Complementing His Knowledge
George Brown’s wine and cheese courses help chef go beyond the kitchen
When he isn’t working in the kitchen to create such delicacies as whole oxtail baked in brioche, lasagna with veal shank, and his well-known sausages, Jesse Vallins is mingling with diners. As the executive chef at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Tavern and its sister restaurant Port in Pickering, it’s Jesse’s job to wow guests’ palates with mouth-watering dishes. However, he can also often be found tableside, assisting patrons with wine choices – expertise he acquired with the help of George Brown College’s continuing education courses.
“Even though I’m a chef, I’ll go and chat with guests, sell wines at tables and help people through the experience of picking a wine. Having the confidence at the table to know what I’m talking about and help guests really enhance their experience has been important,” explains Jesse, who completed both our Certified Sommelier Certificate and Professional Fromager Certificate.
A food and drink enthusiast – he is also the co-founder of Hamilton’s Merit Brewing – Jesse was already an established chef who had worked in some of the city’s best restaurants when he decided to expand his knowledge and skills through continuing education. He completed our fromager certificate in 2011 and followed it up in 2014 with our sommelier certificate. In the ever-evolving food and beverage industry, he knows the importance of staying current.
“When you stop learning, that’s when you become stagnant, when you risk becoming irrelevant,” Jesse says, who began his George Brown culinary education with the college’s full-time Culinary Management program. “Food and drink is an industry where things are always changing, and you need to change as well. It’s important to keep on learning and bettering yourself as a professional – you always want to be picking up something new.”
A passion for cheese and a keen interest in food and wine pairings led Jesse to our certificate programs. He says both offerings appealed to him for different reasons.
“These courses aren’t just about learning through eating or learning through drinking. They’re about learning analytically what makes the specific cheese or wine what it is. Apart from doing something you enjoy, you are getting into the details of it and learning it from the inside-out.”
“For the fromager certificate, there wasn’t anything like that being offered in Toronto or Ontario, as far as I was aware,” Jesse recalls. “And for the sommelier certificate, I looked into other options, and what I liked was that George Brown accommodated me working in the restaurant industry and was geared towards those learners. It was one day per week for six hours during the day, when most of us work at night, so that was very appealing."
The certificate programs helped him to realize how much there was to learn about both subjects. And, in addition to getting to taste a lot of cheese and sample a lot of wine, Jesse found that the specialized courses offered allowed for a methodical examination of all the specific topics that are covered.
“What surprised me was how much I didn’t know about either subject until I started to go to these classes, even though I had already studied books on these subjects,” he remembers. “These courses aren’t just about learning through eating or learning through drinking. They’re about learning analytically what makes the specific cheese or wine what it is. Apart from doing something you enjoy, you are getting into the details of it and learning it from the inside-out.”
Jesse is now sharing his know-how with the next generation through teaching our Complex Cheese Pairings course in the Professional Fromager Certificate. Beyond giving learners extensive and detailed knowledge of the food and drink industry, he notes that George Brown’s continuing education options are a great way to connect and collaborate with other focused adult learners and make professional contacts.
“George Brown has opened doors and helped me to make connections. The networking really sort of happens organically by you getting involved in these programs and meeting people from these industries. It helps you out professionally.”