A Tasteful Way to Support Cleveland’s Culinary Future

It’s been several years since we’ve enjoyed a city-wide downtown food festival. In that relatively short window, the restaurant scene has experienced another growth spurt that resulted in an uptick in residents, visitors, and attention from people all over the world. For that, perhaps we should say “thank you” to LeBron, The RNC, The Food Network, and of course to all of the home-grown culinary talent who choose to stay here and make Cleveland a delicious place.

The Tri-C Cleveland Eats Festival will take place on September 14 -16, encompassing three days of food-focused activities. It would be easy to dismiss this event as just another food festival, but underneath all of the anticipated fun is a thought-out plan to communicate the mission of the Tri-C Hospitality Management Center of Excellence and to ensure Cleveland’s culinary future.

Michael Huff, dean of Tri-C’s Hospitality Program, hopes that the festival will bring attention to their programs. “Cleveland Eats brings the industry and the school together in a deeper relationship as we bring on the planning and execution of this event,” he said. Tri-C’s program is key to the city having the talent to maintain the staffing levels required for the industry.

A Thursday night fundraiser— Small Bites, Big Dreams—will be held at the Euclid Avenue Hospitality Management Center that will directly support scholarship programs. “Lives are changed when individuals find something they are passionate about, and our program is designed to help them launch a meaningful career in the culinary and hospitality fields,” Michael added.

A Friday night Trucks, Taps and Tunes street party from 4pm-9pm will feature food trucks, craft beer, and the unveiling of the world’s largest pierogi (hopefully taking the Guinness World Record from Pittsburgh) with ingredients donated by Whole Foods Market. Students from local high school technical programs will compete in food competitions judged by Cleveland chefs.

The main event is Saturday noon–10 p.m. and will feature more than 30 restaurants, a culinary marketplace, live music and fireworks. General admission is $5, and attendees can sample a generous “taste portion” from the area’s top restaurants for just $5. Each sample will reflect Cleveland’s multicultural heritage and the unique strengths of each restaurant. Karen Small of Flying Fig will serve lamb meatballs with tomato, cucumber, and yogurt and grilled flatbread. Nomad Culinary will prepare a seared scallop with watermelon, fig, red onion, prosciutto, and green goddess dressing. All of the restaurant offerings are intended to be a step above, with many including local ingredients and products.

Chef Brandt Evans of Blue Canyon and Pura Vida leads the Tri-C Cleveland Eats Culinary Council, a group of 16 chefs who committed to support and guide the planning.

The council includes Ben Bebenroth, Dante Boccuzzi, Zack Bruell, Brandt Evans, Matt Fish, Heather Haviland, Chris Hodgson, Christopher Kafcsak, Douglas Katz, Karen Monath, Chris Poplin, Jonathon Sawyer, Karen Small, April Thompson, Eric Wells, Rocco Whalen, Eric Williams, and Zdenko Zovkic.

These chefs understand the value of a trained workforce and rely on it. “There is an important relationship between Tr-C’s program and the local food industry. We’re providing high-quality, accessible and affordable educational opportunities that will support the hospitality industry,” Brandt said.

Without a doubt, the event is an overdue celebration Cleveland’s food scene. But one of the key ingredients to the city’s culinary pedigree is people and a lot of those people work in restaurants, many in the back of house roles that diners will never meet.

“If you ask any chef in town what his/her biggest challenge is, they will tell you it is finding qualified culinary talent to staff their kitchens,” Michael said. “Beyond that, very high on their list is finding culinary talent with the education and skill set to provide leadership in the kitchen, as a lead line cook, kitchen manager, or sous chef.  Without this skilled labor force, they cannot produce quality and consistency from their kitchens, and they can’t expand to more locations/concepts.”

The Tri-C Hospitality Management Center of Excellence is training and placing many of those people—people who carry Cleveland’s culinary future on their backs.

More information and advance general admission tickets available at:  www.tri-c.edu/clevelandeats.

–Story by Lisa Sands, Images courtesy of Cuyahoga Community College