All posts by Melissa Girimonte

Melissa is an entertainment and lifestyle writer, podcaster and digital media producer. In the age of Peak TV, she believes that sleep is basically a wasted viewing opportunity.
Food Industry Consultant Allison Gibson standing beside a small community fridge filled with food

Allison Gibson Talks Launching Food Businesses and Reclaiming the Term “Ethnic Food”

With a career spanning 20 years, that has taken her from Walt Disney World to cruise ships to convention centres, it was during a government contract that Allison Gibson decided to focus on something that would give back to the community. This brought her to PaintBox Bistro in Toronto’s Regent Park, where she began as a sales and event coordinator and ended up a part-owner.

Allison left PaintBox in 2020 and began working with Spring Activator, a global impact consulting firm, leading all food programming as their food innovation program manager. She designed and led the Ethnic Food Incubator (EFI) on their behalf.

We recently spoke with Allison about the EFI, developing the curriculum, how they adapted because of the pandemic, some of the incubator’s success stories and reclaiming the term “ethnic food.”

How did your background with PaintBox prepare you for working with the EFI?

PaintBox is a social enterprise with a mandate to provide opportunities and training experiences in hospitality, food and beverage to anyone who identifies as marginalized or has a barrier to employment. It’s a for-profit business that doesn’t rely on grants or funding. We also did training and incubation for marginalized people, people of colour and women to launch businesses or develop products. When COVID hit, we pivoted and launched an online grocery store. I was with PaintBox for almost nine years. At the end of 2020, I branched off as a consultant, which is how I stumbled upon the EFI.

Related: Food Activist and Dietitian Rosie Mensah Looks at Nutrition Through a Social Justice Lens

What prompted the creation of the EFI, and what was your role in it?

The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce wanted to do a food incubation program but needed someone who understood the food industry to develop and create the curriculum. They contacted Spring Activator… and then Spring found me. Initially, they called to ask a few questions and see if I wanted to be a guest speaker; after that call, they asked me to run it.

I had a few weeks to consult, design the curriculum and program, and choose the guest speakers. The idea was to create a space for people of colour to come together and learn how to launch a product or how to develop a product they were already working on. The goal was to develop products until they were ready for a grocery store or retail shelf. We ended up with 15 women from across Canada and formed a little sisterhood. We talked about everything, like safely creating a quality food product, funding and marketing. Based on my experience, I shared tips and tricks along with my failings and things I’d struggled to learn on my own. When I was starting out, I didn’t have anyone pull me aside and explain how the industry worked, how to manage my money and save when dealing with tips and what skills are required if you’re interested in a career in food. I had to learn it all on my own.

An aisle of market shelves at PaintBox with canned goods, rice, soft drinks, snacks, pet food and more

How did the program adapt and change due to the pandemic?

Before COVID, the EFI would’ve taken place in person and the idea was to provide participants with access to a commercial kitchen and a lab for product testing. We would’ve had a final showcase event. We ended up meeting weekly for 12 weeks on Zoom. At the start of the pandemic, I quickly learned virtual facilitation and learning styles, so by the time the EFI came along, I was ready for it. Most sessions featured a guest speaker or an opportunity to collaborate on something we were working on.

For sampling, we created a box with all the products that were being worked on or developed through the program and sent it to sponsors, program supporters and guest speakers. I collected everything, so I had packages arriving at my house constantly and it looked like a warehouse. I had to transport everything to a commercial kitchen, make sure it was cleaned and disinfected — and then hired a team of people to help package and ship the boxes. Product feedback cards were included or could be accessed via a web link.

What skills were the participants equipped with after completing the program?

We touched on the basics, like pitching for investment, access to capital, marketing and how to identify your customer segment or audience. We wanted to ensure their success after the program, so everyone was matched with an industry mentor. Also, we provided them with access to the overall ecosystem, including my network of mentors and guest speakers and directed them to other programs or sources of funding.

At the end of the program, we had a demo day with Chef Suzanne Barr from Wall of Chefs, who was our celebrity guest chef. She was absolutely amazing and super involved. We selected the top three products and pitches and those three people won a cash prize. The winner of the EFI went on to a national pitch challenge and made it to the top 20. A few participants were referred to other programs to work on refining their business plans. Others did more scientific product testing. Essentially, we connected them with what they needed to get to the next level. I still work with many of them and make myself available for one-on-one coaching and mentoring — and they definitely take me up on that.

Related: Chef Suzanne Barr Will Make You Think About Your Dinner Plate Differently

What were some challenges that participants faced before taking part in the EFI?

Mainly, it was access to information and how the industry works. It was hard for them to figure out how to get a product into a grocery store because there’s no process for that. A lot of the program was connecting them to the right people or getting their foot in the door. The other issue was related to mental health. Everyone had other jobs, so we asked if they were prepared to be an entrepreneur. As we were going through the program, some participants felt overwhelmed. They had to ask themselves: “Am I ready for this? Do I have the skill set to do this?” Once they figured out what’s required to pitch to a grocery store or supplier, they were good to go.

Allison Gibson with EFI Participants who founded the Afrotechture Market in Ottawa

Can you share success stories that came out of the incubator?

Eight50 Coffee’s Muna Mohammed took part in the EFI program to refine and further develop her line of coffee products. They’re available for sale online and at select Ottawa-area retailers. Street Food’s Anthonia Iveren Gom launched her product, Zobo, during the program. It’s a popular hibiscus beverage found in Nigeria and retails online and in select stores in Winnipeg. 116 Kitchen in Toronto makes the most delicious meal kits and sauces inspired by Chef Max’s Nigerian heritage  and it was amazing watching the progression of this during the program.

