Food is an important part of life at the park, and there's lots of it. The Bake Ovens produce much of the food sold at the park, and they are at the centre of the many parts of the food life around the park. See Food In The Park for more information.
The Masonry Stove Builders' continent-wide bake-oven information link is here.
The two wood ovens are near the basketball courts and the outdoor ice rink, at the northwest corner of the park. They're next to some flower and vegetable gardens that are surrounded by split-rail fences to keep the dogs out. Roses grow over the fence, and beans and squash in season. Sometimes in winter if it's really cold out, skaters come off the ice to stand by the oven nearest the rink, to try and warm themselves. But the ovens are not very warming, because they were designed to channel all their heat into their baking chamber.
Saturday October 3, from 6 pm: final outdoor park supper of the year: to remember Randy Heasman
Back in December of 2001, most of the city’s outdoor rink pads were still closing every day at 9 pm. Dufferin Rink friends thought that was a shame – the rink season is so short, the moon is so bright in those cold winter skies, shinny hockey is so well-loved. There was no money for staffing, but a rink friend had the keys, so some of us started keeping the rink open until 11 pm when we had time. Word got around. Soon, rink friend Randy Heasman came with a proposal: he wanted to have a regular slot for an “over-35” neighbourhood shinny game, to get some of the older guys back into playing. So we made sure the rink was always available for them on Thursdays after 9pm. Randy knew a lot of people, and the program was a success right from the beginning. It's now been renamed "Randy's Game." A neighbourhood women’s hockey group showed up next. Then we put in a couple of regular nights for youth drop-in, with an anonymous donour giving the city $769 to fund staffing.
Extended hours at Dufferin Grove caught on, and after a few years the city decided to staff them every night. Many other rinks began to stay open later too. On the part of the local shinny players, though, an anxiety arose – that a new one-size-fits-all citywide permit system would take away after-9pm community shinny times and replace them with centrally-booked permits. That was the city’s plan. So Randy’s Thursday night group, for example, might be assigned a rink slot in Scarborough, while a group from Etobicoke would have to travel to Dufferin Rink on that night.
Randy said, don’t despair. In his friendly and determined way, he lobbied to let the “local-older-guys” and the other neighbourhood-based groups keep their games at Dufferin Rink. Randy's group is now in its fifteenth year. Some of those over-35 guys are now over 55.
Randy died in May, of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, at age 58. His memorial gathering was overflowing, and it included many shinny hockey players, male and female.
NHL PA donation: Randy's loaner skates
Recently, the NHL Players’ Association made a donation of 20 new sets of shinny equipment (skates, sticks, gloves and helmets) for kids and youth, to CELOS. The equipment will be used at Dufferin Rink and will also be loaned out for shinny hockey to other rinks across the city. The donation came partly as a result of an enthusiastic letter of support to the Players’ Association from Randy, written two years ago. The loaner skate collection will now be called “Randy’s loaner skates,” and Randy’s wife Asha is donating a plaque, a photograph, and Randy’s latest hockey stick to be mounted on the rink house wall. The October 3 outdoor “shinny hockey supper” is to remember the many enduring gifts Randy leaves behind, because of his steadfast enthusiasm for sport, and for people. Some of the original park supper cooks are returning to make a delicious meal. Everyone welcome!
Successful Dufferin Grove oven repair makes it seem like new
The ovens at Dufferin Grove are 20 years old (big oven) and 15 years old (smaller oven). There have been more than a thousand baking days for each oven, and the hearth of the smaller oven in particular was getting worn down. CELOS has a website called publicbakeovens.ca, set up some years ago by park baker Anna Bekerman, and continually updated even after Anna left the park and the baking. A baker and cheesemaker named Jonathan White, whose farm is in New Jersey not far from NYC, found us on this website, and got in touch. He and his wife Nina have baked their market bread in an oven like ours for many years, and Jonathan felt sure that the hearth could be fixed. They flew to Toronto on September 13, and Jonathan worked with CELOS builder Mike Conway on the 14th to remove all the damaged hearth bricks and put in new ones. Park baker Heidrun Gabel-Koepff helped too, including crawling right into the (cold!) oven to vacuum out the ashes at the back (you need to be both thin and agile to do that).
