Written by Andrew Seale

Few things encapsulate Toronto’s identity quite like food. It’s a universal language that spills out in a diversity of dialects – not just home-cooked meals from countries all over the world, but varying regional nuances and forgotten dishes from places that have since become unrecognizable.

All these culinary dialects come together in Toronto, contributing to an evolving restaurant scene that’s captured international attention. But that growth risks being stunted by a lack of commercial kitchen spaces for innovative culinary minds to explore, explains Maryam Nizam, a freelance baker and entrepreneur.

“Reality TV has given voice to the home chef, now everybody feels like it’s very accessible and in their hands,” she says. But where do they go to test their concepts? It’s a question Nizam and Mellie Chow, a technologist and digital marketer, asked themselves while attending the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program at York University.

As they moved through the venture design component of their course, they’d developed concepts for emerging industries like health-tech and 3D printing, but it was a conversation surrounding their shared love of food (Chow loved hosting experiential food events, including one for her EMBA class) that put them onto the challenges facing Toronto’s growing league of food entrepreneurs.

“Lots of these existing commercial kitchens are in the suburbs and they're not close enough to where a food entrepreneur would sell or market their products which is typically farmers markets and food festivals downtown,” explains Chow.

The duo realized there was an opportunity to help food entrepreneurs find space to cook. So they launched The Revolving Kitchen, a digital marketplace connecting kitchen seekers and kitchen owners.

“The restaurant in itself is changing – we would be the platform to enable the change, that concept of the virtual kitchen,” says Chow.

On the one hand, the food entrepreneurs get a commercially certified space to create saleable foods, while the kitchen owners can generate revenues when their business is closed.

“We want to remove (the) obstacles,” adds Nizam.

Currently a digital platform is in the works but in the meantime, The Revolving Kitchen is functioning more like a concierge. They plan to have one commercial kitchen in every neighbourhood covering the more than 16,650 establishments serving food in Toronto.

“Toronto is the perfect starting market for this type of concept – high disposable incomes, we are the economic capital of Canada, we're fairly densely populated, and there’s huge diversity,” says Chow. Not to mention the growing number of food-tech startups and scale-up companies with a footprint in the city like Ritual, Uber Eats, and Foodora. 

And it’s not just on the consumer side – Toronto restaurants are also introducing technology (albeit slowly, admits Chow) through services like Just Eat and booking platforms like OpenTable and Bookenda. “The restaurant experience is shifting – (there are) way more food trucks and less-structured dining experiences with popups.”

It’s time the infrastructure follows suit.

“People aren't looking for chains and brand names, they’re looking to try that hole in the wall that's got that great food idea,” says Nizam. “The need to have easy but good food accessible is growing.”

Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)