Vegan Artisan (The Wicked Pot)
Taking Vegan to the Next Level
I’d never considered myself the supper club type. But there I was, driving across Toronto to have an exclusive dinner with strangers. I arrived in front of a cute, understated home in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. I checked the address, walked up a short path and tapped politely on the door.
I was welcomed inside a small living room where two tables were adorned with pieces of wood, moss and plants. Suspended above the tables were small bouquets of dried herbs. I was seated with two couples, plus three women—one of whom, Candace Hutchings, is The Edgy Veg. If you don’t know her, check her out!
I took a moment to absorb the ambience.
Chef Ivan Castro, the owner and founder of Vegan Artisan, and one of my hosts for the night, is a Toronto-based personal chef who specializes in vegan cuisine, heavily influenced by his Mexican heritage. Ivan and his husband, Pedro, host a secret dinner series called Wicked Pot, which began as a one-off, and grew to become a sold-out ongoing series of out-of-this-world pop-up dinner parties all with different themes: Day of the Dead, Wizarding, Masquerade and Witches’ Kitchen (the one I went to).
For those who haven’t been to Mexico recently, the culinary scene there goes well beyond the north American clichés of burritos and nachos. Mole, mezcal, hibiscus, hoja santa, are just some of the more unusual cornerstones of the dishes and drinks you might expect from diverse regions that include Oaxaca, Puebla and Jalisco.
Pedro brought out each course, of which there were six (so when you go—do so on an empty stomach). Guests have the choice to buy a ticket that includes dinner OR a ticket that includes dinner with pairings of cocktails, wine and mezcal. I opted to buy drinks separately and having done that, I would recommend the pairing option—the Mexican red wine was among the best I’ve had recently and the cocktails looked luscious.
As an appetizer, we were served Salsa Matcha, which is essentially homemade tostadas served with a peanut, sesame and morita pepper sauce. Honestly, I was sold at peanut sauce, which I would have spoon-fed myself happily all night. But then our first course came.
The rest of the night was a blur of sensory-orgasmic-gluttony that, in the interest of being frugal with online real estate, can be summed-up like this:
An hibiscus taco served with eggplant and black garlic butter (“mojo de ajo”)
An herbed aguachile served on charred avocado and a black sesame tostada, dressed in a sauce made with basil, mint, tarragon, cilantro, serrano pepper, lime and cilantro
A broccoli tamal, wrapped in a banana leaf, dressed in a pistachio and poblano pepper sauce
A tetela (triangular pocket made of corn meal) filled with refried beans, pasilla pepper sauce and sour cream
Roasted parsnip and handmade tortillas, served with black and white mole.
Before our sixth course, which was our dessert, called “Wonka Goes Mexican,” Pedro brought a bowl to each of us, containing a small white tablet.
“Great.” I thought to myself. “This is a cult.”
Then Pedro offered to pour liquid chocolate in our hands and encouraged us to have a sensory experience. Minutes later, I was wiping the thick sauce over my hands and up my arms without a care. Which is when I noticed other diners gently and thoughtfully drawing small circles of chocolate in their palms, with their hands and arms otherwise clean.
Pedro came around with a jug of hot water and poured it into my bowl. My white tablet expanded to become a warm, wet towel. I cleaned myself.
Finally, dessert was served, which was an etremet or a cake with different layers. The bottom was made of an Oaxacan chocolate bark with popped amaranth (I’m drooling), then moving upwards: chocolate mousse, raspberry geleè, and a black glaze. On the side was churro ice cream.
It’s not always easy to convince non-vegans to try vegan cuisine. That said, I would send any blood-mouthed carnivore to The Wicked Pot. Dining with Ivan and Pedro is an experience unlike any I’ve had before. And it goes way beyond the often banal fine-dining endeavour that involves pretence and small plates leaving one wanting more. Rather, The Wicked Pot is a joyous and exuberant production of culinary ingenuity which anyone with even the smallest bone for adventure would appreciate. Also, I was so full by the end.
Buy tickets and go while you can! I can’t recommend it enough.