Brother and sister duo Toben and Elana Kochman are co-owners of Toben Food by Design, an international culinary experience. Executive chef Toben Kochman graduated from Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris and stayed to work at Apicius, a two star Michelin restaurant. He came back to Toronto and worked under Susur Lee as his sous chef at Lee. Then he and his sister Elana combined efforts and Toben Food by Design was born over ten years ago.
“It’s kind of a global cuisine inspired by parts of Asia, to more classical French to Italian to right here within our landscape in Ontario,” says Elana. “It’s really kind of this fusion of international cuisine coupled with the freshest, most seasonal available ingredients that we can get our hands on.”
The team finds itself often asked about its family style wedding catering. Essentially a shared meal, it evokes the nostalgia of Sunday night family dinners or holiday meals spent passing around the mashed potatoes and roast chicken. Except in this case, everyone’s passing around Grilled Whole Sicilian Branzino (recipe at the end of this post) and Fingering Potato Salad, which include lobster, grilled corn, bacon lardons, scallions, and chives.
At the moment, their most popular dish is the Southern Barbecue Braised Beef Brisket smothered in a Memphis style red wine molasses barbecue sauce. Elana recalls her favourite dish, the Watermelon Salad , which combines ingredients like sheep’s milk feta, black beans, corn, and mint. “It’s the most refreshing thing ever!”
The most interesting dish? A house made apple chip, first poached and marinated in star anise and allspice, then oven dried and topped with smoked chicken sausage, red wine braised cabbage, and mustard, all house made. Hours of process and assembly packed into a bite sized hors d’oeuvre.
To keep it fresh and local, family style menus depend on the season. If a client is interested in this style, Toben will pull out their short list of salads, mains, and sides to choose from. Clients are usually asked to choose two salads to start, two mains (protein, usually a meat and a fish, although there are vegetarian options available), and two or three sides. Dessert can also be served family style on the table but after sitting for so long, more people choose to have a dessert table.
Guests are essentially sampling double what they would in a family style setting as opposed to a plated meal. “Even though you’re not doing the sides and mains for 100 percent of the guest count each, you still need to prepare 75 percent of each dish.” While guests are eating a 4oz portions of the brisket rather than an 8oz portions, and a smaller 3.5oz piece of fish, everyone will still want to try everything.
Kids also have their own menu of flatbreads, chicken fingers, little cones with french fries, and mini crudité cups, all served family style as well. This way, everyone can join in on the fun!
GRILLED WHOLE SICILLIAN BRANZINO
Makes 4 servings
- 4 whole Branzino fish (sometimes referred to as European Sea Bass), scales and innards removed
- 4 cups fennel, shaved on a mandolin
- ½ cup fennel fronds, rough chopped
- 1 whole lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 whole lemons, sliced into ½ cm thick rounds
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ tbsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 3 whole oranges, peeled and sliced into segments
- 3 whole grapefruit, peeled and sliced into segments
- In a small mixing bowl combine the lemon juice, half of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and mix with a fork and set aside.
- Preheat a clean grill to medium-high. Combine the remainder of the olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper and rub generously all over the interior and exterior of the cleaned fish.
- Assemble the sliced lemon rounds on the interior of the fish.
- Gently lay the seasoned fish on the preheated grill and cook for 5-7 minutes per side with the lid closed if using a BBQ. Gently flip the fish over and continue to cook on the other side.
- While the fish is cooking combine the shaved fennel, orange segments, grapefruit segments, lemon juice and olive oil mixture from step 1 and gently toss to combine.
To serve, carefully remove the whole fish from the grill and transfer to a platter and assemble the shaved fennel and citrus segment salad alongside. Garnish with a sprinkling of the rough chopped fennel fronds and serve immediately.