A year ago, I was planning a birthday event for someone in my life. In the midst of nationwide lockdowns due to the pandemic, planning a birthday celebration was especially difficult. “Should I make their favourite dinner at home? What about a surprise party? Wait, that won’t work, we can’t have people over!” I stewed for days over what to do, searching “creative at-home birthday party ideas.” I almost settled for a homemade cake and a few streamers, but then I stumbled upon the private Chef & Somm in Toronto. I opened up the web page and was immediately intrigued. Jackpot.
Chef Eyal Liebman (they/them) and their partner, sommelier Rebecca Meir (she/her), are the co-founders of Chef & Somm, a Toronto-based service that brings private fine dining to the comfort of your home or place of business. A celebratory dinner party, corporate event, or even a bachelor or bachelorette bash, any event that is cause for elevated cuisine with thoughtful wine pairings, they cover all the bases. With an expanded range of services, adapting to the new normal, they also offer virtual wine tasting seminars.
The entire experience is customizable, from the number of courses to the types of flavours you’d like to incorporate. To my surprise, they also ask how much creative freedom I wanted chef Liebman to have with the dishes; I went with total freedom, the fun and obvious choice. There is even an interior designer as part of the team, Erica Boyes, who will work with you to capture your vision and bring it to life. Whether farmhouse chic or Gatsby glamour, Boyes leaves no detail overlooked – she can utilize and transform any space.
Liebman immigrated to Canada from Israel with 15 years of sound engineering experience and was hard-pressed to find a job. They were rejected from many job openings for being over-qualified or not having enough Canadian experience (talk about a Catch-22). Amidst these challenges, the 2008 recession hit, and Liebman found themself working as a dishwasher and line cook. It wasn’t long before Liebman came up with the dream of becoming an independent chef, exploring the depths and intricacies of cuisine.
Liebman is known for unorthodox pairings. One of the dishes I had was a tomato sorbet; another, seared tuna and popcorn, an unexpected harmony of flavours. These unconventional pairings are meant to challenge the taste buds. The complexities illustrate the chef’s ability to use food to tell a story and go beyond traditional flavour profiles. The dishes are meant to create conversation: “My job on this Earth is to serve people dishes that would challenge them,” Liebman explains. Going outside of your comfort zone with food can be a transformative experience, awakening a newfound appreciation for flavour, as it did for me.
Sommelier Rebecca Meir paired all seven courses with spectacular wines; with every pour and swish of the glass, she walked us through a tasty journey, telling the story of each wine and explaining its complexities. While highlighting the storylines between wine and food, Meir talks about her experiences travelling the world visiting vineyards and building relationships with winemakers. As an ode to her love of wine, Meir teaches wine-tasting seminars, whether for private dining, corporate events, or personal curiosity. Her philosophy is to educate rather than dictate the wine-tasting experience.
Chef & Somm offers more than taking the guesswork out of planning a soiree and providing a luxurious dining experience. They also use their craft as a method of advocacy. Their goal is to have conversations about identity, race, and classism as an added element. This is a new trajectory for the business. The duo made the conscious decision to align Chef & Somm with their profound social awareness. The inspirations behind this decision are vast and personal. As a member of the LGBTQA+ community, Liebman is confronted with uncomfortable situations daily. “Every time I watch a government official talk with trans-exclusive wording, I am reminded of how unwanted my existence is to most,” Liebman says.
Over the last year, divisiveness became a common theme in the political and social landscape. In an effort to create some semblance of unity, Chef & Somm wanted to incorporate dialogue into the experience and their creative process. To do this takes careful creation, curation, and a profound awareness. For Liebman, this means paying attention to every element in the dining experience, because every detail plays a role in constructing or deconstructing narrative. In part, this means sourcing ingredients from organic and ethical farmers, using dishware from Canadian artisans, and supporting small businesses. Ultimately, being intentional with every decision and purchase is a necessary facet of their business model.
It has been almost a year since I experienced Chef & Somm’s craftsmanship, and it was pivotal in shaping how I look at and experience cuisine. I can’t help but be inspired by people like chef Liebman who use their talent or niche to affect something much bigger. They now use their platform as a means of discussion, creating a space comfortable for provocative dialogue. For Chef & Somm, the opportunity to not be political is inherently privileged—thus, their ethos to redefine luxury dining while trying to unpack and advocate for social and political injustice.