Sew Hungry – Hamilton’s Restaurant Food Truck Rally

Attention Ontario Foodies: one of the most anticipated culinary events of the year is only one week away!

Sew Hungry Restaurant and Food Truck Rally will shut down Ottawa Street in Hamilton on Friday May 2, 2014. With over 55 food vendors, the award-winning event brings a large foodie crowd to the Garment District of the city for its 4th year running. This event garners more attention and interest each year, cultivating and preserving the culinary community within Hamilton. Alongside the many vendors that will surely satisfy even the ravenous appetites, chefs will be doing cooking demonstrations throughout the day!

I had the chance to talk with event organizer, Elisha Proietti, who graciously spoke to me about the ways in which Sew Hungry has grown.

FGFS: How did Sew Hungry come about? What drew you to Ottawa Street?

Elisha Proietti: I was hired by the BIA about 4 years ago as the Manager for the Ottawa Street Farmers’ Market as well as the Events Coordinator for the Ottawa Street BIA.  Ottawa Street has been booming for awhile now and the BIA wanted to add more events to the street to bring more attention to its growth.  4 years ago when Sew Hungry started, the food truck scene was just starting to rear its head.  Gorilla Cheese had just hit the streets and El Gastro had really just paved the way for this movement to begin.  We wanted to remind people that Ottawa Street, although famous for it’s textiles, had a lot more to offer!  Including some great restaurants!  Bringing in food trucks was a perfect way to expose foodies to the great eats we have to offer on the street.  Typically people will go out for lunch on a Friday and we wanted to get them thinking about Ottawa Street when they do that!  So, I called in Graeme from Gorilla Cheese and proposed the idea of a Food Truck Rally along Ottawa St to him and he loved it!  We rallied together about 9 trucks (we were begging trucks to come at the first Sew Hungry) and here we are today!

FGFS: Congrats on having such a successful event last year! What makes this year even better?

EP: Thank you! We were blown away by how well received the event was last year!  As an event planner, you are always looking at the event from a different angle than the attendees.  I think sometimes we are our own worst critic, which can be a good thing!  This year there are a lot of new additions to the event that we are excited about.  We have firstly added more trucks to the roster so that we can accommodate the crazy numbers we saw from last year!  We will have 35 trucks this year serving curbside, which is pretty awesome.  We also have Roux Commercial Kitchen and Commissary who is sponsoring and providing what they are calling the Sew Hungry Kitchen Stadium!  The stadium will feature Local Guest Chefs which are being sponsored and provided by Go Cooking of the Hamilton Spectator, who will be doing cooking demonstrations throughout the day!  We will also be shutting down 5 side streets this year to provide additional tables and seating for people.  It is shaping itself up to be the best Sew Hungry yet, and we are constantly making sure that each year outdoes the last.

FGFS: You have so many amazing vendors, how do you pick the participants?

EP: The growth of this event has been pretty surreal to watch.  In the first year we had 9 trucks and it was difficult to get those 9.  This year we have 35 trucks participating and we had 53 trucks apply.  This was just by the deadline, I still have trucks calling me on a daily basis asking if they can be a part of the event.  It is a great thing but it is also makes it that much harder.  The Events Committee agreed one of the best ways to decide, was to taste test all of the new trucks that applied to the event.  OnFebruary 26th, we had 6 judges come in to the BIA office.  They got to meet the new trucks and try all of their food first hand.  It was a really incredible day.  The trucks all brought their A game and it was inspiring to see how passionate they are about food.  They have really taken street food to a whole new level and you could see it in the way they presented the food and in how simply delicious the dishes tasted.  Needless to say, we were all absolutely stuffed at the end of the day.  Maybe next year we will be sure to spread it out over a week.  26 taste tests in 4 hours proved to be very difficult!  I think some of us didn’t eat for days after that!  As the event grows, this aspect is going to get harder and harder, but at 35 trucks we are already maxed out on space and we also want to ensure that our own restaurants have a great business day as well!  We have an incredible lineup of trucks this year and we are so excited for Hamilton to have the chance to try them!

