I spent Thursday afternoon among the FIU School of Hospitality students who were helping prep for the Bubble Q event at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The students were like a well-oiled machine, working in a large room at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The industrious teams seemed unfazed by tasks like plucking leaves off six pounds of herbs or chopping 400 pounds of red potatoes. How long does chopping that many potatoes take? “About ten minutes. We all worked together,” said student Andrea Hollsey, gesturing toward the huge room where 40 or so students worked at long tables. “I’m not going to lie though; it’s a lot of potatoes,” said Ana Maggiolo.Sara Bitzer estimated that, “It’s like a bag of potatoes per person.”
In fact, enthusiasm and energy prevailed. Students are each assigned to one of the teams that will assist the 26 Bubble-Q chefs. Together with the chefs, the students will help prepare 900 portions of food. That’s per chef.
Students like Casey De Cespedes, clearly delight at the chance to participate in SBW & F Festival. When I marveled at the students’ cohesion and cooperation, De Cespedes told me that Chef Michael Moran motivates the students. He is the chef-instructor who mobilizes and oversees as many as 700 FIU Hospitality students, who work in every aspect of the festival.
De Cespedes, who is volunteering as a culinary event manager, showed me “The Bible,” the white master binder that the students compile every year as a game plan. Everything is accounted for in the tome—from the dishes each chef is making, to the ingredients, to their shipping destination (some chefs work on their prep ahead of time at their own restaurants), to the smokers Myron Mixon (Jack’s Old South BBQ/Umadilla, GA) and Tom Colicchio (Craft/NYC) are bringing.
The top chefs and their staff move in and out to supervise and help. Thursday afternoon, Tom Douglas of Dahlia Lounge (Seattle) meticulously skinned wild salmon after wild salmon for his dish: Salmon rubbed with love, in a fresh-baked brioche bun with tomatillo salsa and corn fried poblano peppers. His wife, Jackie Cross, handled the peppers, which are to fry with masa harina. FIU students tackled the sheets of salmon skin that will bake until crackling. According to “The Bible,” Chef Douglas ordered 175 pounds of wild salmon.
Sous chefs for John Tesar (Dallas) worked on the aforementioned herbs for a sauce gribiche that will accompany lobster and grilled asparagus tips. Sous chef Holly David meticulously explained the steps of what she called a deconstructed version of the sauce — how the acidity of the white wine balances with the richness of the butter as well the lobster.
Almost everyone I spoke with was happy to talk. This was a totally zen place. I don’t think I’ll get this many smiles and conversations next time I try to take notes in a prep kitchen. Here is a slideshow of both the Bubble Q and the Grand Tasting Prep on Thursday: (Special thanks to Jacquelyn Weinberg for helping with photography.)Created with flickr slideshow.