George Brown's high tech classroom delivers dining gold
By Patricia Noonan
March 16, 2009
I used to shop at Pasquale Bros., housed in a classic, one-hundred-year-old brick building on King Street East. It made me feel like I was in a foreign film, shot in black and white. Impossibly high shelves, filled with a multitude of Italian goods, always entertained me and I never left the store unhappy. Fabulously restored, the first floor has appropriately been re-born as The Chefs' House, a training ground for students of George Brown College's culinary and hotel management programs. Corpor
ate Chef/Director John Higgins worked with a committee of chefs plus two sets of architects to realize a dream setting. The dining room and kitchens, dreamt up by Gow Hastings Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects use cutting-edge design concepts paired with modern, technological communication to deliver a smart classroom that's like a "real time" television show.
Executive Chef Oliver Li works with the students in a collaborative way. He chooses a chef "du jour" who acts as the executive chef and runs the kitchen operations while the students "on shift" develop confidence mastering all the classic cookery techniques. I ask how this is actually executed, but as Chef Li discusses the menu, it all falls into place. The weekly menu at The Chef's House incorporates world food styles and all of the techniques that chef students need to master them. There's even an Italian exchange program for chef students, directed by Chef Dario Tomaselli, which produces a separate evening menu that is offered along with the regular menu.
While contemplating lunch, I find it difficult to choose because of the diversity on the menu. I try the bacon GruyÃƒÂ¨re tart to begin with. For my main course, I have a lovely fresh filet of salmon on a bed of lentils and wilted spinach. The students oven-roast the fish, while the lentils are braised and the spinach is ever-so-gently sautéed. Heather Dyer, Dining Room Manager, drops over to check that everything is going well. Heather mentions that sometimes, chef students want to be "front of the house." "We try to accommodate all their needs as well. One day they may own their own place so learning all facets of the business is a must."
Those students on the floor are serving to a full house today. I look up at the flat screen monitors and I can watch what's happening "on the line" or "front of the house." It's a fun dining concept, and I can see how it will really keep the students on their toes. "This is my dream kitchen," Chef Li says about the new space, adding that "This forces our students to make sure everything is maintained and organized at all times."
Scanning the room shows me dining patrons of all ages, a noted difference from Seigfried's, the college's former restaurant training ground. Add the benefits of a sub-level private dining room, sponsored by The Four Seasons Hotel and this location ends up with even more cachet. If you're not dining inside, the wall-to-wall glass windows let the world watch the reality food show of George Brown College in living colour.
FIVE STARS: (Extraordinary) A one-of-a-kind, world-class experience.
FOUR STARS: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality menus and/or savvy service.
THREE STARS: (Good) Solid places that beckon with generally appealing cooking.
TWO STAR: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending.
ONE STAR: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.
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