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INTERVIEW: RYAN HINKSON SHOWS ME HOW TO “EAT FAMOUS” IN TORONTO!

I’m a huge San Antonio Spurs fan so when I got word they were trading my favorite player Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors I literally debated going to San Antonio armed with my wittiest puns and picket signs. But after a few months of getting over it I decided I’m going to embrace it a little and start watching Raptor games. I’m pretty sure this is where I got it in my head to go check out the city “The Claw” now calls home.

My next thought was oh shit I haven’t been to Toronto since I was a kid and I’m not even sure where to start. Toronto’s food scene is by far one of the most unique on the planet. The mix of cultures and loving Canadian spirit has allowed Toronto to flourish into a foodies’ dream. So if I was going to be spending time there, I’d need the ultimate guide to take me around and show me the lay of the land. Good thing I knew exactly who to call to take e on this food journey, the owner of the Eat Famous food blog Ryan Hinkson. The EatFamous instagram account will have you drooling as Ryan shares culinary delights at the dopest spots in Toronto. With well over 250k followers EatFamous has become one of Canada’s biggest food blogs. Ryan graciously met me on a very rainy day in Toronto to take me around with him and he dig into Toronto food culture. Our first stop on the tour was the White Lily Diner

Hey Ryan! Thank you for taking on this food tour you made some great restaurant picks.

Glad to do man. I’ve been following your work for a while and I know you eat GOOD so I could not have you down here and not make sure that you don’t love it.

So how did you get into food blogging?

What’s wild is, prior to setting up my personal (@ryhanks) Instagram and (shortly after) the @EatFamous account, I never was even on social media like that. No Facebook or Twitter. I did however used to write for trendhunter.com/ryhinkson and that’s actually what prompted my friend Terry Diaram to approach me regarding a business idea he had that revolved around restaurants. That kick started my journey into food blogging.

Is Eat Famous your full time job? If not what do you do full-time?

No it’s actually not my full-time gig but it sure functions like a 9 to 5, except for the hours aren’t 9 to 5. I also work for the world’s most recognizable brand. Can I leave it at that? Haha. 

Have you worked in any other fields in the food industry?

Yes sir. My first job back in high school was at Taco Bell. Started from the bottom now I’m here. 

Do you cook and if so who taught you?

I’m going to be really honest. I think I’m a really good cook. But with all the eating out I have to do, I rarely get to flex my skills in the kitchen, aside from making smoothies. I love cooking, especially for my family but my schedule is crazy. As far as who taught me, I have to give it up to Moms. But I was raised in a house of great cooks. My dad and sister can also really throw down. 

Having parents from the Caribbean usually means your eat the food of your homeland all the time was it like that in your house?

Yes sir it does. It’s crazy cuz as kids growing up in a predominantly white country, you some times push aside the things that make your culture great so that you can connect with or be accepted by the dominant culture. I remember being obsessed with McDonald’s or fast food at a young age because it’s what I saw as fitting in. Kids in the cafe weren’t asking me for any of my rice and peas. The folks from the Racist Sandwich Podcast actually did a couple of Toronto episodes and I was lucky enough to be a guest on one of them. We unpacked a lot of what goes on with the children of immigrants as it relates to food. Thankfully I grew out of that. Because West Indian food is what I crave the most. 

Toronto has such a strong Caribbean influence. Do you think it’s represented well in Toronto’s food scene? 

We have so many incredible cooks from the Caribbean here and I’m not just talking about moms and grannies in home kitchen. There is however I’d say a lack of investment and support behind West Indian establishment in comparison to “Canadian” restaurants or even those owned or operated by other non-blacks individuals.

Tell me about some of the food tours you’ve hosted abroad.

So the best thing that has come with the success of EatFamous has definitely been the ability to travel. Just last year I was invited to Barbados to cover their Food and Rum Festival. That was very special because Barbados is where my parents immigrated from. So it was like all of their hard work and sacrifice coming full circle. I’ve also had the opportunity to act as host on food tours throughout Spain, Italy and France. Getting to see the world off the strength of being able to take a bomb ass burger photo is pretty dope. 

What foodie cities are on your bucket list? 

Man, they range from near and far. So closer to home here in Canada, I want to go to the east coast for fresh seafood in Halifax. States side I want to visit Austin, New Orleans. Okinawa, Kobe, Mykonos, Bangkok, Tangiers, Nairobi, should I go on? Also surprisingly based off of a few of favorite Instagram accounts I really want to eat in London and all across Australia (they have the wildest burger man). Also I’ve been to Florence before but I want to go back for more. 

Tell me a little about the restaurants you brought me to today.

