March 13, 2006

Guest Chef Benno Delights C.U. Palates

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Students in the School of Hotel Administration were treated to the rare opportunity of preparing dinner with world-renown chef Jonathan Benno this past Saturday.

Almost one hundred people attended the sold-out dinner, which featured menu items such as cornet of marinated Atlantic salmon, herb-roasted rib eye and grilled calotte of prime beef. The menu contained items found at Per Se, Benno’s critically acclaimed restaurant in Manhattan.

“We chose dishes that represent the restaurant well and that would please the guests,” Benno said.

To some, Benno couldn’t have done a better job.

“I’ve been trying to find words to describe it, but they’re not coming. It was fantastic,” said Maria Bililies, mother of class TA Charles Bililies. She added, “We drove six hours to come, but it was absolutely worth it.” She came to the event from Boston.

Chef Benno is Per Se’s Chef de Cuisine and works closely with Chef/owner Thomas Keller to create a unique brand of American cuisine. Benno has worked in some of the most famous restaurants in the world, including The French Laundry, Aqua and Les Celebrites. Per Se, which opened in 2004, has already received a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide New York City-something only three other New York restaurants share.

The dinner was part of the Specialty Food and Beverage Operations: Guest Chefs class offered by the hotel school. The class gives students the opportunity to work with some of the best chefs in the country. Benno enjoys working with the students and acting as a mentor.

“It’s a great opportunity to further the relationship between Per Se and Cornell, and the Cornell students that I’ve worked with are great,” Benno said. Currently, there are five Cornell graduates who work with Benno at Per Se.

Vincent Vela ’04 is a kitchen server at Per Se and enjoys working with Benno.

“Per Se is an excellent environment in which to work,” he said. “It’s difficult because of the long days, and it takes a lot of dedication and commitment, but it’s worth it.”

Students began preparing the dinner on Thursday, working more than twelve hours a day, until Saturday night when the dinner was served. They assisted in organizing the dinner, preparing some of the food, serving and wine selection.

“The enthusiasm of all the students was contagious. They were so excited to be working with Chef Benno; you couldn’t help getting excited, too,” said Bililies.

When asked if he had any advice for hotel students hoping to open their own restaurants, Benno said, “Students should approach the restaurant business with humility and take time to learn rather than jump right into the business. It takes a long time to be good at anything.”

Archived article by Nate Lowry
Sun Staff Writer