FGFS: Organizing a Food Truck Rally isn’t a small feat! How do you it all?

EP: There is a lot more work that goes into it than what people realize!  We take that as a compliment though.  I have had people in the past ask me if we could do it once a month, or every weekend, which would be impossible!  Part of the fun of the event is that it’s something to look forward to every year.  Planning for Sew Hungry starts in the fall, and each year I seem to try and get things started earlier and earlier.  The BIA has an amazing Executive board and Events committee that always step up and help wherever they can.  Other than that it takes a lot of organization and planning to make sure that every detail is looked after!  Event planning always comes off to people as this whimsical, fun, party job but thats not the case.  It’s a lot of hard work and you have to really love and care about what you are doing in order to do it well.  Just like any other job!

FGFS: Any advice for a Sew Hungry first timer, like myself?

EP: I think my best Sew Hungry advice is to come in a group and divide and conquer.  We have an amazing website that was done by Orbital Studios and there is a great interactive map on the homepage that can help you plan ahead! I also recommend a pair of stretchy pants (jogging pants, Lululemons, Modrobes for the old schoolers). The least busy times are usually 11am – noon and 4pm – 5pm so if you can get here then that will help too!

FGFS: Lastly, favourite place to eat in Hamilton?

EP: Hamilton has become such an incredible place for food so it’s really hard to pick just one. I think my Italian roots always draw me to Café Limoncello. Those pizzas are just so good. Bruno is a fantastic chef and Nancy Leo, who owns the restaurant, is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met and it shows!

Come out and enjoy this delicious community on Friday May 2, 2014 from
11am – 3pm and 4pm – 8pm. We’ll see you there!

Sew Hungry on the Web:
Website
Twitter
Facebook

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Matt Basile is not just another Rebel without a Kitchen

For those who are familiar with the food truck scene in Canada, the name Matt Basile is one that should ring a bell. He is the owner/operator of the Fidel Gastro food truck and his most recent endeavour, a “brick and mortar with the heart of a pop up”, Lisa Marie on Queen St West.

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But in the last two years, Basile has taken on a new journey.  Thanks to the Travel + Escape Network, he now spends three months of the year on the road. His whirlwind new show, “Rebel Without a Kitchen” (airs Tuesday at 9PM ET/10PM PT) shines a spotlight on street food scenes all throughout Canada and the US.

The second season just launched a few weeks ago and I had the chance to sit down with Matt to chat about food, television, and creature comforts.  We even had time for an arm wrestling match.

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FGFS:  So how did you decide where you wanted to visit for this season of Rebel Without a Kitchen?

Matt:  The whole thing about season one was us building our business here in Toronto. What we wanted to do with season two was take what we had created and bring it to other cities and bring some of that influence to other cities and how does that reciprocate. The cities that we picked were a combination of places that we really wanted to go and that were really setting the stage for street food in North America, the cities who would let us visit and finally was there an event that we could really tap into or that made sense for us to really visit. We definitely hit some really important cities [in season two] that tell a really important food story.

FGFS: In your three-month journey, where was the most memorable and why?

Matt: Are we saying memorable or best city — because I have two for totally different reasons. I would say LA was my favourite city. It was warm and I think overall they just have everything there including an emerging restaurant scene. They are in the midst of really changing how people approach food concepts and also pushing the street food scene. There is this casual coolness with LA but it is also very business-focused as well. It has the best of all these world. I kept thinking, “You know what? I could live here.” It was very cool. It really wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The most memorable stop I would have to say was Cape Breton. From the second we got off the plane to the second we arrived in Sydney, everyone was so helpful and so lovely. Everyone loves what they produce locally there and is so proud of what they do. They are so incredibly local in what they do but are so open to worldwide culture and food. There were people at the street food event I was at from Jamaica and Pakistan and all over. The chef that I was working with was so genuine and we still text to this day. I’d have to say Philly was the biggest food surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting much from there and it was incredible. Great food scene, great bar scene, and really heavy into craft beers. The city was also very musical and historical. I wouldn’t have put those words into my preconceived notions of Philadelphia.

