Almost two years ago, I attended the Terroir Symposium, an important gathering of food and beverage professionals in Toronto where chef and restaurateur David Chang gave an impassioned talk about Toronto’s food scene. In his talk, he highlighted what makes the city a culinary centre of creativity and innovation (AKA a Foodie City) in the same ranks as New York City, San Francisco and Chicago.
In the past few years, Toronto has been going through an incredible phase of growth and development, both in terms of size and prominence. Last year, the city surpassed Chicago as the fourth-largest city in North America and recently it was ranked as the world’s best city to live in. But is Toronto a Foodie City?
What makes a Foodie City? Is it the number of restaurants the city boasts or its diverse food markets and artisan shops? Or perhaps, a generation of up-and-coming chefs, driven by a passion for cooking and innovation? Or is it the number of celebrity chefs and Michelin-star restaurants that call it home? The answer may well be all of the above. In Toronto’s case, it’s a bit of everything.
According to the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, there are currently 8,100 restaurants in Toronto, generating $5.8 billion dollars in revenues which comprise 6.5 per cent of all the businesses in the city. Many distinctions have been conferred on the city in recent years. St. Lawrence Market was voted the best food market in the world by National Geographic in 2013. BarChef, a cocktail bar on Queen Street West, is one of those bars that people travel to city to visit. When it comes to chefs, Toronto is brimming with talent ─ a new crop of chefs who are ambitious, passionate and have an insatiable drive for creativity.
Just look at the culinary festivals that take place across the city every year, from the Taste of Little Italy and Taste of the Danforth to Taste of Toronto and many more.
More importantly, a Foodie City makes dining a real adventure and inspiration for the palate and the mind. In that respect, Toronto passes with flying colours.
Torontonians who dine out at an average of 3.1 times per week agree. This surpasses New York City (3.0) and Chicago (2.8) according to a Zagat Guide survey.
Mark McEwan, icon and celebrity chef, agrees, pointing to the increasing number of restaurants that continue to open in the city and the richness they bring to the restaurant scene.
According to food columnist Corey Mintz, Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America. As a terminus for immigration and the financial capital of Canada,
“the city’s dining scene, with its ethnic diversity, geographic proximity to great ingredients, and lack of any travel ban that can throw international flights into chaos, make Toronto an ideal culinary destination.” As the most ethnically diverse city in the world and a true example of what a welcoming city should look like, Toronto has a great story to tell.
While NYC is considered the North American capital of French and fine cuisine and Chicago is well known for its steakhouses, Toronto may have found its culinary calling through its fusion cuisine ─ a reflection of the multi-ethnic composition of the city and its immigrant texture.
So has the time come for Torontonians to start calling ‘The Six’ a Foodie City? We’ve certainly earned the “foodie” status. Now we just need to develop the confidence and bravado to lay claim to the title and celebrate it loud and proud. It’s time the world take notice.