April 14, 2003

Hotelies Run 78th HEC

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Often associated with such culinary delights as macaroni and cheese, few college students would be trusted to run a conference for some of the hospitality industry’s biggest names. But each year students in the School of Hotel Administration do just that, planning and carrying out Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC).

The 78th Annual HEC began last Thursday and ended yesterday. Over 70 guests were treated to fine dining, wine tours, ballroom dancing, and educational and networking opportunities.

The conference highlight for many was Chef En-Ming Hsu’s pastry demonstration. Hsu captained the 2001 gold medal U.S. Pastry Team at Le Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, and is the Executive Pastry Chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. In less than two hours, Hsu created a green swan, with grapes, flowers, and swirling ribbons attached to it, all made out of sugar. The work was the centerpiece for the conference’s closing dinner.

Hsu also answered audience questions about pastry competitions.

“If you’ve got 10-15 minutes left in a competition and your piece breaks, just put something together, [so] you don’t get a zero,” she told the crowd.

“It’s kind of like an exam,” responded one man in the audience.

Asked why she preferred to do abstract pieces, Hsu joked that “if your piece is very abstract, no one can tell if you break something.”

Barb Stern ’80, an advisor to HEC, found the demonstration “worth the entire trip to Ithaca.”

Some of the conference’s biggest names were also in the audience.

“It takes a lot to wow the people in this room,” said Stern, “but they would’ve sat here for another hour.”

The conference had several panels where students presented alongside faculty and industry leaders.

On Saturday, Sajan Hansji ’03 and Prof. Stephani Robson, hotel, presented a research project they had worked on with Esther Tang ’04, entitled “Restaurant Seating and Culture.” The project surveyed college students about their seating preferences in different situations, trying to establish whether certain cultures showed different behavioral patterns.

Drew Noeker ’03 and Prof. Bruce Tracey, hotel, gave a presentation on how to choose the best site for a new restaurant. Their model used such varied data as local beer and wine sales, new car leases, and numbers of lone male households. Such a project highlights the high “level of connectivity between student ideas and industry” characteristic of HEC, Tracey said.

Michael Pleninger ’63, cited the conference’s networking and educational opportunities as just two factors that drew him to his tenth HEC in the last 20 years. Pleninger applauded the new direction the seminars are taking. “The seminars on the operations side [of hospitality] aren’t available everywhere,” Pleninger said.

HEC is the culmination of almost a year’s work on the part of its board of directors. In the coming weeks, next year’s board will be elected and begin planning for the 79th HEC. “It’s an explosion of service, and then it’s gone,” said Zach Conine ’03, HEC’s managing director.

Archived article by Dan Galindo