Background: both Dufferin Grove ovens were designed by California baker Alan Scott. With the help of the Maytree Foundation, CELOS brought Alan to Toronto way back in 2000, to run a well-attended citywide oven-building workshop (and build our smaller oven). Alan has since died, but ovens built with his plans live on (two at Dufferin Grove, one at Christie pits, one at Wychwood Barns, one at The Stop Community Food Centre, one at the Queen/Crawford Artscape apartments, and one at Riverdale Farm). Oven hearths get worn down by water and heat over time. We knew that Alan’s design was meant to make any hearth repair very straightforward, but we weren’t sure how it would be in reality. Now we know – it works like a charm. Dufferin Grove’s smaller oven lives on to bake another thousand loaves.
Other city bake ovens
After the Dufferin Grove public ovens were built, there was an interest in other neighbourhood parks to build some ovens there too. Nigel Dean (who built our first oven) built some of them. City recreation worker Luis Andrade, also an experienced builder, worked with friends and relations to build the oven at Christie Pits, with money raised at Dufferin Grove for the materials. Artist and landscaper Gene Threndyle built the oven at the Artscape apartments across from Trinity-Bellwoods Park. The Parks Department’s capital projects staff built a few ovens as well – at Alexandra Park, Edithvale Park, and recently at Regent Park. The city-built ones are all small prefab ovens surrounded on the outside by high-quality housings. Those ovens look impressive but their hearths are so small that they can’t make much food at once. Therefore, although quite costly, they don’t get a lot of use. No restaurant would use such a design! But there are rumours that the city regards these prefabs as “up to code” (what code?) and will use only that kind of design in future. City planners have not, so far, collaborated with actual bakers – but really, ovens are not for show, they’re for baking.
Better food comes to the park’s market snack bar
A check of park finances showed CELOS in August that the park’s market snack bar was making considerable income by reselling non-organic hot dogs and drinks, against the organic market rules. On-site staff, CELOS, and market manager Anne Freeman met to find a way out of this situation. Then near the end of August, Anne was asked to a meeting with management (sadly, the park cooks were not invited). It was agreed that organic hot dogs would be tried again, and organic box drinks (Kiju) would be investigated. To address the problem of non-organic ingredients in other market snack bar offerings, the market would offer “market bucks” so park staff could buy fresh market produce for making the snack bar food.
Since then, there’s been progress. Beretta’s organic hot dogs have taken the place of the regular hot dogs, pop has been taken off the menu, and the cooks are now allowed to use $60 of “market bucks” every week to buy more market produce for the salads and soups sold at the park’s snack bar. Mary Sylwester, the park’s main market-soup-and-salad cook, was able to buy several flats of large ripe red peppers at the last market day in September. A few days later, Mary and park baker Heidrun Gabel-Koepff went to work roasting the peppers, to preserve them for Mary’s wintertime chili. The chili will be very tasty, and very local.
CELOS travels to ovens across the city, and sometimes we bring our own tandoor
After CELOS got a grant from the GH Wood Foundation to use our tandoor at a few other parks, we got worried that we couldn’t deliver – many of the former Dufferin Grove bakers have left. But then we had an idea – ask former park cook and baker Yo Utano to come back and visit from Japan for three weeks to help. She agreed! On September 24, two days after Yo got here, the CELOS tandoor was taken to the Harbourfront Centre for a food-related art opening. It turns out that artists and their friends really like making their own naan bread in the traditional way – Yo and Dufferin Grove’s tandoor baker Amna Malik were swamped. On September 30, Yo joins in baking for a community garden celebration at the new Regent Park wood oven. On October 4, the tandoor goes to MacGregor Park for their harvest festival. On October 8th, we’ll visit Edithvale oven in North Toronto, then see the cob-barrel oven at the grow2learn oven at Lawrence Heights, then make pizza with Alan Carlisle at his temporary oven at one of the west-end community gardens. On October 9, we'll be at Thorncliffe Park making naan and roasted vegetables with some of the the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee in their park tandoor.
Toronto has a lot of ovens. And some are more fun than others.
Monday Sept.14, all day: oven repair with Jonathan White
The ovens at Dufferin Grove are getting on in years: 20 (big oven) and 15 (smaller oven). The hearth on the smaller oven is very uneven by now. Jonathan White, a baker and cheesemaker near New York City, discovered the Dufferin Grove ovens on the internet, and got in touch. He visited in July and is now coming again to help fix the oven hearth. He may have to get part-way inside. A tricky business! But it will be interesting to watch – everyone welcome.
