By Derek Morrison + photos by Mei Ling Kwok
When the ‘Taste’ Restaurant Festival announced in 2013 it would finally be making the expansion to North America, one would be forgiven if they assumed their first destination would be New York City, Chicago or even somewhere like New Orleans. But instead, organizers chose Toronto to host the first Taste event in North America.
Originating in London in 2004, the festival has quickly grown to international fame, as a ‘place to be’ to take in the best food and meet the best chefs and creators, that the host city has to offer. And it was no different in Toronto. With 17 of the top chefs and their respective restaurants on hand, the festival rolled out the red carpet to all those who attended and afforded them the opportunity to try as many items as they may please from restaurants they may not often get to.
Rock-it Promotions partnered with ‘Taste’ to run the event and secure the venue. Rock-it agreed the opportunity to experience multiple restaurants in one setting is a unique one. Megan Leahy, the on site publicist from Rock-it, could not have been more thrilled with the turn out meeting the expectations.
She added, “And if they find something they really like, they now know whether it is worth going ahead and making full reservations.”
And the turnout proved many people shared this thought. Even with limited advertising, while going up against more established Toronto festivals (in particular the Festival of Beer), Taste of Toronto expected to draw 20, 000 visitors for the four day event. Such a turnout of people, along with the positive support from the food service industry means the event will become an annual staple in the City.
Along with the restaurant stations, there were also many vendors. Originally only 50 spots were offered, but demand was so large there ended up being 70 vendors registered and being represented throughout the festival. Anything from Amsterdam Brewery to Pure Leaf Iced Tea could be found handing out samples, selling products or simply educating those in attendance about their products.
Besides food stations, there were many interactive areas as well, where patrons could participate in cooking classes, learn the finer points of wine tasting or tips on the latest trends in drink making, or as many now refer to it, mixology.
Saturday afternoon, Josh Linde, Director of Sales and Operations for Walter Caesar mix, was found giving a demonstration on making the perfect Caesar, with his preferred product Tequila Tromba, who were also on hand. As the restaurant industry is known to do, the cross promotion and support many brands have for each other was on full display, and they were happy to share their products with the growing number of knowledgeable industry people in the city.
“Toronto is becoming a cultural epicenter of bartending”, said Linde.
And that seemed to set the tone as to why Toronto was chosen for such a prestigious event ahead of the ‘big brother’ to the south in New York City. With the diverse cultures and ever growing population, Toronto continues to attract world-renowned talent throughout the chef industry as well as within the bartending world. And for the growth to continue, the city must support events like this when they are given the opportunity.
Obviously, as a first time event, there were some bumps that need to be worked out. There was an obvious lack of seating throughout the venue and some customers were a little thrown off by overall cost of a day (a $30 entry fee only got you in the door, each food item after that ran on average between $6 and $10 dollars).
Hamilton resident, and PEI native, Alli Walker attended the festival on the final day with her Fiancé. And even though they received a discount thanks to American Express, she still thought the price points were high.
“I would say everything was way too expensive,” Walker said. “It should be less for the consumer so they can try different companies out.”
But as a whole Walker enjoyed her experience, taking in a cooking lesson from Mark McEwan (see above image) and enjoying the free samples that could be found.
And more importantly, Walker expressed what was the goal of the Taste Festival as a whole.
“It is important for Toronto to have an event like this because it’s a way for people to discover new foods and beverages from restaurants that you had heard of, but hadn’t had a chance to try out yet,” she said. “And if you like it you are more likely to go back for more in their restaurant.”
A festival able to accomplish all of these things – exposure for restaurants, new tasting opportunities for customers, and an international footprint for the city – is absolutely something Toronto should be proud to be a part of and welcome back with open arms in 2015. With another year of planning and the first year hiccups out of the way, the event should only grow moving forward, with even more restaurants and guests eager to get their own taste of what the city has to offer.