Matt Basile launched his Fidel Gastro’s business last year as a roving pop-up operation. Yesterday, for a crowd of 300 or so, he graduated to a food truck at the RBC Food Truck Plaza on Front Street. Basile first dreamed up Fidel Gastro’s after quitting his copywriting job. Surrounded by food his entire life (he worked in butcher shops as a kid), he knew that he wanted to engage with the food industry, but was reticent to open a restaurant because of the huge potential losses. With a little support from Toronto Underground Market founder Hassel Aviles, Basile decided to spin himself as a “rebel without a kitchen” rather than as a cook in need of one.
Basile first exchanged labour for kitchen access at the Butcher’s Son, but now rents space at a commercial kitchen shared by a handful of Toronto cooks. He uses that space to braise all the meat for his new food truck, christened Priscilla. (The truck is named after Elvis Presley’s wife, Elvis being a mascot of sorts for Fidel Gastro’s—they’ve had his golden bust at every pop-up thus far.) Basile hadn’t planned on opening a food truck (it didn’t seem financially viable), but he ran into some luck when he was serving at the Toronto’s Next Food Truck event and a stranger offered to sell him his used truck. At the inaugural street food service, Fidel Gastro’s was dishing up three different sandwiches (served alone for $7, or with fries or slaw for $8.50), as well as a play on Pad Thai ($6) made with fries rather than noodles. The first sandwich to sell out was a beef short rib and kimchi version called the King Zilla. The two other sandwiches were the Diablo’s Right Wing (butter chicken, carrot slaw and blue cheese) and the Sergeant Slather (barbecued pulled pork, crushed tortilla chips and guacamole).
Yesterday’s financial district siege was made all the more hectic by the buzzing of a film crew. The expansion of Basile’s Cuban fare-inspired empire is being documented for a 13-episode series entitled, fittingly enough, Rebel Without a Kitchen, which will air next April on Travel and Escape. When we asked Basile what his next step would be, he was firm that there would never be a bricks-and-mortar Fidel Gastro’s restaurant, but that the empire was going to expand—how, exactly, he refused to let on. “I’ve got a million ideas, but I’m lacking the cash to fund them,” he said. ”Investors are welcome!”