Toronto Caterer and Chef
Toronto is filled with amazing caterers, but Toben Kochman of Toben Food by Design is my go-to for events – including all my personal events at my home.
Kochman got his start at the Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris, where he received le Grand Diplome du Cordon Bleu for excellence in all aspects of the program. He stayed in Paris after graduation, working at two-star Michelin restaurant Apiscus. He then came back to Toronto where he worked as operating sous chef at Susur Lee’s restaurant Susur before opening Toben Food by Design in 2005.
In this post he shares his experience in the business and advice for event planners working with caterers, including key elements for a successful event and trends he’d like to see more of at events.
How did you get your start in the culinary world?
I started cooking (and dishwashing) in pretty casual trattorias and bistros when I was a teenager, around 16 years old. I just loved to cook and figured if I could get paid for it and make some extra spending money, it was a bonus.
What do you love about it? What do you hate?
I love being creative and sharing my passion for food with all of my amazing clients. The reward of creating special menus and events for people that are totally memorable is instant gratification and a feeling that never gets old.
I don’t hate very much.
Perhaps the odd day where the physical demands of the job takes its toll on my body. Some days can be quite trying, after 15-18 hours on your feet…but nothing that a good beer or two with my staff can’t fix! I’m not a fan of pre-made products – these contain a lot of preservatives and don’t taste fresh, which is why we make absolutely everything from scratch in-house. Last minute menu and event changes are aspects that come with the territory but can be a little bit challenging, especially during our busy seasons.
You’ve catered many events. Are there any food trends you feel are overdone, or something you’d like to see more of?
The molecular gastronomy trend feels a bit overdone. I’m not a huge fan of foams, nitro-freezing, or protein binding.
I’d love to see an even greater appreciation for farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients and keeping an open mind when it comes to using alternative cuts of meat and more specialized ‘heirloom’ vegetables. The whole beef tenderloin thing isn’t really that flavourful or tasty.
What has been your favourite menu to create for an event so far?
I loved creating my spin on miniaturized Indian-inspired hors d’oeuvres for a TIFF opening night gala last year. It was so much fun getting to play with all those unique spices and flavour profiles.
What tools are must-haves in your kitchen?
A microplane, a very sharp chef’s knife, a Chinese-style cleaver, a China Cap strainer and a cast-iron skillet.
As an event caterer, what are the key elements for a successful event?
First off, listen to all of your client’s needs and make sure you go above and beyond them.
Staying completely organized from start to finish is key.
Great staff! (this is the real key…I would not be able to do what I do without all my chefs, event managers, and service staff).
A balanced and focused menu.
Staying true to simple but bold flavour combinations in the food.
Problem solving no matter what obstacle you may face.
Very strong time management.
Working together as a team and communicating back and forth with each other constantly.
What can event planners do on site to help you create the best food experience for guests?
Make sure the culinary staff and catering event managers are aware of the all the small details. Keep us (caterers and staff) aware of specific timelines and, when those timelines change, communicate it to everyone. Trust us! Let us do what we do best and trust us to execute the job or role that we specialize in. Stay positive, keep cool and calm. Problem-solve with us when any issues arise.
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