Toronto’s 8th Annual Totally Fabulous Vegan Bake-Off Recap
On Sunday, March 20th, I ate eleven baked goods for lunch.
Taking place on the first sunny day of spring, the 8th Annual Totally Fabulous Vegan Bake-Off was hosted by the Toronto Vegetarian Association at Toronto’s Daniels Spectrum venue. It saw the cities best professional and amateur bakers in head to head competition for bragging rights, vegan fame, and gift baskets stuffed with more pantry items than most winners could carry.
My experience started in the company of Steve, a mid-seventies vegan bike courier who would later win the prize for having been vegan the longest (33 years). With the privilege of a media pass and two plate tickets in hand, I was soon escorted in to the dimly-lit arena while set-up was still going on. Volunteers carefully lay treats on numbered biodegradable plates, painstakingly arranging one hundred neatly on each table. There were twelve tables in all, each hosting a different baked goods category. Getting in before the crowd meant I had a good chance to predict which tables would sell out first; namely, which had the largest portion of treats per plate.
I would instantly recognize some of the professional bakers, their parents helping them unload boxes of familiar smelling treats. I could even spot some of the lesser known food bloggers who were in attendance, something my years of foodie fandom would permit me. Many posed for shots with their creations before they’d be devoured. Others, like me, were planning out their attacks. As attendees flood the room, everyone waited with baited breath for host Lisa Pitman to give the go ahead. And then, they were off.
Since I could only sample a small fraction of the offerings, I knew I had to do one pro and one amateur. I went directly for the regular pro category, which had six samples to the plate where some categories saw only four or five. The companies were not listed (save one – Fairly Frosted Bakery – that had brilliantly thought ahead with labelled toothpicks), but a few were known. Sweet Olenka’s had a cakester, Apiecalype Now had a flakie, and The Golden Apple Confectionery had a cream egg. The eventual winner of the category would be Grain, Grain, Grains mini shepherd’s pie, a flavourful, savoury, mouthful that no doubt cut through the sweetness of the other offerings, and helped justify lunch. I should say that for me, it was a close race for that pie, and the popcorn flavoured vegan macaron.
Venturing back in to the crowds, I made it to the savoury table. Maybe the shepherd’s pie had influenced me, and maybe I just couldn’t handle anymore sugar on my own. I was excited to see they table hadn’t sold out yet, but I literally claimed the last plate available. I broke a few hearts, and slunk away to photograph it. Here, scones, another mini “meat” pie, and a garlic knot were featured from home cooks. I called the garlic knot as the winner immediately, something everyone else supported and voted in to truth.
Full, with a bit of a sugar high, and feeling the effects of an unhealthy lunch, I wandered the room a little to feel better, awaiting the judging. The veg association had books and t-shirts for sale on tables by the front door. Across the room, the events main sponsor, Dare Candy, had an impressive array of gelatin free gummy samples. Once plates began to dwindle, jellybeans would keep everyone’s energy high, and were a real hit among the wee vegans.
The winners were crowned one by one, with an astonishing amount featuring citrus centric dishes. Many were met with applause, while others heard audience groans – likely from the winning treats they heard they’d missed out on. The judges, Vegan MD Dr. Tushar Mehta, TBC’s Amanda Sommerville, and Wishing Well Sanctuary’s Corey Burt, would sample the winners of each category before selecting Sweet Olenka’s as the show’s overall winner for pros. It was their coconut truffle bars, and apparently the fact that they source their chocolate conflict free, that got them the nod. This part disappointed me only slightly, as the judges should remember that the vegetarian company still supports many other cruel industries. Lemon wonder bars took it for the amateur grand prize, but everyone who got to attend left felling like a winner.
I want to give a huge thanks to the Vegan Bake-Off for hosting the event, for having me, and for showing the masses that giving up predictable baking staples doesn’t have to come at a compromise. Now, if you don’t mind me, I’ll be in the kitchen replicating everything I already wish I had a second sample of.