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We didn't have to go through the permits to use the oven as we were issued a license for five years. There were negotiations with the City and our group with the annual fee and Toronto Food Strategy played a key role in navigating this. My deputation for Tandoor at City hall was to get a fee waiver for our volunteer group. I had been in touch with the City to renew our license that expired last year.
We only operate the oven during our market season May-Sept (15 weeks). There is no signage for the oven. I have been requesting a sign from the City for the past three years but it's still pending.
What is Tandoor? An enhanced cooking fire
It is an open air cooking device traditionally used in many cultures ranging from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. In a tall clay pot with a fire at the bottom, insulated to keep the heat in, various foods such as bread, grilled/roasted meat and vegetables are made.
The tandoor oven was installed at R.V.Burgess Park in 2013 and first used regularly in 2014.
Here is a short Youtube video showing naan bread being made at the park in September 2014.
Anna Hill from Together Project came by to pick up some sweets for tomorrow's picnic at Dufferin Grove Park. There will be Syrian families coming to meet with their friends. The next day Anna sent some pictures of the picnic.
Yo Utano, who carried out the CELOS guest baker project in 2010 and 2011, moved back to her home in Japan three years ago. In order to do a follow-up on public ovens in Toronto, CELOS was able to bring Yo back for three weeks in October. On a chilly Friday in early October, our friends from the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee lit the fire in their park tandoor and had a show-and-tell bake session with us. Our friends are: Zakia Rasa, Sabina Ali, and Asiya Sohail. They brought another cook as well.
The tandoor is used for three hours at the beginning of every summertime market bazaar. This year was unusual, because R.V.Burgess Park was one of the showplace locations for Pan Am Games visitors. A giant screen was erected for people to watch different events, there were performances, and visitors came from all over the world to take tours of city destinations like this one, in between games. So some of the long-term problems with oven programming connected with the tandoor receded into the background. But these problems haven't gone away. Unlike at Dufferin Grove Park and Edithvale Park, the city's Recreation staff don't carry out oven programs, nor do they help volunteers do them. There is no budget for materials (flour, oil, charcoal) nor for staff support. Considering how much city staff rely on the tandoor to show their willingness to broaden their programs for different cultures, they need to find a way to help more.
The women's committee has only a small overcrowded shed to store all their materials -- not enough room to add another table or any food trolleys for the tandoor area.
2011 - The Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee first made plans to locate a tandoor oven in RV Burgess Park, for use during community events such as their summer bazaars and fresh food markets.
Summer 2010 Thorncliffe Park Womens Committee (TPWC) made a tandoor with clay in a barrel. The first one broke while being made. The second attempt was a success, and bread and chicken were made.
4/24/2011 Meeting at Amy's. Amy, Sabina, Asya, Zakia, Jutta, Mayssan, Pia, Yo. Tandoor proposal planned.
5/4/2011 meeting at TNO. TPWC, CELOS, Dave Harvey (Park People), Lauren Baker, Seodhna Keown (Food Strategy). Tandoor proposal was presented to the Food Strategy (Tandoor Oven Proposal)
5/9/2011 Food Strategy deputation. (Riverdale oven and deputation)
5/26/2011 Fresh Food Markets Grant submitted (Fresh Food Markets Grant Application).
5/27/2011 Bazaar restarted for the summer
5/30/2011 Roger Macklin came by to Dufferin to chat
6/6/2011 Meeting with Roger Macklin on possible site (Meeting at the tandoor site with Roger Macklin) It was decided that the city would fully fund the building of the tandoor.
6/30/2011 Mainra traders sends a note that their tandoor stock is low and an order should be made soon. No word from Roger yet.
7/9/2011 3rd cooking fire.
7/17/2011 check the portable tandoor in little india
7/29/2011 “Flavours of Thorncliffe”
8/19, 20, 26/2011 Eid Bazaar
9/2/2011 last word from Roger (the last word from Roger Macklin)
9/15/2011 New oven policy goes to the Parks Committee (1) Deferred. To be reconsidered at the next meeting on 10/11 (on the bake oven policy)
9/24/2011 Portable tandoor event
9/29/2011 Bake oven policy meeting at Dufferin. Diane Stevenson, Amanda, Wendy.
10/11/2011 Parks Committee meeting. Bake oven policy is deferred again until the November 22 meeting.
10/29/2011 Eid Bazaar at R. V. Burgess Park.
11/1/2011 Bake oven briefing at City Hall (organized by Ana Bailao) A video was shown, Jutta spoke and answered questions on oven users' concerns with the policy, and an alternative to the policy was handed out: (A proposed oven policy for the Nov 1 meeting, for comparison)
11/9/2011 Meeting with the Food Strategy members at TNO. Barbara Emanuel, Seodnha Keown, Ayal (Sorauren Park), TPWC, CELOS.
