Black food tourists flood Toronto

Written by By Aqilah Muhammad, CNN Toronto, Canada Toronto was recently one of the top cities in the world to eat, in part due to the city’s addition of black-owned eateries. Now the city…

Black food tourists flood Toronto

Written by By Aqilah Muhammad, CNN Toronto, Canada

Toronto was recently one of the top cities in the world to eat, in part due to the city’s addition of black-owned eateries. Now the city has started a journey towards creating black food sovereignty.

Black food is considered a marginalized, long-neglected community in Canada’s largest city, many of which can trace their roots to the Caribbean and Africa. The Chef Collective, which first launched in North America with a Vancouver food tour, has led a four-year campaign to transform Torontonians’ attitudes toward a black cuisine.

“We are not a community that is deep in the food culture of this country,” says Chef Emerick, who owns an outstanding array of soul food dishes from the classic cornbread to pecan pie at Toppling Goliath in Toronto’s Gladstone neighborhood. “We are a community with a lot of culinary expertise here, a lot of people who love food,” he adds.

Culture on the menu

In response to this growing need, Chef Jeremy Platt, and two other chefs, turned their kitchen tours into a platform that encouraged culinary appreciation. Called Kitchen Explorer Tours, this new initiative is backed by World and North American chef campaigns. And though Toronto’s government has not adopted any new guidelines, the Cooking Chef Chef program now has at least 100 people in four weekends who have signed up to participate.

“Black food is being played down and the other food groups like Latin food, French food and American food are getting a lot of play,” says Platt. “But for me, and black people, when we think about food, it’s black food. It’s our food.”

Tuesdays through Saturdays and Sundays, Black Caviar Restaurant is a rising star in Toronto’s food scene. The brunch restaurant’s ingredients are sourced from Canada’s deepest coast in the Okanagan Valley. Chef Lole Tameiko’s owner brother Paul partnered with Restaurant Yamina at the Toronto Westin for a country-inspired menu with a twist. At Chef Sammy Volare’s Chocolate Bar, the focus is on fresh, local ingredients with a spicy twist.

Platt says these changes are possible because chef tours have inspired culinary education.

“Just seeing the desire within our movement to pursue more knowledge about black food is the catalyst of change,” he says. “The next wave of transformation will come from the knowledge level and the hands-on understanding of black food.”

Towards a more equitable society

But the Black Caviar Community Food Hub is also working to help young people connect to food. There is a program called Heirloom Kitchen, which invites young entrepreneurs and professional chefs to engage in hands-on cooking events. The teens learn from a professional chef about fundamental culinary methods and importance of food safety.

Josiah Chee and his staff operate the kitchen at Black Caviar Restaurant. Credit: Blake Burston

“Food can lift you up and food can bring you down,” says Chef Lole. “Just because you’re a black person doesn’t mean you have to give up on what you love.”

Black Caviar Restaurant’s Taji Mia Singleton says the projects aren’t just symbolic. “Food is culture and community,” she says. “And the culture of black food, the black tradition of food, is not being spoken of enough in the culinary world.”

Singleton says that the future of the city and food development depends on these self-driven food hubs.

“Food is really such a big part of identity as well as community,” she says. “Once we have created communities, people feel empowered and they have ownership of the land and the community and we’re able to keep food sustainable.”

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