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Straight Outta Parkdale: the mystifying hip-hoppification of Toronto chef culture

La Carnita

La Carnita’s graffiti-plastered decor (Image: Renée Suen)

In 2011, we walked into a dinky taco shop in Parkdale and found the future of Toronto dining: blaring ’90s hip-hop, beautifully bedraggled wait staff and, in the kitchen, a crew of tattooed, fist-bumping, F-bomb dropping cooks. The little spot was Grand Electric, of course, and it didn’t take long for other restaurants to adopt a similar irreverence: La Carnita with its graffiti-plastered walls, Gangster Burger with its self-proclaimed “good f@$%in’ burgers” and a whole new clan of swaggering chefs and restaurateurs turning the hospitality game into a thugged-out boys’ club. These dudes—and they’re all dudes—have ditched Piaf and Davis for Biggie and Wu-Tang, and catapulted the city’s dining scene into a murky bouillabaisse of racial, sociological, culinary and musical confusion. Here, seven symptoms of the identity crisis afflicting Toronto’s up-and-coming culinary brass.

They give props on Twitter

The 140-character love-ins are like culinary shout-outs to the boys keepin’ it real for the city. Or something.

They feature on each other’s projects

Bread by Woodlot at Bar Volo. Snacks by The Grove at Churchill. It’s like the hook in any good hip hop song: a fresh collaboration that takes the whole thing to the next level.

They engage in performative throwdowns

Any serious gangstah has the battle scars to prove it. Case in point: Momofuku’s recent Battle Ramen; the Iron Chef–style Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium series; and Marben’s aptly named Sausage League.   

There’s an east-west rivalry

Parkdale and Roncy are cool. Leslieville’s for yuppies.

They divide into factions

Matt Blondin and Ben Heaton are tight; the up-and-coming Bloordale Village crew has each other’s backs; and the Group of Seven Chefs throw monthly bro-downs all over town.

Sometimes there’s beef

Literally. Also: against customers, food bloggers and reviewers.

They fetishize flesh

Chefs’ Instagram and Twitter feeds are like culinary skin fests: sinewy oxtails, glistening halibut filets and big, sloppy pork sandwiches.

They party like it’s 1999

They may choose cask-conditioned ale over sizzurp and Henny, but today’s chefs like to get good and sauced.