WRITTEN BY JANET DAVIES.
When Melissa Cannons brought her husband to Prince Edward County, she brought us a gift of diversity. Mel and Paul Tobias cook authentic, adventurous ethnic dishes that a lot of us yearn for. Melissa’s mum was born in Wellington, so she had roots here and she and Paul had visited many times. But they had never seen an opportunity to move here. Three years ago, that changed. Their daughter was just four months old when Paul got a job offer from The Drake Devonshire. “We’d wanted to leave the city for years and knew The County was the kind of place we could raise a family.”
Paul is from the Philippines and came to Canada when he was 12. He lived in Scarborough and met Melissa in Toronto. “I met her cooking, and we are still at it,” he laughs. He worked for Chef Marc Thuet for 2 years and later with Chef David Lee which was a big influence in his career. “I also worked for Peller Estates,” he says. “We went because we wanted to try out a rural, seasonal place. But Niagara didn’t really make sense to me, not when Melissa is from The County.” Later they lived in the Philippines for a year before coming home to start a family, and that offer from The Drake came right on time. “I became sous chef there, and it was a great time. I went on to be chef at The Agrarian for a year and a half, and then we struck out on our own to do what we dreamed of. We’re setting up a catering company to cook for people and events on our own terms. Right now we’re getting ready, prepping for Spring, promoting ourselves and getting a facility ready. We call our company Idle Wild.”
Idle Wild will do private catering for 8 to 30 people. It’s already doing popular pop-ups at The Brake Room, Prince Eddy’s , 555, and Midtown Brewery, and this Summer they catered the Sandbanks Music Festival and the first ever craft beer festival (Homegrown) which was great.”
WHAT IS A POP-UP?
“There’s a whole community of people doing pop-up catering nowadays. From food stands at Wellington Market on Saturdays to pop-up events every Tuesday at Midtown Brewery,” says Paul. “Cooks take turns. You go in and take over the kitchen and cook what YOU want, serve your own specialties. We saw the need for Asian food in The County. Maybe I should say the demand, but it feels like a need when you really want it! So at Midtown we do all sorts of Asian food, dumplings and dim sum, Asian menu, Asian service. People from the city are missing their dim sum,” he laughs. “And a lot more people are trying it for the first time. We don’t just do Asian. We offer all kinds of ethnic food. Whatever we feel like doing. That’s what I love about Idle Wild, we can change it up with whatever is fresh and available. We are ethnic and local. That’s kind of our motto.”
ABOUT THE FOOD.
“Okay,” he says, with relish. “How about siopao? Like a steamed bun made with braised pork and sauce and Korean spices that is a staple on the menu. And beautiful spring rolls! Something as simple as a pork spring roll done right is a great introduction to people unfamiliar with ethnic cooking, and japchae, that’s a Korean sweet potato noodle, like a glass noodle. It’s vegan and gluten-free, which has a lot of appeal here in The County!”
“We don’t have our own base, no big fancy place yet,” he says candidly. “We use Midtown’s kitchen and sometimes The Legion which is a great kitchen. I can be on my own and really get things done. You pay a fee and feel like you are contributing to the community. It’s getting involved and I like that. People who go to the Legion stop in and see what I’m doing and try stuff. That’s good, because we are living here now and not going anywhere in a hurry. It is cool meeting my wife’s family and friends from different generations. We are different, but they are accepting and interested and can see we’re working hard. They seem to approve of us bringing some new ethnicity here.
Ten years ago I could not have found a job in The County. The Drake has been like a stepping stone for a lot of people especially in the food industry. You see the results in places like Wellington Market which only had about five vendors when I first came. Check it out now! Packed with vendors and customers, people out for a Saturday stroll. It feels like the essence of The County.
THEN & NOW IN THE COUNTY
“I’ve been coming here since I met Melissa, 11 years ago. I remember one Maple in the County, eating pancakes and sausages and maple syrup in a tent. It was beautiful. And I thought I want to raise my kids here.” For Melissa’s generation it was all about getting out, leaving The County for the city to find work. “She didn’t know if she could ever come back,” says Paul. “But now people like us can come back if they want to be a small farmer, a chef, a brewer, winemaker – or want to work with those kinds of people. Maybe kids won’t even have to leave. They can stay on the farm. It seems like that way of life is coming back. I don’t know a lot about old school farming, I know it’s hard to make a living, but there is demand for specialized farming now. Niche stuff. And I say thank God people are more interested in farmers today.”
THREE YEARS ON.
“We knew it would grow. We knew it would get busier, but we never thought it would happen so fast. Our little catering operation and the price of houses in Wellington these days, it does not add up for us. So we rent. But we are patient. We’ll survive and see what happens, try to build our lives here. We’ll get this business started and go from there. There’s a lot of support here, a community of chefs and food workers. Neil Dawson, the chef at Hinterland recommended me to The Agrarian. It’s that tight community, something we love about this place. We are thinking creatively about how to do pop-up stuff. Renting kitchens can be expensive and they are not always available. We’re thinking about converting a shipping container into a mobile unit or purchasing a food trailer thats ready to go. It’s a big issue these days with potential for people who need space whether for living or commercial. But we’ll work with The County on that, find out all the regulations and permits. Times are changing and we are happy to be part of the change.
The good news is there really is big demand for ethnic foods. Maybe not a big fancy restaurant, but definitely pop-up events and food booths. When we are more firmly on our feet we will take it further, maybe find some land to create our own space, and our own kitchen. We’re here for the long run. Because we belong here.
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.