FGFS:  Are there any recipes or tips/tricks that you found while out on the road for Rebel without a Kitchen that you have now brought back and implemented into your own kitchen?

Matt: 100% I would say not so much recipes but more so types of cooking. So for example, our trip to New Orleans had a really big influence on our cooking. The sauces that I pushed myself to learn while in New Orleans immediately came back with us to Toronto and played a role with us in the restaurant. Same with when we went to Austin, Texas and learned the concept of BBQ. Bringing it back with Moroccan flavours (like they do there) and then making it something different here in Toronto. It was really easy to say, “Whatever dish I make in this city, I’m bringing back” but in other cases, those dishes sparked new ideas using those influences. I think specifically because I don’t have any formal training, that is how you learn — the more you eat, the more you learn.

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FGFS: You left a job in advertising to follow your dream and work in food. What made you do it since you didn’t have any formal training?

Matt: I grew up Italian, so food was always a very big part of my life. I grew up working in butcher shops to pay for school. I went to school for advertising and marketing because I loved coming up with ideas and concepts and connecting with people. I was at a point in my life where I was putting a lot of time and effort into these ideas, but I should have been doing this for myself. By process of elimination, I realized the only thing I really knew how to do was food. When I met my partner Kai, she gave me this extra push to go forward with what I wanted to do. Sometimes you need this perfect storm of the right people around you that help you believe in yourself and that help you create an extension of who you are. If you can make a living — albeit a thin one — of it, then it is something worth going for. If you can make your own job and your own path and a positive contribution, then why not?

FGFS: What prompted you to start Lisa Marie (the restaurant extension of Fidel Gastro)?

Matt: We sat down and said, “We have all this business but we aren’t capitalizing on it the right way”. So we just realized we weren’t running the business effectively and it was very fly-by-night and realized we needed to operationalize. So what that meant was: we wanted a commercial kitchen in this city. Nothing more, nothing less. We were recommended by a friend of ours that someone had a space on Queen West with a kitchen. It wasn’t until this point where it dawned on us, “Wow, are we looking to open a restaurant?”. Thanks to Kai — she handled all the negotiations — we put a bid in on our current space. Originally, our bid didn’t go through.  So we just kind of gave up and figured we would find something eventually. But the day after my grandfather’s funeral, we got a call saying we got the space. The rest is history. We didn’t have a concept, but we just knew what it would be. Keeping it on brand, we named it Lisa Marie — since the food truck’s name is “Priscilla” and Elvis is on everything. The menu is constantly changing and evolving. It’s fun and approachable food.

FGFS:  What is your idea of relaxation?

Matt: Kai and I love cooking big Italian meals for one another. We also really like going to get massages. Sometimes when we order out, we love getting Vietnamese, Korean, or Thai food and eating it in bed. This concept may or may not be called “picnic,” and may involve watching television. But so much of what we define as relaxation does not include work, as so many of our work days are 22 hours. Anything that is not work-related is relaxation.

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All photos by Rochelle Latinsky

 

Nice to ‘meat’ you: An Interview with Hamilton’s own MeatVentures

Written by Carly McLeodI had an opportunity to sit down with Salar from MeatVentures to talk about their up-coming plans for the summer as they hit the streets of Hamilton with their Meat Wagon! I was also fortunate enough to try their smokey-Sriracha bacon which is fantastic. If you love yourself some unique carnivorous treats, MeatVentures will not disappoint. This is not your average food cart – no hot dog in sight! Watch for MeatVentures Meat Wagon at your local events – trust me, you are going to want to try it out.

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inside — the unbelieveably yummy smokey-Sriracha bacon

FGFS: What do you have planned for this summer?
MV: It has been a busy time for us gearing up for the warming weather. We are starting a food cart, vending on weekends at local events! Look for Persian tacos, Filipino sliders, thick cut house made bacon on a stick, and a BLT with 3 kinds of house made bacon… plus more. We’re aiming to do everything in house and fresh. We are working with Roux Commissary to get our Meat Wagon on the streets. Roux Commissary is doing a cool program, we are going to the first do be doing this kind of thing. It’s a new thing for everyone. Within this community we are constantly learning we helping each other. With Roux’s guidance, we are able to find venues to go to and vend.

