By: Kane Van Ee

It was not only time at the Stars in the City awards ceremony to shine light on award-winners but the many students of Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. Having little to no industry experience the students were put to the test as they were expected to cater fine-dining-style to a vast banquet of 408 guests without flaw at the Marketplace cafeteria on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

“It’s fine dining, most of us aren’t used to that, I’ve been working in a pub forever,” said Krista Colasante, a 19-year-old hotel and restaurant management student.

“We’re still working on getting the style of fine dining down from what we’re used to,” Carina Eramo, 19, added.
With tight deadlines down to the precise minute for audio and video cues during festivities, students raced against the clock to put out hot food and plates along with drinks to the crowd.

“The service has always been difficult because of the parameters that were given aren’t realistic,” said Enrico de Francesco, professor of hotel and restaurant management and floor manager for the event.

The service was described by Francesco as fast and sloppy during the pre-service briefing to the hotel and restaurant management and bartending students that served guests. Instead of a true fine dining experience, students were pressed by event planners to rush customers through their dining experience. That proved a challenge to the hotel and restaurant management students who were running the food, as a few guests would toy with the rookie servers by refusing to give up their plates that still held food. The servers then had to explain the time restraints being forced upon them by event organizers to try and negotiate with the guest holding the plate hostage.

The service kicked off with a variety of Italian charcuterie and tapas-sliced meats and hors d’oeuvres- which included Niagara prosciutto. A spiced pumpkin soup finished with cream, followed by grilled Ontarian beef tenderloin with sweet onion compote and wine reduction was the main course with seasonal vegetables and smashed red potato. For vegetarians, they were served korma with paneer, peas and basmati rice as a main course. The dinner service finished off with a selection of pastries from the baking program.

The dishes had primarily been made earlier in the day, also known as blanching. The food was then reheated in large commercial equipment found in the cafeteria before being rushed to the plating line.

“It was very much the same [from past events] we just happened to do it with more proficiency this year then we have in years past, so it was great,” said Chef Dan Halden, the executive chef for the event.

The cooks from the culinary management program hustled against the clock behind thin curtains in faint light to plate their dishes. The tenderloins had to be plated, garnished and finished with demi-glace fast enough to keep plates hot at arrival to the table, all the while having to communicate as quietly as possible.

A few moments the chefs did burst out with cheers and high-fives as they beat deadlines, but these outbursts were easily masked by guests often applauding and cheering with noisemakers, shakers and even a fog horn brought into the mix of noise.

The bartending program had suffered a small crisis when their supplier failed to bring the draft beer kit. It was through student improvisation along with guidance of instructor, Antonios Vitaliotis, that pacified the situation when they switched to bottled beers that they had to borrow from within the college.

Unlike the past years, the sommelier program was not involved in the event due to a lack of variety in wine. Instead, the bartending program had taken on the responsibility of presenting and pouring sparkling wine to the tables of award winners.

Not a single plate was dropped and the night was accident free with only two steaks left to spare from the main course.