Related: Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry

Then there’s Afrotechture Market, a pop-up by participant Resa Solomon-St. Lewis, the chef and owner of Baccanalle Restaurant in Ottawa. She has a line of delicious sauces that are perfect for retail and I’m obsessed with the tamarind and rum Sauce! She partnered with another woman in the program and launched Afrotechture last holiday season, which is an artisan market that showcases products from Black entrepreneurs in Byward Market. I got to visit it in December and meet them and the market remained open beyond the holidays.

Related: Canadian Breweries Advocating for Racial Justice and Social Change

The term “ethnic food” has been perceived by some as being used for inferior or cheap food. Why was the program named the Ethnic Food Incubator when there’s hesitation within the food community to use that term?

I didn’t choose the name, but I asked why they called it the Ethnic Food Incubator. The idea was to encourage people to not associate an ethnic product with being inferior and that there’s nothing wrong with saying that you are creating an ethnic product. When you think about going grocery shopping or ordering food, almost everything we eat is ethnic or is from someone who has an immigrant background. The incubator wanted to highlight that we are already eating ethnic food, and we should highlight and champion it.

What plans do you have for the future of the EFI?

We’re currently discussing what’s next and planning version 2.0 of the program for this fall. Who it’s open to is up for debate. We’ve talked about a youth-focused or a family business-focused program. I’ve been working on supporting and uplifting Indigenous businesses, and working on an Ethnic Food Incubator that’s open to anyone, but looking for support from the Indigenous community so we can allocate a certain number of spots to Indigenous entrepreneurs. I would love to do an Indigenous-focused food incubator program separate from this.

Besides Indigenous entrepreneurs, I’d like to include some men. We always talk about how men get all the opportunities and make more money, but with food, there are never programs for men of colour, so that’s something we’re also discussing. The first incubator had 15 Black women, but we need to make space for other marginalized communities.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photos courtesy of Allison Gibson

Young woman using a laptop during Christmas

How to Host a Virtual Cookie Exchange — Plus Tips on Mailing Food to Loved Ones

By this point in the holiday season, festive bakers are busy preparing for a Christmas cookie exchange party or two. Getting together in person this year isn’t an option, but you can still celebrate virtually. Here’s a step-by-step guide for hosting a virtual cookie exchange along with some tips on mailing holiday treats to your loved ones.

Young woman using a laptop during Christmas

Step One: Create Your Invitation and Guest List

First, you’ll want to make a list of bakers to include in the cookie exchange. This can be a small circle of close friends and family or a larger group for ambitious bakers. Then, create an invitation that details how many cookies should be sent to each participant and the timeline that everyone has to bake and deliver their cookies. Invitations can be sent via email or create a Facebook event instead.

Related: Double-Decker Chocolate Cherry Cookies Are Twice the Fun

Step Two: Select Your Recipe

Once the invitations have been sent out, have everyone RSVP with the type of cookie they plan to bake. Bakers should also have a backup recipe to avoid duplicates. When selecting a recipe, opt for a cookie that won’t go stale quickly, like shortbread, biscotti or these stained glass sugar cookies. You might also want to think about creating a digital recipe book to share with everyone or have each participant include a recipe card along with their cookies.

Step Three: Purchase Your Supplies and Start Baking

Check your pantry for baking supplies and make note of what you’ll need to buy for your cookie recipe as well as any parchment paper or other tools. You’ll also want to pick up seasonal cookie tins or boxes to package up the goodies once they’re ready to send. Then, set aside some time to bake your cookies. You could even make your dough in advance and freeze it, then bake them closer to when you plan to deliver or mail them.

Christmas cookie cutters, cookie dough, flour, and beaters from a hand mixer

Step Four: Mail or Deliver Your Cookies

Once the cookies are baked and cooled, divide them into batches for each person on your list. If your plan is to deliver the cookies yourself, package them up in the boxes or tins that you purchased. Line each package with parchment paper and add decorative tissue or a bed of crinkle paper for a bit of fun.

Related: Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Cookie Hacks

If you plan to mail the cookies, pack them well in an airtight freezer bag or a vacuum-sealed bag before placing them in the cookie tin or box. The last thing you want is for your friends and family to receive a bunch of broken cookies, so be sure to arrange the cookies so they won’t be shuffling around too much and add padding to both the container and the bottom, top and sides of the box you’ll be shipping it in. Keep in mind timing if you want the cookies to arrive by a specific date. It’s usually best to express ship these so they’ll arrive on time and as fresh as possible.

A box of cookies with a red top, clear window on top, and twine wrapped around it

Step Five: Celebrate!

Once everyone’s cookies have arrived, it’s time for your video call where everyone can celebrate together and sample the goodies. Create a signature beverage that everyone can enjoy along with the cookies and designate someone as the DJ to play some holiday tunes by using the audio sharing feature of your video call software. If schedules can’t permit a virtual party, have each person share a video greeting with them sampling some of the cookies that participants can watch at their leisure.

A silver tray with assorted Christmas cookies including linzer cookies, chocolate snowflakes and rugelach

Finally, invite everyone who participated in the cookie exchange to make a donation to a food cause in their community. If everyone lives in the same town, have everyone chip in for a group donation.

Looking for more holiday baking inspiration? Check out these classic Christmas cookie recipes that will spread holiday cheer.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash, Pexels and Food Network Canada

How to Grow Fall Vegetables and What to Do With Them

Sweater weather is here, but growing season is far from over. Just because the days are shorter and the temperatures are dropping, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your garden. Want your very own harvest of autumn produce? Here are the fall vegetables you should consider and some recipes to try once they’re ready to pick.

