Harvest that feeds kids during the summer months who usually depend on school meal programs. Sodexo donates nutritious prepared lunches and Second Harvest delivers them to community centres that hold free summer day camps for inner-city youth. “We’ve got seven cities this year,” Smith was delighted to tell us.

Majestic Marc Thuet, taking a break at Toronto Taste.

Marc Thuet was on hand with students from his one-month-old Conviction Restaurant, now open in his flagship space on King West. The concept behind the restaurant is similar to the YMCA Basic Culinary Skills Training Program—a job-skills initiative associated with Second Harvest that we wrote about last week. Conviction is slightly different as all of the program’s participants are former convicts. Thuet and his wife, Biana Zorich, personally train the students (six in front-of-house; seven in the back) to work in the restaurant. The project was two years in the making and is currently being filmed for a documentary that will air in September. When asked how the effort is going, Thuet said, “It’s good. They are great guys and girls. In seven weeks, they’ve done really well.”

Donna Dooher of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, working her sixteenth consecutive Toronto Taste.

Almost all of the chefs we encountered told us they’ve been participating in Toronto Taste for at least fourteen years or more. This strong support from the high-end restaurant community likely comes about because, as McEwan says, “Being in the restaurant business and dealing with high-end food all the time, I’m never wanting for anything. You don’t even like to think that there’s kids going to school without meals.”
All photos by Ayngelina Brogan/Torontoist.