Chef brings Caribbean fare to city streets

By RON FANFAIR

Bridgette Pinder has come a long way in a short time. She recalled leaving the first meeting a few months ago for vendors interested in the City of Toronto’s pilot street food program thinking there wasn’t a chance she could fulfill the requirements, much less pose a serious bid to acquire a hot spot in the city to showcase her ethnic Caribfusion jerk chicken.

Upon giving deep thought to the 45-page application, which was demanding and intimidating, Pinder realized that her creation – a jerk chicken fajita served with mango salad and grilled pineapple with cinnamon sugar – was marketable.

She was right.

Pinder was one of eight vendors selected to participate in the Toronto a la Cart program and she will begin serving her Caribbean flavoured delicacy in mid-May at the intersection of Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave.

“I have to be honest by saying I was discouraged after I left the initial meeting with this extensive application,” said Pinder, who left Guyana 30 years ago for England before coming to Canada. “For a few moments, I didn’t think I could do it. But then I remembered this is something I wanted to do and that most things in life you are seeking is obtained through hard work. That is a quality I am familiar with.”

Pinder said she decided to showcase her jerk product because it was the clients’ favourite at a downtown Toronto residence she worked at for five years.

“There was something about this dish that they all liked,” she said. “Of all the food I prepared, this one received the most praise and everybody looked forward to the day this would be served.”

If Pinder thought that being selected for the program was going to be difficult, she’s now discovering the challenges of owning a business.

She had to come up with $32,000 for the new cart chosen by the city, a $5,000 location fee, $3,000 for a trailer to pull the cart, and other ancillary costs.

“I would say it’s costing me close to $45,000, which is money I did not have,” Pinder, a mother of four whose ages range from 30 to 11, said. “The banks were not helpful to a small business person like me, so I had to turn to my daughter and other relatives and friends for financial support. They believed in me and were willing to take that chance. They are the wind beneath my wings.

“I had to tell my youngest son last March break that I did not have money to send him anywhere and I also had to put up my house for sale. I am going to rent. This, for me, is a massive investment that comes with risk …. I am, however, up for the challenge because I know I have a product that is healthy, delicious, nutritional and well balanced and it will cost no more than $5.”

Pinder and the other finalists chose from the 13 spots identified by the city and received their preferences based on scores on their applications. She was not among those who were unhappy with the location they were assigned.

“Not everybody could be in the downtown prime spots like Nathan Phillips Square or Metro Hall,” she said. “There is a lot of diversity in the area (where) I am located since there is a cosmopolitan group of people working there and there are lots of offices and a subway station in the vicinity. I am not worried about the location (where) I will be from the middle of May to around November.”

To get the business project off the ground, Pinder has already assembled a capable team of family and friends that include Pattie World proprietor, Linford Robinson, whose kitchen she will use to prepare her dish six days a week.

Pinder and the rest of the vendors passed a tough competition that included rigorous nutrition, food safety, environmental and legal components as well as food tasting by prominent local chefs.

Toronto Board of Health chair, John Filion, said the food program launch marks an important milestone in the city’s cultural history.

“The individuals selected and the foods they will be serving reflect the depth and breadth of Toronto’s remarkable diversity,” he said. “These vendors can also help change our food culture by demonstrating that fast food can be healthy, interesting and personal.”

Other vendors will be at Mel Lastman Square, Queen’s Park, Roundhouse Park and at the Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave intersection.

Pinder intends to use this initiative as a stepping stone to peddle her jerk chicken and other Caribbean specialty dishes at Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

“What a beautiful way of welcoming travelers and saying goodbye to them than by highlighting our diversity which includes our food,” she said. “My hope is that one day I would be able to move inside one of the terminals to do the same thing I will be doing on a city street.”

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