How to Grow Garlic

If you’re new to fall gardening, growing garlic is a good place to start. If you’ve ever wonder how to grow garlic, it can be easily planted mid-autumn in a sunny spot with soil that is well-drained. Separate the cloves and set them with the pointed end up and the root side down in rows that are at least one foot or 30 centimetres apart — and you should have some new bulbs by late fall. Take your freshly harvested garlic and roast it, pickle it or add it to  your favourite dishes. Interested in growing garlic indoors? While you can’t grow bulbs if you don’t have any outdoor space, you can easily grow garlic greens in a pot on a sunny window ledge. In about 7 to 10 days, you can snip the greens and add them to soups, salads, baked potatoes and more.

A chicken breast cooked to a golden finish with whole cloves of garlic and a creamy sauce

Get the recipe for The Barefoot Contessa’s Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic

How to Grow Cauliflower

It may be the most challenging vegetable in the cabbage family to cultivate, but fall is the perfect time for growing cauliflower. The secret is to start your seeds indoors about four weeks before you plan to plant them. Once the seedlings are ready, select a spot in your yard where they’ll get lots of light and be sure to water them so they grow quickly. Plant them outside when it’s between 18°C and 24°C for a late fall or early winter harvest. Once the florets are densely formed, the cauliflower is ready to harvest. Serve as a side dish with Sunday roast, toss it into a stir-fry or use it in a low-carb mac and cheese.

Cauliflower prepared popcorn style with a red Korean gochujang sauce

Get the recipe for Korean Gochujang Cauliflower Popcorn

How to Grow Beets

Beets are a fall harvest favourite that is best grown from seeds. Plant them in mid-summer or early fall — at least eight weeks before the first heavy frost — in an area with full sun and well-loosened soil. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. After planting, add a thin layer of mulch to keep the roots cool on warmer days. When you’re growing beets, you’ll want to give them water regularly to develop healthy roots. Harvest when they’re anywhere from the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball. And don’t discard those greens! They’re packed with nutrients and a tasty whether sautéed on their own or added to pastas and soups.

Roasted red beet quarters tossed with fresh tarragon and parsley

Get the recipe for Valerie Bertinelli’s Roasted Beets With Herbs

How to Grow Brussels Sprouts

It takes patience to grow Brussels sprouts, but they are an easy crop that takes up minimal space in your garden. The seeds have to be planted six to 10 weeks before the first frost in rows three feet or 90 centimetres apart. Water them weekly and harvest after the first fall frost for the sweetest flavour. Twist them off the stem when you’re ready to cook them and any remaining sprouts will stay on the plants through part of the winter, even after the snow has begun. If you plant your seeds in the fall, don’t expect any sprouts until late winter or early spring. Roast them with bacon and maple syrup, shave them into a salad or even try them in your air fryer.

Get the recipe for Orecchiette With Vegan Sausage and Brussels Sprouts

How to Grow Broccoli

Growing broccoli takes time and extra care. You’ll have to plant the seeds in early fall, well before the first frost of the season. Plant them 18 to 24 inches or 45 to 60 centimetres apart in well-drained soil that gets at least eight hours of sun per day, ideally a partially-shaded area. There are so many ways to enjoy fresh broccoli, whether you include it in a sheet pan dinner or serve it steamed with melted Cheddar on top.

Slices of beef and broccoli florets on wooden skewers with teriyaki sauce

Get the recipe for Broccoli Beef Skewers With Teriyaki Glaze

How to Grow Pumpkins

Bright orange gourds and fall go hand in hand. Early June is the time to start thinking about planting as the seeds need warm soil to get started. They also need ample space for the long, rambling vines. Once planted, give them a deep watering of about one inch per week and adjust the amount depending on rainfall to prevent the vines from rotting. Once the pumpkins begin to grow on the vines, you’ll need to raise them off the ground using supports for even colouring and shape. If you have limited space, but still want to grow a pumpkin or two, plant smaller sugar pumpkins that are perfect for cooking and baking. They’re perfect for pies, cakes and soups.

Orange pumpkin soup served in white bowls topped with fresh herbs

Get the recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Soup

Don’t know the difference between butternut and acorn squash? Our ultimate squash guide breaks it down for you.

No Food Snobs Here: Noah Cappe on Why Wall of Chefs is for Everyone

You may know Food Network Canada personality Noah Cappe from Carnival Eats or The Bachelor Canada franchise, but I first knew him from one of my first-year theatre classes in Toronto once upon a time. While promoting his latest hosting gig, Wall of Chefs, I had a chance to catch up with him to get an inside look at the new competition series and find out how he became a popular voice on 21the Canadian food scene. We also chatted about his favourite food trends, the gourmet ingredients he could do without, and the celebrity chef he’d love to take on a carnival food adventure.


Noah Cappe on the set of Wall of Chefs

While many hosts also happen to be chefs or restaurateurs, it was Cappe’s passion for food and not a lengthy culinary resume that brought him into the food world.

“I grew up in a big family, and food was always a big part of my life. We always ate together, eight kids plus my parents, so everything was always plentiful. When I got the audition for Carnival Eats, they were looking for somebody who had a passion for food… [but] we weren’t in Michelin restaurants. There wasn’t a need at the time to be able to break it down. So it was a nice entryway into the network. I’m a firm believer that energy is contagious and that people respond to genuine, real moments, and that’s what I do.”

Wall of Chefs has been such a beautiful fit [in that sense]. I feel like I’m a conduit between home cooks and the celebrity chef world.” The home cooks on Wall of Chefs are faced with three challenges, starting with the Crowd-Pleaser. Although Cappe stands by his crowd-pleasing dish, he doesn’t think he’d make it past the first round.

“My go-to [dish] is unfortunately not elevated enough to get me through to the next round, which is a shame. I make a toasted English muffin with peanut butter better than anybody else. It sounds silly but I have a little trick with a double toasting process. Would I still make it just to say, ‘Listen, you need to experience this and I’m willing to take the loss for the greater good?’ Yes!”


