The School’s Too Cool

When I toured the George Brown Centre for Hospitality and Tourism back in January to write about their Yes, Chef! fundraising program, there was only an inkling of what the renovated building would look like. There was still hoarding up outside the two street-front eco-labs; the railing that looked down onto the centre atrium was blocked; and the dust and dirt from the construction was being tracked throughout the building as students hurried off to class.

What a difference a few months make.

This past Tuesday’s open house event at the 300 Adelaide Street East facility revealed a bright, inspiring space in which students could learn and grow, a starting point in which they would develop the roots of the career knowledge that will take them to jobs in some of Toronto’s best restaurants and beyond.

Some highlights:

The two large culinary labs at street level are gorgeous – bright, spacious and full of lovely new appliances and equipment. Passers-by can look in and watch what’s going on; a variety of cameras mounted in various locations also give an overhead view of what’s cooking. No pressure, guys!

The E-Library resource centre where students can study, do research and even look up recipes and cookbooks is a sleek space loaded with comfy workstations. It even smelled new.

The Compliments Culinary Centre (which was complete on my previous tour) is an interactive space where students work in conjunction with product development staff from Sobey’s to develop new products for the Compliments line. During the open house, they were handing out samples of Pure Fun candy, as the Compliments kitchen had been used recently to develop a new gummy candy that Pure Fun is preparing to launch.

The most striking difference to the building is that the in-house training restaurant has moved to a separate location a couple of blocks away at 215 King Street East. The Chef’s House replaces the old Siegfrid’s restaurant in the Adelaide street location, and is a bright, modern, street-level restaurant with a gorgeous interior and top of the line equipment.

Here too, mounted cameras in the kitchen allow patrons to watch their meal being prepared as students work both in the kitchen and front of house as part of their training as chefs, and in hospitality and restaurant management.

These upgrades have made the Chef School the premier facility for hospitality training in the country, says Dean John Walker, and he stresses that despite all of the extensive upgrades, the people involved in the programs – both the staff and instructors, as well as the students – are the real key to the school’s success.

This past week, the Chef’s House played host to a series of dinners for staff, media and supporters of the Yes Chef! programme and allowed students the opportunity to work with directly with Chef John Higgins, director of the George Brown Chef School, as well as local chefs such as Marc Thuet and Jamie Kennedy.

The restaurant seats 70 people for lunch and dinner, and also offers a 16-seat private dining room in the lower level. It is the first facility in Canada that is fully open to the public where students are trained to cook, bake and serve the meals.

Under the direction of Jamie Kennedy, on Wednesday night the students (who were on only their second day of training at the Chef’s House) prepared and served a four-course meal that included Georgian Bay Whitefish; fire-roasted red onion soup with blue cheese crouton; slow cooked beef short ribs and roasted beef tenderloin with shallot reduction; and tri-citrus tart with wild blueberry compote and cardamom ice cream.

The street front location also provides the school with more visibility and puts the Chef’s House on par with other restaurants in the area. Previously, Siegfrid’s was a well-kept secret, but it is believed that a table at the Chef’s House might well become the hottest reservation in town as foodies get wind of the place and the very reasonable prices.

And while the renovations on the main Centre for Hospitality and Tourism and the Chef’s House facility are now finished, fundraising is still taking place. The Yes, Chef! Program aimed to raise $5 million of the $20 million total cost, but they are still $1.6 million short of that goal. To help allay this deficit, donors are encouraged to buy a spoon to hang on a display wall in the Chef’s House and have their name added to a plaque. The spoons are designed by local goldsmith Hannah Cowan and start at $500 for the bronze, $1000 for a silver spoon and $1500 for the gold version. As well, donations in all amounts are happily accepted.

The Chef’s House will be open to the public starting next week, offering lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, as well as special events and catering. Please visit the Chef’s House website for info on reservations and menus.

A hearty congratulations to everyone involved with the renovations and changes. The Chef School is truly a jewel in Toronto’s culinary landscape.