This week the Manatee Technical College kitchen is bulging at the seams with excitement, hard work, some singing and much laughter. Any chef can tell you stories of the biggest or most important event that they have or will plan and execute in their career. In my career I have been blessed with some pretty amazing things, but the one reoccurring event that we look forward to every year is the Suncoast Food & Wine Festival happening Nov. 14 at the Sarasota Polo Grounds in Lakewood Ranch. It is by far the biggest event these students will be involved with.
In years past, the chef instructors dictated what the menu and décor would look like, having the students follow recipes and create new things that they may never see again -- old world dishes that have been lost such as pates, terrines, and foie gras. With that came confusion and lost interest from the students because they weren't grasping the concept or understanding the big picture. This year the culinary instructors made the decision to step down from being the dictator and are allowing the junior chefs to map out what they want the wine festival to look like (with the guidance of the instructors, of course). We, as a group, decided to do an "around the world" theme which places groups of three to four students in charge of a country.
Let me rewind a bit, the culinary department at MTC is in charge of 12 tables worth of food, so between us and our baking and pastry students we decided to split the tables into eight coun
tries for culinary and four for baking. In my eight years as an instructor I have never witnessed so much enthusiasm and passion in one room. We had a two hour-long brainstorming meetings in class. That may not seem like very long to the business world, but for a group of students who would much rather be on their feet working with their hands, that's impressive. It's a moment in my career that I will never forget.
This week has always been a week that is full of ups and downs, learning experiences and testing personalities. The week leading up to Saturday is a big part of our program and a time for growth within the class.
As much work as this week is the end result on Saturday and the glowing faces and ownership shown by the students is well worth the rollercoaster. It takes a special human to do what we do and for these junior chef students this is when they start to understand the passion that they have inside of them for this industry.
If you attend an event that involves any food, please remember that the "white coats" had a lot to do with making it a success. It's not only about the food but it is about the appearance, customer service and pride as well.
If you get a chance to come check us out this Saturday shake hands with not just us, but all of the restaurants that are represented there, tell them that you appreciate what they do. We don't get a lot of that. Keep it weird culinarians, and enjoy the ride.
Details: Suncoast Food & Wine Festival, 1-4 p.m. Nov. 14, Sarasota Polo Grounds, Lakewood Ranch; $75 per person includes food, drink and live entertainment. Tickets must be purchased in advance at suncoastfoodandwinefest.com or you can purchase at many Lakewood Ranch locations (find the list on their website).
Jamie Gregorich, Manatee County schools culinary instructor and department chairwoman, can be contacted at email@example.com.