Great local explorations. Fantastic food. And one of North America’s best hotels.
The new “Off the Eaten Track” program is being offered exclusively for guests of the Ritz-Carlton Toronto features four distinct programs to help visitors truly engage with locals and learn about the Toronto food scene on an up close and personal basis.
The programs are being offered with the help of Culinary Adventure Co., one of Canada’s top food tour companies.
“It’s all about giving guests a personal experience,” said Kevin Durkee of Culinary Adventure Co., a long-time foodie who learned to cook at a young age. “We take Ritz-Carlton guests to places even a lot of locals don’t know much about.”
There are four distinct programs to choose from.
MEET + EAT
An intimate series of evenings that allow guests to ‘break bread’ with Toronto’s culinary elite in their restaurants, shops, bakeries, butcher shops and artisan food operations.
Guests right now have three options; a French pastry experience, a trip to learn about craft beer (and taste great cheeses and charcuterie) and a Mexican street food experience.
The French pastry visit involves a visit with the chefs at Roselle Desserts in Toronto, who were trained in Paris under Michelin-starred chefs and produce dazzling desserts and other goodies. Guests can get into the kitchen and learn tricks of the trade, as well as chat with the owner and taste pastries, canapes and other goodies. Not to mention walk out with a sweet treat to enjoy later in the day.
The craft beer trip to Henderson Brewing Company allows guests to learn what it takes to brew beer on a local, smaller scale and to sample the entire process, from raw grains to the finished product. Beers are then paired with artisan cheeses and charcuterie. Of course, you get to take some great products back to the hotel.
The Mexican street food visit is the one I’d go for; a chance to chat with Mexico City-born chef Arturo Anhalt of Torteria San Cosme, one of the hottest food spots in Toronto. Ritz-Carlton guests spend an evening learning about classic recipes and techniques, then dig into tasty, authentic Mexican dishes paired with the perfect drink. Toronto’s Latin American and Mexican food scene is growing by leaps and bounds, with excellent restaurants using fresh, local ingredients.
TASTE THE TOWN
These are personally-guided food tours that introduce guests to the iconic shops, restaurants and multicultural neighbourhoods that make Toronto’s food scene so authentic. The afternoon tours are a mix of dining, culture and history, with a mix of casual, fun places and sit-down spots. Guests will stop at four to six places in all; enough for a good-sized snack or an early dinner. The dinner food tours feature 3-4 stops and are designed as a progressive dinner with a variety of tastes at some of the city’s best dining spots.
These are “immersive, interactive” experiences that take guests on a one-of-a-kind culinary journey through the city, such as paddling Toronto’s Islands in a heritage voyageur canoe (once the water levels on the Islands go down a little), or foraging for mushrooms with local experts.
URBAN FOOD SAFARI
The ultimate ‘black box’ experience. After exploring the city in search of mystery ingredients for the Chef, guests return to TOCA at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto to watch as the hotel’s culinary team transforms their bounty into a custom-made meal.
I had a chance to do this last week, and I can’t remember a more enjoyable evening. A small group of us headed over to St. Lawrence Market (voted the best urban market in the world a couple years ago by National Geographic) and picked up a variety of ingredients we thought would challenge the Ritz-Carlton chefs: just-picked Ontario rhubarb, a fresh local rabbit, local asparagus, and more.
We took our bag of groceries back to the hotel, where the chefs were put on the spot and given only a half hour or so to come up with a recipe.
They ended up taking the rabbit and dicing it into small pieces, then added seasoning and cooking it quickly before adding it to small pockets of pasta. It was cooked perfectly with a juicy meat sauce.
We also tried our hand at making ravioli, using house-made dough and beautiful local cheese. It takes a bit of time to stretch the dough out properly, but it’s not terribly hard to make the ravioli. The Ritz-Carlton kitchen folks divided a group of lucky observers into teams of men and women for a “who can make the most ravioli in five minutes” contest. The women, ahem, cleaned our clocks.
We also tried the ravioli off the menu at TOCA, the award-winning restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton and one of the city’s best restaurants. It’s stuffed with caciotta cheese and served with a hint of marjoram and silky, smooth tomato sauce.
We also had a perfect beefsteak Fiorentina; grilled to perfection with sea salt and little else; just like they do it in Florence. It was perfect and succulent and moist and deeply flavourful; easily one of the best steaks I’ve ever had.
The rhubarb was minced and served with yummy, house-made ice cream.
They put a group of media and hotel folks together in the private dining space TOCA has that’s right inside the kitchen, giving us a fantastic look at the preparations. It’s quite amazing to see how it all comes together, and the space itself is super-cool.
For more information and a full description of each tour component, visit http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/canada/toronto/area-activities/off-the-eaten-track or call 416-585-2500.