Live jazz music filled the room, the food production lab buzzed with activity and the new Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Lab and Mel Dick Wine Tower came alive with a festive atmosphere as approximately 120 distinguished guests came together for the facility’s inaugural dinner Feb. 19 to kick off the 2014 Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Martha Stewart, making her first visit to FIU, served as guest speaker for the inaugural dinner. It didn’t take long for the lifestyle guru and businesswoman to become enamored with the campus and its facilities.
“What a campus! I want to go here, it’s fantastic,” said Stewart. “SOBE has contributed quite a lot in that so many people enjoy great food, great wine and meeting all the great chefs of America here in Miami and at the same time contributing to the building of this great FIU.”
The management lab, completely funded by proceeds from the annual SOBEWFF, was created with the goal of strengthening the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism‘s research in food, wine, beer and spirits while also providing students the opportunity to sharpen their management skills.
Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Dean Mike Hampton sees the venue as an incubator for new ideas and concepts for students as they prepare for careers in the hospitality industry.
“Now we have a spectacular learning environment where students can get the insights that they can’t get anywhere else,” Hampton said. “When we compare ourselves to other institutions, we really are worlds ahead and we are very proud to say that.”
Students were at the forefront of planning the event. Some students worked alongside several high-profile local chefs, including FIU alumni Allen Susser (BS Hospitality, ‘78) and Mark Militello (BS Restaurant and Hospitality Management, ‘78).
“Working hand-in-hand and producing dishes with these chefs and getting to know them on a personal basis, there are not many other ways for students to get those kind of opportunities,” said Javier Nolla, student coordinator for SOBEWFF’s student associate program. “Events like this are gateways for possible job opportunities or internships and open up students to the great world that is hospitality.”
Added dietetics nutrition major Dana Stein, who helped direct and organize students for different events as a lead student for SOBEWFF: “The chefs have so much knowledge that is great for us to absorb while also respecting the knowledge we have ourselves so they give us a lot of leeway as far as trusting students. It was an awesome experience.”
And the evening was just the beginning. With students heavily involved in nearly every aspect of the SOBEWFF planning process, ranging from marketing and public relations to logistics and operations, they also gained valuable experience throughout the four-day festival in event planning and execution.
“They help out tremendously and they all behave so professionally,” Stewart said of FIU student involvement with SOBEWFF. “I’ve always been pleased by the preparation, all done by students.”