HOUSTON – March, 22, 2021 – Award-winning executive chef and restaurateur Hugo Ortega will join hospitality students from the University of Houston for an unforgettable virtual dinner party featuring a live cooking demonstration and beer tasting and floral design breakout sessions sure to engage guests.
Since 1974, Gourmet Night has been a treasured annual tradition at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, designed to highlight student talent and raise money for student scholarships. But just as the hospitality industry has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – perhaps more than any other industry – the event looks very different this year.
Due to social distancing guidelines, Gourmet Night, “A Virtual Dinner Party” will be held via Zoom on Thursday, March 25 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. Click here to register and to receive recipes, shopping lists and information on silent auction packages and bidding.
Historically, student leaders plan every detail of a gourmet dinner for some 300 in-person guests, showcasing their skills in culinary arts, event planning, beverage management and service direction. From theme to budget, to menu and night-of logistics, students direct the entire production.
Reba Haskell, lecturer and executive director of the event, says this year, students have been forced to re-think what hospitality looks like in the COVID era. Last year’s Mary Poppins-themed event was cancelled shortly after the coronavirus pandemic was declared.
“It has been an incredibly challenging year as the hospitality industry has been forced to pivot and change to survive. Once the dust settles and the pandemic is over, the establishments that are still in business will be the ones that were able to transition to curbside pickup, to-go ordering and adapt to additional sanitation rules,” said Haskell. “Our students, too, have had to adapt and change for this event, which I think is a valuable lesson. Gourmet Night is all about student learning.”
Hugo Ortega, the winner of Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards, will team up with UH students from the event management class to cook his delicious asparagus risotto with seared scallops. Dinner guests online are encouraged to cook along with the accomplished restaurateur. There will also be lessons for creating panzanella salad, chimichurri and banana Nutella pudding.
A native of Mexico, Ortega began his career as a dishwasher and busboy at Backstreet Cafe before graduating from culinary school and later becoming its executive chef and owner, along with wife Tracy Vaught. Together, they have created an award-winning Houston restaurant family that also includes Hugo's, Caracol and Xochi in Houston, and a partnership with Origen in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“He’s an icon in the city. When you think about celebrity chefs in Houston, you think about Hugo Ortega,” said Haskell. “For him to work side by side with our students and help support them adds incredible value to their education. We’re thrilled he’s able to join us.”
Guests can also choose to attend breakout sessions such as a beer tasting led by Aaron Corsi, Hilton College lecturer and co-founder of 8th Wonder Brewery and Distillery. Or, discover tips and tricks for creating the perfect bouquet from H-E-B’s lead floral designer. Items available at the silent auction include vacation packages, fine wines, financial services and much more.
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Hilton College Communications