Black Toronto chefs invited to be festival guests

Written by by Aénisse Di Santo, CNN Black Toronto chefs will be able to partake in the city’s upcoming Taste Toronto Festival in 2019 and 2021, according to the first plan to give the…

Black Toronto chefs invited to be festival guests

Written by by Aénisse Di Santo, CNN

Black Toronto chefs will be able to partake in the city’s upcoming Taste Toronto Festival in 2019 and 2021, according to the first plan to give the “tri-cultural” cuisine of the city’s diverse communities a seat at the table, city council has approved.

The city has initiated Black Food Sovereignty, an initiative that will provide grant funding for three Black-focused initiatives. With grants of up to $75,000, the programs will develop cooking demonstrations, education workshops and culinary networking events.

While many international food festivals celebrate both Black and white cultures, “we have a responsibility to address the balance and size of our Black culinary community,” Anna Kooiman, a member of city council who chairs the official Taste Toronto planning committee, said at a press conference Friday.

“The diverse, transethnic role of Black Toronto in our culture, our economy and our social life is part of our history, but it’s also part of what keeps us strong,” she said.

Eduardo Villatoro de Leon, a local foodie and one of the festival’s patrons, came up with the idea to create Black Toronto’s own food festival last spring. He says he originally wanted to invite black chefs to create his food of the year, and decided the Black Food Sovereignty Initiative could use that funding.

There are currently more than a dozen Black restaurants in the city, and Black Toronto chefs, such as Tracey Felt, Brandon Turner and Tony Dawkins, have been invited to have their own booth at Taste Toronto in 2019.

“In Toronto, Black people have a big influence on the economy — we own shops, we own restaurants,” Villatoro de Leon said. “But when it comes to food we feel like we have to fend for ourselves.”

Since launching Black Toronto’s food festival last May, a group of interested citizens from the neighborhood around Baderbaan, the event’s location, came together to work on implementing the Black Food Sovereignty Plan. Following several public consultations and consultations with Canada’s Black culinary community, the organization is now poised to provide “a balance of investment and opportunities” for that community, the coalition says.

Community members of The Black Business Association in Yonge St., which organized a campaign to support the idea of a Black food festival in Toronto, listen to a grant proposal for a future Black Food Sovereignty Implementation Plan presentation. Credit: Anna Kooiman/Toronto City Hall

On Friday, Kooiman addressed fears that a Black food festival might have desensitized North Americans to the realities of systemic racism.

“I know this is a very sensitive topic,” she said. “It is not OK that marginalized groups are treated like second-class citizens. However, my focus is not on the past and how to get there, but to move to the future. We have learned from the past — (city council) has taken a lot of steps over the last few years to make the city a little more equitable and inclusive, and there are more changes that can be made — it is just a matter of doing it.”

At Friday’s press conference, Representative George Chahal urged council to also explore funding for Black cultural festivals. “The government should be coming out and saying, ‘We support all Black festivals,'” he said.

“Whenever I go to any of these Black festivals, I see marginalized people from many backgrounds, including first-generation immigrants.”

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