The warm smell of roasted vegetables and squash soup wafted from Marben restaurant’s kitchen as guests chatted in its intimate, dimly lit dining space.
Meanwhile, Miriam Echeverria and four other women were busy at work prepping the night’s fare on Feb. 11. Each chef’s dish was inspired by their cultural heritage. They ranged from a zippy Mexican Jaca al Pibil to an Irish Guinness-infused ketchup to spicy Jamaican jerk vegetables.
The five female chefs were participating in a dinner event, the fourth in a series Echeverria established last June.
Although pleasing to the palate, the dinner series aims to serve up more than just food.
The Tribe Five dinners offer foodies the chance to taste unique vegan fare while supporting local charities.
Patrons are involved in dialogue surrounding issues such as feminism, social equality and marginalization.
“It’s a bunch of female chefs, which is something rare to see in the industry, and they’re all banding together and trying to do something good,” said Kamilah Khelili of U-Feast, which organizes dining experiences.
Each dinner has donated some, or all, ticket sales to Toronto charities that aim to help vulnerable communities and support resource accessibility, including Stella’s Place and The Stop Community Food Centre.
Echeverria was first motivated to create Tribe Five back in 2017 after her involvement in an event called The Dinner Party, which brought together 30 Toronto-based female chefs.
The event was inspired by Judy Chicago’s 1970s feminist art installation, The Dinner Party, which was created to celebrate the accomplishments of women and female anatomy.
Echeverria and the other chefs recreated the piece with real food for patrons.
Afterwards, Echeverria and her peers Anne Novo, Suzanne Barr and Noureen Feerasta began their own dinner series, the first of which supported Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian organization that works internationally to help LGBTQ people escape persecution in their home countries.
“I suggested Rainbow Railroad because it was Pride Week at that time too,” Novo said. “(We want to) spread the message that these charities are really good because they give people a second chance to have a life or let their voice be heard.”
With 60 guests in attendance, February’s dinner was sold out.
It raised a total of $3,550, which was donated to Sistering, a local charity in support of vulnerable women.
Sally McLean, a Sistering volunteer, spoke to the guests about how the charity is one of Toronto’s few low-barrier shelters and what it needs on an ongoing basis.
Watch Sally McLean in action at the Tribe Five dinner:
“They need funds, underwear, toiletries, toothbrushes,” she said. “People can’t keep anything. They don’t own things, everything gets stolen.”
The meaningful dialogue has fostered a sense of community between the chefs, diners and charities, which differs from the typical restaurant experience.
As a result, word has spread within the culinary industry about Tribe Five’s unique offerings.
“I used to go up to the chefs and ask them if they were available, but nowadays there are chefs that have come to me and want to collaborate,” Echeverria said.
The next dinner is set for May 6 in support of FoodShare Toronto, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing healthy food and nutritional information into schools and communities.