Erica Karbelnik: Founder/Entrepreneur, Karbs Catering and Private Events
Chef Erica Karbelnik is one of Canada’s rising star. She began cooking at a young age with her mom by her side, hosting weekly dinner parties and recipe testing. It was there, in her home kitchen, that sparked her passion for culinary arts.
At 17, chef Erica started cooking professionally. She worked as an apprentice under chef Mark McEwan at ONE Restaurant, which led to a full-time position.
Since, chef Erica has travelled across the globe, bringing flavours from each country into her cooking. She has gone back and forth from Toronto to Vancouver, working alongside some of Canada’s most recognized chefs, training in French Italian cuisine and specializing in handmade pasta.
Chef Erica competed alongside her husband and fellow chef, Josh Karbelnik, in Food Network Canada’s Top Chef Canada, where she took home the title and grand prize. During this competition, she honed into her Moroccan Israeli background bringing those flavours to the table and finding her stride in her cooking style.
Recently, Chef Erica represented Canada in the V1 Campeonato Mundial De Tapas in Spain against 15 of the world’s best for the chance to earn the title. She has also been named the Culinary Ambassador of NBA Courtside Restaurant where she will oversee its globally inspired menu created by Executive Chef Myles Sam.
Q&A with Erica Karbelnik
1.) Tell us your journey to becoming a chef. Has this always been your dream? Would you say there is a lack of female chefs in Canada?
Ever since I was a little girl, and I’m talking very young, about 4 years old… I loved to cook. I was always in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmother. My house was always filled with the most delicious food and we always had people over. I was glued to the TV watching food network and chefs like Anna Olsen, Christine Cuishing, Anthony Sedlack, Emril Legasse.. the list goes on. I would see something on TV and always ask my mom if I could make it. But I never knew being a chef was actually in my cards. I didn’t know it was a real career. I just thought it was something people do on TV. It wasn’t until I started dating my boyfriend (husband now) Josh at the age of 17 that I knew the kitchen was where I belong. He always wanted to be a chef, and introduced me to the real world of cooking. I got an apprenticeship at Mark McEwans ONE Restaurant in the Hazelton Hotel and absolutely fell in love with working in a Kitchen. From there I grew, I went to culinary school, I travelled to as many places as I could and took influence from everywhere I went. When I went on my honeymoon in Morocco, this is where I truly found myself as a chef. The culture, the people, the food. It consumed me. I loved seeing a part of where I was from. And I knew, this was who I was meant to be.
I definitely think that within the years, the kitchen has very much opened up to more female chefs. We truly have some rock stars here. But I think they are more head down, grind and work and do not care too much about being in the spotlight. I know a few here in Canada that can light some flames.
2.) Can you share your journey with us when you were a contestant at Top Chef Canada? What did it mean to you to win this competition?
Top Chef Canada was an unbelievable experience. It was so surreal. My husband and I had been a fan of the show since we were in college, (Top Chef America going into Top Chef Canada) It is the most elite culinary competition out there, truly for the best of the best. We knew one day, we wanted to be on it. I had seen a casting call for the show, and sent it to my husband. It was the beginning of the pandemic, my restaurant was closed and Josh’s restaurant was on the brink of closing. He naturally went “yup we are doing it”. I was a bit hesitant. I was scared and didn’t think I was ready. But on the last day of casting call, I auditioned. We both went through the whole audition process. We couldn’t believe they were actually considering taking us both. In the history of Top Chef it had never been done. Husband and wife.. competing against each other.. no.. …. YES! We both got on and were ecstatic! We do everything together so this just naturally fell into place. We both went into the competition with one thing in mind.. WINNING. this is what we worked for, this is what we dreamed of. Arriving in the Top Chef Canada kitchen was possibly the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. You see it on TV and then you are living it. It was crazy. The lights, the camera, the JUDGES, and all these other chefs around you that you have no idea what they are capable of. Its terrifying. Every day once we started cooking, I got in my groove. I just kept telling myself, you are just cooking. Just do you, be you, and nothing can stop you. I did not care who I was cooking against or what they were cooking. I just kept doing me. It was amazing to see my partner truly shine and show his talent. We worked in separate kitchens so I really never got to see the best of his ability. He kicked butt. His food was stunning. And that was worth so much. Once we made it to the final together we knew.. this was ours to take home. Whether it be me or him.. this is what we came for. We showed love, we showed our heart, and we showed we know how to cook. Together we took home the win, and that… was one of the best feelings in the world.