We are also a BBQ Competition Team! We started this last year and were quite successful. We enter in 6 competitions and won 3 of them. We came in 2nd in 2 of the competitions. It turned out really well!

FGFS: What inspires your dishes?
MV: My Filipino-Iranian roots. Growing up there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t eat. I really loved cooking. Food was a large part of my family and growing up – it is my passion. I was really good at cooking and computers and kind of went down that route, but now it’s time to change paths. We will be bringing fusion of Filipino-Persian-Canada inspired flavours to the cart and are looking forward sharing our menu with you soon. {Check out the menu for MeatVentures here.}

FGFS: What made you think about bringing your love of food to Hamilton?
MV: My wife, Jeannie and I lived in Downtown Toronto, we planned to move, and moved to Hamilton. We were looking at getting a bigger place in Toronto, but my wife and I both wanted to branch out more. We decided on Hamilton. It gives us the opportunity to work on MeatVentures. There is a great community here – especially working with Roux, they have a licenced kitchen the equipment, and resources to help us get started. Really they are a food incubator and it is wonderful go through this experience with them.

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Brisket Bahn Mi

FGFS: Favourite place to eat in Hamilton?
MV: Memphis Grill in Winona – excellent tasting, large portions!

I was able to catch Meat Ventures in action at the Home and Garden show in Hamilton on March 2nd. They participated in a grilling competition put on by Chadwicks and Hacks. Despite BBQ competition happening in subzero temperatures, Meat Ventures came out on top in the freestyle portion of the competition where teams had to prepare an appetizer, a main course, and dessert. It was awesome to see such passion for food and dedication to creating unique dishes. The cooler temperatures outside meant paying close attention to the temperature and timing, as most competitions take place in the summer! Congrats Salar and Jeannie – you guys rocked it!

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Bacon in the process of becoming part of the Candy Bacon S’mores

Bonus points (from me) go to Pig Shot snack – “sausage and black pepper bacon shooter, filled with a mix of Dawson’s Jalapeno Garlic sauce, cheese mix, and brown sugar for a bit of sweetness”. 

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Pig Shot (left) and Poink Ball (right)

You do not want to wait until the sunshine of summer to get a taste of MeatVentures. Stop by the Roux Commissary Booth at the Food and Drink Festival in Hamilton on March 22, 2014 from 12:00-5:00pm to see MeatVentures. And, to get yourself a Pig Shot – you will not regret it.

MeatVentures can be found online:
Web
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

AwesTRUCK 2013 Brings Ontario its Biggest Food Truck Rally

Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, however this could not stop foodies nor food truck fans from trudging through the rain and mud at Fort York to attend AwesTRUCK 2013.  This planned to be Ontario’s largest food truck rally and many awards were to be handed out in several different categories including best new food truck, best design, etc.

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FGFS Does NYC Recap: Delicious Tales from the Big Apple + Interview with Alana Margaret

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New York is one of my favourite cities. My trip this August marked my fourth time to the Big Apple, and every time I go, I am kindly reminded that I should visit more often. It’s not that long of a trip, and it’s a new adventure every time. With each visit, I have become more acquainted with the city and make a point to visit the few places that have become my favourite. This time around was no different. I had a chance to stay for 2 weeks to explore and ultimately relax. Like other Fat Girl Food Squad ladies, I ate some dishes that I couldn’t keep to myself.

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Taco Rey De Oro

This was a gem that we stumbled along on our first trip to the city. One day after a long day of museum going and sight seeing, we walked down from the subway track and smelt the most delicious food cooking below. It was all coming from a food truck under the tracks. We waited through the small crowd, took our chances with some vegetarian tacos, and the rest is history. It’s underneath the subway track on the 7 line, 52nd St Station. They are only open from about 8pm onward if you are taking the trip. Their menu is small and cheaply priced, but the food is exceptional. In 10 minutes, you have unbelievably good food and a little park where you can eat your dinner.

