The Culinary Innovation Lab opens new doors for hospitality students
USF Sarasota-Manatee needed space for its growing hospitality program four years ago when a unique opportunity arose: a 4,000-square-foot state-of-the art kitchen space had become available for lease on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street, a retail development east of Interstate 75 in Manatee County.
The campus’ College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership immediately seized the opportunity and signed a four-year lease. Soon after, staff and faculty got to work repurposing the space, formerly the Viking Culinary Center, into the Culinary Innovation Lab.
The CIL, as it’s known, quickly became a breakthrough instructional venue. It enabled hospitality students to learn about “front and back of the house” operations in a facility outfitted with the latest in professional-grade equipment, classroom space and preparation and demonstration areas. The students learn about kitchen management, cooking techniques, food service, event planning and more.
The space also became home to another program, one aimed at helping a vulnerable segment of our society: homeless veterans. Called Vets2Chefs, this special program was instituted in 2014 by USF Sarasota-Manatee campus alum Bryan Jacobs, a veteran himself who lost a brother to veteran suicide.
Formerly trained and once a personal chef to the Busch family of Anheuser-Busch fame, Jacobs teaches the classes himself. For 12 weeks, his students receive a “boot-camp” style indoctrination to life in a professional kitchen. By the program’s end, the students have employable skills and many, in fact, work in restaurants throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” Jacobs said. “People need to understand that this program is not a handout, but a hand up.”