Asian Canadian Chefs Celebrated at CCYAA Freshfest In Toronto

Freshfest 2023 featured an all-star line up of Asian Canadian chefs showcasing their take on the flavours of the Asian diaspora.

FreshFest is Toronto’s first chef-led and chef-curated Asian food festival, which took place this year in conjunction with the Chinese Canadian Youth Athletics Association (CCYAA) Celebrity Classic

Some of the city’s most renowned Asian chefs, including Chef Trevor Lui (Baobird), Chef Nuit Regular (PAI Northern Thai Kitchen), Chef Eva Chin (The Soy Luck Club), Chef Colin Li (Hong Shing), Chef Rick Matharu (Ricks Good Eats), and Chef Wallace Wong (A-Sha), came together to celebrate and share their culinary traditions and the diverse flavours of the Asian diaspora.

Culinary powerhouse Lui helped with this year’s vendor curation. 

Chef Wallace Wong at the A-Sha booth during an interview with Natasha Jung
Photo Credit: Julian Fok

Amplifying Asian talent in Toronto’s culinary scene

“The people you see on this concourse are the best the country has,” says Lui. His hope is for this event to help elevate Asian voices more in the culinary scene.

FreshFest started last year at Superfresh, a popular Asian food hall in the Annex, a neighbourhood in Downtown Toronto. Superfresh was built on amplifying Asian-owned small businesses in Downtown Toronto and creating a space for the community. However, Superfresh announced its permanent closure at the end of June, with hopes that its story and foundation continue to live within their beloved communities.

“The fact that when we talk about culinary, food, and chefs, a lot of times, our community is left out… that’s something we want to celebrate that we don’t talk enough about,” says Lui.

Chef Trevor Lui holding his cookbook The Double Happiness Cookbook: 88 Feel-Good Recipes and Food Stories
Photo Credit: Julian Fok

Lui is the author of The Double Happiness Cookbook, a Chinese cookbook featuring 88 mouthwatering recipes and compelling stories celebrating heritage, community, and identity.

See also: Best books about food and identity by Asian authors

Celebrating the diverse flavours of the Asian diaspora

The community celebrated diverse flavours of the Asian diaspora, from Chef Eva Chin’s unique take on the traditional Chinese soft tofu dessert, to Chef Rick Matharu’s Punjabi Canadian comfort food, to Chef Colin Li’s new ginger scallion seasoning.

“For me, what’s really important is being able to also showcase what we grew up with… I grew up with strawberry jam, and that’s why I put it in my tofu dessert,” says Chin. She emphasizes the importance of authenticity and adding her own flavour when it comes to representing culture and being Asian Canadian.

Chef Eva Chin with Natasha Jung
Photo Credit: Julian Fok

Matharu shares his parents’ immigrant story and experience of coming to Canada in the 1970s. He describes growing up in a diverse and culturally-rich neighbourhood in Brampton, Ontario, as the inspiration for Rick’s Good Eats and his cooking today.

Hong Shing’s Li is revolutionizing ginger scallion oil, a condiment often used in poached chicken, by turning it into a seasoning. “We want to make it approachable for people. Some people don’t know about the condiment… so we just want to be versatile with it.”

Li and Hong Shing Manager Cleman Fung are building a program to teach and pass down wok culture and its traditions to the next generation.

Hong Shing's ginger scallion seasoning with chicken
Photo Credit: Julian Fok

Lui expresses how there aren’t enough platforms to celebrate and share the stories of the Asian diaspora in the culinary space. That’s why hosting events like FreshFest is so important — reclaiming our cultures and identities through food.

“Food is, I always say, how much you show someone you love them or you care,” says Wong.

See also: Chef Eva Chin on reclaiming culture and identity through food

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