February 19, 2007

Guest Chef Series Teaches Students, Delights Guests

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What’s cookin’ at the Statler’s newly restored Taverna Banfi? This Saturday, it was the eclectic Asian-Mediterranean cuisine of renowned chef Michael Mina. In the first event of the three-part Guest Chefs Series 2007, the students in H ADM 403, Specialty Food & Beverage Operations, organized all aspects of Mina’s visit.

Mina has opened eight restaurants across the country, including SeaBlue Borgata in Atlantic City, Michael Mina in San Francisco and Nobhill in Las Vegas. Bon Appetit and San Francisco Magazine Chef of the Year 2005 and International Food and Beverage Forum Restaurateur of the Year 2005 top his impressive list of accolades.

Mina often tours the country, making guest appearances for charity events and social gatherings, with Saturday evening marking his first appearance at Cornell. The menu featured classic dishes from Michael Mina: The Cookbook, most of which can be found at his restaurants.

“This has been a wonderful experience. The students have been extremely helpful, very courteous and very eager to learn,” Mina said.

The students in H ADM 403 formed marketing, production management and guest services teams, each of which was charged with specific tasks to ensure the event ran smoothly. Students organized publicity, preparation and the cooking, with assistance from members of the Mina Group.

“We’re trying to emulate SeaBlue at The Borgota. We’re doing their style of service and their staff are here to guide our servers,” said Elizabeth Martyn ’07, a student in the class and a member of the marketing team. “Someone who might not be about to go to California or Atlantic City or Las Vegas and experience Mina’s restaurants can come here and get a taste of it.”

“We strive to achieve perfection. That’s what our goal is for tonight’s event,” said Mohan Nair, Taverna Banfi restaurant manager and co-instructor of the class.

More than 100 guests attended the event, including Cornell students and faculty and other patrons who had attended Guest Chef events in the past.

“At $125 per person, it’s expensive, but it includes five courses of delicious food and wine, plus the champagne reception, so it’s a good value — plus, students can use CornellCard,” Martyn said.

Cornell has hosted the Guest Chefs series for eighteen years, and has welcomed chefs Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud, among others. The 2007 series continues with Chef Tommy DiGiovanni, of Arnaud’s Restaurant on March 10 and Chef Rene Mata of Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois On Main on April 28.

“It’s an awesome experience because we’re working with some of the top chefs in the industry,” said Yin Law ’08. “It’s intense, but I love it.”

Mina and his team arrived in Ithaca late Friday night and did not have many opportunities to sample Ithaca’s cuisine. However, he added, “We did have sandwiches at Shortstop Deli, and they were great!”