What’s in Mark McEwan’s Fridge? Probably not the leftovers, peanut butter and edamame you’d find in Noah Cappe’s

The second round in Wall of Chefs has the home cooks creating a dish using three staple ingredients found in one of the celebrity chefs’ fridges. In case you’re curious about what three items would be in Cappe’s fridge, he was happy to divulge.

“One of them is leftovers, either from a food delivery service or from dinner out. When you host a show where you’re working with over 30 of the country’s biggest and brightest culinary names, you start dining out way more. I don’t keep peanut butter in the fridge, but I would put it in for this challenge because it’s such a big part of my diet. And then edamame. That’s the beautiful part, taking the combination of three elements that you would never really think of, besides the fact that you get a glimpse into the home fridge of a celebrity chef.”


Chef Hugh Acheson and Noah Cappe on the set of Wall of Chefs. Is that a double-toasted English muffin you see, Noah?

Not all foods are created equal, and not all are loved by everyone. In one episode, the chefs on “The Wall” get into a debate about sundried tomatoes, and Cappe wasn’t scared to share which side he falls on.

“I don’t think there’s an argument. Sundried tomatoes are just bad, and half the people out there haven’t realized it yet.” He added, “And oysters. There’s a reason why people bake cheese on top of them and dump hot sauce on them because we’ve gotta hide this experience with strong, bold flavors. The first time I had ever eaten them was for the Great Canadian Cookbook. They aired the segment because my reactions were so weird. Oysters are the fancy food that I could live without.”

On the flip side, there’s one food trend that he believes has staying power.

“I’m not ready for the Brussels sprout train to stop. We made them taste delicious, let’s just eat them forever now. We’ve sent someone to the moon, invented the Internet, and made Brussels sprouts delicious. We’ve done the impossible.”

Outside of Food Network Canada, Cappe is known as the host of The Bachelor Canada and The Bachelorette Canada but says the Wall of Chefs are harder to wrangle than love-hungry men and women.

“It’s like being a college professor in a room of brilliant minds, and you’re trying constantly reel them in. They are so excited to be there. The format, the energy, the space creates such a buzz. It’s not very often that these chefs get to be in a room together, let alone 12 of them who are bringing such unique, diverse and different backgrounds. Whether it’s Chef Suzanne Barr and that Jamaican angle, or Chef Meeru Dhalwala and her traditional Indian flavors, when you get these people who are the pinnacle of entire genres of foods in one space together, they’re going to talk a lot.”


There’s never a dull moment with “The Wall” and Noah Cappe

There’s one type of food where Cappe is considered an expert: the
wild world of midway fare that he’s sampled on Carnival Eats. And there’s one particular Wall chef that he’d like to introduce to that world.

“Chef Susur Lee made a comment in an episode that he’s never had mac and cheese. I would love to take him out to the fairgrounds and give him a hot, fresh order of deep-fried mac and cheese balls with a little honey and Sriracha drizzle. He’d be a fun personality to take out into the world of carnival food because it is the polar opposite of his style, ingredients, and flavours. I’m trying to picture him eating a bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hamburger dipped in jam.”

See more: 16 Mouth-Watering Treats From Carnival Eats

Cappe is equally passionate about basketball as he is about food, and has some ideas on creating the ultimate Raptors fan dish.

“You have to play into the stadium food angle, like pizza slices, hot dogs, and peanuts. Let’s do a peanut encrusted, bacon-wrapped hot dog dressed like a pizza slice. Hit it with a little tomato sauce and maybe some pepperoni. Then we’re going to brush the inside of that hot dog bun with garlic butter. And we’re going to call it the Sir Dunk-A-Lot Dog.”

By the end of our chat, one thing was evident: Cappe’s genuine enthusiasm for his latest project.

“I’m so excited for everybody to see [Wall of Chefs]. I’m a viewer of Food Network Canada as much as — if not more than — I am a personality on the network. And this is a show that I know I would watch. There’s really nothing like it, but at the same time, it feels like it’s the best parts of all the shows that you know.”

Hayden Johnston Top Chef Canada

How the Cuisine of Thunder Bay Shaped Top Chef Canada’s Hayden Johnston

Hayden Johnston has a lot of culinary experience under his belt at only 30-years-old, and now he can add a spot in the four of Top Chef Canada to that list. We sat down with Top Chef Canada Season 7 contestant Hayden Johnston to get the scoop on the competition going into the final four, his love for Thunder Bay and the culinary destinations he’d like to visit.

You’re very passionate about your hometown of Thunder Bay. How did the city shape you as a chef?

Growing up in Thunder Bay, you spend a lot of time outside, not necessarily foraging per se, but fishing and hunting. There’s a lot of time gathering with friends and family because it’s a smaller town. It’s close-knit, so we spend a lot of time eating and barbecuing [together].

Read more: 25 Brilliant Camping Food Hacks You’ll Want to Try

Hayden on Top Chef Canada

Were there any hometown dishes that you brought to Toronto with you that people didn’t understand, or that it took them a while to warm up to?

There’s one in particular and I actually cooked it for my first episode — the Shoreline Lunch. That’s something we run as a feature at [Richmond Station] all the time. It’s basically battered and fried fish with roasted potatoes. Maybe there’s a pierogi or two, a can of beans, and whatever else is in the cooler. We would do a more refined version of it. At first, people didn’t get the concept, but now there are diners who come to the restaurant asking when we’re doing Shoreline Lunch next. That’s something that I grew up cooking and eating back home, definitely with friends and family, and something we’ve translated into a more mainstream dish in Toronto.

