wine_web.jpgMIAMI BEACH — As a computer programmer at System One Consulting in Miami Lakes, Lyndon Robinson excelled in his passion for computer technology.  But there was always a part of him that was drawn to the culinary industry.

He decided to go back to school to study computer information systems at Florida International University. But later, he decided to change his major to hospitality management, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“At FIU, it’s more about management, not necessarily cooking or culinary as the primary goal,” said Robinson, 29, of his hospitality management studies at the university.  “It’s an added advantage to learn how to do the cooking, but more so how to manage a restaurant and how to manage a hotel.”

Robinson’s skills will be on display this weekend at the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival. His responsibilities will include kitchen preparation for the BubbleQ (barbecue events). He is also the leader of the Green Team, which will promote green activities such as recycling and energy conservation, seeking to make the festival more environmentally friendly.

The BubbleQ – featuring chef, restaurateur and TV personality Emeril Lagasse – will take place on Friday, Feb. 26 at the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach.

Robinson said he hopes to graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hospitality Management.

After graduation, Robinson and his wife, Shanel, will have to decide whether to stay in the United States or move to the Turks and Caicos islands, where his father owns a restaurant and his mother-in-law owns a bakery. He said he has always had a desire to help his family in running their businesses.

“This year, I decided that, ‘Well, I’m graduating.  I want to play a more active role in things that are more up front,” said Robinson, whose favorite Food Network chef is Paula Deen, about the Wine and Food Festival.  “It’s one of those things that you don’t get to experience every day.”

This year’s festival will take place in several locations, including the South Beach area and the north and south campuses of FIU. Personalities expected to attend include: Lagasse, Deen, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Ming Tsai, and Sandra Lee.

The event began as a one-day festival called the Florida Extravaganza in 1997 at FIU.  In 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, the current director of the festival, decided to take the event in a new direction, adding more days, changing the name to its current title, and eventually partnering with the Food Network as title sponsor.

In Schrager’s tenure, he has seen the festival’s attendance grow from 7,000 guests to last year’s  50,000. The event is now known as the largest and most notable festival of its kind in the country.

According to the festival website, it “combines the international appeal of top-quality libations from around the world, the national appeal of the Food Network and its celebrity chefs and hosts, and the appeal of Latin and Caribbean-inspired regional cuisine.”

It is also a stepping stone for FIU students in the hospitality management concentration to learn from, meet, and work with top chefs.

For the students, it’s arguably their biggest networking event.  The festival also serves to give back to FIU students by funding a construction project aimed at expanding the school’s dining room into a full-service teaching restaurant. It also provides investment in beverage management classes and scholarships for exceptional students in the hospitality major.

“What I’m looking forward to is to see how people react to the whole idea of going green, because it’s a challenging thing,” said Robinson, who said his wife is thrilled about his leadership role in the festival.  “The hardest thing to change is a person’s habit.  But, if they’re getting education, then hopefully, they themselves will start to make the change.”

KAliciaG@Aol.com

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival

WHEN: Continues Feb. 26 through 28 2010.

WHERE: Various locations, check website for event details, times, and locations

COST: Check website for pricing ($20 to $450)

CONTACT: Info: info@sobewineandfoodfest.com or www.sobefest.com, Tickets: 877-762-3933 or tickets@sobewineandfoodfest.com