Feast in the East celebrates its 5 year anniversary at Anchored Social Club on Friday, May 6 (featuring Horse Lords, New Fries, Mimico, Carl Didur, and JFM) and Saturday, May 7 (with Matrox, Blonde Elvis, Germaphobes, and Castle If).
There are many physical and psychological barriers in cities preventing people from moving around as freely as they could. Toronto’s Don River is a bit of both. There’s no reason why people can’t cross it — there are more than enough bridges for that — but many who live to its east know exactly just how difficult it can be to convince people from the west to make that trek, especially for a show.
With their Feast in the East concert series, Tad Michalak, Neil Rankin, and Katie Jensen have found success by using both music and food to do the coaxing for them. What started out as a house party became a monthly event, and is now a cookbook, the launch of which coincides with the concert series’ fifth anniversary.
The cookbook features recipes, visuals, and a two-tape compilation, all courtesy of the host of chefs, artists and bands who have been involved with one of the fifty-plus Feasts. Reaching such a milestone is as much a credit to Michalak, Rankin, and Jensen as it is to the community they've built. (You can find sample recipes and exclusive premieres of songs from Hooded Fang and ZONES from the compilation within this article.)
Feast founders, from left: Neil Rankin, Katie Jensen, Tad Michalak. Photo by: Keith McManamen
Tad Michalak has been promoting shows in Toronto since 2005 under the banner Burn Down The Capital, which is how Neil Rankin (who now plays in Germaphobes, who are playing the second night of the anniversary party) first recalls seeing him around. Gradually, they started crossing paths more often in the east end, and came to the realization that they both lived out there. It was then that they decided to band together and book a show.
“Feast zero” as they call it, was a house party without the meal component as it exists now. Joined by friend and Feast co-founder Cameron Lee (who also introduced them to Stephanie Fielding, who does most of the cooking), the trio put the basic premise of the concert series into practice. Lee did art installations throughout Rankin's house, while he and Michalak booked two floors of music. “Once we saw we could work together to do that, we said 'let’s make this happen',” Rankin remembers.
A chance encounter through Rankin’s work as a bartender introduced him to Chris Handfield, who just happened to have a space in the east, the Dickens Street Theatre, which became the first in a long line of east end venues that Feast would call home.
The following and first proper Feast started with just cupcakes, but the fare grew from there. Sunflower seed tacos, Japanese noodle bowls, Borscht, even the full meal replacement soylent. Feast #14 was billed with a “Free 1890's English Working Class dinner.” The longer the series went on, the bolder and more playful they got with the food that they served, and the more people were inspired to come.
Michalak describes a moment early on in the series’ history when he knew they’d done the right thing, that their crazy idea was actually working. It was Feast in the East 9, at the Dickens Street Theatre. There was a bench near the entrance to the theatre, which Michalak says he would occasionally stand on to get a good look at the crowd and the show. From there, he saw “it was just packed to the gills, but everyone was just really focused and paying attention to the music. We made a show here that everyone could come to and everyone is connecting with what’s going on there was just so much positive energy."
"All the work, this is what it’s for.”
Katie Jensen (Canadaland producer and Weird Canada contributor) was one such individual who gravitated to the event, acting as proof that good food and music are enough to draw people across the Don. She found Feast sort of by happenstance, at a time in her life when she desperately wanted change. “I went to this show alone. It was in the smallest space and everybody knew each other. I walked around having a wine by myself and thought: this is exactly the project I need to distract myself and change my life.” She messaged Michalak after the show and has been involved ever since.
It might be to Jensen’s credit that the cookbook finally came to fruition. The idea had long been gestating amongst the group, as dreaming about compiling their work into a book seemed to come up with the same kind of regularity as the Feast events themselves. Jensen explains that “every Feast we stay up till 5:30 am, 6, maybe 7, and it’d always get to a point in the night after we’d had tonnes of Jameson and were lying on the couch eating Doritos, where they would always say, 'we should do the cookbook!'” After many months, she eventually got tired of the idea being tossed around and then nothing happening. So she drafted up a calendar, and the project’s momentum snowballed from there.
Michalak describes compiling the book with over 120 contributors as “different degrees of insanity,” but they made it work. The recipes were each created by a chef who had previously cooked at a Feast. Some recipes are variations on the original recipes they made, some are brand new creations. Michalak, Rankin and Jensen left it mostly up to the chefs themselves to decide, but there were a few recipes they just had to have. Jensen just beams about Brandon Lim (HSY, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan)'s raw sunflower seed tacos. "They truly were amazing. The pico de gallo, the green salsa, he made everything from scratch. He crushed up the sunflower seeds and totally warped the texture of them. They didn’t even taste like nuts anymore.”
From there, they sent the finished recipes out to artists who had done installations for Feast in the past, to use as inspiration for their artistic contributions, but Michalak notes that “the interpretations can be pretty wide.” He says the artists could produce anything that was within their medium they worked in, and so “some did textile work, some people did watercolours, some did just computer stuff.” The book also includes Michalak’s own art, which usually graces the Feast in the East posters, inside and on the cover.
As for the music, they had no problem convincing Feast alumni to contribute never-before-heard tracks for the compilation. Artists on the comp include Tenderness, Doomsquad, ZONES, Hooded Fang, and Slim Twig.
Rankin said the group were more than pleased with what the bands provided. “When we put the call out I thought we were going to get like rough demos or something. Everything we got is high quality,” he says. Jensen agrees, saying “people sent in some really great work.”
Reflecting on the book being a representation of their years of hard work, Michalak says “there’s no solid marker for something you get after five years of doing this. It’s nice to have it and see that it’s a real documentation of everything we’ve done and all these people who have worked with us.”
With their book set to be released this week, the organizers of Feast in the East have some physical proof of their successful and delicious appeal for Torontonians to look beyond geography to find community, thanks to a bit of thoughtful intersection.