We have gone back every single time.

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Momofuku Milk Bar

New York City is home to 5 Milk Bars. They had been on my wish list to visit since I grasped and flipped through the glossy pages of the Milk cookbook last summer. When I heard that the Momofuku Milk Bar opened a shop in Toronto, I was delighted. Of course I couldn’t wait, and I gave the Toronto location a taste before I headed to New York. The biggest difference between the Canadian shop and the New York locations was the soft serve ice cream. I spelt most of my money that was reserved for souvenirs on soft serve ice cream. Each shop has a unique atmosphere and different flavours of soft serve alongside the permanent cereal milk soft serve. For an extra sweet treat, add cereal crumble. I went to all of them, sometimes hauling my partner across town just for ice cream. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

Pie ‘N’ Thighs

We passed this one night on our way home from the subway. At first, I couldn’t help but laugh, their name was catchy. I jotted it down, looked up their menu online, and found myself in line ordering the very next morning. I really enjoyed had their chicken biscuit, which I had multiple times. They also had a selection of donuts which I grabbed for the plane ride home, solidifying their spot on my “must visit again” list.

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Pizza, Pizza, Pizza

pizza & garlic knots

No other words needed. If you travel to NYC, and don’t have pizza… I would like to know why you made the trip. NYC does the Margherita pizza like no other. I highly recommend an order of garlic knots. You won’t be disappointed.

Phin and Phebes

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As a longtime listener of Design*Sponge’s podcast “After the Jump”, I was thankful for their suggestion (and interview) with Crista and Jess, the creators of Phin and Phebes. Just as promised the ice cream flavours were unique and their packaging was very cute. The perfect cool down from the extreme humidity and crowded subways.

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Toby’s Coffeehouse and Alana (a NYC Pastry Chef)

I had the pleasure of meeting up with a internet friend – or is it e-friend – while I was in Brooklyn. I had been following Alana on twitter for some time now, and Alana had a host of suggestions of where we could meet up and we settled on Toby’s. Tucked away, off the bustling street of Bedford Toby’s was a non-stop blur of people coming and going, and home to the best latte I’ve ever had.

Originally from California, spent her school breaks and summer holidays in New York with her dad and family. Feeling comfortable and at home, Alana decided to take her culinary schooling and live and work there permanently. Alana is a Pastry Chef working with a catering company in NYC. She can be found “feeding the internets”, working for companies like Etsy and Buzzfeed – how cool is that? She also spends her time volunteering with kids, sharing with them her culinary skills like how to use a knife properly (one, I admittedly haven’t been able to nail down myself).

I learned so much about kitchen life and how difficult it can be to find someone you work well with. Communication and trust are key, especially when you are working on intricate and often delicate creations. “It is difficult to find a job in NYC, especially with people you work well with. When you are in a kitchen you spend a lot of your time with people in the kitchen, you aren’t interacting with guests. You see them the most, they are on the same schedule that you are. They understand your lifestyle. I am grateful to work where I do and with a partner who I work well with. We work through things and talk it out. If something doesn’t seem necessary in a recipe, we talk through our reasoning and why it is needed or why it isn’t. Cooking it both an art and science.”

The culinary world is much a place for creativity and art, as it is dedication and patience. It’s about being able to step out of comfort zone, trying new things, yet being able to execute a batch with speed and accuracy. It is laborious work that takes getting used to.

Alana: “When I meet people, they often say ‘You have my dream job’. It’s hard to respond to someone who says that. I think they have a misconception about what a Pastry Chef does. It’s not making one batch of chocolate chip cookies, it’s making 30 batches in a short window of time. It’s moving around 50lb bags of flour and sugar and doing it properly not to hurt yourself. It’s hard, physical work. I love that I have the ability to experiment and work through recipes I’ve never made before.”

