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USF Student Chefs Cook for a Cause

Dec 18, 2012

It's a four-course meal fit for a king - or at least a dedicated foodie - and it's the work of USF Sarasota-Manatee students.

Start with hors d'oeuvres like passed wild mushroom topped with fontina cheese and pulled lamb bruschetta... move on to a salad of four different greens from Bay Area farms... then "turf and turf," a pairing of Cornish game hen and seared beef tenderloin, alongside a heirloom tomato stack and parsnip puree... and wrap it up all up with "Sweet Endings," a trip of pear cobbler, chocolate fudge brownie over mint syrup, and Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream.

That's the menu planned and prepared by students in USF Sarasota-Manatee's College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership for the "HospitaBull" event held last month.

While the event raised over $25,000 for the College's programs (including student trips to the New York Hotel-Motel Show, the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, and the Paul Bocuse Institute in France), the major benefit to the students was the chance to work on the meal at an award-winning restaurant: Michael's on East in Sarasota.

“This is a great experience for the kids," said owner Michael Klauber. "It’s way different from learning it in the classroom, they’re getting to actually see how it is in the real world, in a real banquet facility, in a real restaurant.”

College Dean Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu said his own college experiences taught him the importance of "experiential learning."

"My professors used to tell me that I want you to do three things before you graduate from this school, and they are the same things I ask my students to do," he says. "One, you have to have some burns on your arms because of cooking in the kitchen, you have to have some ink in your shirt waiting at the front desk in a hotel, and you need to know the smell of the bleach, (from) cleaning the rooms.”

The students received guidance from Sarasota celebrity chef Judi Gallagher, who advised them on the ‘farm-to-table’ aspects of the menu, which meant using produce from local farms.

“It’s funny because here I am, a chef and restaurateur from Boston, where farm-to-table, we’ve been practicing it for so many years," she says, "and you come to a state like Florida, it’s a little more challenging, in some ways, because of our seasons, but it’s so easy to do. People forget we have award-winning farms right here in Punta Gorda and farm stands.” 

The work didn't stop at the kitchen door, as students also served the diners as well. USF Senior Holly Rivera says it’s a pretty stressful job.

“Front of the house, you have to be on your A-game, you have to know what you’re doing, what your food is, you know, who’s vegetarian, who’s not, your surroundings, just be aware,” she says.

Rivera has worked as a server and bartender for eight years and wants to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, a decision helped by her time in the USF program.

“Restaurant and catering and hospitality is just a huge fishbowl of so many opportunities and there’s so many different things," says Rivera. "If you have life lessons, you can take on any of them.”

And giving students these kinds of opportunities, particularly in a tourist-rich area like the west coast of Florida, is the reason Dean Cobanoglu says the college was formed in the first place.

"The school here is born not because USF wanted to have it, it was created because of the demands and the request of the industry professionals in Sarasota and Manatee counties," says Cobanoglu. "They wanted to have a hotel school in town so that we can have, educate our own people here so that they don’t have to leave and then they can go be employed.”

And more, he adds, than just be employed. He wants them to be leaders.

“We wanted to take the level from management to leadership, so that our students not just get the job done, but also they invent, they innovate, they redesign the ways that we are doing it.”

The College's next HospitaBull fund-raising event is a golf tournament scheduled for April 28, 2013.