When Jamie asked if I wanted to cover a beer dinner, I got excited. Them I heard it was at Six Pints/The Beer Academy. I started to balk, and wonder if I didn’t want to go. Then, I realized that my feelings about BIG BEER and Molson owning Six Pints/The Beer Academy didn’t matter, and it was all about the food anyway.
Once I got over myself, I met up with pâtissier Eyal Liebman and his wife Sommelière Rebecca Meïr-Liebman at the Artscape Wychwood Barns to talk about his food philosophy and what he was all about.
Good Food Revolution: You tend to focus on pastry-oriented food, and chocolate seems to be a natural fit with pastry. How did you find working with beer and pastry?
Eyal Liebman: Well, beer is made of grain. And grain is my department. The way they decided to divide the kitchen is weird to me. People don’t look at pasta as my department. Pasta is dough. Dough is my department, so pasta is my department.
It seems more organic for people to see a regular cook cook a cake, than watching me take a steak and cooking it, as a pastry chef. But mind you, once upon a time we weren’t that divided in the kitchen. Everybody did everything, and then we decided what we are.
To me pastry is not just about dough and what you do, it’s more about the essence of how you do it. How you approach things.
GFR: So you were born in Israel, and spent some time in the U.S. before coming to Canada. Why Canada over the U.S.?
EL: IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?!?! Why Toronto? Because I’m very special here. In France I’d just be one more cook. Not the U.S. because in large part, we don’t have the right to bear arms. We’re socially aware. New York is a melting pot. Canada is not. You can live as you are, in a community.
GFR: Which of the beer at The Beer Academy made you go WOW?
EL: No. The big wow for me at the Beer Academy was that it belongs to a bigger thing, a bigger commercial entity, and I don’t tend to like them, but they’re under the flag of Six Pints (Molson) and they’re doing something very creative. Something very individual. That was the one thing that impressed me, rather than one particular beer.
GFR: What do you refer to your food as?
EL: I didn’t decide to be a pastry chef. Didier (Leroy) decided I was a pastry chef. It came from the fact that he claimed I moved like a pastry chef. The way that I move in the kitchen. I don’t have the same sense of urgency.
My line of thought is different, my flavours, the way that I look at my ingredients. I think I look at my ingredients like a regular cook, but my go-to flavours are different. Chocolate, vanilla. I love dough.
Regular cooks tend to look at things very wide, while pastry chefs tend to do one thing at a time. I know how to divide my day. This is happening now. It’s rising. It has two-and-a-half hours and now I’m on this. That’s the way I think. My food looks and feels a bit different because of that.
GFR: How did you come up with the menu?
EL: I sat down with a sampling flight at the Beer Academy. I tasted a beer and said, Okay, that will work with that. I just wrote the menu there. It’s like a painter going to a canvas. You take the canvas (miming painting emphatically) and okay. Yep, that’s a bird. I think the biggest thing you see in art, in general, is the misconception something Picasso said. “If you know what you’re going to do, what’s the point in doing it?” And they forget they lost one word in the translation. Picasso said, “If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the point in doing it?” There’s a picture in your head, now you’re exploring the possibilities of what you’re doing. But you can’t just go ahead. The menu I wrote down at the Beer Academy isn’t the exact same, but it’s pretty close.”
After meeting Eyal I was excited to try his food and how he was going to be pairing his beautiful edible artistic creations with different beers. Having the menu in advance only meant that I knew what the cocktails were going to be, what beer was going to be used, and what the food was going to be. I was more excited from having met Eyal and Rebecca than knowing what was ahead. The intrigue definitely overruled the knowledge.
Walking into The Beer Academy reminded me of the night my now three year old daughter Norah was born just down the street at St. Michael’s Hospital. Why? I tried to get a pint from Duggan’s (They used to be in the same building before The Beer Academy) at 3 AM, but they were closed for the night. It’s a beautiful space. Even late on a dreary January afternoon there was lots of natural light, and wood. And space.