You can find Alana online, where writes beautifully raw entries about homesickness, her kitten (who is missing) and other adventures on her blog.

Other highlights from my trip:

Going to tapings of The Daily Show with Jon Oliver and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, catching a couple Broadway plays (Kinky Boots & Book of Mormon), seeing a Tristan Perich performance at the MOMA, a trip to the Fales Library and Special Collections to view the Riot Grrrl Collection, the Grand St. Cat Gang, Brooklyn Brewery tour, and of course people watching on the subway.

Whew, what a trip! I can’t wait to go back soon. Fat Girl Food Squad Road Trip anyone?

Sweet Snow Shave Ice Bringing Delight to Heat Stroked Toronto

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On what would turn out to be the first day of Toronto’s first official Heat Advisory for 2013, the hometown Squad hoofed it over to the Sony Centre to try and beat the heat with a new ice treat food truck that’s cruising around town.

Sweet Snow Shave Ice‘s adorable truck was set up along with a handful of others offering lunch time eats to the Bay St. Boys and tourists alike. But this was something different. Bringing back from Hawaii the secret to a perfect chill, Sweet Snow has an authentic ice shaving machine, where ribbons are taken off a block with a razor sharp edge. This technique means that unlike ground sno-cones, the ice holds up. It can take on things like flavours made with fruit and organic cane sugar, and even condensed milk.

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Make your own flavor combinations (I had mango, passion fruit and guava) or you can have pre-thought up ones like the Blue Hawaii or Cotton Candy. Sugar Free options available and made with agave. Add adzuki beans and condensed milk for the true Hawaiian experience.

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You can find this little honey of a truck around town at various locations. The truck is booked solid until at least the 10th of August with private catering events, but be on the look out. You need to have one of these before Summer’s gone.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

Chilly Ribbons ain’t yo mamas frozen dessert!

Big bowl o' Chilly Ribbons

Big bowl o’ Chilly Ribbons

A new cool treat has hit the block in the middle of the Ontario heat-wave, straight from Asia and it ain’t yo’ mama’s shaved ice snow cone, frozen yogurt, or ice cream.  This here is called Chilly Ribbons and it’s bringing frozen desserts to a whole new level of awesome.

Na Tran is the owner and operator of the new Toronto mobile Chilly Ribbon’s kiosk.    When I asked her what exactly a Chilly Ribbon was she disclosed, “It’s a light and fluffy, frozen creamy treat that has approximately ¼ of the calories as a bowl of ice-cream or frozen yogurt. It’s made from fresh and flavourful exotic fruit puree like mango, strawberry, and coconut, and it is infused with the finest ingredients with no preservatives added.”

Chilly Ribbons is served up with a shaving technology that delivers long, flowing wafers of goodness.  Na tells me that, “It’s shaved off a fruit block so finely that it’s light and airy like snow.”  With that, Chilly Ribbons has the ability to serve up over 40 different flavours including: juicy mango, fresh strawberries, tangy lemon, and sweet Canadian maple. Na tells me that all of the flavours from Chilly Ribbons are 100% natural and made with real fresh fruit puree.

Chilly Ribbons mobile kiosk

Chilly Ribbons mobile kiosk

So with Toronto’s picky foodies lining up at food truck rallies across the city, I’ve asked Na what the reaction has been like so far and she told me that the feedback they have been getting is incredibly positive. “People gather around to watch the show.  Everyone is just in awe and taking pictures of the product being shaved. When they receive their serving, they want to take a picture with it because it looks so unique.  The real fun though comes with the first mouthful.”

So how exactly can you track down a Chilly Ribbons kiosk?  They will be at the following events in the coming weeks or track them via Twitter:

T&T Waterfront Night Market
July 19-21
202 Cherry Street

MEC Multicultural Event http://www.mecfest.com/
July 27-28
Scarborough, Ontario

Port Credit Busker Fest
August 16-18
Mississauga
158 Lakeshore Road East

RBC Student Appreciation Day
August 30
King and University intersection in Waterloo