This semester has had a lot of unique challenges, and one of the days when a lot of external factors had me feeling pretty low, I knew that, regardless, at 3:30pm I needed to suit up and show up- to recite the “spiel” and serve wine to the guests as Student wine Sommelier. There was something about offering free samples of wine, really learning about them, and being on the floor that ended up brightening my day- I felt like in a small way I was spreading a little joy in a world that seemed pretty dark.
One of the ways a fine dining establishment is set apart from others’ is the extensiveness of the wine list and beverage menu. Certainly you find many more options at a place like vita nova rather than any fast casual or even casual restaurant nearby. If you have dined with us or worked there, you have certainly heard that, “Here at Vita Nova we offer an extensive beverage selection including 100 wines by the bottle and 20 by the glass.” What that means is that all of our knowledge coming from our other hospitality classes, such as beverage management, come into play when we are on the floor- wine sommeliers or not.
Although it certainly takes commitment on the students’ end to memorize the weekly featured wine descriptions, what we come out with is at least a conceptual knowledge of a certain style of wine that we can then apply to other descriptions. While studying the wines of the “New World” for our Court of Master Sommeliers level one test, I knew that Barossa was in Australia because I had to describe our Chateau Tununda Cabernet Sauvignon from that region. When you pay attention, all experiences in the beverage world helps to render you a more competent food service professional.
One of my favorite memories of applying this knowledge was when I was student wine sommelier one Thursday night for a table of two ladies. After tasting the featured wines, one asked if we had Moscato on our wines by the glass menu. I explained that we did not, but I happened to remember there was a White Zinfandel, another sweet, easy-drinking wine, although rose, and made a recommendation to her. She tried this new wine and liked it so much she got a glass of it for her meal. In this situation, knowing just a little about flavors and having knowledge of the wine list allowed me to make a sale when otherwise she may have been disappointed in our wine selection. This not only generated more revenue for the restaurant but also brightened the customer’s experience.
This joy that comes from giving a taste of wine, informing and educating guests, and selling something that the guest will really enjoy all comes together in a successful food and beverage program. In this case, it’s not about selling quantity, but rather quality and enjoyment, just like each of our dishes in the 4-course dinner menu aim to provide. Then, the quantity follows, because of course people want to enjoy high quality products in Vita Nova.
I came to college knowing that I wanted to study hospitality management, and now three and a half years later I am two weeks away from getting my degree. The more I learn about food and wine and all other beverages, the better service I can deliver, the more numerous customers whose evenings I can brighten, and the more confident I can be as I pursue my restaurant management training and career. And when the days get hard, there are always things to learn and samples of wine to taste. For that I am grateful.
Written By: Jenna Pekofsky
Vita Nova prides itself on the success of the students both in the restaurant labs and out in their professional lives. The Vita Nova experience leaves the students with a full understanding of restaurant operations along with time management skills and an ability to work with others. In every restaurant lab, select students take on the role of Aramark Scholars where they aid and guide the students in either the front or back of the house. This provides a leadership opportunity where students gain first hand experience in managing others.
Victoria Bailor has been an Aramark Scholar at Vita Nova for three semesters now. She will be greatly missed by the Vita Nova team as she is graduating this winter. Looking back at her experience as an Aramark Scholar, she had nothing but positive memories to share and hopeful outlooks for the future.
How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to be an Aramark Scholar?
I have always had a passion for food and cooking. When coming to the University of Delaware I had already had previous experience in working in the kitchen. My previous hard work truly paid off when I was asked by Chef Joe DiGregorio to become a scholar for the lunch lab and now, for the dinner lab. I was extremely honored that such a talented chef had recognized my efforts and wanted me to be a part of such a wonderful opportunity.
What extra opportunities does this program give you the chance to do?
As this is my third and final semester as an Aramark scholar, I find this position has added a great deal of worth to the time I have spent at the University. I have learned many new skills that I will use in my future career in the industry through being an Aramark Scholar. Having participated in this distinguished program, I will have additional experience that I would have not gained during my college career otherwise.
What is your favorite thing about cooking or baking?
My favorite things about cooking is not only the creativity of making the food itself, but also when I look out into the dining room and see the guests enjoying the food I have made. In the hospitality industry we all have a strong passion for people and I love when something I have done or created makes people happy.
When did you realize you wanted to be in the food industry? What inspired you?
I have always had a love and interest in cooking but never knew how much I would enjoy the management side of the restaurant industry. After my first semester at the University, I knew I had made the right decision when choosing the incredible HRIM program we have here at UD. Through my time at the University, I have learned so much about hospitality and I know when starting my career in the industry I will be doing something that I love and have a passion for.
What do you hope to do as a career in the food industry?
