Toben Food by Design, Inc. Co-owner and Executive Chef Toben Kochman cut his teeth as a student at Le Cordon Bleu, worked as an apprentice for Daniel Boulud, and got his start in the Toronto food scene at Auberge du Pommier and Susur. His career as a master of catering happened somewhat by accident, but we’ll let him tell you the story. Meet today’s Tastemaker, Toben Kochman…
Feed us an appetizer. Who are you and what do you do?
I am executive chef and co-owner of Toben Food by Design, Inc. We are a high end, full-service catering and event management company in Toronto and the GTA. We design and cater a wide variety of both private and corporate events, specializing in custom designed menus, décor, planning and staff services for both private and corporate events. Charity galas, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, private house parties and dinner parties – we love it all!
What was it like getting your start in Toronto’s culinary scene after finishing Le Cordon Bleu?
It was very exciting to come back to Toronto after two and a half years in Paris, both in school and working abroad there. There were lots of amazing restaurants when I returned in 2003, and I had the great pleasure to work at some of the city’s best at that time; Auberge du Pommier and Susur were both fantastic experiences.
What drew you to the catering business rather than restaurants?
I actually fell into catering. When I left my last post at Susur, I had planned to take some time off but ended up getting recruited to do a few private home charity events where I was able to do fun tasting menus for some very discerning guests. These guests ended up really appreciating my take on food and entertaining, and it kind of snowballed from there. Word got out that I was doing private parties in people’s homes and offices, so the catering business essentially found me, rather than the other way around. I had always seen myself as a ‘restaurant’ chef, but the diversity and challenges of catering really resonated with me and my partner (and sister!), Elana. We loved being able to create those very personal memories and experiences with all the clients we’ve had the chance to work with.
What do you love most about food?
I love the endless diversity and possibilities of creating something unique with food. As well, the fact that food brings people together with immediate satisfaction and happiness when they have experienced something truly great. Food can touch the soul of the person consuming it.
What do you love most about the food scene in Toronto?
The endless possibilities of amazing small restaurants and passionate chefs.
What type of cuisine would you say is lacking in the city?
I have yet to dine at a fantastic Moroccan restaurant, and there are also very few places exemplifying Basque country cuisine (ie. Southern French and Southern Spanish).
What’s your favourite type of food(s) and where do you go to get it?
My favourite type of food is pizza. Two places that immediately come to mind are Queen Margherita and Picea, which is a small Neopolitian pizzeria literally around the corner from my home.
What’s your favourite thing to cook for yourself?
My favourite thing to cook is red wine-braised beef short ribs with butter mashed potatoes and local, seasonal vegetables or a very simple, rustic pasta with handmade noodles and light, flavorful sauces. I gravitate to simple comfort food in my off time. I love sitting down with my wife with a nice, full bodied glass of red wine and just enjoying food that allows us to drift off on the couch in a state of carbohydrate semi-coma!
What’s your hidden gem/go-to restaurant?
My hidden gem is called Actinolite. The chef, Justin, is an old friend and opened up a place within a few minutes’ walk from my west end home. The food is simple, very local, beautifully presented and completely unpretentious. He’s a fantastic guy and always takes care of me, my friends and family when we show up for impromptu meals on our days off.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
Restaurant Daniel – chef Daniel Boulud – in New York City. I actually did an apprenticeship there after I had experienced the food there just to try and learn a few of the secrets behind such an amazing dining experience!
What’s the one restaurant you have to try before you die?
The French Laundry in Napa Valley led by Chef Thomas Keller. It was the first cookbook I truly read and memorized cover to cover. Chef Keller is a true genius and I respect him so much.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve?
Bad, inattentive service. And food that I know has had no love put into it. Soulless food hits me where it hurts.