Scurrying about the kitchen decked out in chef whites, hotel school students honed their skills Tuesday at the Ye Hosts Honorary Society Initiation Banquet, an annual event that serves as a trial run for a larger hospitality conference held in April.
Despite some minor hiccups, student chefs and design managers said that they were pleased with the outcome of the banquet and feel prepared for the upcoming conferenc, which will culminate in a grand gala.
The gala’s main chef and HEC's back-of-house function manager, Jackson Kalb ’13, prepared the banquet’s appetizers and entrées, which consisted of pea soup, Atlantic black bass, a vegetarian option, and a Spanish tortilla. The dessert — chévvre pannacotta tarragon cake — was made by back-of-house function manager Sam Ostergaard ’12, who oversees Hotel Ezra Cornell’s closing cocktail menu.
“Basically, the idea is to run through part of the menu with a smaller crowd to get the flow right,” Kalb said. “I’ve made this menu for friends and family already, so I’m not too worried about it. But it’s [still] my name going on the menu, and I want to impress people.”
Following the Ye Hosts Banquet, HEC members will make necessary changes to the event before the actual conference takes place.
“The vision is complete, but we’re still working on the execution of how the vision is going to come together,” said Caroline Tawney ’14, function design manager for the HEC pre-Gala and Gala events. “I had things in my head of how this is going to look, but they didn’t quite come out that way.”
Kelly Armstrong ’13, HEC food and beverage service director, agreed that the event provided an opportunity for the group to perfect the details of the event.
“Ye Host is a great practice for us to test out a style of service and make sure that things go smoothly,” she said. “It’s good training ground, and it allows us to see anything that we need to tweak between now and the HEC weekend.”
Both Ostergaard and Kalb said that they were generally pleased with the food served and that only small alterations will be made to the menu.
Kalb added that the menu is constantly changing in small ways, noting that he has made adjustments at least a dozen times.
Despite these changes, HEC Executive Chef Michael Jurgielewicz ’13 said that he feels confident about the prospects of the upcoming conference.
“I think that we’ll be fine,” Jurgielewicz said. “[Things have been] going really smoothly where everyone is on schedule and it seems flawless.”
Design Director Katie DeVantier ’12 emphasized that the Gala conference will be much larger than Tuesday’s Ye Host event.
“This is a good strong base for us, but we’ll take it a notch up and HEC will just be that much more,” she said. “It gives you an idea of what it’ll look like, but multiply it by 100 and then you’ll get the whole HEC feeling.”
According to Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer in the School of Hotel Administration and HEC’s faculty advisor, the responsibility that students are given for planning and running the event fosters an environment in which students are comfortable experimenting with innovative ideas.
“What’s really neat is that this is getting them to understand that this is a safe environment for them. It’s okay to fail,” McCarthy said. “You learn as much, or even more, from failure than you do from succeeding. Missteps are just part of the process, and that’s the best part of this.”
Food and Beverage Director Celia Erickson ’12 echoed McCarthy’s sentiments.
“As a student, there’s a lot of learning as you go, whereas if you were at a real hotel or organization, after your first year on the job, you’d understand what to do the next time,” McCarthy said. “There’s definitely a learning curve for each role.”
Currently, HEC board members said the only concern they have is the amount of time they will be investing into preparation and the lack of sleep they will be getting as the HEC weekend draws closer.
“My other studies definitely take a backseat to everything HEC, but this is what I love to do,” said Danielle Foster ’12, communications director for HEC. “This is what we go to school for — we go to school to serve people and to put on events and to host people. We’re very service-oriented people.”
According to Foster, more than 400 hotel students participate as volunteers, managers and directors for the conference.
Students emphasized the necessity of collaboration to accomplish their common goals.
“It’s a matter of understanding each others’ perspectives and what I need to have accomplished and what others need to have accomplished,” said Graham Webster ’12, who was involved in preparing the gala. “But we definitely work well as a team.”
Lindsey Brous ’12, HEC’s program director, echoed this sentiment.
“We really support each other and work in a collaborative process for all of the teams,” she said. “We essentially have a world-class conference going on here on Cornell’s campus that’s run by students.”
Brous also emphasized the educational value of hosting such an event.
“[It adds] more than what [we’re] learning in the classrooms to complement [our] classroom learning,” she said. “We really have to look at how we can progress [Ellsworth M. Statler’s] visions and his ideas to continue to regenerate the hospitality industry and ... make it innovative.”