“I don’t know what we’re having yet,” says gastronomic guru Maria Solakofski as she cores another apple. She’s just welcomed me into the intimate surroundings of her Kensington Market home with a cheerful smile and a wonderfully aromatic tea of sage, orange and thyme. Under the moniker Guerrilla Gourmet, this chef and shiatsu therapist sporadically hosts dining events, blending the best the city has to offer in both slow food and random dining adventures. Her goal: to help mend urbanites’ disconnect from their source of food.
She turns to a brown sheet of paper hanging on her kitchen wall with some lines and circles scrawled on it. This, she tells me, is how she sketches out her ingredients—to see what goes together best. Surprised at her random food preparation tactics, a hint of doubt creeps into my mind about her preparedness for a twelve person dinner party. Once seeing her whirl effortlessly around the kitchen, my mind is quickly put at ease.
The promise of delicious and innovative vegetarian fare in a non-restaurant setting was reason enough for me to come, but what’s most unique about this event is its slow food ethic. Guerrilla Gourmet is committed to sustainable agriculture; Solakofski serves almost entirely organic and locally produced food. Preserving the culture of cuisine is another important source of inspiration driving slow food. Intentionally lengthy meals structured around a taste education theme foster an awareness of the food, contributing to its enjoyment. As people increasingly question what goes into the food they eat, the philosophy gains wider recognition.
Some of those people have gathered in Maria Solakofski’s living room on this chilly January night. A talkative member of Toronto’s film production community strikes up a conversation with another woman she met at a previous Guerrilla event. The rest, as far as I could tell, have never before met. Being introduced to a room full of strangers could normally make for an awkward occasion; in this case, conversation flows without difficulty as we lounge amid the soothing earth tones and abundant wood trim of the homey old house. Ranging from college students to middle-aged professionals, locals to long-distance commuters, this diverse bunch brought together by a communal event, are finding much more in common than food.
I consider the spontaneity of the event thus far: random scheduling, unplanned menu selection and complete strangers eating together in a stranger’s home. These are the tools in Solakofski’s guerrilla arsenal. By creating an atypical eating experience, the Guerrilla Gourmet helps disengage minds conditioned by patterns of passive consumption.
The guerrilla chef ushers us into the dining room, and we take our seats around the long table eagerly anticipating the meal’s arrival. A few short sips into my wild bergamot tea, Solakofski floats in and out of the dining room serving the first course, roasties. After all the plates are in place she proudly proclaims the names of all the vegetables as if they were her children: sunchokes, yellow potatoes, parsnips, carrots and shallots, all grown in Ontario and seasoned with five different types of basil from the backyard. As we look down at our dishes with foretaste, the passionate proponent of slow food advocates this growing philosophy by enthusiastically rhyming off the food sources (“the shallots were grown by Bradley”) and endorsing the market the food came from: “The Dufferin farmers’ market sells local produce all year round.”
Now aware of this course’s origin, I approach it at a very slow pace, blissfully taking in each sharply seasoned bite. One of the guests sitting next to me enjoys the process equally. “It’s good to do this [slow eating] once or twice a week. My size didn’t come from eating slowly,” he says, leisurely picking away at the food on his plate. Also enjoying the time is his wife. She tells me she’s delighted to finally make the event after hearing about it for quite some time. For both of them, the one hour drive into the city was well worth it.
Heralded by wonderful aromas wafting in from the kitchen, the main dish arrives. The lively conversation quickly cuts to silence when we see the colourful spread of Portland apples filled with brazil nuts, dates and rum-soaked candied lemon peels on a bed of quinoa. The twelve of us foodies continue to sit in silence, low-pitched murmurs of delight indicating a collective pleasure enough to make the silence comfortable.
The meal introduces some unique dishes. The contrasting texture of spongy oyster mushrooms and crispy baked tempeh mates nicely with the orange-ginger-mustard-miso-oil and maple syrup dressed baby greens salad. Closing the night, a hemp seed pudding made with agar seaweed and kudzu pleasantly surprises my palate.
All the food is delicious, but strangely enough it isn’t so much my taste buds that lead me to that conclusion. Slow eating is an immersive experience that promotes enjoyment of the food without a sole emphasis on taste. Through Maria’s lively storytelling, each dish takes on a meaning of its own. Its locally grown nature gives it a vital character while its organic production provides a healthiness. Seeing the food in this light, a connection to it is easily drawn. The slow food ethos guarantees agricultural sustainability through its preference for local and organic produce. And luckily, it’s one that’s slowly trickling into the restaurant scene by way of underground culinary events like the Guerrilla Gourmet.
Guerrilla Gourmet’s four-course dinners are $50 all inclusive (BYOB). Other dining options are also available at lower costs. To find out about the next event contact Maria Solakofski at 647-831-3377 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit Guerrilla Gourmet.