TORONTO — “It’s a Slow Food and a Latin cooking event, so we are running 15 minutes late,” quipped Chris McDonald, chef and proprietor of renowned Spanish cuisine hotspot Cava, as he welcomed 50 or so guests into his cosy Yonge St. boîte last night.
No one seemed to mind the delay; the wine was flowing and the conversation lively so the prolonged wait only added to the anticipation of Slow Food Toronto’s 2nd Chef’s Series Event of the year. Dubbed “Latin America: from Mexico to Argentina,” a quintet of chefs collaborated on a six-course feast that celebrated the flavours and spirit of authentic Latin food as well as the growing supply of local, sustainable ingredients in Ontario.
“I’m delighted to be a part of this event,” McDonald continued. “I’m not Latin, but my partners are indulging me tonight.” Surely, they were more than happy to oblige. McDonald spent much time cooking in Mexico where he became enamoured with Latin cuisine, and the former chef/proprietor of Avalon has long been known as one of Toronto’s most talented chefs.
Joining McDonald in preparing this Latin-inspired meal was: his Cava partner, Doug Penfold, Carlos Fuenmayor of Sabrosito, Marina Queirolo of Sûrkl Empanadas and Carlos Rodriguez of Hart House. And this hodgepodge culinary crew delivered on their promise of a traditional yet refined Latin meal.
The event raised funds on behalf of Slow Food Toronto, which is sending a delegation of chefs and members to Terra Madre, Slow Food's world meeting of food communities in Italy this fall.
Showcasing the varying style and flavours of the classic cuisines of Venezuela, Peru, Argentina and Mexico, each course brought something new to the table. Standouts were Peruvian-style mussles and ceviche (made with local Kingfish — rounded up by McDonald at the 11th hour — in place of the not-so-local grouper that’s normally used), sweetbreads grilled over an open flame and Queirolo’s hand-rolled Empanada de Morcilla (stuffed with blood sausage).
Also keeping in line with the peasant nature of Latin fare — “We’ll eat anything we can get our hands on,” joked Fuenmayor — offal like beef heart and tongue were also elevated to a delicious result. And, to highlight the local focus, no corkage was asked of anyone bringing along VQA wines.
“Integrating different cultures into the Slow Food movement is very important,” said Fuenmayor, a Slow Food member who was one of the driving forces behind the event. “We want more people to be aware of the fact that you can use local ingredients and still celebrate traditional Latin cuisine.”
And what would a Latin-inspired evening be without a little bit of dancing? Fuenmayor and Queirolo closed down the affair with a little salsa flair that was perfectly emblematic of the spirit Latin people have for everything that matters — good company, great food, wine and a willingness to show a little passion for life.