Double doors swung open into a marquee with shades of magenta, electric blue and bronze colors on the walls. A server greeted guests with a smile, offered them a glass of champagne and instantly the atmosphere transported guests into Auburn’s finest black tie event of the year — the Hospitality Gala.
Inspired by a watercolor painting of Auburn’s beloved eagle Nova by artist Al Island, a select group of 10 students in the College of Human Sciences as well as employees of the Hotel at Auburn University strived for vibrancy to be the underlying theme for the event this year as opposed to the monochromatic color scheme from years past.
Since 1992, the Hospitality Gala has sought to provide money to benefit the renowned College of Human Sciences and specifically the hospitality programs within the school. In addition to the already lengthy list of nationally ranked programs, Auburn University is in the process of adding a culinary school.
Keynote Speaker Frank Stitt, winner of the Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality, said the new culinary school will put Auburn in the lime light it deserves.
“I think that this [culinary school] is an example of Auburn being on the cutting edge of the culinary and hospitality world," Stitt said. "To have some of the most talented chefs from around the country talking about Auburn [at this gala] is bringing greater recognition to the University.”
As guests walked around the room, they were taken all across the United States and the world with all of the food provided. First, they started at home in Auburn with the culinary works of chef Robbie Nicolaisen from The Hound by dining on his smoked redfish pâté dish, fermented mustard seeds, pear butter and cracklin dust on crackers.
Nicolaisen said he seeks to revamp Southern cuisine with his fearless ambition to try anything and everything. Nicolaisen described his signature culinary style as creating his own "2.0" twist to Southern-style classic dishes loved by many.
“I have always been experimental; I have never been afraid to try new things," Nicolaisen said. "I have eaten some pretty weird stuff, but I won’t turn anything down. That’s how I’ve always been.”
From across the pond is the genius of master pastry chef Antony Osbourne, hailing from South Wales in the United Kingdom. Osbourne brought a savory take on pastries, presenting dishes such as three spiced panna cotta, pineapple almond chutney, petit-fours: lemon tartlets, orange confit, raspberry pâté de fruits, sesame tuiles, whisky truffles and schezwan ganache.
Osborne has served overseas working in the number one hotel in the world, The Oriental, and has also had the privilege of serving the great celebrities of our time such as Princess Diana, The Queen of England and Nelson Mandela to boot.
“I think the important thing [to be successful] is to evolve," Osborne said. "We are challenged all the time to evolve. It is all about service and the customer. It is crucial, and if a student says they can’t do that, they’re in the wrong industry.”
Reception hour was not complete without the neoclassic cabernet sauvignon provided by Randy Snowden of Snowden Wines. Located on 160 acres of land on the east side of Napa Valley, Snowden brought his family-run winery memories and soul to the table.
“We love the property, and it is all about making wine from there," Snowden said. "We are normal people. [To be in this business] is more difficult than anything you can imagine but most things are. If it is your passion, jump. But do keep an eye on the grape vine, that’s where it all starts.”
The Hospitality Gala was the ultimate opportunity for students at Auburn University to showcase their year-long hard work and represent the renowned program as a whole.
“I think [this event] represents our program well,” said student Morgan Perry, one of the creators of the event. “A lot of people who invest in this program can fully understand and appreciate our work on another level by seeing it first-hand. Human sciences has started pretty small; we aren’t nursing or engineering, but we are giving it a run and rising to the top.”