After graduating this winter, I hope to continue as a manager in the restaurant industry. In the long term I would like to take the experience and skills I have learned in Vita Nova and at the University of Delaware to own a successful restaurant company.
Similar to Victoria, several students have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be an Aramark Scholar. As an Aramark Scholar myself, there is not doubt that these experiences provide ample benefits for the future as well as a greater appreciation for the restaurant industry.
Sometimes in Vita Nova, we question the system. We wonder, “Why 26 steps of service?” “Why this spiel in this exact script?” and we are not always granted a clear answer other than because it’s the way it is done. When it comes down to it though, by living through experiences that inform our own opinions about management, we, as students, learn more about becoming better managers ourselves. The author Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer” (Letters to a Young Poet). We are required to go through this learning experience for a number of reasons, perhaps the greatest of which is to live through those questions we do have that exist outside of our comfort zones so that we can get closer to the answers that are in integrity with our own management styles.
In Vita Nova, we are completing the ultimate group project without all of the common invalidators of a normal class project. Our schedule is set, so we don’t have to try to coordinate 10 people to meet at once, and we are working together in real time for real results, so chances are, if you don’t pull your weight, everyone suffers for it and it motivates us all to help each other out. We all do every position (more or less) so there is a great level of empathy and understanding amongst the team to help explain and support, since we’ve all been there before and know how frustrating it is. This means that we get genuine teamwork experience as well as experience explaining, coaching and supporting- all vital management skills.
A common theory utilized in most manager training is to have future managers work, at least for some time, in each department that they will oversee so that they can fully understand what the labor entails, experience the social dynamics, and be able to help out in a sticky situation. Whether going on to manage a restaurant or not, it is a humbling experience to be a dishwasher for the night. Here, as we move through the rotation of Vita Nova roles, we can see the pros and cons as well as standards with which we agree and disagree in each area. From having an independent person to serve bread, to having a captain and front server partnership for waiting tables, and even limiting each server to only delivering one plate each. We are called to embrace a new script each day, a new perspective in the restaurant each time we begin a shift, and a new appreciation (or frustration) for whatever lies in store.
This brings me to my final piece of management that we get from Vita Nova, whether everyone recognizes it or not. Each day, especially when entering a hospitality job where we are dealing with people and working to create an enjoyable experience for others, we have a choice of what attitude to adopt. Even if the day prior was hard, we can choose to start anew when we enter the wooden doors or we can choose to let this job add burden onto our shoulders. As students, we have a lot on our plates, and yes, Vita Nova is a huge time commitment. However, chances are we will continue our busy lifestyles and long hours into our careers. Even though we are not explicitly taught that perspective entering the job can affect everyone we encounter, through this experience if we take the time to observe, it becomes quite evident. Even if Vita Nova is a “controlled” restaurant environment, the abstract ideas are still as relevant as ever. I appreciate the opportunity to learn in a different way the kind of person I really want to be with a team of colleagues- now on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for 6 to 8 hours, and then 5 days a week for at least 10 hours in my future career.
Written By: Jenna Pekofsky
Every semester, Vita Nova collaborates with the Arts and Sciences Department at UD to showcase beautiful pieces of artwork in the Bistro. This semester the work of Emad "Jano" Hemede, the College of Arts and Sciences’ current international artist in residence, is featured.
Jano was born and raised in Syria and came to the United States after the war began in 2011. He started his career as a painter and sculptor running a small gallery in Damascus, the capital of Syria. In his latest work he uses a water-based acrylic paint to symbolize the beauty of life as water is extremely limited in Syria and could be quite difficult to find. His artwork is a representation of his thoughts and wonders about the United States and his hopes for his home country in the future.
Jano's paintings are an excellent addition to the Vita Nova Bistro as their bright colors and immaculate details give life to the space while creating conversations about the stories behind each piece.
The trends are clear as you walk through major shopping centers, city streets, and entertainment complexes: more and more fast-casual, limited service, and casual dining concepts are on the rise. It seems that the future of the restaurant industry is moving away from traditional fine dining service. As Restaurant magazine reported from their coverage of the 2015 Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress convention, “People want to be comfortable and enjoy their food in a relaxed environment, which means stuffy service just isn’t what people want any more” (The future of fine dining, 2015). But does fine dining necessarily have to mean stuffy? At Vita Nova, we make it work. We still learn all of the steps of fine dining service and high quality food production, yet we innovate to make our dining experience more modern and relevant at the same time. Here are some of the many reasons why it’s good that fine dining is not disappearing for the students and guests at Vita Nova:
1. When guests are expecting a leisurely meal, it allows student chefs and servers to learn and focus on perfecting the details without feeling like they have to rush and turn tables quickly. The food tastes better, the service is more detailed, and the guests get to relax because by marketing Vita Nova as fine dining, guests are expected to take their time. We don’t slow down very often in our lives, so it’s a gift to offer that to locals, students and their families, and professors.
