USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership cut the ribbon on the Culinary Innovation Lab (CIL), a new teaching facility on Main St. in Lakewood Ranch Wednesday. The Manatee Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce joined local dignitaries and USFSM board members, administrators, faculty, staff, community supporters, restaurant and tourism advisers and business leaders in an official opening of the re-purposed space formerly occupied by the Viking Culinary Center. More than 50 students in the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership prepared hors d’oeuvres and served over 125 guests.
The CIL is ideal as a venue for incubating ideas, innovations and skills for the fast growing tourism sector.
Classes began on January 6, and students are already partnering with restaurateurs and local food and wine events such as Clearwater Uncorked, the Sarasota Community Food System program and Chowdown for Charity. “Our objective is to create an intensive, kinesthetic environment that our hospitality students can thrive in and that will make them competitive in the future of the industry,” said Chef Joe Askren, Culinary Innovation Lab director. USF Sarasota-Manatee signed a four-year lease with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch on the 4,000+ square-foot space that provides a state-of-the-art facility for students to participate in creative, sustainable and global cooking and “back of the house” restaurant management and event planning instruction. They are taught by USFSM faculty and guest chefs from around the world. “In the past we’ve had to use the Publix Aprons cooking school and the Manatee Technical Institute’s kitchen for our Intro to Food Prep class,” said chef Askren. “Now we have a superbly-equipped culinary demonstration and preparation area, classroom space, room for special events and a venue for hosting our community partners. As the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership continues to grow, we are bringing new technology and industry best practices to the program.”
Chef Garry Colpitts, formerly of the Manatee Technical Institute, has been named culinary services manager. He has worked with College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership students for over two years and lends practical business and cooking expertise to the Food and Beverage curriculum. Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of the College and McKibbon Distinguished Chair of Hotel Management, said that the Culinary Innovation Lab propels USFSM forward in its goal to be among the top 10 global hospitality, technology education and research programs in the country by 2020. “Our ambitions for the College are much bigger than this educational space alone,” said Cobanoglu. “Our students are learning to manage the complexity of restaurant and hotel operations at the highest level so they can analyze, execute and lead successfully in the constantly evolving hospitality industry.”
From the students’ perspective, the CIL is a welcome addition. “The new facility provides such great resources to help us further our education,” said Jamison Guy, a School of Hospitality and Restaurant Management student who also works at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club in food and beverage service. He plans to continue on at USFSM to earn a master’s degree in his field or an MBA, which will help him attain a director’s or general manager’s position, “wherever the opportunity is.” Guy praised the small class size and personal attention he receives in his USFSM classes and instructors who have wide industry knowledge and experience. “That really makes a difference,” he said.
In his remarks, retiring USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford spoke of the new Culinary Innovation Lab as the latest example of meaningful growth and timely innovation to meet community needs, both hallmarks of his goals for the future of USFSM. “We are so proud to be a part of the burgeoning Lakewood Ranch business community and to showcase our signature Hospitality program,” Guilford said. “We add this cutting-edge resource to the growing footprint of the USF System, which includes our teaching facility at North Port and our new science labs at Mote Marine Laboratory. USFSM continues to be a vital partner in the shared vision of educational excellence in our region, and are so pleased to be involved in the sports, tourism and hospitality enhancements that drive Sarasota-Bradenton’s economic development.”