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Open-air tandoor oven built in Thorncliffe Park

Over two years ago, Sabina Ali and her colleagues at the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee (TPWC) had an idea: “Why not open a tandoor oven in a public park?”

For Ali, building an open-air clay oven seemed an obvious expansion of the work the TPWC had always done in the Thorncliffe neighborhood — namely working to animate RV Burgess Park, the neighbourhood’s only public green space.

“We’ve always done lots of programming in the park,” says Ali, project coordinator at TPWC. “A big part of our programming is these cooking fires we hold throughout the year. We usually have a least five. We invite residents to come and try different foods and hot chocolate and we have games and activities for kids and adults.”

“It’s great. We are gathered; we are talking; we are rolling bread; we are exchanging ideas and information and talking about the best dishes in our home countries. And it just made sense that we should build a tandoor oven, which is very common in many Middle East, Central and South Asian cultures.”

Throncliffe Park, which is one of Toronto’s densest areas, is also home to a large community of new immigrants, hailing predominantly — though not exclusively — from South Asia.

But, says Ali, though the project “suited the neighbourhood perfectly,” building the first public-space tandoor oven in North America proved surprisingly complicated.

“We got lots of help from the Centre for Local Research into Public Space, city staff and councillors who helped us put things together and apply for funding. But it was surprising how long it took to get the proposal approved by the city. We had to keep changing policies. This is the first tandoor oven in a Toronto city park and there were a lot of different things that had to be worked out.”

After two years of back-and-forth, the leasing agreement has been finalized, the oven has been purchased and TPWC is ready to show off the oven to the Thorncliffe community.

On Friday, the TPWC celebrated the milestone: North America’s first tandoor oven in a public space.

Committee members baked naan in the new tandoor and handing out samples. The event coincided with the TPWC’s regular Friday bazaar with food, clothes, jewelry, henna and fresh produce.

While the oven will be open to the public, TPWC will monitor its use closely.

“For the first two years it will be us who will be coordinating the programing because the tandoor is a very different kind of oven and it’s very delicate. You have to have a set of skills to use that oven, but we will provide training for the community members who are interested in using the oven,” says Ali. “We will draft some kind of permit application and create a monitoring system. It’s a lot of work, but we will do it.”

This article first appeared on Yonge Street.