Taiwanese Students Hosted by Visit Pine Avenue and the Sandbar Restaurant for Hospitality Education

TThe University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership has kicked off a 10-month international student certificate program. The college is hosting nine students from the Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism in Taiwan. Their areas of study include food and beverage management, leisure and tourism, and airline transportation service management. The program, designed by Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, and Keith Barron, visiting instructor in the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, includes a one-month orientation, several courses during the fall 2013 semester, and an optional five-month internship with a regional hospitality enterprise. (Biz 941, 7/31/13)

In addition to classroom instruction the students will be taking field trips to businesses, farms and locations that allow them to apply the lessons learned in the classroom to real world experiences. One such field trip took place on August 20 when the students toured Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island specifically focusing on the Merchants Community Gardens project that has recently been implemented. The tour was led by Michael Miller, native plant and habitat expert and Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, Beachhouse and Mar Vista restaurants and managing partner in the Pine Avenue Restoration project. Pine Avenue is known as “The Greenest Little Main Street in America”.  In addition to being awarded platinum status, the highest status rating by the Florida Green Building Association, Pine Avenue’s claim for being green is further cemented by the addition of Edible Community Gardens that are successfully growing organic vegetables. The Merchants Community Gardens Project began as an initiative of the Pine Avenue Merchants Association.  Members felt it would further enhance the “community” aspect of their efforts.  However, with land at a premium a “non-traditional” solution was needed.  This is when Ed Chiles suggested to grow food along Pine Avenue. Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeacHhouse and Mar Vista restaurants, is a heritage product advocate who has successfully incorporated many locally grown and harvested products into the menu mix at his three restaurants.  Once the merchants adopted Chiles’ suggestion, Miller sought to make the vision a reality. According to Miller, “The main obstacle we faced was how to give the image of abundance when we can’t get vegetables to grow in the intense heat”. Miller visited ECHO in North Fort Myers. ECHO stands for Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization. ECHO is a Christian, non-denominational organization based in North Ft. Myers, Florida that grows tropical vegetables, sends the seeds to other groups in third–world countries, who distribute the seed and teach people there how to grow and propagate the resulting produce. Miller discovered that the vegetables ECHO was growing were not your usual garden variety vegetables. According to Miller, “Not only do these unique vegetables thrive in the tropical, summer heat but some, such as, Moringa, Edible Hibiscus and Chinese Spinach, are among the most nutritious plants on earth”. After touring the facility, Miller realized that the project was possible and the vegetables ECHO was growing were exactly what they needed for Pine Avenue.

Chiles states, “I had no idea that Mike would be this successful in growing so many varieties of super nutritious, incredibly tasty greens and vegetables in the heat of our Florida summers. I enjoy harvesting them several times a week and love using them in my healthy smoothies every morning as well as sautéing and grilling them in our meals at night. These organic community gardens should serve as a model for other communities that are committed to greening up their local business districts and neighborhoods and supporting the Locavore movement.”

Some of the organic vegetables one will see in these community organic gardens may not be familiar but that is part of the uniqueness of this project and what makes it exciting. Miller explains, “We are using vegetables that are grown in the tropics. They can take the heat and they are delicious and super nutritious”.

The idea of locally grown, public food that enhances the ambiance of a community and supports the Locavore culture is one that interests the students as they study new trends in the hospitality industry. They are looking forward to getting their hands dirty and learning the process of how the local communities rely on sustainable practices to generate a positive economic benefit. The students will work with Chef Mil Burak, an award winning chef and visiting professor from Turkey, to create a selection of recipes that will feature each of the vegetables growing in the Pine Avenue Merchant Gardens. Additionally, the students will develop recipes, prepare and serve tastings, and interact with the public to explain the vegetables and their nutritional value. This public tasting part of their study will take place on Pine Avenue sometime in October.

One of the highlights of the tour was a tasting lunch at the Sandbar restaurant where they were able to taste a variety of locally produced, heritage items Chiles is incorporating into his restaurants menus. The lunch menu included bottarga, salmon tartare topped with caviar, a salad of organic greens from 3 Boys Farm as well as greens from the community gardens picked that morning, grilled eggplant, fish balls, fried Cortez Mullet with Bradley Store grits and key lime pie. As an added treat, Miller made bread from the Moringa plant that is growing in the community gardens. The guests seemed to enjoy it. Chiles’ knowledge of local heritage products and his collaborations with local farmers, fishermen and as part owner of the Anna Maria Fish Company, Lola Wines and 3 Boys Farms, provided the students with a wealth of real world experience that will enhance their studies and future careers. The students as well as the visiting deans and USF professors expressed how much they enjoyed tasting these unique, heritage items.

Attendees for the tour and tasting included the nine Taiwanese college students, Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, Dean USF Sarasota-Manatee College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, Dr. Sami Lin, Chief of International Programs Coordinator, Dr. We-Tsung Chen, Dean of International Affairs Office, NKUHT, Dr. David Randle, Sustainable Tourism Coordinator, USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, Linda deMello, USF Sarasota-Manatee Director of University Initiatives, Amela Malkic, USF Sarasota-Manatee International Programs Coordinator, Joe Askren, Hospitality Instructor, USF Sarasota-Manatee, Dr. Mil Burak, visiting USF Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Arts Professor from Turkey and Nan Summers, Coordinator, Center of Hospitality Technology and Innovation, USF Sarasota -Manatee. Nan stated, “USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership is in a unique position to offer this broad-based service learning project that connects restaurateurs, merchants, international agricultural researchers, newly arrived Taiwanese hospitality students, a nationally renowned Turkish chef and USF faculty. The long-term community impact and international reach of this collaboration will inspire people of all ages and cultures to enjoy new foods that are fresh and highly nutritious for years to come.”

After the fall semester, the students will be eligible to secure an optional internship which would allow them to extend their stay in the U.S. for up to five (5) additional months. The internship options may include opportunities on Pine Avenue or at the Sandbar Restaurant.

For more information on the student’s visit contact Caryn Hodge at chodge@chilesgroup.com or 941-778-8705.