University caterers sample world-class food across the pond

A cohort of 13 delegates from the UK take part in the University Hospitality Seminars and Welbilt study tour to Florida

With a focus on investigating world-class university dining, plant-based food and cutting-edge kitchen innovation, a group of UK-based catering experts took a trip to the University of South Florida (USF) as part of a University Hospitality Seminars (UHS) and Welbilt study tour.

USF has three campuses with nearly 43,000 students and 6,200 academic staff. There are currently 25 food outlets across the main university campus in Tampa, including ‘The Hub,’ a large dining facility offering a huge variety of food throughout the day, such as America, Chinese, Thai, Mongolian, BBQ, Indian and a variety of vegan and gluten free options. Across all dining outlets USF serve more than four million meals annually. The university offers a meal plan for all students – the cheapest of its kind in the state of Florida.

David McKown, Director of University Hospitality Seminars, said: “The group all agreed that it was the best student dining offer they had seen in their careers to date.”

Iron Chef, Cat Cora has recently opened Olilo, which is a new dining concept at USF, offering a healthy Mediterranean-inspired menu incorporating Cora’s signature Mediterranean tastes and flavours. The name Olilo is a tribute to Cora’s Greek heritage and is derived from olive oil, the well-known staple ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. 

There is an app available which allows mobile ordering of food and drinks across all outlets, allowing in-store pickup. This is particularly popular at the Starbucks in the library area, which is one of the busiest Starbucks outlets in the state. 

The vegetarian and vegan offering is prominent across campus, and the contract catering company for USF, and catering contractor Aramark, who operate the dining at USF plan, offer a menu that will be 75% plant based in the next five years.

Healthy options on campus

There are two on-campus nutritionists who are available in one of the main food outlets, offering healthy recipes and samples, and students also have the option to be able to book a free 1:1 consultation, further showcasing the demand and importance of healthy eating among the student population.

USF has a strong focus on themed events through food, including: Halloween themed nights, the Oscars, Dr Seuss Day, and even an annual local food festival. Delegates were blown away by the variety of food on offer, along with the choice of leading retail outlets. 

ABOVE The study group with Rocky the Bull at USF

On-campus halls of residence incorporate large break out areas and communal kitchen facilities, encouraging a sense of community among students. State-of-the-art gym facilities, relaxation chairs and a swimming pool are also available for student use.

USF are currently building a supermarket on the Tampa campus, further reducing the need for students to leave the campus facilities, which will open in 2019. 

The group also managed to adopt an additional member throughout the day, the university’s mascot, Rocky the Bull. 

During the week-long tour, the group also visited the Welbilt headquarters in Tampa to explore the latest kitchen catering equipment and innovations, including the Blend in Cup Machines, Nitro Coffee equipment, Garland fryers and the latest Merrychef technology.

The Impossible Burger

The group also participated in a plant-based focus discussion and comparison of a beef burger versus the Impossible Burger, a plant-based, all-natural burger, which has taken the key sensory characteristics from a beef burger to make a more sustainable offering. In comparison to a beef burger, the Impossible Burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions. The group was divided when questioned which was the plant-based offer and which was meat based.  

Andy Daniel, Culinary Lead and Brand Specialist commented: “The conclusion was that the Impossible Burger when served as a ‘fully built’ offering was satisfying across a number of sensory categories, namely presentation, flavour and texture profile. It was found however that this leading-edge plant-based ingredient is an expensive item to factor in to any self-respecting menu, upwards of $3.50 raw food cost just for the burger.”

Vegan food trek

The much-anticipated vegan food trek began with a visit to Choices Café, a café offering a variety of plant-based and organic dishes. With an array or dishes including organic, gluten free pancakes, organic acai bowls, burritos, pizzas, burgers, Mac n’ Cheese and not forgetting the gluten free desserts. All food is freshly made and prepared on-site – they even make their own cheese! The café prides itself on offering ‘fusion versions’ of modern American staples, with the inclusion of Latin American spices, such as cayenne chilli and chipotle peppers, and the addition of Indian and Asian essences, such as ginger-miso infused stews. The group couldn’t believe how tasty a number of the meat-free dishes were, particularly the burritos and the pizza offering. The owner explained that a number of customers often don’t even realise that the café offers plant-based food until after their meal.

