Preparing and cooking for UNLVino’s signature Grand Tasting
Preparing and cooking all the menu items for UNLVino’s signature Grand Tasting, an event catering to over 3,000 attendees, is a massive undertaking. William F. Harrah Hotel College senior Clara Martinez and the college’s Executive Chef Mark Sandoval possess the experience to pull it off. The two will be leading the school’s Back of House, along with other BOH team members, to coordinate and organize UNLVino’s premier event. Although a daunting task, Martinez is graduating with a B.S. in Hospitality Management and has experience as a Bakery Retail Associate at Bouchon, and Sandoval brings an incredible 20-year resume of experience in the food and beverage industry. Their qualifications, skills, and energy for the task at hand illustrate why they have been chosen as leaders of this year’s Grand Tasting.
As a member of the BOH Team in the TCA 490 Capstone course, what are your weekly tasks?
Clara Martinez: So we’ve been doing different things. We set the menu as a class and received input from everyone to get a menu that everybody would be happy with. After we’ve come up with recipes, I helped put together the list of ingredients that we need for each recipe. We needed a list for our recipe tasting event and then a list for each of our food suppliers who will be generously donating most of the items that we need. This past week we’ve gone through and prepared the recipes for the first time for our menu tasting, and from here each station will tweak the recipes then establish a prep list and timeline for the week of the event.
How will this experience of preparing and working at UNLVino benefit your career in the F&B industry?
Martinez: When electing to take this course as my capstone I wanted the experience of executing a large event, organizing a huge group of volunteers, and the challenge of handling the responsibility of a real event with industry professionals. That is what I have been working toward for three years and it is what I am ready to tackle and accomplish. UNLVino will give me the push and challenge that I need in my last semester at UNLV.
In addition to preparing for UNLVino, what are some other F&B opportunities the Capstone course has afforded you?
Martinez: We ran a booth and volunteered for the Candlelighters’ annual fundraiser gala, which hosted 400 people. We provided food at our booth, where we tested one of our recipes for UNLVino, and some of our students helped other restaurants that had booths there as well. That night over $200,000 was raised to assist families with children who suffer from cancer. Being a part of that night was a very rewarding experience.
Do you have any advice for Hotel College students who have not yet taken their Capstone course?
Martinez: It is something that you take seriously. Either the FAB 467 or TCA 490 option will give you valuable experience. It may be one of the first times where you work as a manager and others depend on you. It is a great responsibility. UNLVino does have higher stakes and if you’re looking for a challenge consider UNLVino, but only if you are willing to commit to the responsibility it entails.
What are some cool experiences you’ve had in the hospitality and food and beverage industry?
Mark Sandoval: I did a cooking demonstration at the Venetian in the Wayne Brady Theater with Wolfgang Puck while I was the Executive Chef at Postrio in the Venetian. The demonstration was a lot of fun, but afterwards we did a dinner for around 300 guests in 45 minutes. All of our reservations were compacted from 2.5 hours into 45 minutes — it was fast and really hard. Wolfgang jumped in next to me and we cooked side by side until we were finished. I will never forget that night, without Chef jumping in to help us we would have been in really big trouble. Shortly after Wolfgang told me to get the FOH manager, I did and he told him that he needed a ride to the airport as his flight for home was leaving in 45 minutes! He stayed until we were through the push and bailed us out.
Who influenced you to get involved with UNLVino?
Sandoval: Jean Hertzman ran the UNLVino course for many years and upon my arrival at UNLV she asked me to help her with the class and the events. After two years Jean passed the torch to me. I was very grateful for her trust and guidance and now this will be my sixth year with UNLVino. I found that I really enjoy working with students and giving them any and all knowledge about cooking/culinary that I have.
What is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of working with students?
Sandoval: Working with students is extremely fun and extremely difficult at the same time. I come from the industry where everyone has a certain skill-set, whereas most students do not. You have to have patience, and the desire to help students grow and excel. When they learn and you see them get it, the reward is awesome.
What is the oddest experience you’ve had or witnessed at UNLVino?
Sandoval: Seeing the doors open and a steady stream of hundreds and hundreds of guests come into the ballroom never gets easier or less stressful. An event of this size is hard to pull off especially when you factor in hundreds of UNLV student volunteers that are trained on the spot. When the event is finished there is always a huge sense of relief and accomplishment.
What menu item are you most looking forward to trying?
Sandoval: I’m very excited for the comfort food station — anything with bacon really makes me happy.
Martinez: I’m excited for the gluten-free ravioli. It is a bit more challenging making gluten-free pasta from scratch, but I think we have it figured out, so we’ll see how it works out.