ChopTime Catering: Afro-Caribbean cuisine inspired by family recipes
over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago
Chef Marc Kusitor combines a passion for food with his Ghanaian and Haitian culture, to create ChopTime Catering––a culinary venture, which aims to amplify Afro-Caribbean Cuisine in Toronto.
Their current pop-up has been operating out of the Depanneur's hidden basement space every Sunday at 4:30 p.m. since September of this year, and will only be there until Boxing Day. With their final service of 2021 quickly approaching, just know this isn't the last time you'll see ChopTime Catering. A new year calls for new opportunities, so if you're unable to get a last minute order in to experience their present menu, you'll definitely have to stay tuned to their Instagram for insight on where they'll be popping up next.
Starting as a catering service in the Fall of 2019, moving into a ghost kitchen and operating multiple pop-ups, no matter how much ChopTime Catering evolves or how frequently the menus rotate through every passing season, family recipes always take centre stage. Growing up with a Haitian mother and a Ghanaian father, who both revelled in cooking for family in their kitchens at home, fuelled Kusitor's own desire to make his move into pursing a culinary career.
Cooking professionally for a decade now in restaurants across North America, this classically-trained chef took notice of how underrepresented the recipes he grew up so familiar with were in Toronto's food scene and was compelled to do something about it.
Chef Marc Kusitor poses outside the Depanneur bearing the Ghanaian and Haitian flags around his shoulders.
"Honestly, I just felt like there was a void for something like this from my generation, where the African Caribbean communities weren't really being served and weren't really being put out there," says the chef. "I'm sure older generations had family caterers and things like that, but as far as the younger chefs and the younger people in the industry, we didn't really have this. Especially not from the Haitian and Ghanaian communities."
Bringing ideas to fruition aren't always as simple as it seems. With a vision for the type of venture he wanted to create brewing in his mind, Kusitor's past attempts at breathing life into his concept only resulted in disappointment.
"I got tired of hearing no, no, no when I would try to partner up with people to do things like this and do events around the city," he says. "I just wanted to kind of take it into my own hands and do it myself, and here we are now."
After beginning to cater on his own, gaining attention for his spin on dishes like griot and red red, Kusitor snagged one of his first big opportunities to showcase his concept to a wider audience, via occasional pop-ups in the Depanneur.
Multiple successful pop-ups made Kusitor crave a more consistent temporary space to house his business and in September, was reconnected with the Depanneur, as they had an opening in their downstairs kitchen every Sunday until December.
While previously focusing on larger meals like full dinners and platters in this space over the course of the Summer, the shift to a weekly Fall and Winter pop-up resulted in a smaller menu focusing on what everyone tends to crave as the weather cools down––soup.
A ladle of soup joumou carrying spaghetti and rigatoni.
"This is the part of ChopTime that I like to call Chop at Home," says Kusitor. Offering a rotation of different traditional Haitian soups, alongside a handful of his favourite pantry staples including pikliz and epis, pâté kodé and merchandise, the idea is to provide customers with a sense of comfort to take home with them.
In regards to the menu, Kusitor combines elements from his trained culinary background and skills learned from the various kitchens he's worked in, with his favourite family recipes.
"My mom wasn't brining her meat two or three days beforehand and sous viding it," says Kusitor. "But these are different things that I've learned over the years working in the industry that I kind of keep in my tool bag for whenever I make Haitian food or Ghanaian food or want to try something different that won't necessarily appropriate the dish or veer too far from what it is, but kind of modernize it in certain aspects, while keeping the soul of what it is."
I'm sure older generations had family caterers and things like that, but as far as the younger chefs and the younger people in the industry, we didn't really have this. Especially not from the Haitian and Ghanaian communities.
Right now, the featured soup is Soup Joumou. A historically significant Haitian dish, as outlined in ChopTime Catering's recent post, it's traditionally made on New Year's Day and represents the celebration of the freedom of the Republic of Haiti in 1804 from enslavement under French rule. After winning their independence, soup joumou was enjoyed as it's filled with ingredients they weren't able to eat.
That being said, this hearty soup is comprised of two different types of pasta – one long like spaghetti and one short like rigatoni, thick beef chunks, butternut squash, kabocha squash, carrots, celery, scotch bonnet, thyme and epis.
Also selling epis in frozen packs for the ease of use in your own kitchen, Kusitor says it's a must in every single Haitian household. This flavourful, vegan-friendly seasoning base is a vibrant green as it's made of a variety of herbs, spices, leeks and garlic. Other than in soup, Kusitor recommends its use in sauces and marinades for meat and vegetables.
Every menu Kusitor creates features a vegan option. This one has a vegan soup bouyon, which is made from various vegetables including roasted onions, chili peppers, bell peppers, cassava, plantain, sweet potato and chayote squash. Plus you'll also find tender flour dumplings known as spinners inside as well.
Another Haitian condiment Kusitor has ready to be a staple in your fridge is pikliz. Often compared to a sauerkraut or kimchi, it's a spicy fermented cabbage salad made with Haitian spices and lots of citrus, making it crunchy and tangy.
"Every Haitian family has their own version of pikliz. No two recipes are the same and the same goes for epis," he says.
Kusitor cooks up the popular Pâté Kodé.
The other hot item you can order from ChopTime Catering right now is Pâté Kodé. Pieces of salt-cured smoked herring are mixed with butter melted cabbage, bell peppers and scotch bonnet in a patty, fried to a crisp golden brown.
As far as his family's influence on his business goes, Kusitor says, "They are ChopTime as much as I am. These are all recipes that are either directly taken or influenced by my family. The soup is something that my mom and my grand-mom made every year for New Years. The patties are like a famous thing that my aunt makes every Christmas, every family gathering, every birthday."
What makes Kusitor's pop-up even more special, is his camera-shy sous-chef that peers over his shoulder with a watchful eye, giving nods of approval as he cooks.
"If I'm the body of ChopTime, they're kind of the blood pumping through the veins," Kusitor says, as his mother looks on while he stirs his soup joumou.
Kusitor's mother peering over him as he cooks.
Once this pop-up at the Depanneur finishes, Kusitor says he has many plans circling his mind for what his business will bring to the table in 2022. He says ChopTime Catering is only a branch on the tree of the whole ChopTime brand that's to come.
"It's always going to be rooted in the food," says Kusitor on his vision for the future. "The food is first and foremost always. That will be the vehicle for every other branch on that tree."
Wondering what to expect? Think more pop-ups, spontaneous supper clubs and more culturally reflective merchandise.
Right now, find ChopTime tote bags and an exclusive shirt depicting Nou Deyó designed in collaboration with Kusitor's friend, artist Joe Frontel. In August, Kusitor decided to donate a portion from every shirt sale to Hope for Haiti after a recent earthquake there.
"Thank you for giving me your recipes, I appreciate it," Kusitor says towards his mother, asking her to come over to the stove and taste his soup joumou one last time before he portions it.
"It's okay, I've checked already two times," she says from the other side of the room, one step ahead of him.
The fact she left his side to begin with, possibly indicates that she did in fact already ensure the soup was ready, before walking away.
"It's the stamp of approval," Kusitor laughs. "Everything after this is the cherry on top."
Right now you can order ChopTime Catering through their website for pick up on Sunday's at 4:30 p.m. beside the Depanneur at 1033 College Street. With their last service being Dec. 26, you'll want to follow them on Instagram to stay tuned to how you can order and where you can find them in the New Year.