I first met the esteemed Eyal Liebman years ago when I tasted the most wonderfully refined and delicate cheesecake of my life. I was immediately impressed that his qualified confidence was balanced by a humility to experiment and develop as an artist. The way he chooses his ingredients, and his respect for ingredients and technique, are impeccable. In between consulting restaurants he, together with his wife, sommelier, Rebecca Liebman, has been offering a monthly dinner series called “L is For…” that has been piquing curiousity and taste buds across Toronto. Recently he has also become, to much fanfare, the new chef at Toronto restaurant, MoRoCo, in Yorkville—and we are all excited!
What leads a sound engineer into patisserie?
Chef Didier Leroy looked at me one day and said, “you move like a pastry chef”. From there I started to look into pastry more and more. Some things choose you – you don’t choose them.
Does your background in sound engineering influence you in the kitchen?
When I was a sound engineer in the film industry in Israel, it was, for me, like being a musician. There is music, harmony and structure, too, in how things go on a plate. It’s a song in my head; it’s a rhythm. You cannot disconnect music from food. It’s all about sound.
Where did you go to cooking school?
Humber—for one year. Then I started my career at the hardest restaurant in the city, Didier.
You often credit Chef Didier.
I tasted his food and I knew that I needed to work for him.
What is the most important lesson you learned from him?
Humility. For example, French is a language, and the word “chef” means leader. People say, “I am a chef”. Does that mean you went to leadership school? No. You went to cooking school, so you are a cook. A chef is not a cook; a cook is a cook; a cook is a Cuisenaire. Chef is the leader. You need to know your space and give respect to your product.
You have gained a lot of praise for your “L is For…” chocolate dinners. What is your motivation for them?
Dining has become something that is not such an experience anymore. It’s become a satisfactory thing. I want people to come for an experience, to experience chocolate as an ingredient; to experience chocolate as the different terroir that I’m bringing. I’m trying to bring that. I’m trying to educate, to give language, to paint a picture. It’s not just a “chocolate dinner”. It’s about enjoying something cultural.
There seems to be a jazz-like interplay between chef, wine maker and customer at your dinners.
I am an intuitive cook. I do what I feel like doing, and I’m inspired by what’s around me. The dinners are customized to each company or event for a unique dining experience. We work with the customer, the space and the winemaker. We use chocolate in every dish, and we pair with a different local Ontario winery every dinner—introducing local wines and also the savoury possibilities of chocolate. Pairing chocolate and wine in each dinner with all the other ingredients based on the season. “A good wine has a beginning, middle, and an end”, adds Rebecca Liebman. “It has a story to it. When I go out to dinner, I want to have a story there. We try to bring that connection, between the winemaker who is an artist and who inspires the chef, who is also an artist inspired by his ingredients. There should be a story”.
MoRoCo is also known for both the sweet and the savoury sides of chocolate. I can’t think of a more perfect partnership. On your menu you have oysters with shallot and cocoa nib mignonette; confit de canard ravioli made with chocolate pasta; venison chocolate Wellington—what is your attraction to chocolate?
The minute I started touching chocolate, the minute I started custards…It’s a wonder, there’s magic about “pastry”. The magic that makes people mystified, and makes it a precise science. The way that Valhrona chocolate sets is wonderful. Chocolate from the Caribbean or from South Africa are not the same, and that’s what I love. Chocolate is not just sweet; it can also be savoury. Look at the ingredients as ingredients. Understand the chemistry that goes into the formula. It’s a science.
Tell me about your transition from Pastry Chef to Executive Chef.
An executive chef can makes desserts, so why can’t a pastry chef make the dinner? Whether an amuse bouche or pasta—it’s all dough. The difference is that it’s not a about any dish; it’s an attitude. It’s the way you think, it’s the way you move.
Peering into the kitchen at MoRoCo, one can see that Eyal Liebman is in his element, moving with rhythm, authority and versatility. Like a musician, he engineers a symphony of ingredients including chocolate, wine and his own imagination, and engages us for an elevated cultural dining experience.
* Photos 1 and 5 by Ian Fairweather; 2 and 3 by Eyal Liebman; 4 by Trevor Campbell *