UD's Vita Nova was the site of a Mid-Atlantic Food and Wine Festival program that brought together professional chefs, winemakers and students.

Culinary celebration

Vita Nova participates in Mid-Atlantic Food and Wine Festival

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8:47 a.m., May 22, 2014--Those lucky enough to get a seat at the sold-out “US Foods Chop ‘Em! Culinary Winners’ Showcase” enjoyed a five-course dinner prepared and served by professional chefs, winemakers and University of Delaware students last Friday.

The event, which was part of the four-day Mid-Atlantic Wine and Food Festival (MAWFF), was held at Vita Nova, the award-winning restaurant run through UD’s Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management.

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This winter and spring, Delaware’s culinary schools held competitions to determine the best culinary students. The winners came together at Vita Nova to work alongside professional chef mentors on a final meal to celebrate the culmination of the competitions.

Students from HRIM were also in the back of the house to work with the guest chefs and high school winners, where they helped prepare the dishes for the guests. In the front of the house, HRIM students set up the dining room and provided full service for the evening, while the MAWFF provided and served all wine.

Hosting chef Joe DiGregorio, who is also executive chef at Vita Nova and director of education in the HRIM Food Service Lab, called the MAWFF a “wonderful learning experience” for the students.

“The students were able to work with and witness the different personality styles of our international guest chefs,” said DiGregorio.

Visiting chefs included Barbie Marshall, chef of SOOP Catering and former contestant on the Fox television show Hell’s Kitchen; Vince Trotta, chef at Chateau Tanunda, Barossa Valley, Australia; Erik Niel, owner and chef at Easy Bistro and Bar in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee; Chef Otto, executive chef, Deep in the Heart of Texas; and Ariq Flax-Clarke, a senior high school student at Bregado Flax Educational Centre and BVI junior chef champion.

Winemakers included Manu Muga, vice president and owner, Bodegas Muga in Spain; Jon Staenberg, founder of Hand of God wines in Mendoza, Argentina; Julien Fayard, proprietor and winemaker of Azur Wines in Napa; Michael De Loach, president of Hook and Ladder Winery in Sonoma; and Richard Grosche, managing director of Weingut Reichsrat Von Buhl in Germany.

Venka Pyle, director of restaurant operations at Vita Nova, said a week prior to the event one of the MAWFF organizers came to the campus restaurant to speak with HRIM students about what it takes to manage 50 events in four days.

“They told our students they had ordered 14,000 glasses for the event and explained logistics, getting food and wine to the different events and talked about how many volunteers and staff they require to pull off an event successfully,” said Pyle. 

Yet even with advance planning, understanding things can change at the last minute was also a lesson the students learned.

DiGregorio said that when a portion of the food specialty items that were supposed to be delivered just hours before the event on Friday didn’t show up, the students were put to the test.

“They saw firsthand how when operational and logistical problems present themselves they must remain calm, be flexible, have the ability to think on their feet and do so in real time,” said DiGregorio. “We gathered together, revised the menu on the fly with the product we had on hand and executed the event without missing a beat. It was an exciting evening to say the least.”

“It was good exposure for our students to see how big events like food festivals are run and what makes them successful,” added Pyle. “The more experience we can provide students in the classroom, the better off they’ll be when they graduate from UD.” 

Brenda Falk, an HRIM student manager at the event, agreed.

“It was very interesting to see the collaboration of so many different hospitality professionals,” said Falk. “In addition to our professors, we had the opportunity to meet professional chefs, event planners and wine experts. It was a great opportunity for the students to see the differences between a banquet-style event and our usual five-star, five-diamond restaurant service. Our event went really well, and by the end of the evening it was obvious that all the guests had a great time.”

Article by Kathryn Meier

Photos by Lane McLaughlin

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