Thunder Bay Persian Rolls

Is there one item specific to Thunder Bay that you really enjoy eating, like Persians or Finnish pancakes at The Hoito?

My dream is to take over the Hoito. I want to be the chef, cook breakfast and lunch, and be done. It’s just so Thunder Bay. There are so many ingredients, dishes, and techniques that are uniquely “Thunder Bay.” The Persian is a good example of that. We have a large Finnish population, so Finnish pancakes are definitely something, even if you’re not from Thunder Bay. You drive through and everybody goes to the Hoito.

Sometimes I feel awkward throwing that city so much love. People always ask, “What’s so good about Thunder Bay?” For me, it’s home. My family and friends are still there, and I always say that if I have the right opportunity to go back, I totally would.

Get the recipe:  Thunder Bay Persian Rolls

Hayden is joined by his mother on Episode 7 of Top Chef Canada

What was your favourite challenge so far during this season of Top Chef Canada?

My favorite challenge was the Quickfire where we got to cook with a family member. Seeing my mom’s bright, smiling face was the best part of filming the whole season. Even better than my Elimination Challenge win. You’re in a stressful environment for so long that seeing a friendly face that you know is on your team is pretty nice.

Hayden’s Fermented Beef Plate

Which dish are you most proud of so far this season?

I’m most proud of my fermented beef plate that I won the Nordic challenge with. It was very representative of the food that I like to eat and cook, with fresh, clean flavors that are big, bold and acidic.

Read more: Your Guide to Mastering Scandinavian Recipes the Top Chef Canada Way

Do you have a list of culinary destinations that you’d like to visit if you win Top Chef Canada?

If there was one area I could focus on, it would be the Southern US. Not barbecue necessarily, but the Sean Brock style of seasonal cooking. I spent two weeks staging at Husk years ago. I like to see the history of food and [learn about] a group of people that have something that’s specific to them. Finding those little niches is really fun. There’s a place in Tennessee called Blackberry Farm that does a lot of [farm to table cuisine].  At the restaurant, we cook a ton of vegetables, so [visiting] Southern California, Napa or Yountville where it’s vegetable-focused would be really neat.

I’m more ingredient or technique-focused. I went to Husk to learn how to cook rice and beans. I really wanted to learn how to pick vegetables from a garden, so I staged two weeks with Dan Barber at Blue Hill in New York. When I want to learn something, I go and find the person who does it best.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Watch Hayden on the finale of Top Chef Canada on Monday, May 20 at 10 P.M. E/P.

Ask a Plant-Based Chef: How to Embrace Zero-Waste Cuisine

Top Chef Canada Season 7 contestant Tania Ganassini has a mission to introduce nutritious and satisfying plant-based dishes to a wider audience. Here, the vegetarian chef offers up her must-try tips for incorporating plant-based meals into your weekly rotation, and moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle.

How important is it for everyone to start adopting a zero-waste lifestyle?

It’s crucial. Every single one of us needs to start embracing a zero-waste lifestyle, not just in terms of our food waste, but with single-use plastics and even our clothing. Really look at not sending things to landfill, and not purchasing “new” all the time. Repurpose food in the fridge by using the rinds, leaves, and roots that get thrown in the trash. It’s something I’m extremely fired up about. I want to spread the message about zero-waste living, or less wasteful living because we’re a wasteful species post-industrial revolution. We need to revert back to our old ways, like growing our own food and using every part of the vegetable or animal. Being mindful of our consumption and waste is not an option anymore.

Read more: 12 Best Zero-Waste Restaurants and Food Stores Across Canada

Are there easy ways to reduce waste while cooking?

Try to grow your own food. It gives you a different appreciation for the ingredient because you’ve seen it go from seedling to actual vegetable.

Purchase locally from farmers. Having a connection with your grower really changes the way you look at each ingredient and the way you utilize it.

Instead of doing one grocery shop a week, maybe do a few, especially for fresh produce. Logistically, that can be really hard for people, so maybe [try] a grocery delivery program if it’s not convenient for you to leave.

Purchase less so you can manage the amount of food you have in your fridge. We all shop hungry with ambitions of making these meals at the end of the week, but it’s a really easy way to let produce go bad in your fridge.

Know how to use every part of each ingredient, like which leaves are great to use and how to repurpose them. Pestos are an amazing way to use carrot tops, beet tops, kale stems, or chard stems. You can use citrus peels in household cleaners, or candy them. It’s truly endless.

Take a moment, almost like a moving meditation, and [think about] where your food came from. Instead of just haphazardly discarding parts of the ingredient — whether it be plant or animal — take a second to try to be creative. Maybe it takes an extra step to chop up the stems and wash them, but over time it saves you money. It’s amazing for the planet, and it’s the way forward.

Do you have a go-to clean your fridge, food scrap recipe?

We make some version of a classic ribollita easily once a week with Tuscan beans, greens and vegetables. It’s a super easy way to hide stems, or use that one weird carrot in your fridge, or celery that’s going limp. It’s a one-pot, throw everything in [dish]. Beans are the foundation, plus garlic, onion, celery, carrot and some type of green vegetable like cabbage, kale or Swiss chard. You can hide any vegetable in there. Toss in a can of tomatoes, and finish it with lots of herbs, lemon, parsley and Parmesan, if you eat cheese. I like to make a vegan cheese with almond flour, hemp seeds and nutritional yeast. If you want to take it up a notch, add some really beautiful pasta like ditalini or shells.

Read More: 10 Vegetables You Can Regrow in Your Kitchen

Can you suggest some tips for incorporating plant-based meals for meat eaters?

A good first step is replacing your normal animal products with a veggie substitute like vegan cheese or making your own cheese with cashews. It opens up a world of possibilities with cooking because you’re not relying on old favourites like butter, cream and bacon.

