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Students at The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University Produce
60th Annual Les Gourmets Evening of Fine Dining for 200 Guests

(April 19, 2011, East Lansing, Michigan)
  It was a 60th anniversary.  It was an exquisite culinary experience.  It was a showcase of student talent.  It was a cultural celebration of central Europe.  And it was one of the most memorable Les Gourmets events in School history.

On Saturday, April 9, The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University pulled out all the stops to produce the 60th Les Gourmets evening of fine dining and elegance for 200 guests at the MSU Union Building.  Begun in 1951, the evening has evolved into a showcase of student culinary talent, as well as their marketing, financial, organizational, and creative skills.  “It is like opening and closing a five-star restaurant in one night,” explains this year’s chief executive officer, Kat Wahl (BA ’11).  “And this one evening requires an entire year of preparation."

Normally at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, this year’s event moved to the Union because of renovations underway to The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Culinary Business Learning Lab within Kellogg Center.  But students filled the area outside the Union ballroom with the sights, scents, and sounds of The Heart of Europe – this year’s Les Gourmets theme – for a creative and enticing reception.  There were court jesters, a king and queen, a cellist, and fruit, vegetable, and ice sculptures that words cannot describe.

And food! The German table featured Reuben crostini, pureed German potato and leek soup, and bratwurst with assorted mustard and pickled vegetables.  The Polish table offered handmade aged white cheddar peirogi with traditional accompaniments and cherry and beet borsch shooters.  The Hungarian table featured petite stuffed cabbage, miniature blintz with mushroom ragout and goulash.  German punch and Bell’s Breweries Craft Beers rounded out the reception menu, with Schuler’s bar cheese and soft pretzels for good measure.

The king and queen ushered guests into the ballroom, which artistic students had transformed into a medieval castle, with a mix of blacks, silvers, and maroons, a knight in shining armor, and each table decoration creatively celebrating a different year of Les Gourmets.

Director and Professor of The School Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77) welcomed guests with remarks designed to take them back to the early years, recalling past Les Gourmets student leaders and former School faculty.  However, he said, over the years, some things have not changed. “Students in our School have made the same commitment to our Les Gourmets guests and to each other:  to maintain a long tradition of hard-working excellence, to exceed the expectations of guests, and to showcase skills, knowledge, and professionalism on this important evening.”

Chief Executive Officer Kat Wahl spoke to the guests of attending Les Gourmets as a senior in high school, and knowing at that moment that this was the event she would someday lead.  As she spoke, nearly one hundred black and maroon-attired student volunteers filed into the ballroom lining the walls, ready to serve the meal and beverages.  What the guests did not see were the students in the “heart of the house,” who prepared and delivered the many courses, under the guidance of Advisor and Professor of Culinary Business Chef Alan Sherwin (BA ’64), Culinary Coordinator Rick Brown, and the guest chefs from around the Midwest who volunteer their services each year.

Kat was insightful, saying that the theme “The Heart of Europe” brings to mind the four countries of Central Europe. But she said, it has an additional meaning for her. “It represents the heart and soul that have gone into the planning, leading, working as a team, and the successful execution of this event. . .”

Her remarks led to the invocation delivered by guest chef Reverend Scott Miller and member of the Religious Advisors Association of MSU Reverend Richard Hawks.

And then there was dinner!  Six courses, each one exquisite.  And each one paired with a different and quite appropriate beverage.  The intermezzo course, it should be noted, was created by student and co-Heart of the House Director Ben Ackerman (BA ’11), and consisted of Bell’s Craft Beer sorbet in a miniature pretzel cup – all handmade.  For a further taste of the unique offerings that evening, visualize the entrée:  porter braised beef brisket with whole grain mustard spaetzle and fennel, apple, bacon, and caraway sautéed cabbage.  And this was paired with Tres Picos, Garnacha, Campo de Borja 2009.

But that’s not all.  Each course was accompanied by a performance from one of the countries celebrated that evening.  There was a “gypsy” dance by Rajaa; a Polish ballet by MSU Impulse dancers; a piano performance by Dustin Rourke; a poem delivered by storyteller Phreddy Wischuzen, and a German opera piece sung by student Amy Dixon, accompanied by Rachel Balijeu.  The performances celebrated the cultures of the heart of Europe, and many of them also celebrated the talent located right on the MSU campus.

MSU talent was evident throughout Les Gourmets, but the end of the evening highlighted the talent of scholarship winners in The School, whose students won a total of $208,000 in School-funded and industry-funded awards this year.  The four 2011 Les Gourmets scholarship winners were introduced, as well as the members of The School’s Scholarship Committee.

Katie Weeks (BA ’11), chief financial officer, introduced the entire student executive board, saying, “This year’s executive board is bursting with individual talent. . . they are the heart of this event, and I am honored to have worked with such a great team.”

Chefs Sherwin and Brown introduced and thanked all the selfless guest chefs, and then a short video was shown, highlighting the students’ passion for hospitality and this event.  Guests were treated to a final surprise: individually wrapped beer steins etched with the Les Gourmets 60th Anniversary.

Writing to the Les Gourmets Executive Board the next day, Dr. Cichy said, “You created an experience with lasting positive memories for both the guests and the student volunteers.  From the reception that showcased the art of food of the four countries, to the beautiful ice sculptures and carvings, to the ambience as we entered the ballroom, to the delicious food and beverage pairings, to the attentive anticipatory service, to the unique variety of entertainment, you clearly gave to our guests authentic and genuine hospitality.”

Alumnus Mike Rice (BA ’91), who knows a thing or two about hospitality, said, “The food and entertainment were top notch,” acknowledging that the entire evening should make the students very proud.  “What a way to end the school year,” he said. “They’ll never forget this night, and neither will we.”

About The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University
Recognized as the top-ranked hospitality business school, The School has a unique and independent position within Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.  Celebrating its 84th year anniversary in 2011, The School has almost 10,000 graduates worldwide, including a number of leading academicians and industry executives who have earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Founded in 1927, The School offers an exceptionally well-crafted curriculum, taught by innovative professors who are leading textbook authors, sought-after consultants, and respected researchers.  The mission of The School is
  • to INSPIRE continuous learning by empowering present and future managers to ACQUIRE knowledge, skills, and global Hospitality Business leadership positions
  • to CREATE knowledge by engaging in collaborative theoretical and applied research for the benefit of undergraduate and graduate students, Hospitality Businesses, and the community of hospitality management scholars
  • to ENGAGE our Hospitality Business partners through outreach and service, and to ENHANCE global Hospitality Business economic, community, and academic development and
  • to CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE The School's global leadership position in Hospitality Business operations: development, ownership, and management.
The First, The Original, and STILL The Leader. . . The School of Hospitality Business.

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Lena Loeffler

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