The Pearl: The Culinary Heart Of Muskoka

Started as a culinary vision, The Pearl has become the true sweet spot where cuisine, culture and community bond.

The ongoing expansion of Toronto’s TOBEN Hospitality Group is something to behold. It was begun in 2005 by Elana Kochman, Chef Toben Kochman and Ryan Feldman. Their shared vision was to craft a dynamic culinary journey. With an unwavering dedication to exquisite cuisine, top-notch service and unforgettable celebrations, TOBEN has firmly established itself as the reigning powerhouse in the catering and event- service-management industry for the past two decades, providing everything from food trucks to events and wedding catering to venue management to home delivery – and now their first-ever outpost, The Pearl, an artisanal country market and snack bar in Bala/Muskoka.

The Pearl proudly opened this summer and has become a local culinary stop that offers quality contemporary cuisine in cottage country. Locals and travellers who want to order food for group entertaining can grab a bite on their way up north or enjoy a night out with family and friends no matter what they crave.

Chef Toben Kochman began his studies at the Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris, where he was awarded Le Grand Diplôme for excellence. Before breaking into the Toronto food scene at Auberge du Pommier and Susur, he apprenticed for Daniel Boulud. Throughout his journey, his passion for food and his aim for perfection flourished.

Q: How would you describe The Pearl guest experience in one word?
A: To put it in one word, I would say sensory. We’ve created a special space that offers a true experience from the moment you arrive, and that experience varies from person to person. Whether you’re looking to quickly stop in to grab some pantry items to go or coming to sit for hours over dinner and cocktails with a group of friends, The Pearl can be enjoyed in so many ways. This variety remains constant — the fact that you feel like you’ve been taken away for a moment in time. You can savour the food and your company and disconnect from your daily grind.

Q: For customers walking through the front doors of The Pearl with their friends, families or dates, what do you think they are going to be most excited about?
A: The food! It’s been a passion project for us creating this unique menu, and we’re seeing the positive feedback tenfold. You can stop by to grab a slice of lemon loaf to nibble on during your drive or sit down to indulge in a grilled Australian wagyu coulotte steak. We pride ourselves on this variety, and we put the same dedication into our light bites as we do into our decadent dishes.

Q: How would you describe your cooking style?
A: Our catchphrase at TOBEN is “global food with a twist.”We offer such a global variety of cuisines, ranging from big and bold flavours to very nuanced and subtle approaches, but I will say that I always lead with great attention to detail. Whether that’s how flavours might pack a punch when they are combined, the way a dish is plated or how we serve it to guests, it’s the little intricacies that are the most important to me. I think that food creates an experience for those enjoying it, and that goes far beyond just what it tastes like. How does it look? How does it smell? A dish can tell a story and it’s up to us to write that narrative in a detailed and passionate way.

Elana Kochman, co-founder of The Pearl and TOBEN Hospitality Group, says, “I’m more of the dreamer, with big visions and exciting plans. Chef Toben is the culinary creative who loves to innovate and try new things, and Ryan is the level- headed one who keeps us grounded and moving forward.” For Elana, success is the product of being receptive to other people’s ideas. The combination of great minds and ideas put into action is what makes the difference.

Q: What was the guiding philosophy when establishing The Pearl?
A: Innovation and teamwork are the values we most want to share with our guests. Our modern take on cottage cuisine is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how we innovate. We offer a wide variety of grab-and-go dishes in our market space, as well as the opportunity to sit down on our patio and enjoy beautifully plated meals for dinner from our snack bar. The cuisine is unique, accessible and mouth-wateringly good. We are different from any other venue in the area with the food we offer, how we serve it and the onsite experience we provide. We wanted to bring a modern take on dining to the Muskoka area, and that’s always been a leading force for us. Our staff are really like family to us. There is a camaraderie that you can feel when you walk in the door. There’s a genuine love for working together.

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Q: How do you think The Pearl has positioned itself for changing the way people vacation or experience Muskoka?
A: One of the main reasons we opened The Pearl was spurred by observing our clients, friends and family pack up their cars in the city with huge prepared food packages from us, along with a variety of Toronto-based grocers and bakers, and then head up north. We wanted to bring some of that desirable cuisine to the area while still staying true to the authentic, more rustic, nature of Bala. This allows people, whether local or seasonal, to visit a spot right in town and get to enjoy delicious, fresh, modern cuisine, and, by doing so, support the community. Our evening reservations are just crammed and that’s truly a testament to the fact that The Pearl feels like a place that was missing in the area. We have found our home.

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Marc Castaldo

Marc Castaldo