From pop-up sandwich shop to food truck to restaurant, Toronto-based Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro’s has made street food his business. In his first cookbook, Street Food Diaries (Penguin Canada, 2014), he shares more than 85 of his recipes, including Pad Thai Fries, the Americana Burger (demonstrated in video above), Bacon Jam Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, and Spicy Roasted Cauliflower with Cucumber Mint Dipping Sauce (demonstrated in video below).

Basile writes in Street Food Diaries that the food is “as much about the roots and stories as it is about recipes and ingredients,” and it’s in this spirit that he hopes readers will approach his recipes. “I want people to open up recipes and go, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea. What if I did it this way?’ Or ‘I love the vessel of this dish and I love the protein and the sauce from here. We could actually make our own little Frankenstein sandwich out of these four things,’” he says in an interview at his restaurant, Lisa Marie.

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The food in the book is served in buns, bowls and boxes, and on sticks. And there’s an entire chapter devoted to Basile’s favourite food group, bacon. Above all, he wants people to have fun with his recipes, and not get too caught up on technical skills or following recipes to the letter. “I don’t want people to pick up my book and say, ‘Oh, I put half a teaspoon more of paprika than I needed to. Everything is ruined,’” Basile says. “I don’t cook like that and I don’t want people to feel that they have to read the book like that. It’s a very casual cookbook; we’re very informal but we still love what we do.”

While working on his television show, Rebel Without a Kitchen, Basile travelled across North America visiting cities with thriving street food scenes. He includes stories of some of the trucks and sandwich shops that inspired him in the book, including: Lard Have Mercy in Austin, Texas; John’s Roast Pork in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Mac Shack in Detroit, Michigan; and Roy Choi’s Chego in Los Angeles, California.

Matt Basile, author of Street Food Diaries.

Matt Basile, author of Street Food Diaries. Photos: Kyla Zanardi/Penguin Canada

Basile highlights Austin in particular as a city that has it all. “There are food trucks and restaurants and bars and street food hubs everywhere. And really, the dining scene has become an integral part of the city. Any city that can do that as effortlessly as they have, I have so much respect for,” he says. “Because you know, living in Toronto, we just see all the red tape around trucks. It’s restaurants versus food trucks and there’s a whole lot of crap that gets in the way of really good, authentic food.”

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