The state was a mixture of excited, lost and jet lagged. I had just hopped off the bus which travels north on Weston Road from Keele Station and walked in circles for a few minutes looking for my grand entrance.
I hid behind an invisible tree for a few moments on the cusp of the sidewalk, observing, scanning the street. I was searching for couples dressed for a proper feast and once I spotted them I followed like a lonesome bee entering the hive. I walked into Aphrodite Cooks and found myself standing in a large room featuring an open kitchen and three long banquet tables filled with eager diners. I was greeted by the host of the night Mary Luz Mejia and quickly started snapping photos of the space.
Reel Eats is a monthly gastronomic film and story-telling event that brings together Toronto’s finest chefs, raconteurs and food lovers in one unforgettable evening. Themes generated by a famous culinary film lie at the heart of every event.
The evenings feature, “Sideways” directed by Alexander Payne, set in sun-drenched California wine-country, dives into the middle-aged lives of Miles, a wine-aficionado, and his best friend, Jack, a B-list actor who is about to walk down the aisle and wants one last fling before taking the leap. This is Miles’ sendoff for Jack and while the two roam the vineyards and rolling orchards, much is revealed about their character, loves and lives.
Inspired by the market fresh, terroir-based, Cal-Ital food enjoyed in Sideways, a four-course tasting menu had been prepared by award-winning chef, Aaron Foster. A graduate of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute, in ‘08, he moved to Thailand to open RedSky, for Centara Hotels. The following year, he rocketed to national fame with the honour of “Best New Chef in Bangkok”. Aaron currently helms LA’s Italian+Bar where he creates Italian with a fresh twist, using “quality products, cooked properly, with bold flavour,” and as much local, seasonal product as possible.
Once I had taken a sufficient number of pictures I was handed a glass of sparkling wine and seated at a table at the end of the room where I said hello to my friend Chef Scott, kingpin at The Culinary Adventure Company who was joined by his better half Tania and Paula from Dragon’s Kitchen.
Reel Eats is one of the most unique food events in Toronto today. It very much seems like a dinner party you would host at your home, that has grown so popular it requires a larger space. Friends sit beside strangers and gab over grub for hours while watching a running loop of the nights film projected onto the wall. Throughout the evening guest storytellers relate the theme of the night to their own experiences. I visited a restaurant concept similar to this located in the suburbs of Paris where strangers were seated at tables to encourage “the village coming to dinner.” I made the trek simply because Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten said I had to and it really resonated with me as I strongly believe that “happiness is only real when shared.” There is nothing more memorable than enjoying a dinner with strangers especially when all of them have one thing in common… an unbridled enthusiasm for food.
I was fortunate enough to be sitting at the same table as the nights three guest speakers. I sat directly across from Daniel Speck one of the founding family members of Niagara on the Lake’s Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery. His personal story, a family running a vineyard in the early days of Ontario’s wine industry nicely contrasted to the Sideways theme of the night. Our second speaker who sat at the end of my table was Patrica O’Callaghan, a Canadian singer known for her distinctive brand of Cabaret. Patricia chose to sing two Italian aria’s, connecting our food through opera with the complicated and often awkward romance that Miles shares with Maya. Our final speaker of the night sat to the right of me on an antique pew through the duration of the meal. Ann Shin is a first generation Canadian whose family hales from rural South Korea. Her humorous story of her relatives love for Black Tower wine which was featured at a Canadian-Korean wedding in Vancouver was a perfect take on the classic contrast of Old and New World.
If you are a fan of film and food and love a good party be sure to check out Reel Eats. You are guaranteed an entertaining evening full of good food and wine, engaging speakers and are bound to make a few new friends along the way. The night finished with a fantastic prize draw (I believe some eight prizes were given out). I love raffle ticket anything so eagerly sat on the edge of my seat as my ticket almost won each time. Big cheers for all those walking home with culinary books and gift baskets full of wine.
Just before heading home I had the opportunity to briefly chat with the Chef. His menu was excellent, with his pork neck as most memorable. Everyone who knows me well understands that I have a sweet tooth. His pairing of pork with sweet dates and syrupy apple reduction was perfection. The entire room was murmuring with the riotous chatter of giddy jaws after this dish was served family style at the table. Chef Aaron Foster will surely be dazzling Toronto with his menu at LA’s. Look for my review of his tasting menu soon…
The Reel Eats “Sideways Feast” featured a tasting of four bottles from Henry of Pelham:
2007 Cabernet-Merlot Reserve
2011 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Chardonnay Estate
2009 Riesling Estate Reserve off-dry
Chef Aaron’s Sideways inspired tasting menu:
Miles’ Green with Envy
green and white asparagus, smoked burrata, tomato jam, green sauce
Joker Jack’s Laughing Bird
shrimp cavatelli, fava beans, rocket pesto, pecorino
Stick Your Neck Out Roast
pork neck, house-made sausage, brown butter, fork-crushed fingerlings, walnuts, Bourbon-apple reduction
Life’s Agri-Dolce Strawberry
shortcake with 12 year-old balsamic, black pepper, creme fraiche