The next stop was Glam Vegan.  Janette Miler is the proud founder of Glam, whose aim is to make plant-based food accessible to everyone, not just vegans. GLAM stands for Green Living Animals Matter, and this is the mission behind the restaurant. The menu includes hot bowls, flatbreads, a burger and some amazing desserts. All dishes were beautifully presented with thoughtful ingredient combinations.  

Lunch was taken by the group at Plant Miami, a plant-based restaurant with an emphasis on living foods, where 75% of the menu is raw. The menu blends innovative techniques with seasonal, local produce set within a beautiful environment. Executive Chef Horacio Rivadero ad Pastry Chef Veronica Manolizi’s menu features locally and seasonally inspired ingredients from their sister property, Paradise Farms. The main kitchen can be viewed from the dining area, and guests can enjoy both the view of the kitchen and a beautiful serene garden, known as the Sacred Space Miami, an urban oasis for wellness. 

Delegates were provided with a sweet treat and cake decorating session at Bunnie Cakes to end the vegan food trek. Mariana Cortez is a vegan mother of four. Her journey began in 2009 when Mariana couldn’t find a vegan birthday cake for her eldest son’s birthday. Today the business sells dairy free and gluten free cakes and cupcakes to six wholefood outlets and 14 local Starbucks stores, along with selling directly though their shop and online.

Digging the DIRT

While in Miami the group visited DIRT in Mary Brickell Village in mid-town Miami. DIRT is a new concept with three sites in Miami, two in South Beach, and the latest unit where the delegates were received by owner of DIRT, Jeff LaTulippe.

DIRT is a vibrant ‘clean food’ concept – offering healthy and balanced foods – but of an all-inclusive nature, so there is vegan/ plant-based foods offered alongside quality meat products.

The menu at DIRT is extremely inviting, from the most fantastic Avocado on sourdough toast, Avo-Kale Tostadas with Crumbled Feta to more familiar breakfast sandwiches – even if pepped up with a dash of Sriracha hot sauce! Salads on the menu delivered right on trend from Poke Bowls to breakfast smoothies topped with an abundance of sliced fresh fruit and in-house toasted Granola.

Gone fishing

A fishing trip was also arranged where all delegates were taken by boat to Anclote island off the Gulf of Mexico. Chef Simon Maple from Welbilt provided all delegates with an overview of the variety of fish they may have the opportunity to see and catch, including: red grouper, spotted seatrout and the sheepshead. Nicola Watkins, Hospitality and Commercial Services F&B Manager, at Newcastle University said: “I had never been fishing before although my husband is a keen fisherman and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to fish and I even managed to catch a couple!”

The objective of the event was to develop team building amongst delegates, and was given the name ‘Catch It, Cook It, Prep It.’ Delegates were divided into two teams, they had 20 minutes to prepare and cook the fish they had caught. This was thoroughly enjoyed by all and saw some fantastic team competitiveness along with the production of some tasty dishes. The winning team was led by study tour guest and host Brian Turner CBE, who is well known for his appearances on the legendary ‘Ready Steady Cook’ TV show.

From the busy financial area of Miami, the group moved onto the Port of Miami to the corporate offices of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL).  

ABOVE: The Group with Royal Caribbean Team

Director of Food and Beverage Operations, Joao Mendonca, welcomed the group, as they were given an overview of the latest vessel to join the RCCL fleet, The Symphony of the Seas – this state-of-the-art ship boasts an ice rink, numerous swimming pools, restaurants and an elevator bar that rises and falls five levels in the ships atrium. The Symphony class vessel has the capacity to welcome 6,500 paying passengers on board – all serviced and pampered by 2,400 on-board staff, making it the biggest cruise liner on the seas to date.

Having left RCCL at Port of Miami the tour was beginning to draw to a close, but not before the group had a final focus on Cuban culture – with the group stopping off in Little Havana, a thriving Cuban township – the group had time to take in the famous Ball & Chain pub – a legendary venue that has played host to icons such as Duke Ellington and Chet Baker.

A short transfer ride took the group to the final tour experience, a late lunch at Versailles – the most famous and established Cuban Restaurant in Miami – this restaurant had an atmosphere all of its own, with locals and tourists all looking to sample great, simple traditional foods.

For further details on University Hospitality Seminars visit www.universityhospitality.co.uk & Welbilt at www.welbilt.uk