It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time before the Toronto Catering Showcase, an event of such importance to our industry that it now seems like it’s been held forever. In truth, it’s only been happening for four years—and Kiss the Cook Catering has been there for all of them.
As we prepare for this year’s edition, I began thinking about the day my phone rang with Jonathan Fruitman—founder and owner of Eventsource.ca, an online marketing platform and blog for the event industry in Canada —at the other end of the line. Jonathan explained that he was about to stage the first ever Toronto Catering Showcase with an expected attendance of more than 350 of Toronto’s biggest foodies, bloggers and industry experts. He wondered if Kiss the Cook Catering would be interested in participating as one of their featured caterers. The purpose of the show was to create a dining experience like no other, where attendees could spend an afternoon sampling over 30 diverse dishes from the top rated caterers in Toronto. I was flattered, intrigued and anxious at the same time.
What followed was an exciting conversation and a challenge to create a dish that was truly unique. It inspired a story of imagination, invention, experimentation, dedication and a passion for creating exceptional cuisine.
Only a decade ago, I dreamed of a day that my brand would stand alongside some of the best catering companies in Toronto. The moment he finished extending the invitation, I was whisked back in time to the humble early days of our company. Like any business working to carve a niche in a notoriously competitive industry, we worked day and night to create mouth watering dishes, and to build an experience-driven culture where uber-innovative planning, incredible food and great service would combine to make moments our guests would never forget.
The second the call ended it hit me like a tidal wave—we didn’t just need to create a great-tasting dish. We needed to create a piece of edible art! I began obsessing over what to serve. When I think of a catering showcase, I think of unforgettable demonstrations of culinary skill and expertise. It should be a showcase of a chef’s inventiveness and the bold, intoxicating flavours that grab a person’s palette and simply won’t let go.
I should explain a bit about the way I approach a challenge like this one. When I get an idea in my mind, I won’t rest until it’s brought to life. But when I need to come up with that idea in the first place, I’m even more obsessive.
I began racking my brain, researching online, recalling visits to local restaurants and recent trips where I’ve fallen in love with the food—anything to draw inspiration. I focused my attention on the dish’s possible foundation, how the flavours and textures would play together and what I could possibly serve that would not only be tasty, but that would become the talk of the showcase.
Instinctively, I found myself thinking of foods that I love. Most of the time that leads me to classic, comforting recipes like my Czech grandmother’s roasted pork and dumplings, or my favorite pasta dish, carbonara. That’s when I had my a-ha moment—what about putting a different spin on a classic carbonara pasta?
And at that moment, my brain shifted into overdrive. Eggs. Cheese. Bucatini noodles! I began craving my favourite dish, while wondering how I could put it on the menu in a form that no one had ever seen before. And that’s not because I don’t love carbonara just the way it is. Its simple, creamy deliciousness is a gourmet culinary gem with humble peasant roots. But this was the Toronto Catering Showcase, the chance for our firm to shine! This would need to be special.
Another fact about me: No matter how many hours I work in a day, when left to my own devices and to relax, I still think about food. My business is my baby, so I’m at peace with a mind that’s filled with miso and mozza, barbecue and wedding cake, at all hours of the day and night. But this evening it was all about reinventing carbonara for a new audience. How would we take the dish’s traditional ingredients—onion, pancetta, egg, noodles, parmesan, pepper, salt and savory spices—and turn them into something magical?
Then suddenly, inspiration! What if miso was used in the carbonara, combining for an Italian-Asian fusion delight? Wait! What if we used hand-pulled noodles and turned our showcase station into a full-on production!? I dove deep into the YouTube rabbit hole for instructional inspiration. There’s nothing more badass than watching the art of noodles being pulled by hand. So many videos, not enough hours to watch them all. Lights on, I reached for a piece of paper and a pen and started making notes.
In the weeks leading up to the event my team worked hard to perfect our new hand-pulled noodle carbonara creation. There was a great deal of testing and tasting (this is one of the great perks of my job!). But we needed specialized expertise to make it perfect.
I decided that Chef Deji Odowole was the right man to hire for the job because he’s creative, skilled and has a larger-than-life personality and energy that are truly contagious. Besides that, he’s one damn good chef. We collaborated in my home kitchen, tinkering with techniques and recipe tweaks until we were satisfied.
When I work with a chef, we work very closely and they become a conduit for my culinary vision. It’s during those moments of pure creativity that I’m at my happiest. Not only did Deji bring the concept to life, he helped take it to a whole other level. How? Deji came up with a radical idea to sugar and salt to cure the egg yolks that we’d be using. It was like the cherry on top of our decadent dish. When you stick in your fork, the glorious yolk just spills out, coating the noodles and making the whole thing taste like umami-infused heaven-on-earth. I was elated and satisfied; we had created the perfect dish.
Not so fast, I thought. Now, I need a noodle guy.
That resulted in a meeting with Haga, the owner of the incredible restaurant chain Magic Noodle. It’s a fitting a name—watching hand-pulled noodles being made is nothing short of magic. I watched Chef Curtis make a batch and stood there in slack-jawed awe marvelling at the culinary show in front of me. After a taste of their magical strands, I knew I had to have this chef and these noodles. Graciously, Haga agreed to join forces. In October, 2016, I watched from the sidelines as all the pieces came together at the Toronto Catering Show.
The faint creep of stage fright or adrenaline that I always feel at the start of an event was soon turned to bliss as guests tasted, nodded in approval, grinned mouthful smiles and snapped countless photos and videos.
As we packed up and rolled out that day, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s an awesome feeling when you create a dish that people love. I marinated in the feeling for a few moments until it hit me: What could I possibly serve to top this next year?!
That was year one. As we head into our fourth year at the show, we can’t wait to unveil our next surprise. If you think the hand-pulled noodle carbonara was cool, you’ll have to come out and see what we have up our sleeves next. If you’re a regular reader of our blogs, you’ll know that whatever we create will be thoughtfully prepared, obsessed over and made with love. Happy tasting!
Fia Pagnello, Founder and CEO
Contact us now to book your next catered event!
Tickets for the Toronto Catering Showcase go on sale on Monday, August 19, 2019. Click here to purchase your tickets now!