11/17/2011 Meeting with Mary Margaret
Discussion among the various friends of bake ovens followed, with the following results: (bake oven discussion and amendments4) (Dave Harvey on the bake oven policy and tandoor lease agreement)
11/22/2011 Parks Committee meeting. Deputations by Jutta, Videographer showed the video made for Nov.1, and Ayal (couldn't make it). (Jutta's deputation)
Then a long time of back and forth or (mostly) silence.
Follow the progress of the tandoor oven project on the pages below:
On March 15, five of us went to Oakville to have a look at the tandoor ovens manufactures by Mainra Traders. The owner was very nice and showed us all the details for the tandoors he manufactures in India. The ceramic inside is covered by a steel box; the whole thing, he says, weighs about 700 lbs. The price would be about $1600 plus HST. The tandoor uses charcoal.
View the full Tandoori oven proposal
Report by guest baker Yo Utano.
Campfire Cooking with a Tawa
Tawa (or Tava) is an iron pan that is upside-down wok shape and it goes over fire or coal to cook roti, the flat bread. It's used widely in Asia where many of Thorncliffe residents come from.
Mayssan and Jutta had found one in Little India on Gerrard Street, and we thought of having a little fire with members of Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee (TPWC) to learn how to use it. Then Jutta thought we should do it at RV Burgess Park instead of Dufferin Grove, as a preview of the community bazaar. But then things became less simple than a friends' gathering. TPWC had already been permitted to have six fires for the season, but they were told to give six weeks notice for any additional request. This wouldn’t work, so they asked again and the Recreation supervisor arranged for the gathering to be a Recreation program, meaning it didn’t need such a long lead-up. But he said no food could be served without Public Health approval. So we went back to the starting point, saying that it was a picnic with a cooking fire where friends would get together to make food (thus not under the Public Health regulation), but since we would be in public space, anyone was welcome to watch.
This would have been enough, but the Recreation supervisor got an approval from Public Health anyways, and it became a public event. The back and forth took two weeks while Sabina of the TPWC, Mayssan and Jutta talked to the city officials. Phew, that was hopefully good practice for the city staff as well.
So I packed several kilos of flour along with yeast and oil, also enough lentils to make a pot full of dhal to go with the bread. We met Zakia, our leading cook of the day, at the community centre. In the new but tiny Recreation Centre kitchen she made a simple dough just with flour, salt, yeast and water (some people include oil, Zakia said) while I chopped onions for dhal.
When we came out to the fire site, everything was ready. But we had to wait for the Recreation staff to bring a fire extinguisher and strike the match. In the meantime, I started the charcoal cooker I had brought. I use this cooker called shichirin every day back home. It is an intelligently designed low-tech device that becomes quite powerful because of a good airflow underneath the coal. Today's fuel is the embers I had been saving from the ovens on our baking day at Dufferin. How satisfying to use by-product!
It started to rain lightly, but Zakia went ahead and had kids roll out the dough. A handful of flour was sprinkled on the tawa to test if it was hot enough, and the first one went on. When the edge curled up, Zakia pressed it with a towel to cook it well, flipped it, and a minute later it was done. Sabina, who is from India, thought the first one was a bit too thick, and decided to use it as a display as she didn't want people to think of it as real roti. Soon, everyone wanted to make it. The hot tawa cooked roti one after another, sometimes two at once.
We tore them into pieces, put dhal and sauteed onion on top and had people sample them. It was so delicious. Sabina was right, I liked the thin part as it was crispy, different crispiness than fried stuff as it took no oil. But the display roti was also torn to feed the growing crowd.
Rain had stopped, and Zakia continued to cook roti in the streaming sunlight. People rolled out the dough, watched them cook on the tawa, ate them while talking to each other. One boy was very proud that he had made roti, and intended to bring it home to show his mom until it went into his stomach five minutes later. A girl, another TPWC member's daughter, was helping serve samples for the whole time even though she herself was gluten intolerant.
I had also brought some biscuit dough to cook in the Dutch oven, but there was not enough coal or space to cook them for everyone. A few people had it.
Towards the end, Mayssan took over the tawa position as Zakia went off to make stuffed roti with spicy mashed potato filling she had made, which was fried in a pan with oil. When all the roti was cooked and the crowd had dispersed, we ate the special stuffed bread to treat ourselves after a big job.
This was my first experience in this park. I had heard the park was used so much since it was almost the only outdoor green space in the densely populated neighbourhood. It is also one of the neglected parks, as shown in the case of playground that had been taken down without a replacement. TPWC has been working to draw politicians' eyes to the practical need of the residents, and has achieved much improvement. Today, it looked just lively with many families, people in beautiful saris or other traditional clothing. Next week the community bazaar starts, and a tandoor will come soon. The park is just going to get better.
Summer 2013: Thorncliffe Neighbourhood office signed the legal document allowing the tandoor to be installed.