Scarborough restaurants, including those here in the east end, are conspicuously absent from the Winterlicious dining program. The event, which runs from January 25 to February 7, features set menus ranging from $15 to $150 at some of Toronto’s top-rated restaurants. While many other districts have from one to 16 restaurants included, Scarborough has a grand total of zero restaurants participating in the culinary festivities. Which inevitably leads to the question of why?
“Any restaurant from any part of the city is welcome to participate,” said Eirine Papaioannou, who spoke on behalf of Winterlicious. “The criteria [for an eatery to be chosen] is that the restaurant must be rated between two to three stars by Toronto Life, Zagat, or Patron’s Pit and that they must provide a unique dining experience.
According to Papaioannou, all restaurants that meet the above criteria are issued an invitation to participate in the event, according to Papaioannou.
But not everyone is satisfied with the criteria with which restaurants are chosen.
“We believe that the policy has to be revisited so that other restaurants can be included,” said Antonette DiNovo, executive assistant to Councillor Paul Ainslie of Ward 43.
Last year, Councillor Ainslie backed a motion in which a request was made for the re-evaluation of the criteria that is used when restaurants are chosen for participation. In a report issued February 1, 2007 and addressed to the Economic Development Committee, any question of reevaluation was silenced.
The report confirmed that “the criteria is inherent in the program’s success as it creates motivation for restaurants to participate and fulfills the consumer expectation of a unique fine-dining experience”
In a subsequent report, dated May 10, 2007 the Economic Development Committee solidified this stance by stating in the conclusion of the staff report, that although fine dining chains are now included in the program, any “additional modification of the criteria and process may result in four/five star restaurants reconsidering their involvement.”
“There is no deliberate move to exclude anyone from Winterlicious,” said Stewart Green, who spoke on behalf of Mayor David Miller. “This is an event that can grow, it’s still relatively new. In order to make it successful, it has to grow organically.”
Green’s statements are supported in that two Scarborough restaurants, Dragon Dynasty and Ruby, were invited to participate but declined. Dragon Dynasty has participated in previous sessions. Papaioannou said that the reason was that “they are busy and this just added more impact at an already busy time for them”. Neither restaurant chose to comment.
Food critic Joanna Kates suggested another reason as to why the event has not spread to Scarborough.
“There’s not much interest in Scarborough, which may be for financial reasons,” said Kates, who attend the Cordon Bleu in Paris. “I haven’t heard any buzz about any Scarborough restaurants, really.” She later added that the absence of Scarborough restaurants might simply be because of location. “Winterlicious does seem to be a downtown phenomenon.”
But, as Green points out, the program is still young.
“We constantly look for more sources to evaluate restaurants. We try to be as objective as we can be in a subjective area,” said Papaioannou.