TC3 Farm to Bistro: Be our guest

Wine made by previous wine marketing classes at TC3 have won numerous awards from the New York State Fair.
Wine made by previous wine marketing classes at TC3 have won numerous awards from the New York State Fair.
Photo by Jamie Swinnerton

Of all of the programs at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) that utilize Coltivare for hands-on experience, the hospitality and restaurant management program is the oldest, coming up on 50 years. Back in the early days, said Sue Stafford, chair of the Hotel and Restaurant Management and Culinary Arts Degree Programs, the hospitality students managed a lounge on the TC3 campus in order to go to conferences and get hands-on experience.
Since the school already had an established hospitality program, the road to creating and opening Coltivare, the school-run restaurant where culinary, hospitality, and wine marketing students get immediate industry experience, was already started.

“It [the hospitality program] was the vehicle for us to start thinking about farm to bistro, or start thinking about the culinary arts programming, because we didn’t have the facilities on campus that were adequate to do a good job in providing culinary arts education and pull all of the ties together that needed to come together and intersect with contemporary food and beverage and hospitality,” Stafford said.

Like the farming and culinary programs, the hospitality and wine marketing programs are two-year degrees. Like the farming and culinary programs, hospitality students are encouraged, or at times required, to take classes across the programs to be able to better understand the full breadth of a farm to bistro system. Taking classes across programs is just one of the ways the TC3 students that work in Coltivare get a taste of the possibilities within the industry.

“Each of my students in the intro class, regardless of their program, they all take intro to hospitality,” Stafford said. “They have to fulfill an applied learning time here at Coltivare, so they might be working banquets, they might be shadowing.”

A job shadow means a student finds someone working in the industry in the job they think they might want to get into and they follow them around to see what it is really like. Many of the hospitality students opt to do their job shadowing at Coltivare.

“It’s a living, learning lab. The entire place is a living, learning lab for professionals because we have lots of people that work in the industry that come and take the hotel and restaurant program because it might seem like a quicker means to an end, or they can take the courses online,” Stafford said. “They’re still getting pieces and parts of what we’ve learned here in operations, even if they’re an online student.”

Even students who take the program online are still influenced by what is being learned at Coltivare. Case studies using data and information from the restaurant are used in numerous classes across the programs, including customer service classes and accounting classes, among others.

Before Coltivare was created, students in the hospitality program would have to go out and find their own job shadowing in the area. This is still done, but now it’s accompanied by hands-on industry experience at the restaurant, where students are allowed, even expected, to make mistakes. Stafford argues that job shadowing helps create a relationship, and said that some of her students have even had luck securing jobs through these relationships. It’s a win-win on both ends. The local industry needs well-trained workers, the school needs to get their students jobs and support.

“It’s mutually beneficial for both the professionals in the area and in the industry and it’s so beneficial for the students to find a professional that’s interested in helping them grow,” Stafford said. “It creates buy-in on both sides.”

Like the farming and culinary programs, Stafford said the early hands-on experience and job shadowing give students an insight into a job before they make too much of a commitment. Getting a first-hand look at the job they thought would be perfect for them sometimes makes students realize that their strengths lie elsewhere. But not to fear, Stafford, with her deep experience in the hospitality industry, believes there is a job for every kind of passion within hospitality.

In 2010 TC3 brought back a program it had tried once before in 1985: wine marketing. Back in the 1980s, there weren’t enough wineries in the area to sustain the program. As anyone who has driven down 89 along Cayuga Lake’s west rim can attest, that is no longer a problem. Laura Falk is an entrepreneur who owns and operates Experience the Finger Lakes, a company that provides culinary experiences and wine tours across the Finger Lakes region. She is also a sommelier and a wine marketing instructor at TC3 just about to finish her third semester with the program. She teaches two courses in the program, both taught in the specialized classroom at Coltivare. Her intro and general survey class review the wines and regions of the world to help students understand how the world of wine works. In the 200 level course, the curriculum takes those regions and starts to focus on the international grapes and learning to taste the differences, recognize how to differentiate between them by recognizing the components, flavor elements, and structure of wine. By the end of the program, Falk said she wants students to be able to take a second level wine certification test and pass. The knowledge they gained would help them easily pair wines with food by recognizing the different flavors in wine and how they can pull flavors out of food.

“The capstone of that course is, of course, doing it with Tasteful Sensations, being able to actually show them and being a sommelier for the night, going up in front of everybody and talking about taking the culinary menu, choosing the wines, and then presenting it to the group,” Falk said.

Tasteful Sensations is the capstone event for all of the Coltivare related programs and this semester’s event is scheduled for Dec. 6. The culinary students prepare a meal, the wine marketing students pair the food with wine, and the hospitality students help run the event and serve the guests.

Along with the tasting classes, students of the wine marketing program also learn the basics of making wine and take a wine marketing class where they prepare a business idea that they build on as the semester goes on.

“Wine marketing can be simply looked at like ‘If you’re going to start a winery what do you need to do?’ But I look at it as a huge industry that you can take those concepts and principles of understanding wine and the industry as a whole and then you can go into any field that you want,” within the industry, Falk said.

Throughout the program, Falk has used her extensive contacts in the Finger Lakes wine industry that she has collected over 11 years to come present to the wine marketing classes on a range of subjects. Industry guests have included a winery that had recently gone through a rebranding that walked students through the process of creating a new label, and a new business that was just about to launch as it went through a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) assessment.

The program is lucky to be situated in an environment with so many available resources and a wine industry that’s booming. But the students are also lucky to be able to learn in a facility like Coltivare.

“It’s a dream to be able to have this kind of environment for teaching,” Falk said. “That’s what it’s designed for.”

Both she and Stafford want to see the program grow to include more education about growing beverage industries like craft beer and cider.


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