For those who need a bridge between St. Patrick's Day and May Two-Four for a good party, Cinco de Mayo offers the perfect fix. And with all the Mexican places in the city, there is plenty of choice. Milagro, which has been around well before the cuisine became trendy, is offering $5.50 pints of Dos Equis. And Valdez is breaking their "no taco" rule with their first and last taco day of the year, alongside some Margarita Monday fun. But, tonight, the most notable celebration is at Drake One Fifty, where guest chef Donnie Masterton (The Restaurant, San Miguel de Allende) will be wowing guests with an authentically Mexican meal for a not-so-authentic Mexican holiday. Eater caught up the American expat to get a peek at the menu, his first impressions of Toronto, and find out why it's a great time to be a chef in Mexico.
What does Cinco de Mayo mean to you?
Growing up in the states, in L.A., Cinco de Mayo is a festive day for people to get together and drink cervezas and margaritas. In Mexico it's not really celebrated as a holiday. There are tons of other holidays that are celebrated and I guess they're more important to the history and culture of Mexico but it's more of a North American holiday. I don't know who created it - maybe Jose Cuervo or Corona decided to make it a holiday. There was a battle between the French and Mexico and Mexico won that battle but eventually lost the overall war. It's really not a big holiday in San Miguel; there are places that do it in the border towns.
How did this dinner come about?
I had met Jeff (Stober) - the owner of the Drake - he came to dinner at The Restaurant in San Miguel and we got talking about Canada and the Drake and how I should come up and do a dinner. He said: "You should come in May - the spring; it's really nice. And I was like, "Oh, that's great, because it slows down in San Miguel, it gets really hot. That'll be perfect, I'll come up and enjoy the spring." But I guess we gotta a little snafu here (with the weather).
Have you been to Toronto before?
No, this is my first time here, actually. I'm really excited to be here. I've actually been following the career of Susur Lee for a long time. I went to Bent and liked their tapas style (menu) – they have a good beef carpaccio and an excellent cocktail program.
What do you think of the city?
We're staying at the Drake so we walked down Queen Street. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco and The Mission area and what downtown L.A. is becoming; small businesses, young chefs. It felt really comfortable.
How are you feeling about this dinner?
Apparently the dinner is sold out at 220 reservations, so we have a big prep ahead of us. And there's a lot people excited about the event – there's actually a lot of Canadians that come down to San Miguel in Mexico so we got quite a bit of people that called and said, "Oh we've been to The Restaurant in San Miguel and we're really excited to come in." Originally we were going to do my menu – which is about seven dishes – and then the regular menu. But the response has been so good that we're just doing my menu for the dinner, which is great.
Are there any dishes you're particularly excited about preparing?
The tuna tostada is really nice – it's really vibrant and fresh, one of the signature dishes at The Restaurant. And the braised short ribs (with) ancho chili and coffee – that and the pork (carnitas) are going to be great for the weather you guys are still having.
What's next up for you?
There's an event at the end of May called Mesamerica, which is a three-day symposium with different chefs. I have a couple of friends from New York who are coming down to do a dinner at Pujol, which is Enrique Olvera's restaurant in Mexico City and they invited me to do a course with them – it's an anniversary dinner for Pujol. And on June 13, 14, and 15 we're doing a food festival in San Miguel where we invite 30 different restaurants and vendors and we have talks, demos, live music, DJs - and the vendors sell food. It's really fun. It's going to be a busy summer. — Nelson Tam