It was Pure-ly delightful. And it was Pure Michigan. The 61st Annual Les Gourmets reception and dinner presented by the students in The School of Hospitality Business on Saturday, March 31 featured the foods, music, culture, and ambiance of the State of Michigan – and it celebrated the talents and hard work of the students at Michigan State.
Amid incredible fruit and vegetable carvings (one table even featured a lighthouse atop “underwater” carvings of fish and flora – you had to see it to believe it!), the reception’s centerpiece was a handmade “tree,” with branches displaying the four seasons of Michigan. There was shrimp from the shrimp farm in Okemos, coney dogs reminiscent of Tigers games, and Faygo pop flowing through a specially constructed ice carving in the shape of Michigan (yes, the Upper Peninsula was miraculously balanced at the top) to create a frozen concoction of Faygo, cream and vodka. A little too delicious!
The reception also featured the many cheeses (chocolate included) of the MSU Dairy Store, and the beers of Michigan-produced Bells Oberon, Amber Ale, and Kalamazoo Stout.
In the midst of the reception, with over 250 dinner attendees dressed in their finest, a flash mob took over (well, okay, it was a group of the student volunteers and servers), and, to the Motor City music of Bob Seger thrilled the guests with an “impromptu” dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
This was the signal the dinner would be served, and the massive doors to Big Ten Ballroom A opened for the guests, revealing a room dressed in the colors and feel of Michigan. Lightweight tulle draped from the ceiling, creating a soft, cloud-like sensation. Chairs were draped in soft greens and blues, and all the Big Ten seals that line the walls were covered and replaced with tapestries of the symbols that represent the State: the outlines of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, the State bird, the cherry, and others. Behind the podium rose an enormous backdrop of the Mackinac Bridge over the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Each of the seven sumptuous courses featured ingredients from the State of Michigan, and was served with wine and beer from the State, as well. Though 11 guest chefs helped to guide the students the evening before and the day of the event, Les Gourmets is truly a student-led hospitality experience. Several of the recipes were developed over several months of experimentation and tasting. Says Heart of the House Director Nate Redner (BA ’12), “The intermezzo of apple brandy sorbet took fourteen incarnations to get it ‘just right,’ evoking the warmth of the apples and spices we all remember from Michigan in the fall.”
The Les Gourmets Executive Board, led by CEO Brittany Friddell (BA ’12) and CFO Nicole Scherff (BA ’12), saw to every detail of the evening, including food purchasing and production, decorations, donations, marketing and publicity, and entertainment.
And what entertainment! Each course was punctuated with creative, remarkable performances by MSU students displaying a true love for the State of Michigan. There was the A cappela group “Ladies First,” performing Motown’s “Get Ready;” inspiring and evocative poetry by Korey Hurni; a jazz saxophone performance by Evan Pedder of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke;” and a lyrical dance performance by the Impulse Dance Team. And though certain tables would occasionally break out in shouts of “Go Green, Go White,” – and they could be forgiven, being loyal alumni – the entire evening was purely elegant, and Purely Michigan State.
An outstanding feature of the evening was the attendance and comments by the alumnus who originated the Les Gourmets event at Michigan State back in 1956, Hall of Fame member Ernie Renaud (BA ’57). Noting that he was born in the same year as The School – 1927 – Ernie held the guests spellbound as he described the birth of the 61-year-old tradition, as well as the efforts of his fellow students and school leaders to establish the School as an enduring institution at Michigan State College: building and transporting the School’s booth to the NRA Show; producing the “Man in the Kitchen” TV show on WKAR, and working as an alumnus to help other students as he had been helped by School legends Don Greenaway (BA ’34) and Les Scott (BA ’35). Ernie, describing that first Les Gourmets, said the students did everything: the food, the service, the decorations, the entertainment – they even had two “cigarette girls” (they actually gave out candy cigarettes!), with the trays strapped around their necks. One of those “girls” was in the audience and has become a very active and successful alumnus – another Hall of Fame member, Zoe Peckman Slagle (BA ’59, MA ’64).
Addressing the guests, Brittany described the convergence of the love of the State with the love of Michigan State, and Nicole described Michigan as the heart of the Midwest, with people willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Both young women were actually describing the students and the atmosphere they were able to create during this impressive event.
Four students won Les Gourmets scholarships, based upon their work on the event and their essays about the experience. They were Meagan Lutton (BA ’13), Sam Patterson (BA ’12), Rebecca Rose (BA ’13), and Lily Shoup (BA ’13). Each was recognized and presented with a check, and all will return next year to help lead the event again.
“You know, whether the students were born and raised in Michigan or elsewhere, MSU is their home, so the State of Michigan becomes part of their identities,” said School Director and Professor Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77). “This has been true through years and generations of student leaders. These leaders believed that serving others is the highest calling. They practiced service with an open heart and pure intentions. And they teach us to this day that what we do for others is a measure of our humanity.”
With thanks to the guest chefs and to their teachers, Chef Allan Sherwin (BA ’64), Professor of Culinary Business, and Chef Rick Brown, Culinary Coordinator, the executive board and supervisors of Les Gourmets closed the evening with “mignardises” of Burgdorf’s Winery raspberry wine dark chocolate truffles and maple shortbread cookies – all lovingly handmade by the students – and a moving video tribute describing what the experience of Les Gourmets has meant to each one of them. This video, as well as a beautiful, pre-event teaser, is available at http://www.msulesgourmets.com/videos.html.
Les Gourmets 2013 is Saturday, April 6, 2013. Mark your calendars!