MTC students prepare for Suncoast Food and Wine Fest

By Liz Ramos – Observer – October 23, 2023

Baking and pastry arts students get a real-world experience baking desserts for a Lakewood Ranch staple event.

Justice Thornton, a Manatee Technical College baking and pastry arts student, slices kiwis and strawberries.

Madelin Orga-Gonzalez carefully cut strawberries into pieces during a class at Manatee Technical College, then meticulously placed them, along with slices of kiwi and a few blueberries, on top of caramel flan.

Besides being dessert, it was art.

For Orga-Gonzalez, a Manatee Technical College baking and pastry arts student, baking is a passion but she often has to remind herself to be aware of how long she’s taking to bake and decorate. 

Time management will be key as Orga-Gonzalez, and seven of her classmates, prepare more than 4,000 desserts and pastries for the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch’s Suncoast Food and Wine Fest Nov. 11. 

In the week leading up to the Food and Wine Fest, Ed Catalane, the baking and pastry arts instructor, said it will be all hands on deck with ovens at MTC constantly filled with various desserts and pastries. 

But as important as the taste will be, Catalane said the art can be just as important.

“I try to do things with different textures and shapes so when you walk down the line, it’s visually appealing,” Catalane said. “The visuals are everything, and of course, the taste is important, too, but the visuals are what get them over to the table.”

Every year, the line for MTC’s desserts at the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest is long, sometimes wrapping around half the tent as patrons get a taste of what the students have made. 

The final day and the morning of the festival will be a mad dash for putting the finishing touches on everything. 

“Whenever you’re doing 4,000 or 5,000 desserts and pastries, the timing and logistics is going to be the hardest part,” Catalane said. “We’re careful on timing with baking stuff in the oven because the ovens are going to be going full time.

“It’s going to be a little hectic, which I think is healthy for them to see because it’s a hectic job.”

Juan Lerma and Marie Westerberg, who are baking and pastry arts students at Manatee Technical College, serve desserts at the 2022 Suncoast Food and Wine Fest.

Catalane said the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest provides a great opportunity for students to get a glimpse of what it will be like preparing desserts and pastries for a large, private sector event.

And besides their own work, Catalane said it is important the students see what all the other vendors have prepared and how they go about it. 

When planning the menu, Catalane said he considers the weather, what students have learned, and the large volume of desserts and pastries they will need to make. 

“I try to get things with chocolate because everyone likes chocolate,” Catalane said. 

Catalane and students are looking forward to hearing feedback from those who eat their desserts and pastries at the festival.

It’s a big day for Orga-Gonzalez, who said the baking and pastry arts program is teaching her the techniques she needs to make her culinary dreams come true. This is a chance for someone other than an instructor to give her a grade.

She is confident that grade will be an A.

“They’ll feel joy and happiness when a piece of the dessert melts in their mouth,” Orga-Gonzalez said. “The combination of what we have in our desserts, they are going to love it. We are putting a lot of love in what we are doing.”

She knows that desserts such as crème brûlée, one of her favorites to make, always produce smiles.

Nate Croumble, a baking and pastry arts student, said he won’t be able to relax until the guests are served because the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest is such an important event. Making things tough of his classmates is the sheer quantity that must be produced.

Baking is a passion for Madelin Oran-Gonzalez, a Manatee Technical College baking and pastry arts student. She looks forward to hearing people’s comments on the desserts and pastries she and her classmates will make for the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest.

Crouble and fellow Evie Bustillo said they look forward to answering questions people have about their desserts because it gives them an opportunity to show off their knowledge. 

Catalane said often the students will take the beauty and taste of their pastries for granted because they are working with them all the time. But at the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest, it’s hard to escape the joy the can provide.

“The best part is when you see a little light in their eyes,” he said. “They are introducing people to a lot of stuff they wouldn’t buy at the store or they wouldn’t see unless they went out of their way to see it.”

Catalane said he hopes to see a “little glow about the bakery” in the days after the festival as students feel satisfied with everything they’ve produced.
If You Go

Suncoast Food and Wine Fest. 1-4 p.m. Nov. 11. Premier Sports Campus, 5895 Post Blvd., Lakewood Ranch. $95. 

Sample and taste a large selection of area restaurants, fine wines and other beverages. Proceeds from the festival will go toward charitable organizations within Sarasota and Manatee counties as well as other rotary projects.

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