Adrian Forte believes, "in order to know where we are going we must remember where we have come from.”
He not only believes that to be true; he’s bringing that concept to life at Forte Foodhall, a recently-opened commissary kitchen with five virtual restaurant concepts. Through the Toronto Foodhall and its diverse menu offerings, the contemporary Canadian chef hopes to shine a spotlight on food from his native Jamaica and other often-overlooked cuisines.
“I like to take vibrant ethnic ingredients and cooking techniques and make them approachable by giving them a familiar vessel, such as a burger. In making a jerk chicken burger or Ethiopian vegan tacos, suddenly these awesome less-familiar dishes become more appealing,” Adrian says.
Growing up in Jamaica, Adrian moved to New York City at the age of 12. Two years later, after his grandma passed away from cancer, he moved to Canada to live with his father.
Cooking was a way to tip a hat to his grandma—one of his biggest personal influences—who was a chef at Adrian’s school cafeteria back in Jamaica.
“Some of my fondest memories growing up in Jamaica and in New York City were of Sunday night dinners she’d cook for the family,” he says, explaining that it had a magical quality of bringing the family together (or back together). “No matter the issues within the family, all drama was forgotten on Sundays. I wanted to share that feeling with the general public.”
Adrian comes to his passion for fusion cuisine (or, as he prefers to describe it “an amalgamation of different cuisines”) honestly. Having lived in Venezuela for 10 years, his grandma would often blend Venezuelan dishes with a Jamaican feel. At first, he was confused by her arepas, a traditional Venezuelan recipe, made with salted cod, a common Jamaican ingredient.
“There were so many things I didn’t understand as a child about her cooking. As an adult, I now understand that she was doing fusion before it was really fusion,” he says.
That salted cod now appears in some Forte Foodhall menu items as a way to pay homage to their family’s African American roots.
“Salted cod is not native to the Caribbean; it’s history is tied to colonialism and even slavery. Europeans had to find a way to preserve seafood during their travels to the area to colonize it,” he says.
Jerk chicken, a featured ingredient in Coco B’s Lickin’ Chicken Sandwich, ties back to runaway slaves.
“They didn’t want to giveaway their hiding spot, so instead of using a fire they would smoke their meats,” Adrian says.
At Forte Foodhall, he’s linking this history to his now-Canadian experience.
“I’m patriotic; the country provides a lot of opportunities. Immigrants who move to Canada still have a sense of identity. You don’t just become Canadian you still have your own heritage and culture,” he says.
With that in mind, Adrian has developed twists on Canadian classics, including poutine. Instead of gravy and cheese curds, Mexhichino’s Chino Fries are topped with Szechuan brisket, green onions, fried onions, sambal sour cream, and queso.
“I like to use ingredients from different parts of the world and expose them to the people of Canada. We can educate people through our high-quality gourmet food,” he says.
No need to get fancy for that gourmet grub, though.
“There is no dine-in experience. It’s delivery only. We basically operate as a catering company from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., we cater for some offices and then we do delivery with Uber Eats as well.”
This month, in honor of Black History Month, Adrian is hoping to remind everyone of the power of food in history.
“It’s a time where I think of some often unheralded people within the black community. People like chef Leah Chase from Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans. Civil Rights movement leaders, including Martin Luther King, would meet privately at her restaurant,” he says.
Through the power of those meals, Leah played a major role in black history.
“Food brings people together,” he says, and at the Forte Foodhall, he’s doing the same.