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Chef Michelle Usprech for Beer Bistro at The Chef’s House (George Brown College)

Michelle Usprech (photo courtesy George Brown College)

A beer pairing dinner? How intriguing!  It’s become so commonplace to hear about wine and food pairing these days that it was very refreshing to see Michelle Usprech’s beer-themed dinner listed amongst the George Brown College Chefs’ House Rising Chef Series dinners this year! Basically a showcase for up and coming Canadian culinary talent, as well as a chance for the guest chefs to mentor the George Brown students, the Rising Chef Series highlights the emerging talent of one young Canadian chef (a Geoge Brown College graduate) who introduces and serves a multi-course menu of their own creation.

Michelle, who is currently Head Chef at Beer Bistro in Toronto, graduated from George Brown College with a Culinary Arts diploma in 2005. Before graduating, she was cooking under the wing of beer expert and Beer Bistro owner Brian Morin. Prep, pans, garde manger, calling the line – Michelle took the leap, and wanted to learn more. In her time at Beer Bistro Michelle has done a lot of traveling which has helped to inspire her cuisine; beer tours in Belgium, cheese making in Vermont, and many multi-course dinners in her favourite food city, New York. Michelle’s food philosophy is to feed anyone who’s hungry, and put your heart into each dish.

Michelle’s menu was quite the spread: For the reception, she served Shrimp Tempura in blonde ale batter and Pork Frikadelle with sage, clove and brown ale carmelized onions. Both were paired with Erdinger Weisse Bier.

Her first course was a Bacon Quail Chop with parmesan truffle custard & De Koninck braised mushrooms, paired with Palm.  The second course featured Oysters, Peals and Salmon with tapioca stout mignonette & white beer-cured salmon, paired with Delirum Tremens (one of my favourite beers when I lived in Brussels).  A third (!!!) course was my favourite -  Ale Braised Veal Cheeks with parsnip ravioli, sautéed kale & pearl onion ale jus, paired with Affligem Blond.  And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Michelle even managed to sneak some beer into dessert with her Peanut Butter & Jelly Doughnuts with banana Weisse Bier ice cream, paired with Früli Strawberry beer.

Yep, that’s a lot of beer (including the Delirium at a whopping 9%), but both Neil and I appreciated that it was all served in the correct glasses, even if we couldn’t finish them all.  It was fun, in addition to hearing Michelle introduce and explain each course, to learn a little something about the beers from the kind people of McClelland Beers who provided the libations for the night.

One of my favourite parts of the night (apart from the veal cheeks and the banana Weisse Bier ice cream) was watching the interaction between Michelle and the George Brown students. Not that long out of the programme herself, Michelle exudes a casual confidence in the kitchen that you can tell the students all aspire to.  She maintained a tight ship as she kept an eye on her food being plated and going out, but not in a bossy or intimidating way.

Neil and I were fortunate enough to be sitting with Michelle’s boyfriend (also a chef), dad and step mum and she always took the time to stop for a quick chat if she was in our vicinity. She’s friendly and approachable, with absolutely no airs and graces and truly, genuinely enjoys watching people enjoy her food.

Michelle’s dinner opened more than a few eyes to the idea that you can pair beer with every course, including dessert. We were seated with others at our table who claimed they were “not beer people” but had been curious about the pairing dinner.  There were a LOT of appreciative “I like THIS one” statements echoing around that end of the table, followed up with “and I’m not even a beer person!”  Proof positive that the right beer paired with the right food can definitely work.  Of course, the best pairing is the one you enjoy, but a little helping hand from the likes of Chef Usprech doesn’t do any harm either. I’m definitely going to be looking to incorporate more beer into my cooking from now on… Now, about that banana Weiss Bier ice cream……

Bookings are now open for the following “Rising Star Chef” Dinners:

Chef Geoff O’Connor from Nota Bene, Toronto  –
Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chef Craig Madore from Le Canard Mort, Toronto  –
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Time:  Doors Open at 6:30pm (canapés served), 7:00pm the Chef will introduce the meal and the  first of four courses is served)
Location:  The Chefs’ House, 215 King St. East, Toronto
Cost:  $85 per person ALL INCLUSIVE (four-course dinner with wine pairings, taxes & gratuity included).  Proceeds to benefit student scholarships to support the next generation of “Rising Star Chefs”.

The Chefs’ House restaurant is also open to the public for lunch and dinner each Monday through Friday throughout the year.  Reservations can be made by calling 416-415-2260 or online at thechefshouse.com.

The Chefs’ House Restaurant website


George Brown Chef School website
George Brown College Hospitality & Tourism website

Disclosure: Neil and I were guests of George Brown College at the dinner prepared by Chef Michelle Usprech. I was not under any obligation to write this post and was not otherwise compensated. Opinions expressed are 100% my (our) own.

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7 Responses to Chef Michelle Usprech for Beer Bistro at The Chef’s House (George Brown College)

  1. Mr. Neil March 11, 2012 at 11:22 #

    This is a popular series, as evidenced by the (very) full restaurant. Overall, a delightful meal.

    The dessert was the only “flop”, in my opinion: the doughnuts just were too thick and heavy. But the heavenly ice cream more than made up for this. ;-)

    As a pairing menu, beer in fact often works better with “everyday” meals than wine. (Heretical for me to say, I know…) Don’t believe me? If you’re lucky enough to find it, try grabbing a bottle of German “smokebeer” – Bamberg Rauchbier Marzen – and pairing this with barbeque ribs. Divine.

    Needless to say, MIchelle’s menu highlighted the beers nicely. Only one course did I find myself actually wishing for a glass of wine. Much as I love the Affligem, I didn’t think it had enough stuffing to match the veal cheeks. I Southern Rhone red would have been my preference, or a heavier ale – possibly even a porter.

    But, as they say, it is personal taste, which is, well – personal.

    The evening was also accentuated by some fine beer history and explanations of the different styles being given between courses by the expert from McClelland.

    Thanks again for a great night of food and beer pairing!

  2. K A B L O O E Y March 11, 2012 at 16:25 #

    I’m salivating. Every course sounds delicious, and it’s nice to get Mr. Neil’s expert advice on the pairings as always. I really liked hearing how the chef interacted with the students; that must be so valuable to them to see a sort of intermediate step between them and an old salt more famous chef.

  3. Paula March 11, 2012 at 23:42 #

    I love Michelle’s food philosophy! What a young talent she is!

  4. Geoff March 12, 2012 at 19:39 #

    Australians love a beer. Michelle would be a huge hit down under. Very interesting… I’d always seen a beer as a refreshing pre-dinner drink or as a drink alongside a curry. But Michelle alters your thinking.

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