Look at recipes that you love, like lasagna. It’s a classic, and everybody probably has one in their repertoire. Translating that into a vegan or vegetarian version is great because the ingredients and flavours are familiar, and you’re just making a few small swaps.

The-Perfect-Vegan-Lasagna-hot-for-food
Get the recipe: The Perfect Vegan Lasagna

It’s different than it was five or 10 years ago, and a lot easier to find substitutes that taste just as good. People still need to really enjoy their meals. I never want anyone to feel like they’re missing out. The joy and pleasure of eating is such a big part of it. One meatless meal a day or week makes a big impact. Pick one day a week, plan it out and get the whole family on board so they don’t feel like it’s being slapped on their plate as a some kind of punishment. You might actually be surprised by how you feel and how much you love it, and then it could maybe lead to two days a week or [more].

Read More: 20 Easy Vegan Weeknight Dinner Recipes

What do you believe is the most underrated food?

I have a mild obsession with lentils. They get a bad rep because they’re boring, they don’t look beautiful. But they’re chameleons of flavour, even on their own with a simple braising liquid, like homemade veggie stock. That’s an amazing way to use food scraps. Veggie stock can be transformed into a trillion different things. Lentils have all kinds of varieties that fit into every cuisine. They are very meaty and packed with nutrition that keeps you full. If digesting lentils is a concern, soak them overnight first and then cook them the next day to help with digestion, or buy sprouted lentils. They are a superfood in every way, and I’ll never get tired of them.

Saskatoon Berry Lentil Muffins
Try: Saskatoon Berry Lentil Muffins

This interview has been edited for clarity.

mallard-cottage-fish-and-chips

10 Great Canadian Restaurants Where You Can Dine for a Good Cause

This fall, indulge in some exquisite Canadian eats while supporting a worthy cause! If you’ve been dying to try Antonio Park’s paella, Nicole Gomes’ fried chicken or Chuck Hughes’ lobster poutine, this is your excuse. Not only can you savour a delicious, memorable meal, you’ll feed your soul by helping those in need.

On October 17, 2018, more than 75 restaurants in 19 Canadian cities are taking part in Restaurants for Change. An initiative of Community Food Centres Canada, a national non-profit organization, this annual event benefits healthy food programs in low-income communities across the country.

Visit the Restaurant for Change website to find a restaurant near you, and make those reservations for October 17th. Bring your appetite to one of these 10 tantalizing dining establishments, or one of the 75+ eateries participating from coast-to-coast.

 

Lavanderia (Montreal, QC)

This Westmount eatery from Chopped Canada judge Antonio Park taps into the South American flavours of his childhood. Serving elevated Argentinean cuisine, diners can feast on ceviche, grilled meats and even paella.

 

Chew (Winnipeg, MB)

Located in River Heights, Chew offers an intimate dining space where you can savour rustic fare such as crispy duck breast, potato gnocchi and bison. Chef Tyrone Welchinski recently took the reins in the kitchen, creating sumptuous shareable plates that showcase local farmers and producers.

Cluck N Cleaver (Calgary, AB)

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes and her sister, Francine, are chicken connoisseurs. Whether you prefer your poultry southern fried or rotisserie grilled, this Calgary hotspot’s sandwiches, poutines and meals are sure to satisfy.

Richmond Station (Toronto, ON)

A vibrant downtown Toronto restaurant from Top Chef Canada’s Season 2 champ, Carl Heinrich, Richmond Station focuses on serving up the finest seasonal offerings. Whether you opt for shareable dishes like beef tartare and rabbit & pork pate en croute, or go straight for mains like roasted black cod or Berkshire Pork, it will be a memorable meal.

Mallard Cottage (St. John’s, NL)

Not only will you enjoy a scrumptious meal inspired by the flavours of Newfoundland and Ireland, you’ll be dining in a Canadian National Historic Site located in picturesque Quidi Vidi Village. Chef Todd Perrin, a Top Chef Canada: All-Stars alumnus, celebrates the province’s wild game, seafood and produce in beautifully crafted dishes that feature cod cheeks, lobster, foraged mushrooms and more.

 

Burdock & Co. (Vancouver, BC)

The Canadian Pacific Northwest’s bounty is the star at this Mount Pleasant eatery. Chef Andrea Carlson carefully selects her ingredients from locally-sourced growers, foragers and farmers and prepares them in a way that allows them to shine. Heritage wheat spaghetti with a hearty pork ragu, buttermilk fried chicken, and house-milled sourdough bread are some of the culinary delights that await diners.

Garde Manger (Montreal, QC)

Located in Old Montreal near the Old Port, Executive chef Chuck Hughes (of Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip ) serves up indulgent eats like lobster poutine, razor clams, porchetta and more. The menu changes daily, so there’s always something new and exciting to try.

The Canteen on Portland (Dartmouth, NS)

Just steps from the Alderney Ferry Terminal in downtown Dartmouth, this warm, welcoming restaurant boasts a menu with dishes influenced by traditional Nova Scotian cuisine with some classic French and Italian flourishes. Owner and chef Renée Lavallée will treat you to unpretentious fare like herb-crusted haddock, seared scallops and beef brisket prepared with her secret ingredient — love.

Ruby Watchco (Toronto, ON)

This Leslieville restaurant from Chefs Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk has been offering prix-fixe dinners made with seasonal Canadian ingredients since opening in 2010. With a menu that changes each day, you could be surprised with seared rainbow trout, grilled flank steak or BBQ chicken, along with inspired salads, artisanal cheeses and decadent desserts.

RGE RD (Edmonton, AB)

Canadian farm-to-table cuisine is an art at this Edmonton hotspot that places an emphasis on Western Canadian providers and flavours. Chef Blair Lebsack dishes up fresh local fare including Alberta beef, bison and pork with unique twists that will please adventurous diners.

