With all the glitz and glamor of celebrity chefs embracing Miami Beach for a weekend during the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, some people might forget that the event is an annual blowout fundraiser for Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism.
In fact, over a decade ago, the school's Biscayne Bay campus hosted the festival, a one-day event known as the Florida Extravaganza. Prophetically named, the Florida Extravaganza turned into a multiple-day fete that sees about 60,000 people drink wine and mingle with their favorite chefs on the sand.
The one thing that hasn't changed is the festival's commitment to FIU. The various parties, dinners, and seminars have raised over $16 million, to date. SoBe Fest's creator, Lee Brian Schrager, tells Short Order that this year is no different. "There's always a goal and it's to raise the most we can. We're on target to raise upward of two million dollars this year."
This year, the school will unveil three new advanced laboratories, created as a result of the festival's fundraising efforts. These state-of-the-art laboratories will not only serve as learning space for students, they will also generate research that will impact our community directly, including research to combat cancer-causing toxins found in wine to raise awareness and find a solution to this issue.
The laboratories include the Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory, which serves as an incubator for students to practice executive restaurant management techniques and explore entrepreneurial ideas. The laboratory features a two-story wine tower, housing nearly 1,000 bottles in temperature-controlled units. This lab was funded, in part, by a $1 million gift from Wine Spectator.
The Brewing Science Laboratory is an extension of the school's existing Brew Science Program, where students will study under the guidance of expert chemists and biologists to create new formulas for brewing. The lab will also be open for students to try out new brewing techniques and participate in events like the South Florida Brew Fest.
The Food Production Laboratory allows culinary students to experiment with various techniques at custom workstations. The lab features a 38 foot cooking line and a 385 square foot kitchen prep area.
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Schrager calls the new labs "beautiful" and "state-of-the-art", adding "it's one of the finest teaching labs ever seen in this country. Whether the students are cooking or working at the bar, it's an extraordinary set up."