Chef & Somm's Chardonnay and Hummus Dinner

Chef Eyal Liebman and sommelier Rebecca Meïr-Liebman have been treating diners to exquisite private dining events for years. Most known for their chocolate themed dinners, Chef & Somm recently switched up the menu to go back to Eyal's roots. As Rebecca noted that evening - it took eight years, but the Chef was finally opening his pantry to us at their Hummus and Chardonnay dinner.

My taste buds thank him for this new foray as the Isreali pantry is robust and filled with vibrant spices and herbs. Over the 7-course dinner ($135; early bird tickets for $120 inclusive of wine), there was zesty z’a’atar, nutty tahini and vibrant lemon flavours. All paired with carefully chosen Southbrook wines to help elevate the flavourful dishes.

Before the meal, we were treated to fish belly laced falafals, nibbling on the kabobs while pursuing the art collection on display. Made with fava beans, instead of the typical chickpeas, there was a sweet nuttiness to the mixture. The falafal still had the trademark crispy crust, but also more bite to the texture. Despite not being doused with sauce, it was still flavourful and moist.

These pop-up dinners occur at venues across Toronto, about every few months, each featuring an artistic element as well as supporting a local charity. On this occasion, Deborah Kanfer's photography of whimsically combined Toronto landmarks were prominently displayed.

In support of the recent crisis, proceeds were donated to the Soujourn House, a shelter that provides food, counseling and housing to refugees. Rebecca recounts how hard it was to immigrate to Canada, but she realized they were the lucky ones as they had time to prepare and family to support them. The stark realization of how difficult it must be for those who need to flee and can't prepare made them want to support the cause even more. 

For the seated dinner, we started off with a spread of Isreali salad, plump olives and an inventive hummus dish. Topping the silky hummus was a mound of beet kubbah nia, a smooth concoction of marinated lamb and raw beets that is reminiscent of tartare. There's a coolness to it that's just lightly warmed from Chef Eyal's hands as he formed the mixture and provides the diner two toppings for the za'atar dusted pita.

The mixture of microfine tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley in the Israeli salad was delicious, adding crunch against the hummus. Chef & Somm describes the dish as being comprised of simple ingredients, but when combined together it provides so much flavour... the essence of Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Next, the fish synia, a white fish poached with tahini, which was light yet not overpowered by the luscious sauce. Sitting on a bed of couscous, everything worked well together, especially the bright pop of lemon that contrasted against the rich tahini

If you could only smell the citrus smokiness permeating off the borage and orange scented meatballs! When Chef Eyal brought the Iranian smoked rice around in its dried form, I was surprised by how aromatic it was and could only imagine the possibilities for recipes. Oh how I could have easily inhaled a few more helpings of these meatballs. Perhaps even topped on a mound of fluffy rice and smothered with more of the sage and orange tomato sauce. 

Lamb is a popular meat in Middle Eastern cooking, so it's no surprise it was featured on Chef & Somm’s "Back to My Roots" menu. Done traditionally, the saffron and rosemary roasted shank still had bite to it, while the Meyer lemon rind added an intense contrast against the earthy harisa Le Puy lentils.

Before dessert, a cheese course was presented with Eyal's interpretation of the savoury pastry, boureka. The Egyptian buffalo feta was spun into a mousse and despite looking like a dessert, the dish had a wonderful savoury element when you’re greeted by the smooth creamy cheese and get a hint of onion. A tipoff to their chocolate dinners came back through the boureka with the Valrhona Caraïbe dark chocolate sauce drizzled over the blueberries and puff pastry.

A peach tart made from Ontario’s soft fruit ended the evening. Mounds of crisp buttery streusel, sweet peaches, rehydrated apricots and a light labaneh (thick yoghurt) sorbet graced the plate allowing the diner to mix-and-match to their heart’s content. On top, a walnut sablee, a crisp shortbread-like cookie to tie everything together.

Hospitality and connection to the land were aspects to why Rebecca picked Southbrook to partner with their meal. The Niagara-on-the-Lake winery is known for their organic and biodynamic methods for creating their product; reminding consumers that how we farm matters – they believe in feeding people for centuries, not just a year.

Of all the wines we sampled that evening, the most unique was the small lot 'Orange' wine taken straight from owner John’s cellar. Despite its name, the wine is still made from grapes with the distinct orange hue coming from whole clusters of grapes being added to the white wine during the fermentation process.

Chef & Somm provide private dining services to people in the comfort of their homes. After gathering a group of friends and family, contact Eyal and Rebecca and they will customize a menu to your taste and budget. If you aren’t able to organize such an event, their pop-up dinners are the next best thing. The evening was more than just food and wine: I also had the chance to meet a diverse group of people connected by our love of dining and there was an educational piece to the evening as well. Dining is so much more than just what you eat and drink - it’s also about the people, service and atmosphere. Chef & Somm gets this and strives to make everyone feel like a VIP, if only for one 7-course meal. 

Disclaimer: The above meal was provided on a complimentary basis. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

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 Location: Toronto, Canada

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