So first up we have White Lily Diner. I decided to get adventurous and bring you to some favorite and to spots I’d actually never been to before. Usually I only bring visitors to spots I know and love but my good friend Chef Kellen Crumb [executive sous chef at the Scotia Bank Arena where my beloved Raptors play] recommended White Lily so I knew I could trust it. As it is in NYC, brunch here in Toronto is a “thing”, which often means lining up for a meal that may not be completely worth it. So I’m very hesitant to hit a popular brunch spot unless some I trust can vouch. 

Next up was, Descendant Detroit Style Pizza. My absolute favorite restaurant in the city! For the uninformed, Detroit Style Pizza is a thick but light and airy pie, cooked in a square style pan. A magical caramelized cheese crust forms around the edges and I touch the sky every time I have it. The menu boasts some of the most expertly put together flavor combinations you’ll ever seen. And (the owner) Chris Getchell is relentless about his commitment to perfection. There’s no one who visits Toronto that I don’t take or send to Descendant. 

Then we hit Beachhill Smokehouse. The second spot that was a new experience for me as well. I’d actually been meaning to come here for a while so when you mentioned you wanted to be sure to visit some spots with black chef’s/owners I thought of Beachhill right away. So Canada isn’t well known for BBQ. So immediately when I heard two cousins [one from Texas the bbq Mecca of the world] set up shop here I was really excited. I mentioned before that I feel like black owned restaurants don’t always get the support I feel like a lot of them deserve but from what I see and hear, people around here seem to be really embracing Beachhill and they should. The food was incredible [I’m still dreaming about that Banana pudding] and Terrance and Darien and two of the coolest most down-to-earth brothers I’ve ever met. 

Last was Patois. I feel like Patois is as Toronto as a restaurant can get. Run by Craig Wong, a Chinese Jamaican, trained classically in France. Patois fuses the flavors and ingredients of China and Jamaica in a fun, current yet time honored way. There’s a vibe here, hip hop and reggae influence the sounds and feel which perfectly compliment the food. We ate a lot of food here and it was because, there’s not a lot you can ignore on this menu. I mean they have Jerk Lobster and Double Down Jamaican Beef Patties. 

Your a big Raptors fan right? 

Huge Raptors fan. I may shouldn’t admit this during an interview about EatFamous but I love the Raps more than I love food. I’ve straight up been a fan since they first took the court in 1995. There been a lot of heartbreak but this year feels special. Come April I literally plan my life around their playoff schedule. I’ve turned down a lot of tastings at great restaurants if the Raps are on at the second time. 

I’ve seen you eating some amazing food at Scotiabank Arena – not your typical ballgame eats. Tell me about restaurants in the arena.

So what the team -I’m talking about the off-the-court culinary team- at the arena has done is incredible. It’s run by Executive Chef Chris Zielinski and Executive Sous Kellen Crumb [Kellen made the White Lily recommendation]. They’ve really created spaces that are giving fans an entirely new way to enjoy sports. Don’t get me wrong I’ve got nothing but love for hotdogs and nachos but it’s so dope to watch a game while dinning on Lobster Mac and Cheese or Tuna Tartare. The Scotia Club, where you can often find me, provides a great mix of premium food offerings and elevated versions of classic fan food like Burgers and Wings. The Arena is also home to our NHL team and they have separate menus for the Leafs and the Raptors, which let’s you know they really have the fans in mind. They also have a steakhouse called Hot Stove headed up by a talented young chef named John Carty that can rival any of the top spots in the city. It feels so good to be able to support the Raps and have that love extend past simply watching the then leaving the building. 

Haha. You trying to Google your boy huh!!! They used to call me RyKnow

What’s your favorite Toronto food. Something you couldn’t live without. And what restaurant does it best?

So I think there’s a consensus amongst people in Toronto’s food scene that we do not have a Toronto food. Like there are definitely foods and things associated with Canada as a whole, like Poutine. But as far as one food that everyone could area represents the city. I don’t think we have that but it not a bad thing. The thing that makes Toronto such a fresh and different place is undoubtedly our diversity. There are too many different voices, influences and flavors that demand attention here to have one defining dish. But anyone reading can always DM me for a list of my favorite spots lol. 

You used to rap what was your rap name?

Haha. You trying to Google your boy huh!!! They used to call me RyKnow

Who were your favorite rappers growing up?

B.I.G, Jay and Nas were the pinnacle of everything that I wanted to be musically and just as a dude growing up. My earliest influences were A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. But I can’t list favorites without also mentioning Snoop, Andre 3000 and the Wu. I’m a lyrics guy so dudes like Lord Finesse, Common, Ras Kas, Black Thought, Scarface, Mos Def also helped craft my approach to writing.

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