3) Tell us what inspired you to start your catering business.
After Top Chef, with the pandemic going on. We still were not working. And like many others we needed to find a way to survive. We had gotten a lot of requests from friends and family to do caterings for them.. But with set ups.. they wanted the restaurants back.. and we could give it to them. We loved doing this, and the best part was.. we were doing it for us and together. No more working 18 hour days, not seeing each other, being apart and cooking someone else’s food. This was showcasing who we are and what we can do. And it was so personal. It was going really well and we started getting requests from complete strangers, so we eventually said.. Hey, let’s make this an actual business and see where it goes. Almost 2 years later… business is thriving. We are so busy sometimes we don’t know what to do with it. I am so proud of how far we’ve come and what we have achieved. The best part is, we have time for our family. We work damn hard, and push every single day.. we dont take days off, but.. we work when we want, and are always able to be there for our little girl.
4) Tell us more about your business. Who are your clients and share with us some of your biggest achievements so far.
We bring the restaurant to you. We do weddings, buffets, corporate parties, bachelorette / bachelor parties, canape parties etc.. but what we really specialize in is customized tasting menus in the comfort of your own home. We don’t have any lists to choose from, we work one on one with the client and create a menu specifically for them. So no two menus are ever alike. It’s challenging and rewarding and definitely makes our brains work. We do a full restaurant set up and transform your dining area, from candles and florals to glass ware, plates and cutlery. We have servers, and bartenders and always offer a full fine dining service. Our clients are anyone who loves food. We have such a wide range of people who contact us, from extreme foodies who want a blind 10 course tasting menu, to the luxurious foodies who want the best of the best, to people who are just looking for a good time and some good food with a great atmosphere. Since we have opened, we have some clients who have booked us 6 times already. This for us.. is everything. Those repeat clients, who keep coming back. It makes you feel like you are doing a good job. We have one client who has told us multiple times, he’s a food snob, has eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world. He has gone to Thomas Keller’s restaurant multiple times, and nothing compares to what we do. This was one of the best compliments we could ever get. We have about 3 more events booked with him this year .
5) Can you share some set backs and what are some of the hardest parts of owning your own business?
When owning your own business there are always set backs. There are some months you have no business, especially in this economy at the moment. You are everyone, chef, server, general manager, bookings, accountant, supplier, printer, laundry, the list goes on. There’s no one else to do it except you. And you have no choice because if you don’t, the business will fail. It’s a constant struggle with advertising and spreading yourself so thin sometimes.. (I am a mom too) but this is my other baby. And I will do anything and everything to protect it, and watch it grow and strive. Every day is a struggle, but every day is a reward as well.
6) What are you most looking forward to in the future as an entrepreneur?
There are so many things I am looking forward to.. and its small things, currently we have a website being built.. I’m ecstatic about this! We are going to be at the TO Food and Drink Fest at the end of the month with a booth showcasing our company, and we needed to get signs made. Like full body length signs.. I cried when I saw them.. My vision, my company.. it’s coming to life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds and I will strive everyday to make it successful.
7) Can you give some advice to other female founders?
Don’t Stop. Have kids, have a family, have your business.. It’s possible! It’s hard.. and sometimes seems like it’s not possible. But keep pushing. No one is going to stop you other than yourself. If you believe in what you do, keep striving for it. Sleep will come, rest will come, when I retire on a beach in Mexico when I’m old. For now… I push myself to the limit every single day and I do not stop. You can have it all. You just have to work for it