Canadian Restaurant Locations from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Guy Fieri’s road tripping adventures on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives have taken him all across the United States and beyond. More recent seasons included stops in Cuba, Spain and Mexico, but before he ventured to those countries, he headed north of the border to Canada.

Guy has sampled some of the most eclectic cuisine that reflects our country’s diversity, from Chinese hand-pulled noodles to Jewish deli-smoked meats. Here are the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Canadian locations that you can visit in Toronto and Vancouver.

Jethro’s Fine Grub (Vancouver, BC)

In Season 12, Guy was treated to homemade pulled pork with slaw at Jethro’s Fine Grub. When you’re in Vancouver,  stop by for breakfast and try the Gold Rush; pancakes stuffed with bananas, pecans and streusel.

The Rosedale Diner (Toronto, ON)

Season 17 brought Guy to Toronto with a visit to the Rosedale Diner for Asian pork ribs. Brunch is a popular time to visit this diner for a classic Eggs Benny or scrumptious chicken and waffles.

No waffling about today’s brunch choice.

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The Tomahawk (Vancouver, BC)

Season 13 included a visit to Vancouver’s Tomahawk for some roast beef, a French dip, and a steak and mushroom pie. This legendary diner is also known for its Skookum Chief Burger, made with an organic beef patty, Yukon-style bacon, a free-run egg, aged Cheddar and a sliced hot dog.

Have you ever tried our Skookum Burger? #Tomahawk BBQ #Burgers #North Vancouver

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The Stockyards (Toronto, ON)

The Stockyards was one of Guy’s Toronto stops in Season 17. They were excited to show off their burgers, fried chicken and mouth-watering BLT, but their BBQ smoked ribs are one of the main reasons that locals flock to this smokehouse and larder.

Falconetti’s (Vancouver, BC)

While in Vancouver during Season 13, Guy sampled the handmade Thai chicken sausage at Falconetti’s. This east side bar and grill is known for its delicious eats and live music to entertain you throughout the week.

The Ace (Toronto, ON)

A Season 16 episode, ‘Layers of Flavor’ included a visit to The Ace in Toronto. Guy tried their pork belly, the mac and cheese burger, and a Christmas burger, but their Clubhouse is where it’s at when lunchtime rolls around.

Meat and Bread (Vancouver, BC)

In Season 13’s “Old Faves, New Craves,” Guy paid a call to Vancouver’s Meat and Bread. The porchetta sandwich was on the menu, followed up by a decadent maple bacon ice cream sandwich.

The Lakeview (Toronto, ON)

During Guy’s Season 16 trip to Toronto, stuffed French toast, a cornflake chicken club and a pie milkshake were ready to be devoured at The Lakeview. This restored diner serves up diner classics, including a banana split perfect for sharing.

Peaceful Restaurant (Vancouver, BC)

Family kitchens were the focus of the Season 13 episode that brought Guy to Peaceful Restaurant in Vancouver. Some of their recipes have been passed down from generations, including their fresh hand-pulled noodles and beef rolls.

#dandannoodles #foodie #fodgasam #chinesefood #spicy #delicious???? #sichuan #nomnom

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The Red Wagon Cafe (Vancouver, BC)

Guy dug into some pulled pork pancakes with a side of Jack Daniels syrup at Vancouver’s Red Wagon Cafe in Season 13. The savoury shredded pork is featured in other dishes on the menu, including their ooey, gooey mac and cheese.

Caplansky’s (Toronto, ON)

Authentic Jewish deli fare was the star of Season 16’s ‘Real Deal Roots’ that brought Guy to Caplansky’s Deli. Their College Street location has closed, but you can still sample smoked meat sandwiches, knish and brisket at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.

The Reubenesque @ #caplanskys #reuben #deli #meaty ????: @hmdfood666

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Save-On-Meats (Vancouver, ON)

Vancouver’s butcher shop, turned bakery and diner, Save-On-Meats, welcomed Guy in Season 13. Their menu includes classics like turkey pot pie and decadent burgers, but selections like this Ranchero Shrimp Benny really shine.

Ranchero shrimp benny for the win!

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butter tarts on white plate

Butter Tart Spots to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian dessert with a history as rich as the country itself. If you’ve never experienced the glory of these treats, they’re delightful pastries filled with a sticky, sweet, buttery filling. Raisins or pecans are popular additions to the filling while some bakers get creative with fruit, candy or other unique variations. Invented in Ontario, the province is also home to award-winning tarts and even has a festival that has transformed the dessert into a full-day experience. If you’re on a quest for butter tart bliss, here are Ontario’s top spots to indulge in this tasty treat.

Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival (Midland, ON)

The ultimate destination for butter tart buffs, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival takes place in Midland every year. With more than 60 vendors and over 150,000 tarts for sale, it’s the perfect place for the entire family to try baked goods from across the province. Home to Ontario’s Best Butter Tart competition, bakers enter their finest classic and contemporary creations, and a panel of expert judges selects the best of the best! Another highlight of the day is the Butter Tart Trot, which includes a family-friendly fun run, as well as a 5K, 10K and half marathon.

Maple Key Tart Co. (Locations in Toronto and Northumberland County, ON)

Rachel Smith and Jean Parker, hosts of Food Network Canada’s The Baker Sisters, have been baking tarts since childhood when they helped their mother with her butter tart business. After they became mothers themselves, they co-founded their boutique butter tart company, taking their mother’s award-winning recipe and making a few tasty tweaks. Their rustic, handcrafted tarts are made with locally-milled flour and vegetable shortening and are available in four varieties: classic, raisin, pecan and maple walnut.