As people began to trickle in, and the room filled up, there was still a lot of space. Some people knew each other, while others became acquainted with one another. Everyone was there to enjoy themselves and the crowd was attitude free.
It was great to feel comfortable and at home, even though it was cold and I really didn’t know anyone. And when I say cold, it’s not just referring to the blustery wintery cold January weather, but also that the heat had been off in the restaurant’s kitchen for a few days, and caused a few dishes to be redone because of expected temperatures not being met.
I spent a fair bit of time chatting/bonding with Stephen Rich, head brewer at The Beer Academy and an all-around awesome dude. I look forward to spending more time with him in the future, and not just because he’s a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Sarah Jones’ cocktails were different, and not really to my liking. That said, I’m not one for over-the-top cocktails, which these were. They were all sweet, and really pushed the envelope with unique and interesting ingredients. Some more overpowering than others. I’m more of a gin ‘n tonic or a rye ‘n ginger in a tall glass with lots of lime. Most of the attendees seemed to be enjoying the cocktails, and I certainly applaud the ingenuity and effort!
The food and beer matched together beautifully. None of the beer or food jumped out as not working with the flow of the night and the way they were tickling my tastebuds.
The hors d’oeuvre of croquettes (filled with IPA whipped cream) and prunes in kolsch blonde ale, wrapped in bacon were divine. Knowing there was a lot of food ahead, I only had two of each, but would have gladly had more.
Stephen and Rebecca tag-teamed in talking about the beer, the food, the brewery, and Eyal’s/L is for’s philosophy while we enjoyed a nice light grilled romaine salad, paired with a tasty Belgian maple dubbel. The second appetizer really took me on a trip because it reminded me of my childhood. Not that the food was that good when I was growing up, but chicken gizzards were part of something my mum made from time-to-time. The innards came in a bag and she’d save/freeze them and then use them for this one dish.
The kolsch blonde ale country bread was heavenly, and the gizzards and hearts marinaded in the same beer was beyond words for me. I loved the Begian Tripel that came with the Pain Surprise, and it worked beautifully with the salmon (cured in the tripel) and beet tartare, but I have a weakness for salmon and beets. The combination of different tastes on this plate left me a little weak-kneed, especially after the awesomeness of the Pain Surprise.
While I liked the other beer served at The Beer Academy, the two Belgians were my favourites. I didn’t find the other four styles, black lager, baltic porter, IPA and kolsch stood out significantly. They were good beer, made with character and conviction, but they were missing the WOWs of the dubbel and tripel.
Speaking of WOWs, the main of lamb shank (jarret d’agneau) with root vegetables was that much better than the previous two, and they were really superb.
The cheese delivery was a bundle of fun, as it was a puffy pasty tart with porter poached pear (YUM!), walnuts in porter and baked goat cheese with a honey/beet/fig sauce. The Baltic Porter worked really nicely with this dish as the varied tastes with the tart made the porter a little more dynamic.
Dessert was nice and light, as the macerated strawberries marinated in India Pale Ale, with white chocolate mousse and genoise in IPA soaker was quite nice. Again it was another really nice pairing, as I wouldn’t have thought of a black lager as being the dessert beer choice.
L is for… really did a great job of hosting a lovely evening, of good people, delicious food, tasty beer and a different venue.
Chef Liebman has a special Chocolate Dinner coming up on March the 3rd.
Despite not being a huge chocolate fan, GFR’s Jamie Drummond enjoyed the last one so much that he felt compelled to write this.
Click here for more details, and for information about further L Is For events.
David Kruger is a kindergarten teacher in Parkdale, after a decade teaching in Regent Park. He’s an active advocate for social justice and food security. He lives in Toronto with his superstar wife and awesome daughter, and never ceases to stop being amazed at the process of creating and/or eating tasty dining experiences. And he likes baking stuff.