Toben Kochman: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Toben Food by Design Executive Chef/Founder Toben Kochman, whose company specializes in providing fresh, local, artisan cuisine, custom menus, and event management services to both corporate and private clientele. What advice does he have for other young professionals? Read on to find out…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
I am the Executive Chef/Founder of Toben Food by Design catering. We specialize in providing fresh, local, artisan cuisine, custom menus, and event management services to both corporate and private cliental. Our philosophy when it comes to food is that the success of any dish begins with fresh, beautiful ingredients. We change our menus seasonally, always aiming to feature high quality local products, and continually create new dishes that tap into regions and trends from all over the world. The second half of this equation is my sister, partner, co-founder and director of special events, Elana. Elana and her team of event management professionals understand the importance of customer care, and they do whatever it takes to ensure our clients fully realize their event goals.

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
Believe it or not, I “fell into it.” I was a science major throughout high school and university, but from the time I was young I was always cooking in restaurants to make money and because I had a hidden passion for it. After university I had the honour of attending the Cordon Bleu in Paris. I graduated and worked over eas for some pretty amazing chefs for a few years. Then when I returned to Toronto I worked along Susur Lee at what was then “Susur.”  After a number of years working in restaurants, I decided to take a “break.” It was supposed to be a longer break, but about a month in I was asked to be a guests chef at a few charity events, which I gladly accepted. Immediately following that I was asked to do events in private homes, then small offices, then holiday parties, then event venues, then large scale charity galas, etc. It literally snowballed. Lucky for me, I had my partner (and sister) Elana to help me through it all. We were thrown in head-first and were determined to come out on top! We fell in love with it all – the joys, the challenges, and the fact that no two events are ever the same. We realized very quickly there was a huge desire from the people of Toronto to change the face of what catering could be. We always believed in ‘scratch cooking’ so we came up with the idea of starting a unique brand of catering which was completely oriented towards customizing events and showcasing food as if it were from a five-star restaurant. And so here we are, almost eight years later still creating/changing our menus seasonally in response to the well-educated Torontonian palate.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part…there are so many things I love about of the business. I love my staff and my chefs are amazing! They have so much heart and talent, and it is a pleasure to work side by side with them. I love creating new dishes, I love seeing people enjoying our cuisine…I think that is truly one of the best parts of this business, knowing that what you have created is bringing people so much joy…and a full stomach! The most challenging part…hmmm…very good question. Truthfully, catering is a challenge in and of itself. Every event is unique; the timing, the space/environment, and the menu. It all changes constantly. So, I think the biggest challenge is making sure no matter where you are or what event your catering, that the food and service is always consistent and fantastic.

Where do you see your business going in five years?
This year we are expanding, doubling the size of our current facility (both in the office and the kitchen). In five years hopefully we will be tripling the size! We have always toyed with the idea of a pop-up restaurant or two. Perhaps even a cookbook detailing tricks of the trade or a private supper club.  The sky’s the limit with us…we love what we do and truthfully we just strive to make sure that every single event is a success. 

What does success look like to you?
Happiness! A client smiling/raving about how incredible their event was, a fantastic letter of thanks, my chefs loving their creations. For me, from an artistic/culinary standpoint, a plate that is balanced, beautiful to look at and leaves you feeling completely satisfied in mind, palette, and stomach!

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Too many to count. But if I had to choose one, I would probably talk about the 1st annual Three To Be Stems of Hope Gala. It holds a lot meaning for Elana and I. Our friends/founders asked us to be the feature chef/catering company at the gala, and we have been a recurring part of the event for the past three years. It is one of the most incredible fundraising initiatives in Toronto that is truly changing the face of neurological disorders/advancement. If you don’t know the charity I highly urge you to seek it out. We have catered to over 1000 guests year after year. Whether it is superheros or robotica, the menu is always custom designed to match the gala’s specific theme. Everything is showcased in the form of dynamic food station set-ups or passed hors d’oeuvres. 

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Stay humble, know you are only as good as your last performance, and never ever forget about the people that helped you get you to where you are. Give back! With each success that comes your way, never forget to give back and be charitable. I believe this goes hand in hand with success. 

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Yes. Many charities. They are all important to us for the reason mentioned above.

– Three To Be                                        
– NYGH – Celebrity Human Race
– Baycrest                                                
– Scotia Bank Pro AM for Alzheimer’s
– Eva’s Initiatives                                
– Avery Goldman Foundation
– Project Sunshine                              
– Imagine a Cure for Leukemia
– Jacob’s Ladder/Project Give Back for Youth        
– CARE Canada
– Re-think Breast Cancer                
– Alzheimer’s Society/Memory Ball
– CANFAR (Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research) 

What is Notable to you?
Hard work, Positive attitude, Honesty, Generosity, Passion, Family.

BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Android – just switched from an eight-year relationship with BlackBerry!

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
In my spare time I try to keep active by playing lots of sports, eating well (this is definitely a priority), surrounding myself with good people, and taking a little time each day to re charge my mind – a good book always helps!