The Toronto Taste Chef Challenge is an action-packed cooking competition where chefs are given just 30 minutes to prepare a one-of-a-kind creation that is then judged by a panel of culinary industry experts. This year’s challengers had access to an on-stage pantry stocked with staples plus each received a mystery box whose ingredients they had to include in their dish, including top sirloin, harissa spice blend, instant coffee, pure chocolate, and a donut. Chef Challenger Ivana Raca impressed judges Mark McEwen, Susur Lee and Juriaan Snellen and took home the top prize of $2,000 in Delta Air Lines vouchers.
Born in Paris, France in 1985, Former Neruda Executive Chef Romain Avril discovered his passion for cooking at the early age of thirteen. By seventeen, he was working at a 1 Michelin Star restaurant in Brittany. He obtained his Bachelor Degree in French and Chinese gastronomy in his native land of France, while concurrently working at 1 and 2 Star Michelin restaurants. One of these was Relais et Chateaux.
At 21, Avril moved to London and began cooking at The Greenhouse in Mayfair, London. It was at this 2 Michelin Star restaurant that Avril had the opportunity to try his culinary hand at feeding important UK politicians, as well as celebrities like Tom Cruise.
It was in England that Avril began moving away from his classic French training and towards fusion and molecular gastronomy. In 2010, Avril decided to move to Canada; a country he had briefly visited, and vowed to come back to. He started as a Sous Chef at Colborne Lane Restaurant in Toronto, then moved on to open Origin North Restaurant and Bar as the Chef De Cuisine. Finally, he achieved Executive Chef at the renowned La Société Bistro.
He then took on the big project of opening Lavelle restaurant as well as Goldie Bar. His latest project was opening Neruda, in the Beaches area of Toronto. Chef Avril is the Canadian ambassador for Nespresso and Monogram. He had also represented brands such as Google, Club house, Goose Island, Circle K, Club House, and Zwilling – to name a few. He has appeared on TV segments on numerous occasions, including the food network channel. He has been featured in multiple food, lifestyle, home and fashion magazines.
Ivana Raca is a fierce chef whose drive and kitchen cred has earned her the utmost respect amongst her peers in Toronto’s culinary scene. Originally from the former Yugoslavia, Ivana is laid back, friendly and personable, but when her chef jacket is on and knives are drawn, she’s all business. After a rough time in high school, a teacher noticed she needed direction and helped get her on the right track by convincing her to take a culinary skills course. From there, she says food has not only changed her life, it is her life. Ivana is an accomplished chef on her way to building her own empire. She is a partner at the acclaimed Ufficio, and co-owner of the wildly popular Resto Boemo with Food Network Canada host Brad Smith.
Matthew Ravenscroft doesn’t believe veggies should masquerade as meat. As Chef de Cuisine at Rosalinda, he’s serving up feel-good Mexican food that just happens to be plant-based. Prior to opening Rosalinda, Matt spent time as the Head Catering Chef at Queen West’s hip boutique hotel, the Drake and at the city’s west-end hot spot, Parts & Labour.
Chef Mark McEwan began his career as the executive chef at Toronto’s upscale Sutton Place Hotel. From here, he opened the ground-breaking North 44 and McEwan Catering which set a new standard for Toronto’s culinary scene. Chef McEwan continued to push dining innovation with the launch of Bymark, ONE and Fabbrica which now has 3 unique locations. Inspired by global food halls, Chef McEwan opened McEwan’s Groceries which have 3 locations across Toronto. Chef McEwan then showcased his innovative approaches to Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cuisine with Diwan at The Aga Khan Museum. Now, Chef McEwan mentors budding chefs in his kitchens, through his bestselling cookbooks and as head judge on Food Network’s hit series Top Chef.
Praised as one of the “Ten Chefs of the Millennium” by Food & Wine magazine, Susur Lee is still at the top of his game. Between helming four restaurants in Toronto—Lee, Kid Lee & Lee Kitchen—and overseeing his prestigious TungLok Heen in Singapore, Chef Lee makes numerous television appearances (Iron Chef America, Chopped Canada, Top Chef Masters, MasterChefAsia & Iron Chef Canada) and travels the globe as guest chef and consultant. He was recently named an ambassador to Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Canada’s 100 Best. Balancing the epicurean traditions of China with the classical techniques of French cuisines, Chef Lee improvises a daring and original culinary aesthetic.
Juriaan Snellen, Executive Corporate Chef, McCormick Canada
As Executive Corporate Chef for McCormick Canada, Juriaan brings a passion to flavour and a wealth of culinary experience.
Juriaan comes to us from Europe, and has significant culinary experience in Quick-Service, Casual Dining, and Fine Dining environments. Prior to joining McCormick Canada, Juriaan held Executive Chef roles with major food manufacturers across Europe and North America.
He has spent time working as a fine-dining chef in Aruba; as well as at Michelin-star restaurants in the south of France; gaining extensive knowledge in a wide variety of cuisines. In addition to his Certified Chef de Cuisine certification, he also holds a degree in hotel management.
At McCormick Canada, Chef’s culinary expertise and his passion for flavour inspire memorable meals and raise the eating experience to new levels of “wow”.
Matt Basile is the creator of the Fidel Gastro’s street food company. In 7 years they’ve gone from underground sandwich popup to internationally recognized food brand. With a growing business of food trucks, festival booths and a massive catering division, Matt is always trying to be different in an industry steeped in tradition.
Matt is the author of the Canadian Bestselling Street Food Diaries and in September 2018 launched his second cook book “Brunch Life”. He has also hosted two seasons of his internationally sold television show “Rebel Without A Kitchen” which now appears on Netflix in Canada, USA, South Africa, Europe and UK, India and Australia. Matt currently collaborates with brands and food personalities on his popular YouTube channel and participates on numerous advisory board speakers sessions.
In 2017, Matt helped launch June’s eatery, the world’s first popup restaurant where the chefs were all HIV+ in an effort to smash HIV/ AIDS related stigmas. The project received global praise within the health community and news coverage.
Celebrity chef, restaurateur, television host, author and award-winning recording artist Roger Mooking has earned an international reputation as a chef and lifestyle expert that showcases his globally inspired vision. Roger is best known as the host of grilling and barbecue show “Man Fire Food” on Cooking Channel. The popular travelling food series showcases a dynamic range of live fire cooking, including whole hog barbecue, lobster boils, Hawaiian emu’s, seafood roasts and more! As if he didn’t already have a full plate, Roger is also the host of “Greatest of America” on Travel Channel, the host and co- creator of the internationally broadcast television series “Everyday Exotic” on Food Network, and co- host of “Heat Seekers” on the Food Network alongside renowned chef Aarón Sanchez. In addition, Roger hosts “Man’s Greatest Food“, currently airing new episodes on the Cooking Channel where he sets out on a culinary odyssey around the USA seeking “Man’s Greatest Food”.