Audrey Ooi, a 23-year-old who works in marketing by day, is also a dessert aficionado. Ooi recently started a walking tour called Tasty Tours, visiting bakeries and specialty stores in Toronto’s Kensington Market on Sundays and alternate Fridays. On a sunny morning a few days ago, we met at a Chinese bakery – the first stop.
“I had a few options for the location – Yorkville, Leslieville – but I chose Kensington because it’s multicultural,” Ooi explains. “There are sweets stores from different ethnicities.”
Pancho’s Bakery, another stop on the tour, is owned by a fourth-generation baker from Mexico. As I eat a churro, Ooi tells me two different origin stories for what is sometimes called a “Spanish doughnut.” One holds that the churro was developed in Spain; another that it’s the Portuguese take on the Chinese youtiao, fluffy strips of deep-fried dough.
Ooi points out that the history of sugar is anything but sweet: harvesting is labour-intensive and played a role in the slave trade. She mentions topics ranging from Napoleon’s development of beet sugar to the foreign takeover of British chocolatiers, with a bit of Canadian trivia thrown in, regarding the Treaty of Paris in 1763. “France traded its Canadian colonies for sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean, but Quebec ended up being the largest maple-syrup producer in the world,” she says. Aside from sampling treats at stores we visited, Ooi packs snacks such as handmade flavoured marshmallows to sweeten the walk.
Ooi was inspired by a chocolate tour she took in Philadelphia. For research, she went on several guided walks in Toronto, and visited 30 to 40 stores as potential destinations. Ooi chose five stores, some of which offer a discount to tour participants, and began offering public tours this September.
Ooi grew up in Singapore and came to Toronto for university. She attended Victoria College and graduated from U of T with a major in economics and minors in East Asian studies and political science. Her entrepreneurial drive came even earlier: As a child, she wanted to be a toy-shop owner and had a retail business called Star Bright Club. Her wares were cookies, gift cards and certificates she designed using a computer program. Her customers were neighbours, relatives and her teacher. She recalls that one baking session raised about $80. All proceeds went to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
After the tour, Ooi chats with the owner of a chocolate shop we visited. She uses most of her spare time on the business, working on marketing and logistics, and contacting groups who may be interested. “It’s like going home and checking email,” she says. “You don’t count the hours.”
For more info, visit tastytourstoronto.com.