Saturday October 3: Randy’s shinny hockey supper, by the bake-oven
Randy Heasman started the first older-guys shinny hockey group at Dufferin Rink. He was enthusiastic about kids’ shinny hockey too, and he wrote CELOS an endorsement of our application to the NHL Players’ Association, for donated shinny equipment to augment the CELOS skate loan collection. Sadly, Randy died in May. The NHLPA approved our request a little while before. The skate collection is being renamed “Randy’s Loaner Skates,” and Randy’s contributions to Dufferin Rink will be celebrated at the year’s final outdoor supper at the new “Dan’s Table2” sitting area, on Saturday October 3. Everyone welcome. Guest cooks: Lea Ambros and Yo Utano (former park cook and baker, back again just visiting, from Japan).
Three years ago long-time park friend David Rothberg donated funds to CELOS for a portable tandoor oven, the kind that’s in use in so many middle eastern countries, to make naan bread but also many other tasty dishes. For the first year we loaned the tandoor to the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, to use at their weekly bazaars, but then they got their own tandoor. Now this tandoor is back with us and available for loan to other park groups. It recently travelled to a celebration at the new Regent Park, to expand the range of cooking available there besides the pizza-making in their new wood-fired oven. Dufferin Grove staffer Amna Malik has become very skilled at using the tandoor and is available to help any other park group that wants to borrow it. Tell you friends across town, if they want to get in touch.
Save the date: on June 20 at 6 pm, a special Saturday night supper for the park ovens, and to remember Dan DeMatteis
This year the park’s bigger community bake-oven turned 20, and the smaller oven turned 15. Both of them have held up well with so much use, but by now they both need some repairs. This provides an occasion to have an extra supper – to raise some repair funds, and to celebrate one of the first cooks who started the suppers, in 2003. This was Dan DeMatteis, who began his cooking career at the park – before going on to work at Jamie Kennedy’s and other Toronto restaurants. Dan died suddenly of an aneurysm in 2012, and is much missed by former Dufferin Grove colleagues as well as by cooks and friends across the city.
Two former park staff who cooked with Dan in the early days of the suppers have agreed to come back and cook this June 20th dinner: Lea Ambros (still a local park friend) and Anna Bekerman (now living in Arizona). Others of Dan’s friends will be there to help with chopping, serving and washing dishes (more volunteers welcome, kids included!). And there’s another reason to celebrate that day: the GH Wood Foundation has given funds to CELOS to build more picnic tables and benches for a comfortable seating area beside the big oven. We were inspired by an arrangement of tables, benches, and planters built by James Davis for a Foodshare roof garden on top of a school in east Toronto. James called the space he created “Dan’s Table” (also after Dan DeMatteis) and he was kind enough to share his blueprints. On June 20, the new sitting area will be ready for use. If it rains, the big market tents will be up to keep the eaters dry and remind the old-timers of the fun they once had eating in the rain during the park’s Cooking Fire Theatre festival.
As usual, the rinkhouse suppers will be a smaller version of the outdoor suppers, and yes, you can eat in skates. From 6 to 7 pm, $7 main plate (vegetarian or vegan only), plus $3 dessert.
The secret, excellent fix of Dufferin Rink
Sometime at the end of November, when the rink had been open for a week, the city’s technical staff found a problem with the motor of one of the two 75 horsepower compressors. Inside of 24 hours, they got a new compressor motor, brought over a telescoping crane and positioned it at the west compressor-room, removed the broken motor (very large and heavy) with the crane, and installed a new motor. There was no interruption in the skating schedule, and in fact very few rink users or program staff even noticed that work was going on, since it was happening at the opposite side of the building. Now that's some skill! Compare with Queensway Rink in Etobicoke, with a damaged compressor motor that wasn’t fixed until just before Christmas, so that the neighbourhood lost three weeks of skating season. How did Dufferin Rink get lucky and Queensway not?
City staff shortages threaten popular Dufferin Grove Park dinners
By: Stephanie Law Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 Source: The Star
If Friends of Dufferin Grove Park have their way, they won’t be having their last supper anytime soon.
Toronto Parks and Recreation staff have been serving up three-course dinners in the park every Friday evening during the warmer months since 2003, when the community group worked with the city to organize the meals.
But last Friday, residents who showed up for the dinner were disappointed to learn it wasn’t being served because there weren’t enough city employees available to run the event. The supper is confirmed for the next two weekends, but its future remains uncertain.