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.
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.