Sarasota got a taste of Bulls hospitality Tuesday night, a sense of hospitality that will likely be fostered in Tampa this coming fall.
By the end of the night, almost $70,000 was raised, all to support the very students who were serving them.
Over 500 seats, at $150 each, were filled at the Resort at Longboat Key Club for the fifth annual Hospitabull Evening, titled “A Taste of Israel.”
The donations went to the College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership at USF Sarasota/Manatee (USFSM).
There is currently no hospitality program at USF’s main campus, but this will likely change by the next fall semester.
Cihan Cobanoglu, the dean of the hospitality college at USFSM, said expanding the program has been one of his goals since he took the position in 2011.
“One of my biggest priorities since (becoming dean) has been to convince the big mother that I’m ready to bring hospitality to Tampa,” he said. “We can do this.”
USF President Judy Genshaft and Provost Ralph Wilcox expressed approval for bringing over the program, though the plans are pending approval from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The hospitality college will be brought to USF Tampa, Cobanoglu said, along with a culinary lab in the Marshall Student Center. The culinary lab in USFSM emulates the experience of managing and cooking in a restaurant.
“It’s turning theory and practice,” Joe Askren, the director of the Culinary Innovation Lab at USFSM. “It’s stuff they’re going to be exposed to … many have never worked in the kitchen before, never worked in the back of the house, never done water service, or know how to clean and all these things that go into an event.”
It’s about setting up the students to be successful for a job in hospitality, Askren said. The lab creates an environment where theory meets practice.
“You can’t just keep them in the classroom,” he said. “You got to kick them out and expose them to as much as we can … it’s about whether they will have the confidence and skills they can show to future employers.”
If a student graduated without getting hands-on experience, Askren said they would be “thrown in the fire” when entering a real kitchen.
“That’s what we call the gap. It’s the gap that exists between the industry and the university,” he said. “A lot of hospitality programs are using more hands on and experimental classes.”
The experiences learned in the classroom and in the lab are culminated, Askren said, at the annual HospitaBull, founded in 2011 for USFSM students in the Restaurant Management, Event Management and Food Prep courses.
Kyle Bailey, a USFSM student majoring in hospitality management, was charged with managing student volunteers in set up, execution and cleanup.
“It’s full involvement from start to finish,” he said. “From the front to the back of the house.”
Outside the dining room, before the event began, sizes of plates and measurements of the tablecloth were scrutinized by future restaurant managers to maintain the decor of perfection for guests.
“We have to polish everything, make sure everything is golden,” Bailey said. “Everything is almost measured to the tee.”
Students gathered around as instructors reminded them of the proper order of silverware, the polite distance to maintain from guests and how to skillfully pivot while filling a glass of water. Glasses, they were reminded, which must be attended to.
“When someone sits down, they just want to feel comfortable,” Bailey said. “The more consistent things are, the most comfortable people feel.”
Inside the kitchen, however, students were less concerned with maintaining the appearance of tranquility. Instructors ran around from station to station, where students were charged with different tasks. Some sliced red peppers, some prepared salads and some flipped meat on the grill.
Timing was crucial, Bailey said. Every student had to man his or her station and trust everyone to do their jobs so the meal could all come together when served in the dining room.
“Once service starts, there’s greeting, smiling and being happy,” Bailey said. “We’re here to make to sure everyone is happy — that’s the whole point.”
When dining began, guests ate the food made by students under the leadership of head-chef Yaron Azoulay, who has been praised by many international and Israeli food critics.
Cobanoglu said he wants students to get experience working with chefs from all corners of the world, as well as treat guests to international cuisine.
“This year is a taste of Israel, last year it was a taste of Taiwan,” he said. “Next year, maybe it could be Italy or Vietnam. We want to bring in different experiences for students in a globalized world.”
Guests were presented with Mediterranean salads, a spicy garlic spread and hummus for the appetizer. Roasted chicken, couscous and dates were the main course. And for desert — baklava.
All the money raised by the end of the night went back to the College of Hospitality and Technology Leadership.
Education in hospitality shouldn’t be ignored, Cobanoglu said, because there is so much demand for it in Florida, one of the busiest tourist states in the U.S. There are currently up to 60 students who completed a pre-culinary degree in Tampa who are expected to join the college at USF Tampa in fall. Cobanoglu said he expects it will grow to 500 students over the next five years.
The faculty would be brought over from USFSM to Tampa for this coming fall.
The program would alternate from the two campuses depending on the semester. Depending on its success, Cobanoglu said he would look into hiring faculty solely for Tampa’s program.
It’s not unheard of for a public university to have a separate hospitality program. UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management has around 3,000 students enrolled.
But Cobanoglu said he expects USF’s hospitality program to stand out by being more selective in how many students it admits. Students would therefore get more hands-on experience in smaller kitchens and classrooms.
Employers, Cobanoglu said, would also know they are hiring a graduate who is the cream of the crop.
Bailey said there’s a misconception that an education in hospitality is only about cooking or setting tables. It’s a degree that offers a broad future for cooking, management or owning a business, he said.
“I’m doing a law class right now, I’ve done all the accounting class- es, all the finances,” he said. “It’s like a business degree, but instead of dealing with numbers on a daily basis, I deal with people.”