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Les Gourmets Takes Guests on a Memorable Road Trip

Annual spring reception and dinner is a “Fork in the Road”

(April 18, 2017, East Lansing, MI)  Les Gourmets, the elegant springtime reception and dinner hosted every year since 1956 in The School of Hospitality Business got a makeover this year!  The event moved from its traditional location in Kellogg Center and traveled in new “directions” on Saturday, April 8, when 140 guests arrived at Spartan Stadium to enjoy “A Fork in the Road” in the Huntington Club.

The vintage “road trip” theme allowed the 29-member student Executive Board to get creative, hosting a reception featuring passed dishes including traditional Michigan Pasty with Cabernet Jus; smoked whitefish pâté on root vegetable latke; Guinness-misted beer cheese shooter with a salted pretzel knot; and classic Hamtramck pierogis sautéed with onions and browned butter.  Just visualize the Route 66-era gas station pump, with a keg of Ellison Brewery’s finest stowed inside and pouring out of a realistic hose.  The reception also featured two “stop light” bars, complete with authentic traffic signals that lit up as guests received their red, yellow, or green drink.

Guests enjoyed their hors d’oeuvres to the swing sounds of the 3-piece band the Undertakers.

When gold curtains opened theater-style to the dining area, guests were seated at tables surrounded by five “action areas,” or regions of the United States, where entrees would be cooked and served to guests by Heart of the House students and guest chefs.  A short invocation from Mr. Richard Hawks started the unique dinner, and then all were welcomed by Dean of the Broad College of Business Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Interim School Director Dr. Bonnie Knutson.

During the first course – A Michigan salad paired with wine donated by Black Star Farms – Les Gourmets CEO Sarah Lerche (BA ’17), CFO Stephanie Ragatzki (BA ’17) and COO Natalie Grimmer (BA ’17) discussed what it takes to produce an event such as Les Gourmets.  Natalie spoke of the honor she had working with so many students who had dedicated themselves to making the evening a success.  Stephanie encouraged the seniors present to “always remember where you came from.”  And Sarah spoke of what the team had learned:  “In life, they tell you to expect the unexpected.  In Les Gourmets life we learn to expect the unexpected, the unpredictable, the unimaginable, and the unfathomable.”

For the next 1 ½ hours, the guests were “mobile,” traveling to the various regions of the country, assisted by brochure “road maps” outlining the menu items in each place, as well as the many generous sponsors who made the evening possible.

In the Northeast, guests enjoyed delicacies such as freshly steamed mussels served in an herbed garlic broth; New England clam bisque with crispy crab croquettes; and charred Brussel sprouts with a maple glaze.  They travelled to the Midwest, tasting Wisconsin Mac n Cheese with individual choices of pasta, cheese, and toppings made to order; bison meatballs simmered in a hard cider mustard sauce; and mini Chicago-style deep dish pizzas.

On to the South, where guests were served a selection including BBQ brisket live-torched and carved, served with a selection of BBQ sauces; crawfish gumbo with fried okra; sautéed collard greens with bacon bits; and spiced shrimp served on cheese grits and topped with peach chutney.

Making their way to the Southwest, guests sampled items such as carnitas and smoked tofu tacos with homemade corn tortillas and a salsa bar; huitlacoche tamales (tamales filled with corn smut, a Mexican delicacy) topped with fresh chimichurri and queso fresco; and nopales salad.

And after they traveled all the way to the Northwest, guests were delighted by crepes made to order; fresh Pacific salmon atop a savory fried dough with Marion berry sauce and pea shoots; and Walla Walla French onion soup.

“It all made for an interactive, participatory evening, with a blend of formality and fun,” says Sarah.  Indeed, guests wandered from region to region, sampling not just the food of the region, but special drinks, as well.  Furthering the vintage travel theme were license plate vases for table decorations, travel suitcases filled with flowers, and postcards and maps showing the way.

The creative event required the hard work and passion not only of the Executive Board, but also their advisor Chef Allan Sherwin (BA ’64), nearly 100 additional student volunteers, and a number of guest chefs.

Nearing the end of the evening, Chef Sherwin introduced the guest chefs and noted their generosity in helping guide the efforts of the Heart of the House students.  He also introduced and thanked the staff of the Huntington Club, and said, “I really like what I’m doing.  And all of the chefs and the people that work in hospitality, they all love what they’re doing.  Thank you so much for your support.”

At this point, Sarah, Natalie, and Stephanie introduced the rest of the Executive Board, as well as the four Les Gourmets scholarship winners, surprising the recipients, who received cash awards and recognition based upon their application essays and dedication to Les Gourmets.  The winners were Olivia Jewell (BA ’18), Connar McLeod (BA ’17), Delaney Nikolai (BA ’18), and Katherine (Kat) Crawford (BA ’18).

The evening ended with a served dessert course of rock n rye mini cakes made with Michigan- favorite Faygo pop dusted with raspberry and a variety of specialized bon bons from world-famous Bon Bon Bon in Hamtramck, MI.  Several students had traveled to Bon Bon Bon, creating the delicacies under the expert and patient tutelage of owner and Alumnus (and former Les Gourmets CEO!) Alex Clark (BA ’10).

“What an enjoyable, delicious, memorable Les Gourmets,” exclaimed Dr. Knutson.  “This event is so much more than a meal.  It’s an extravaganza – an opening and a closing all in one night.  Every detail is important, and every detail was managed beautifully.”

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Eli Broad College of Business

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