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Funds Support Students in Auburn University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management Program

AUBURN, AL (November 28, 2016) – As Auburn’s largest one-night fundraising event raising $310,000, attendees showed their support for Auburn University’s nationally recognized Hotel and Restaurant Management Program. Student scholarships making up $80,000 of funds raised were the most popular live auction items. Top chefs and winemakers from around the country prepared exquisite dishes including beef tartare, seared snapper, braised beef short rib and more.

“Each year the increasing level of support for the Hospitality Gala by our wonderful community has a huge impact on our students, staff and The College of Human Sciences,” said The Hotel at Auburn University’s Managing Director Hans van der Reijden. “Last night was an incredible display of culinary expertise by chefs from around the country and winemakers from South Africa and California, but the most impressive part of the evening was that community support, which helps allow the next generation of top-tier hospitality leadership to succeed.”

The 25th Hospitality Gala was Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hotel at Auburn University. The Gala has served as the main fundraising event for the Hospitality Management Program at Auburn University since 1992. A promising group of students and their devoted faculty helped to plan the event alongside the hotel staff and visiting chefs. Proceeds directly benefit the program. A portion of those proceeds will support students enrolling in global studies courses to the Bahamas, Europe, Italy, Napa and South Africa. These courses provide students with an understanding of the dynamic global business environment through learning about the specific challenges each tourism destination faces, enhancing student success in this competitive industry.

This year’s event honored Ryan M. Penso with the Outstanding Alumnus Award. Penso earned a Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Auburn University in 2006. He has since held leadership positions with Capella Group and the West Paces Hotel Group. In 2010 he moved to the Middle East to help PF Chang’s international partner, Alshaya. After moving up the ranks internationally, Penso returned to the US in 2014 as part of PF Chang’s Global Brand Development team and now oversees operations in the Americas.

This culinary occasion included five notable guest chefs working together with four local chefs to craft the Gala’s signature four-course meal. Gracing the list of guest chefs were Chef Matt Bolus of The 404 Kitchen in Nashville, Tenn.; Chef Donnie Ferneau of The 1836 Club in Little Rock, Ark.; Chef Lee Styer of Fond in Reading, Pa.; and chefs David Campbell and Andrew Litherland of The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Greensboro, Ga. The list of local chefs include Auburn University Hotel and Restaurant Management alumni Chef Rob McDaniel, Chef David Bancroft along with Chef Brandon Burleson and The Hotel at Auburn University’s own Executive Chef Leo Maurelli III. Wines for the evening were provided by California winemakers Joe Davis and Fritz Stuhlmuller and South African winemaker Matthew van Heerden.

“I am thankful for all the hard work from our visiting and local chefs put forth to make the gala a success. Every year we walk away with new friends and new ideas from this collaborative evet,” said Chef Leo. “I also want to thank all the attendees and donors. As an alumni from the program I understand first-hand the difference their support can make for each student and the industry.”

To learn more about The 2016 Hospitality Gala, please visit

Centrally located near the shops and restaurants of downtown Auburn, AL, The Hotel at Auburn University & Dixon Conference Center is just a short walk from the excitement of Auburn University and a diverse array of cultural and entertainment attractions. Whether in town for the big game, a special party, or a productive business meeting, the hotel’s 236 guestrooms and suites offer true Southern hospitality in an ideal setting. For a true taste of Italy, visit Ariccia Trattoria & Bar, located inside the hotel. An open kitchen and outdoor terrace seating add character to this restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, Sunday Brunch, and offers take-out service. Ariccia features an espresso bar and unique wine list, and has a private dining room for special events. Located in Ariccia Trattoria & Bar, Piccolo is Auburn's only true lounge experience for specialty cocktails and a large variety of appetizers and desserts. The menu features a variety of small plates perfect for sharing, refreshing cocktails, and piccolo bottles of champagne. Live jazz performances take place on Fridays and Saturdays (except on home football game weekends). The property is managed by the Atlanta-based Capella Hotel Group. For additional information or reservations, please call (800) 228-2876 or visit

About Auburn University

Auburn University has provided instruction, research and outreach to benefit the state and nation for more than 150 years, and is among a distinctive group of universities designated as Land, Sea, and Space Grant institutions. Auburn makes a nearly $5 billion economic contribution to the state each year, has more than 250,000 graduates and provides 130 degree programs to more than 24,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

For more news about Auburn University, visit  In-depth reporting, including multimedia features and downloadable photographs for media use, can be found at

Contact: Brianna Wagenbrenner / (404) 237-3761

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