The cuisine, music, and décor of the Big Easy delighted nearly 250 guests of The School of Hospitality Business at MSU on Saturday, April 6 at the annual Les Gourmets reception and dinner in the Big Ten Rooms at Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.

The event, which sold out even before tickets were advertised, was planned and prepared by students on a 43-person Les Gourmets executive board that manages every detail of the elegant extravaganza.

The group’s advisor, Professor of Culinary Business Chef Allan Sherwin (BA ’64), was effusive in his praise of the students’ efforts and abilities.  “This is their moment to shine,” he said, “and they did a wonderful job.”

Faculty and staff of The School, alumni, industry partners, and many, many of the students’ family members all enjoyed a reception featuring New Orleans favorites such as oyster shooters with black pepper vodka; a fresh jumbo shrimp ice display with cocktail and remoulade sauces; po’boys cut from to order; mini muffaletas of serrano ham, olive salad, and genoa salami; gumbo; jambalaya; fried oysters; and a featured drink specialty: the Hurricane!

With the entertainment and foods reminiscent of French Quarter restaurants such as Café du Monde, Bourbon House, and Mother’s Restaurant, guests felt as though they were strolling down Bourbon Street.

After the guests paraded into the dinner, School Director Dr. Ron Cichy welcomed those gathered, noting Les Gourmets’ 62-year history and tradition of excellence.  Les Gourmets 2007 CEO Joseph Yasso (BA ’07), national learning and development manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, delivered the invocation. This year’s CEO Meg Lutton (BA ‘13) and CFO Lily Shoup (BA ‘13) acknowledged the year-long work of the executive board and the nearly 100 student volunteers who helped prepare and serve the six delicious dinner courses:  pan seared redfish cake; mixed baby greens with Creole French dressing and parmesan crisps; sautéed shrimp and grits; Satsuma sorbet intermezzo; grilled tornadoes of beef with a pepper cream bourbon glaze, oven roasted fingerling potatoes and braised greens, and diced pork belly; all followed by dessert — bread pudding and brandy sauce, bananas foster, and pecan cookies.  Each entrée was paired with an appropriately matched wine or beer – and everything was unique, mouth-watering, and evocative of New Orleans’ best restaurants.

Throughout the evening, the sounds of Benjamin Hall provided the famous New Orleans jazz, prompting a few brave guests to get up and dance!

Les Gourmets is not just about great food and entertainment, however.  The evening also recognizes that hundreds of students in The School earned more than $274,000 in scholarships so far this academic year.  And the Scholarship Committee, Drs. Jae Min Cha and Seung Hun Kim and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs Jeff Yingling, presented four of those students with the traditional Les Gourmets scholarships, surprising the winners and their families. Hallie St. Marie (BA ’14), Alexa Maser (BA ’14), Alyssa Haney (BA ’14), and Caiti Darish (BA ’14) were this year’s winners.

Culinary Coordinator Rick Brown and Chef Sherwin are integral to the students’ Les Gourmets experience, and so are the numerous guest chefs who volunteer their time and talent each year.  They, as well as the entire Les Gourmets executive board, received the thanks and a standing ovation from the guests, who were then treated to a “thank you” video produced by the board, as well as a recipe book of the evening’s best menu items and a specially-created New Orleans spice and seasoning mix for use at home.

One of the alumni guests was also one of the directors of the original Les Gourmets dinner dance in 1956.  She wrote to the students this year, “The food was delicious and beautiful; the service, friendly and efficient; the band, great fun and outstanding; the decorations make us feel like we were really there; your organization was phenomenal and your favors will continue to remind us of the fabulous time we had!! Congratulations on a job well done and thank you for making The School continue to be great.”

High praise from Hall of Fame Member and Alumni Association Executive Board Member Zoe Peckman Slagle (BA ’59), who knows a thing or two about quality hospitality!