“¡Viva la Revolución!” shouts Fidel Gastro from the window of his food truck on a cold rainy autumn lunch hour in Toronto’s financial district. Mr. Gastro, otherwise known as Matt Basile, and crew of two are feeding hungry suits in the financial district on a cold, rainy fall day in Toronto. Not long ago, the twenty-something Basile could easily have been in one of those suits on a lunch break from his job as an advertising copywriter. Instead, fueled by singular idea about having “Dinner with Fidel Gastro”, he’s slinging Pad Thai Fries and Pork Belly and Slaw sandwiches and is the subject of an upcoming Travel + Escape reality show, ‘Rebel Without a Kitchen’, set to air this spring.
Just over a year ago, Basile found himself in a bank manager’s office with a business plan and loan application. He was going to turn his love of cooking for his friends and dreams of running a restaurant into a reality. One of his jobs in advertising and PR was working for Mark McEwan, and Basile soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the successful chef and restaurateur. His vision was much more humble than McEwan’s: a little lunch place for sandwiches and his trademark baked ziti. He had saved $10,000 and thought he was good to go, but the bank said no.
Rather than give up, Basile decided to become a chef and open a restaurant anyway. Just without walls, floors, ceilings and all the other things that one thinks of when one thinks of a restaurant. He begged and borrowed kitchen space, working in a butcher shop, so he could do prep work overnight. And he signed-up for any and all food festivals and events where he could find people to feed, like the Toronto Underground Market. And, as he became to be known in the foodie set, he got himself a Twitter handle, @fidelgastros, marshalling his fans to follow him from appearance to appearance.
Things were looking good, but it was still a massive undertaking to get ready for a service without his own kitchen, and Basile started carrying around a sleeping bag so he could in a little bit of sleep in between prepping and running around. Then, last May, a kitchen of sorts presented itself… on four wheels. He got a deal on an old truck and spent all the money he’d made at events on it. He still has to schlep to a production kitchen in the suburbs, and pay to park the truck on a lot downtown, but at least he has something to serve food from and this summer he began appearing all over the GTA, announcing his presence on Twitter.
Around the same time, the TV people came calling and decided that Basile’s strange life as a “kitchenless chef” was interesting enough to shot a show. With more and more success building up, would Basile go back to the bank and try to find a lease for a Fidel Gastro’s restaurant?
“No way,” Basile says, smiling, “Fidel Gastro is something that you can’t get all the time.” He adds,”whatever I do, it needs to be fun.”
Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the not-for-profit corporation which publishes it. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley