Vision, depth, and thoughtfulness are ingrained in Chef Eyal Liebman’s repertoire; not only with regards to his food philosophy, but in how he views society at large and the role each one of us plays to make meaningful contributions to it.
Most believe that chocolate used outside of the pastry sphere in savoury dishes is ‘difficult’; however, Liebman contends that it shouldn’t be about compartmentalization and confinement of ingredients. He laments that ‘these days’ pastry arts and baking can be taken in culinary school separate from cooking. But to him, it should be equal parts to a whole: the basics of cooking need to be mastered in order to explore and dabble in realms such as dessert and pastry.
He posits to me: how does one know how to cook a custard if one doesn’t know the basics of cooking an egg? As if recollecting a time where he’s said this to numerous apprentices, “Learn about texture, taste, and most of all, that each egg is unique! Just because the recipe says it takes 20 minutes to cook a dish, doesn’t not mean this is so.” Mastery of one’s palate and being attuned to the senses is what makes for a successful Chef.
If we distill his words into truths, we understand that Liebman has an unwavering passion for what he does. In addition to the cooking and baking lessons he offers through Uniiverse.com, Chef Liebman this past weekend aligned forces with Abbey Sharp (of Abbey’s Kitchen), Krystina Roman from Rosewood Wines, and Valrhona chocolate for his Sweet and Savoury Chocolate Dinner at Playful Grounds Cafe and Bar. His lovely wife Rebecca Meir not only helped to run the show, she managed the front of house and was the sommelier (paired the wines with the food). His trusty sous-chef Alison Sclanders was also by his side to help cook and plate. It was a night filled with memorable dishes and drinks.
Highlights included a Lobster and Valrohna Dulcey – a white chocolate truffle riddled with tender hunks of sweet lobster flesh. The quality of the cocoa butter in the chocolate made for a melting moment that stopped time. The bitterness from endive and refreshing apple matchsticks helped to tame the bold truffle’s flavours.
To follow was the Pork and Valrohna Manjari: a tender pork shoulder with a pure Madagascar chocolate mole sauce. It was paired with a roasted pine nut, arugula, and cherry tomato confit salad. Diners were buzzing with delight; it was clearly a favourite of the evening. The spiced mole sauce carried complexity and sophistication. Assertive in the beginning with its heat, the voluptuous sauce tapered off with echoes of rich, deep chocolate. Mole is a laborious thing to make with at least 20 ingredients; fortunately, it paid off here and more than wowed the crowds.
Next to arrive was the Duck and Valrohna Opalys: foie gras de canard and white chocolate mousse. The puffy, white clouds were nestled on top of chocolate brioche wedges. Tangy sweet cherries helped cut through the richness of the soft cake-like brioche and decadent foie mousse.
A refreshing intermezzo of a gellée, cucumber granité helped to cleanse the palette before we moved on.
Our fish dish was the Salmon and Valrhona Caraïbe (seared salmon, pure Caribbean chocolate crȇpe and smoked trout rillettes aumonière, Sabarot Le Puy lentils with roasted parsnip, and sauce matelote). We were given a perfectly cooked medium-rare salmon with its soft, creamy flesh, and crisp seared skin. Gifted alongside the fish was a chocolate crepe parcel – inside its accordion folds lay a filling of creamy smoked trout and rillettes aumonière. The remarkable thing about Eyal’s chocolate components are that they’re always thoughtful and complementary to the main. Both enhance one another’s flavour profiles. In this instance, the chocolate is prominent in the crepe but doesn’t overpower everything else on the dish. Again, Eyal is cognizant of balance and flavours.
The main was a Venison and Valrhona Araguani (the Wellington: chocolate pâte feuilletée, chocolate stout crepe), sauce chasseur with pure Venezuelan chocolate, wild mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. Visually stunning, the medium-rare venison was grilled on its own to impart flavour into the meat. It was donned with two coat of arms: the blond, soft skinned crepe and a flaky chocolate pâte feuilletée. The bark-like shards helped mop up the juices of the tender venison and the cocoa flavours of the chocolate enhanced the meat’s natural sweetness.
For our finale, we were graced with the Pineapple and Black truffle crémeux (Jivara lactée mousse Opalys sauce, and pineapple mint salad). The train of chocolate was a darling to behold. It was incredibly delicate; as I cracked into the sandy textured shell, my fork struck a two-toned mousse and buttery crumb base. It was an interweaving of floral chocolate and vibrant pineapple.
Chef Eyal Liebman set out to showcase Valrhona chocolate in a series of delectable dishes. He informed me that it only took 5 minutes to compose the 6-course tasting menu. In addition to being enamored with Valrhona Chocolate, I suspect Liebman also was exercising some alchemy that put us in a state of euphoria that evening. The man clearly dreams in chocolate and as a trained Chef, it was not difficult for him to bridge the sweet and savoury divide. Each dish was successfully graced with the sophisticated flavours of Valrohna.