The Maid’s Cottage (Newmarket, ON)

Three-time winners at Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival, sisters Pam and Debbie got a young start helping their mother, Jackie, sell tarts and other baked goods on their front lawn. As word spread about Jackie’s baking, she opened their first shop on Main Street in Newmarket and expanded to a larger location nearby a year later. Jackie sadly passed in 2003, but Pam and Debbie have continued the tradition, making their famous butter tarts from a secret family recipe.

The perfect buttertart ❤️ #buttertartfestival #themaidscottage

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Bitten on Locke (Hamilton, ON)

Rebecca and Erica at Bitten conquered the cupcake game before venturing into butter tarts. They researched a number of recipes from cookbooks, friends and family to come up with a base for their tarts and spent many delicious months adjusting it until they landed on their current formula. Their traditional flaky pastry is made with lard and includes one secret ingredient that really sets them apart. While their cupcakes venture on the wild side, this duo considers themselves butter tart purists, offering only plain, raisin or pecan tarts.

Nana B’s Bakery (Merrickville, ON)

Owner Anne Barr created the award-winning maple rhubarb apple butter tart that took first place in the Pro All-Ontario Ingredient category at last year’s Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival. Anne’s tarts are proudly made with ingredients sourced locally, in Eastern Ontario, and while her bakery is popular with locals, it is also a destination for day-trippers, boaters and cyclists alike. Nana B’s is committed to helping keep the environment beautiful, reducing and recycling as much as possible, and sends its used vegetable oil to a local garage for biodiesel conversion.

The Sweet Oven (Barrie, ON)

This Barrie Bakery owned by Becky Howard and her family is known right across the country for their handcrafted tarts. Each tart is made from scratch from the highest quality ingredients and baked on site. With more than 20 flavours to choose from, there is something to please every palate. They have the classics like pecan and raisin, but chocolate chip, peanut butter, English toffee and their signature tart raspberry are other popular picks.

Carla’s Cookie Box (Toronto, ON)

Carla’s love of baking started as a kid while making traditional Italian cookies with her mom. As an adult, she started her butter tart journey at the request of her son after sifting through recipes from friends. None were quite right, so she experimented until she landed on her own recipe. Her handcrafted tarts are made in small batches, sometimes with help from her husband and kids, using the freshest maple syrup, flour, eggs and butter from Ontario farms and businesses. In addition to traditional fillings, she dabbles in fun flavours like nutella swirl and pina colada.

In honour of #TeamCanada and how proud they’ve already made us #pyeongchang2018

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Doo Doo’s Bakery (Bailieboro, ON)

It was a bittersweet beginning for Diane Rogers’ butter tarts. Newly widowed and raising a teen and a toddler; she started her late-night baking sessions while the kids were sleeping. A self-taught baker, she developed her signature pastry by experimenting with an old recipe. Her soft, hand-rolled pastry is made in small batches with the finest ingredients. The light, flaky tarts have a jelly-like filling that’s not overly sweet with a good filling-to-crust ratio. Diane’s best ideas still come at night, so that’s her favourite time to prepare for a competition or event.

Betty’s Pies and Tarts (Cobourg, ON)

Over 40 years ago, Betty sold homemade baked goods from a converted garage, using a butter tart recipe handed down from a bakery she worked at. Betty retired in 2001 and sold the business to Nancy Coady, who first moved it to Port Hope and then to its location on Highway 2. Current owner Ali Jiggins worked at Betty’s through high school, and after university, bought the bakery from Nancy. Ali still uses Betty’s award-winning recipe with a few tweaks. They have a slightly heavy crust with a runnier filling and comes in unique flavours like PB&J and raspberry-coconut.

Want to make your own tasty treats? Try this s’mores butter tart recipe.

Toronto Taste Chef Challenge

Enter for a Chance to Win VIP Passes to Toronto Taste

Toronto Taste, the city’s renowned culinary fundraiser, returns June 3rd for another enticing evening in support of Second Harvest. We’re thrilled to be giving away a VIP prize pack to one Food Network Canada fan!

Mark McEwan at Toronto Taste 2017

Set at Corus Quay, located on Toronto’s scenic waterfront, this year’s event features delectable dishes and delightful drinks from over 60 restaurants and 30 beverage purveyors. You’ll also have an opportunity to meet some of your favourite Food Network Canada stars including Mark McEwan, Michael Smith, and Top Chef Canada contestants Elia Herrera, Ivana Raca and Carl Heinrich.

Toronto Taste 2017

The evening is filled with exquisite eats, auctions and entertainment, including the action-packed annual Chef Challenge, co-hosted by Noah Cappe. Food Network Canada and Global News will also be hosting a lounge where guests can sit back and savour the entire experience.

Since 1991, Toronto Taste has raised over $13 million to support Second Harvest’s food rescue program. Every ticket sold enables Second Harvest to provide meals for adults, children and seniors in need. Last year, the event raised a record-breaking $925,000 — enough to rescue and deliver 1.8 million nutritious meals across the city.

For more information and to purchase tickets for Toronto Taste on June 3rd visit torontotaste.ca.

We’re giving away one (1) VIP prize pack to Toronto Taste (including 2 VIP tickets, an overnight stay at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and a $50 Uber gift card).

To enter, comment below and tell us, “Who is your favourite Food Network Canada Chef?” For your chance to win, you must comment by 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 22, 2018.

No purchase necessary. Limit one (1) entry per person per day. One (1) Prize available to be won. Approximate retail value of Prize CDN$1,200.00. Must be a legal resident of the province of Ontario who is age of majority or older at time of entry.  Contest runs from May 18, 2018 to May 22, 2018. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 22, 2018. Skill testing question must be correctly answered to claim Prize. Odds of being selected depend on number of eligible entries received. For full set of rules visit here.