2. Many upscale restaurants define themselves by the details of their wine service (Berenguer & Ruiz, 2009). Since we have such an amazingly stocked vinotec and a student sommelier position each night, we can learn more about beverages in the restaurant industry while also offering a wide variety of wines from around the world to our guests. We learn about food and wine pairings, pronunciations, and descriptions. Since it’s already a practicum for restaurant management, it also can act as a practicum for beverage management. It makes sense to elevate our level of overall experience to take full advantage of our wine education and delicious selection for guests.
3. When the students learn to execute a very high level of service, it prepares us to deliver quality service in our future careers. As Donna Laws, Business Administrator for the Hospitality Business Management department mentioned to prospective students touring Vita Nova, if you train at a high level, you are equipped to work anywhere in the industry up to that level. The students benefit from being held to very high standards, whether they seek to work for the Ritz Carlton upon graduation or open their own casual concept.
4. Even though it’s less popular than it once was, fine dining means a lot of attention given to the guest, every effort made to create a memorable and beautiful experience, and a lot of thought given to the menu and its execution. The spectacle of 10 servers working together to serve entrees to a large party in unison makes each guest feel like the most important person in the room. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s a treat to go there and that makes it even more special.
5. Could we really get away with our tableside liquid nitrogen churned ice cream on a warm skillet cookie? The whole meal really leaves a realistic impression of the level of service the students are able to achieve. We’re sort of famous at this point. By keeping Vita Nova as a fine dining restaurant the amazing managers/chef instructors can keep innovating and adding amazing details to delight and thrill our guests. Creative thinking, experiential dining, and attention to detail are important concepts no matter where our paths lead us next.
Written By: Jenna Pekofsky
At Vita Nova, most of the lab takes place in the restaurant itself however there are a few occasions where the students take their skills outside the lab and run a special event.
This gives them a great opportunity to see the small details that go into putting together an event and the great feeling that comes after an event is completed successfully.
Whether it was prepping and cooking the food or serving to our guests, the students were hard at work putting together an unforgettable experience for all.
The ambience was of pure elegance with large round tables and beautiful earth tone colors all throughout the room.
The food was nothing but perfection being plated by the students as each course was served.
Live performances occurred throughout the night from musical groups of the University ranging from vocal groups to string quartets.
Several students taking the restaurant lab have an interest in going in to event planning upon graduation. This includes planning weddings, business meetings, or even large conventions. This event provided a great learning experience and will be extremely beneficial in the students future endeavors.
Vita Nova gives students a large advantage in the professional world regardless if entering the restaurant industry. One key reason students are so successful in finding jobs upon graduation is that they learn the theory in the classroom and get industry experience in the restaurant lab. The Vita Nova restaurant provides an opportunity to learn how to work in a team under pressure and how to manage situations that occur in an operating business. This management experience gives our students an understanding and experience of what its like to work in the real world.
In the United States today, the service industry is the fastest growing and has the most opportunities for graduates. This is why HBM students get great jobs at companies such as Marriott International, Bozzuto Real Estate, Bloomberg, Nordstrom’s and many other restaurant, country club, and Hospitality businesses. The Vita Nova experience prepares them for careers in this industry.
Dr. Sheryl Kline, Chairperson of the HBM department, is a frequent guest to Vita Nova. While sitting down with her, she gave her take on just how amazing Vita Nova is.
Q: Through your dining experience at Vita Nova, briefly describe the atmosphere.
A: The atmosphere of Vita Nova is one that you can find in NYC or LA: Refined elegance. Vita Nova is a beautiful place to celebrate special occasions, meet friends or have meetings while dining.
Q: What do you look forward to the most when dining at Vita Nova?
A: Seeing the students in action. I have had the opportunity to teach many of the Vita Nova students in the Introduction to Hospitality class and when they are working in Vita Nova I see their competence and skill. It makes me so proud of how well they do in the class. And the food is pretty good too.
Q: What is your favorite food made by the UD students?
A: That is not a fair question. I like it all and I find it hard to keep the weight off. But of course I love the Crème Brule, a Vita Nova classic and I am impartial to about everything on the buffet. Since the dinner menu rotates each semester, I have many favorites and cannot pick one.
Q: In your opinion, what is the greatest thing about Vita Nova?
A: Our students. They are the best part of Vita Nova. What makes Vita Nova an outstanding experience is our faculty and staff who create an atmosphere where students can learn while taking excellent care of our customers.
It is clear that Vita Nova has such a positive impact on the students. During their time in the labs, they not only learn the crucial skills to being successful in the industry but also have fun and make friends while doing it.
The students of the Hospitality in Business program at the University of Delaware share their experiences at Vita Nova