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Chef-Instructor Michael Moran a Calm Presence as Students Prepare
for Florida International University's South Beach Wine & Food Festival

By Ana Veciana-Suarez, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 24, 2010--When Michael Moran's Florida International University students finish sauteing, simmering and steaming their way through next weekend's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the chef-instructor will have once again coordinated the near impossible: 150 students, 29 celebrity chefs and 26,000 portions of food.

And that's just for Friday's Perrier-Jouet BubbleQ, a beachside champagne and barbecue bash that requires 2,450 pounds of ribs, 1,160 pounds of pork belly, 660 pounds of brisket, 931 pounds of pork butt and 330 pounds of ground Wagyu beef.

"It's a highly choreographed dance where everything has been planned, from figuring out what and how to feed the students to minute-by-minute preparation," says Moran, the festival's culinary coordinator and a chef-instructor at FIU's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. "I'm an ambassador for the chefs, an organizer for the festival and a mentor for the students."

The festival means a week of 20-hour days for Moran, who's a calming presence in the often-frenzied staging kitchen at the Miami Beach Convention Center. His easy demeanor and quiet voice -- cooking, he believes, should not involve screaming -- can soothe the most harried, spatula-wielding student.

"He's a problem solver," FIU student Danielle Kelly says. "So many things can go wrong in a kitchen, and when they do, he knows what has to be done and he's very calm about it."

Case in point: On a recent Tuesday, a fire-alarm drill interrupted his Advanced Food Production Management students as they prepared a three-course meal for a university lunch series. The student chefs worried that the saffron rice wouldn't be ready in time to pair with the red snapper Veracruz. But under Moran's direction, they finished not only the rice and fish but the tortilla chips, the Gulf crab with guacamole, the fried yuca and the churrasco with chimichurri sauce.

No wonder a sign in Moran's office window proclaims: Culinary Command Center.

"Working with students, particularly those who do not have any experience, requires a lot of patience, and it can be frustrating," Assistant Dean Mohammed Qureshi said.

"Not all chef-instructors adapt, but he plans well for his classes, he keeps the students interested and he keeps up with the industry. He's very knowledgeable, and he enjoys mentoring students."

Moran, 49, has served as the festival's culinary coordinator since it began in 1997 as the one-day Florida Extravaganza at FIU's Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami. About 450 people attended. Last year, the renamed, relocated and expanded event attracted 53,000 revelers over four days.

The festival, which has raised more than $10 million for scholarships and school programs, gives students the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the world's most famous chefs. The BubbleQ, hosted by Emeril Lagasse on the sand at the Delano Hotel, may be the crowning moment for Moran's proteges.

"They're not just assisting the chefs," he boasts. "They do it all. It's very much the students' deal."

Teaching, Moran says, doesn't seem like a job.

"It doesn't feel like work for me. I look at this more as if I am a senior partner and they're junior partners."

Like many chefs, Moran was inspired by a parent. His father, Vincent, an electrician, cooked comfort food in their Long Island home and often took the family out to eat. Moran tried his hand in the kitchen in his early teens, cooking breakfast for his four siblings.

By high school, he was working the counter at a small restaurant, but it wasn't until college that his boss suggested he become a chef.

He dropped out of his science studies and, in 1981, enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.

Moran parlayed his student-chef experience into a job at New York's La Reserve Restaurant, where the chef suggested he expand his culinary horizons. Moran did -- as the sous chef at the royal palace of Jordan.

After three months, he was promoted to executive chef and stayed until 1985.

He decided to get a bachelor's degree at FIU's School of Hospitality Management. (He received his master's in 2003.) He worked in some of Miami's best-known kitchens, including Chef Allen's and the Intercontinental Hotel.

After a stint at the New York Restaurant School, he landed a job at FIU as a chef-instructor. In addition to teaching, he runs a corporate catering business with his wife, Elaina.

But mentoring students, Moran says, is his great passion.

"In the kitchen you learn by making mistakes and getting yelled at," he says. "But it doesn't have to be that way. I feel I have something to give these kids. I have the patience to teach them."


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