Surprising Cuisine in a College Setting

When it comes to dining out, South Floridians love to find the next big thing.  A unique experience in North Miami is always one step ahead, serving fare from up-and-coming talents in the food and hospitality business.

The place: the dining room at Florida International University’s School of Hospitality.

Twice a week the dining room is transformed into a restaurant that is open to the public and run entirely by students.  It’s part of a course taught by professor and chef Michael Moran designed to give students on-the-job training.  From food preparation to the front of the house, students are in charge.

The students prepare a three-course lunch that includes freshly baked bread, an appetizer, a choice of entree and dessert.  At $15 per person (which includes a glass of wine and coffee or tea), it’s one of the best deals in Miami.

The class of 30 students is divided into groups that rotate through the different restaurant positions each week.  Chef Moran designs a basic menu and it’s up to the students to add their creativity and flair.

The menu changes every week.  When I went for lunch the meal was inspired by New Orleans – jalapeño corn bread, crab cakes and grits, a choice of roasted pork tenderloin or shrimp etouffee, and for dessert, beignets served with chocolate sauce and caramel.  The crab cakes were crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, with large chunks of crab.  The etouffee was nicely spiced with a slight kick at the end.  The beignets were a little heavy but still very tasty.  The portions were generous and I found myself quite full before dessert was served.

Past menus have included such mouth-watering dishes as duck confit with dirty rice and orange gastrique, macadamia nut crusted halibut, braised lamb shank, pistachio panna cotta, and blackberry cobbler.

The School of Hospitality’s dining room gives many students their first experience of working in a restaurant — but it’s hard to tell.  The students pay great attention to detail, from decorating the tables to artfully plating each dish.  The servers are friendly and attentive, and willing to offer substitutions to items on the menu.  The pacing was just right; I never felt rushed and each course arrived without any delay.

While enjoying the meal in such an intimate setting I felt like I had discovered a secret dining club.  What made the experience even more impressive was realizing that these students are working towards a degree in the hospitality industry, and are not chefs in training.

After finishing dessert we had the opportunity to meet the students and thank them for a memorable dining experience.  It was truly a diverse group, with students from many countries including the United States, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, India and China.

For these students, this experience gives them hands-on training without the stress of working in an actual restaurant and it better prepares them for a job in the hospitality industry.  We diners get a lot out of it too — a special meal, a chance to take a break during a busy day, and the opportunity to support and encourage students who are about to begin their careers.

The dining room reopens on May 18th.  I’ll definitely be back to see what the next class of students can cook up.

The dining room at FIU’s School of Hospitality is open for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays when class is in session.  Service begins promptly at noon.  Reservations are a must – call Paula Wright at 305-919-4500.  You can pay by mailing a check or by cash when you arrive.

FIU’s School of Hospitality is located on the Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami.  Metered parking is available on campus for $1 per hour.