Niagara College’s Caps, Corks and Forks Returns this Month

A group of culinary, wine and beer students gather on a menu tasting night, held in mid-January, in preparation for Caps, Corks and Forks.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Niagara College’s (NC) dining event, Caps, Corks and Forks, is returning on February 4 with celebrity chef Michael Smith as the event’s Master of Ceremonies.

The sold-out dinner event will draw 200 guests to the college to savour offerings from the School of Culinary Arts and School of Wine, Beer and Spirits. This will mark round 16 for the popular dinner event hosted by NC’s Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division.

Guests will enjoy an elegant five-course meal prepared by culinary students, led by chef professors Tony DeLuca and Kyle Landry. While the food takes centre-stage, wine and beer students vie to steal the spotlight. Each course becomes a battleground for the most votes in the competition between the college’s wine and beer students.

In this round of Caps, Corks and Forks, each beverage selection will be from Ontario. Students were also encouraged to use NC’s student-made products as much as possible. Team Wine is made up of seven first-year Winery and Viticulture Technician students. Professor Gavin Robertson is co-leading Team Wine with college winemaker Allison Findlay.

“It is a really high-pressure situation, as it is an enormous crowd, and they only have a couple minutes to make their case for each pairing,” says Robertson. “It’s incredible that the students are even willing to talk about a beverage that many of them knew nothing about when they started the program in September. By pulling this off, they gain a confidence that will stand them in good stead throughout the rest of their studies and in the industry as successful grads.”

First-year student Kayla Brown will be among students addressing the crowd to promote her team’s wine selections at the event.

“To prepare, I am putting together a two-minute speech that introduces myself and provides insights into why we chose a specific wine for the course,” says Brown. “This involves doing some more research into the producer of the wine we chose so we can provide enough details to the guests to ensure they can fully appreciate the pairing we made.”

Second-year Brewmaster student Nathaniel Perreault is among seven Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management students on Team Beer.

“Most people think of pizza, wings and pub grub as appropriate beer pairings; which they are, but we believe beer also has a place in fine dining,” says Perreault. “We can create a wide range of flavours and mouthfeel to complement the dishes with our array of malts, hops, and yeast strains. Discovering unique pairings between food and beer using drastically different styles has been very rewarding.”

“Presenting their pairings is an exercise in salesmanship and storytelling,” says Victor North, who is co-leading Team Beer with fellow Brewmaster faculty Adrian Popowycz. “It is also a kind of public-speaking exercise: they have to be able to take the kind of theory that they discuss in class, translate it into something compelling and comprehensible to a dinner time audience, and then compress it into a brief ‘elevator pitch’ that will be sticky and successful.”

Caps, Corks and Forks involves students from various programs. Students from the School of Hospitality and Tourism will serve the meal, Artisan Distilling students have crafted signature cocktail for a pre-dinner reception, and Baking and Pastry Arts students will prepare dessert.

“This entire event truly delivers the richest possible educational experience for the student volunteers,” says Maija Saari, associate dean for the division. “It is so exciting to watch them become actively engaged in a project that brings so many puzzle pieces together in such a real-world application of their knowledge and skills. It’s an interdisciplinary project of the highest order that is not only a delight to celebrate, [but also] delicious.”

Since Caps, Corks and Forks launched in 2012, Team Wine has won eight rounds while Team Beer has won seven.

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