Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette
The Koreatown storefront that until recently housed Tacos El Asador is famously tiny: For years, patrons sat shoulder to shoulder, downing al pastor tacos at picnic tables wedged together in the cramped corner unit.
Now, 690 Bloor West is the new home of chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette, who’s got very, very big plans for that very, very small room.
On the day I visit, a week or so ahead of NishDish Marketeria & Catering’s grand opening, the exterior is being painted with a beautiful mural of a birch forest.
Inside the shop, where the riotous reds and yellows of the El Asador space have been replaced by a soothing new-leaf green, the chef gives me a quick tour, rattling off the projects he has planned for the space.
There’s NishDish’s catering operation, which has been going strong for 12 years. (Even as the restaurant was being finished around them, Whiteduck Ringuette and his crew were cranking out 250-strong catering orders for the likes of the Canadian Opera Company.)
Then there’s the onsite miniature market of First Nations, Metis and Inuit handmade goods – beaded jewellery and art, maple syrup from an Ojibway-owned company, Mohawk roasted coffee. An opposite wall will have NishDish soups, stews and other products available to go.
There’s the youth mentorship program he’s starting with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto down the block, teaching Native youth culinary and small business skills (they’re culling 30 “amazing” applications down to 10). Among the projects the mentees will be helping with: an herb and traditional medicines garden in Christie Pits, and a Three Sisters garden (corn, squash and beans, staple crops traditionally grown together) at Ashbridge Estate.
There are also the cooking classes, the monthly art exhibits and the workshops featuring community elders and storytellers.
In short, he says, “People are calling it a restaurant – but it’s not, really.”
photo credit – Natalia Manzocco