Shalom Life | July 20, 2014

Top 20 Under 40: Toben Kochman

Kochman is the Founder and Executive Chef of Toben Food by Design

By: Daniel Koren

Published: March 6th, 2014 in Culture » Food » News

Shalom Life is proud to present our 4th annual Top 20 Under 40 list. Over the next 20 days, we will showcase 20 individuals of diverse talents and backgrounds that have made a significant contribution to their field both locally and globally. From entrepreneurs to philanthropists, entertainers to doctors, this list places a spotlight on a small sampling of the spectacular, innovative, and passionate Jews that call Toronto home.

Top 20 Under 40: Toben Kochman

Age: 34

Some people look at food as merely a method of sustenance, a necessary part of our daily lives that is neither luxurious or wonderful, but, rather, a mandatory occurrence in order to keep on keeping on.

Chef Toben Kochman, however, harbors an entirely different mindset.

The 34-year-old chef and entrepreneur has made a name for himself in Toronto's thriving culinary industry. He's been able to achieve such success by abiding his own individual mantra: "When it comes to food, the success of any dish begins with fresh, beautiful ingredients."

It's really as simple as that.

Currently the Executive Chef and Founder of Toben Food by Design (TFBD Catering), Kochman has an exceptional background in the culinary arts. He studied all aspects of cuisine and pastry at the preeminent Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris, where he was awarded with Le Grande Dipome for his exceptional prowess as a culinary expert. No small feat.

Following Paris, he worked alongside Susur Lee, as his Sous Chef no less, at the prestigious Susur Lee Restaurant in Toronto. Afterwards, he founded TFBD Catering alongside his sister, Elana, who is the Director of Special Events. Backed with her team of management professionals, TFBD Catering continues to offer both their corporate and private clientele with gourmet, trendy dishes that use only high-quality and local ingredients, which are pleasing to both the eye and your taste buds.

I had a chance to catch up with Kochman during one of his breaks, which do not come often to him.

In fact, I believe he was overseeing some of the prep-work as we talked.

Shalom Life (SL): Was it always your dream to become a chef?

Toben Kochman (TK): I have always had a passion for food, cooking often with my grandmother and mother, but the dream came to fruition once I started working as a cook in the professional food industry. It was just a job at first that I loved, and then I discovered that I had a talent for it. When I was pre-med, on my way to a career in medicine [he did a bachelor of science at McMaster], I decided I enjoyed working at a French bistro more than studying algebraic and chemical equations. I took some time off and traeled through Europe, through Israel, and worked in a kitchen on a kibbutz.

That’s when I realized this was unmistakably the right career choice for me, and I really wanted to pursue it on a much grander stage. So it kind of happened a bit later on in life but I always had that underlying passion for food. It was innate.

SL: Jewish people and food often go hand in hand. Were you inspired by your mama’s culinary dishes growing up?

TK: Definitely, it was a huge inspiration. I used to make gefilte fish, and latkes from scratch, since I was a little kid, and my parents in general had a very global appetite for food, even atypically to some Jewish families. While we were of course focused on staples, we were also exposed to food from around the world and traveled a lot, and that gave me a huge foundation for the love of all foods and cultures.

On the kibbutz, I would work part-time doing landscaping, and then I would plant food and vegetables and work in the field. In the afternoon, I would cook schnitzel and all the other kibbutz staples, learning how to pickle vegetables, make pita from scratch, etc., and it was just such an awesome experience to work hand-in-hand with the kibbutzim. That was very inspirational.

SL: After working at Susur Lee you decided to take a ‘break’ from working at restaurants. Was it your intention to start a catering company?

TK: Susur was the longest stint I had. I really admired him and what he was doing and how creative he is. From there I worked my way up from the bottom to be one of those operating right hands. It was great. It taught me a lot, and you always learn from your experiences what to emulate and what you want to do, and things you want to mirror, etc.

I wasn’t sure what my next move was after I left Susur, all I knew was that I needed a change, a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t sure if that would be another restaurant or travelling again. I knew I wanted to be in food and it just happened when I got approached through networks of people to do a couple of charity events. One was for breast cancer research, and I did some high-end functions at some really nice private homes, and it was my first time putting my name out there on my own. I didn't relate it back to catering, but I was all for the cause.

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