A trained chef, lover of baked goods and a lady that appreciates the nostalgia factor of some of her favourite spots, Charmaine Chin knows a thing or two about Urban Eating. Charmaine tastes her way around Toronto, giving insight to her friends about her favourite spots to sit down for a meal or simply grab a quick snack. You just might want to become her friend too, after reading this…
When and why did you start writing about food?
I started writing my blog, Urban Eating, about nine months ago. I did it because I was the “go-to” person among my friends for many years on restaurant openings, cheap eats, specialty foods and recipes. I eat out a couple times a week and have been eating my way through Toronto for several years. The blog was a means of letting my friends know what I was eating, what new places I’d tried and what I think is trending in food.
What do you love most about food?
I like the way food brings out passion in people and how it brings people together. I love fusion cooking, where ingredients and cooking techniques from different cultures come together and are made into inventive and flavourful dishes.
What do you do when you aren’t writing about or eating food?
Usually you can find me drinking my favourite Chardonnay. But seriously, I’m really an obsessive fitness and gym rat – I have to be in order to keep pace with my eating. When I’m not at a restaurant, a market, a grocery store or Starbucks, you can usually find me at the gym or at the bookstore reading the latest cookbooks, bios of great chefs or doing research on food.
Do you cook? If so, what’s your speciality? If not, why?
Yes, I do. I attended culinary school and took a lot of pastry classes for many years. Desserts are my favourite. I love baking and cake decorating. I like making special dishes for holidays like Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo, etc… I also enjoy making traditional dishes from other cultures.
What’s your favourite type of food(s) and where do you go to get it?
I go through different phases where I get deep into a type of food and try the same dish at many different places. A few years ago I couldn’t get enough Japanese Udon soup. This year, my new comfort food is the vegan soba noodle dishes from Fresh on Bloor. I go there at least once a month to get a fix. I enjoy seafood as well, and will usually order a fish dish no matter where I’m dining. I’m crazy for Lebanese food. Montreal’s fast food Lebanese chain, Amir, has been a favourite of mine for about 20 years.
What’s your hidden gem?
Chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco on Queen Street East. It’s got a great cozy atmosphere and her weekly menu is always varied and fresh.
What’s your go-to restaurant?
My first go-to restaurant is Le Papillon on The Park for two reasons: it’s close to home and the French Canadian food reminds me of Montreal. If I’m in the west end of the city, either location of Green Mango is another one of my go-to spots. I’ve been a fan of owner Dai’s cooking from her first location on St. Nicholas Street in the 80s.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
One of the most memorable meals I’ve had was at Fisherman’s Grotto on the pier in Monterrey, California. All the tables have a great view of Monterrey Bay and you can watch the sea otters eat and play. The lineup starts at 5 pm when they open for dinner and continues right up to closing. The choice of seafood was incredible and fresh. It also had the best mojitos! I had six of them over the course of the evening – very memorable indeed.
What’s the one restaurant you have to try before you die?
Tojo’s in Vancouver.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve? (play nice)
I’ve been to places that have amazing decor and ambiance only to have it ruined by tiny, dirty bathrooms in a dark basement. It’s like they forgot to plan for them during the restaurant design.