Lessons in Foodservice & Hospitality at HX: The Hotel Experience Show

By Nicolas McLellan, B.S. in Culinary Arts Candidate, Graduating July 2017

Ah, New York City. The only place where you can spend $500 on a tasting menu with a wine pairing and then eat a $2, albeit delicious, food cart hot dog. A culinarian €™s wonderland! Given New York €™s reputation for setting food and hospitality trends, it would only make sense that an event for foodservice professionals, students, and various food technology companies would occur, right?

Correct! Formerly the International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Show, HX: The Hotel Experience aims to provide trends, new equipment, and plenty of networking spread over three days, usually in November. (Mark your calendars for 2017!) To provide some background as to why I attended the Expo, I €™ll have to give a shout out to Ms. Brooks and the Hospitality Engagement Club, who kindly asked me to represent Walnut Hill College at this year €™s HX. Of course I jumped at the chance, booked a ticket for Amtrak, and was good to go. So let €™s fast forward to Sunday, November 13th.

Armed with a smile on my face, coffee in hand, and WHC pin on my suit jacket, I was beyond ready to absorb information, fill my wallet with business cards and my belly with free samples. After a quick 10-minute walk from Penn Station, I entered the Javits Center, got my name tag and entered HX. Being a culinary student, I €™m drawn to shiny equipment and anything that can shoot out flames like a jet engine, so it only made sense to check out the Hestan Commercial booth, which consisted of a beautiful oven suite boasting four open-burner stovetops, a French top (a solid cast iron stovetop that houses the flame beneath the metal), and a plancha (for searing proteins).

hx-stovetop

After picking my jaw up off the floor due to the equipment €™s finesse and beauty, I discussed various customizations and some local clients with a Hestan company representative. I continued to marvel at other stoves, ovens, and even a soft serve machine, which I was a huge fan of due to the free samples I received!

hx-ovenhx-ice-cream

Another great aspect of HX were the numerous conferences held, one of which covered the idea of commercial kitchen designs/makeovers. What I found most interesting was a statement by one of the gentlemen on stage, who tied in the almost too famous quote, €œIf you can €™t stand the heat €¦ € you know the rest. He stated that, in a study done by a hospitality research company, if the temperature goes above 10 degrees an employee €™s comfort level, their productivity level decreases by 30%. Food for thought, and an interesting mention! Other topics discussed were the right questions to ask regarding kitchen design, such as kitchen design flaws (hooking up a gas line to a steamer instead of a water line–yikes!) and keeping an appropriate and steady budget. These are all things that I found important, especially if someone wants to open their own operation.

My final piece, a sweet ending if you will, involves the topic of something we all know and love. Male or female, short or tall, Democrat or Republican, everyone loves chocolate! The story takes a nice turn at this point, caused by my fellow Bachelor student Kenan Rebah meeting me for this portion of my day! The last presentation, hosted by the former pastry chef of the world renowned Le Bernardin, Chef Michael Laiskonis, was hands down my favorite. Now the Creative Director for the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC, his main focus is the Bean to Bar process of chocolate making. In novice terms, this means that Chef Laiskonis receives the dried cocoa beans in his lab, roasts them, and then separates the cocoa nibs from the shell during a process called €œwinnowing. € He then grinds, presses the cocoa butter, and refines the cocoa liquor, at which point he adds sugar and other additives, such as milk powder.

After the refining process, conching is done, and this step improves texture and promotes moisture reduction. Science (and my own experience) proves that water and chocolate do not mix, so you get the idea! One last note to touch upon is that Chef Laiskonis has been experimenting with aging the chocolate bars he makes. It may seem odd at first, but when put in the same rich category as wine and cheese, the decadent sound of €œAged Dark Chocolate € sounds great. We were given samples of chocolate from June, and it was amazing! I noted flavors of slight smoke and a lot of citrus. After indulging in a bar or two, Kenan and I spoke with Chef Laiskonis about his role at ICE and discussed checking out his chocolate lab, and we even got a picture!

hx-nickhx-kenan

In a nutshell, HX is extremely valuable to young hospitality students because of ALL the exposure achieved. From the connections made in the undisputed restaurant capital of the world (Philadelphia is becoming close competition!), to the industry leading professionals discussing current and future trends, to observing just how vast our field really is, I truly enjoyed my experience and encourage my fellow students at Walnut Hill College to check it out in the future!


Student Spotlight: Emily Stricko talks White Out Waste Event

On Monday May 16th, several student leaders presented a White Out Waste event, encouraging guests to bring their own food and dress in all white. Student Leader Emily Stricko was generous enough to share her experience contributing with the event. She notes, €œOur inspiration was from a real event, called the Dîner en Blanc; it’s  the French tradition of a large, outdoor picnic with guests dressed only in white, upheld in dozens of cities today €. Emily explains that sustainability was focused upon when brainstorming for ideas. WHC emphasizes sustainability as an ideal to constantly strive towards; a fun, fashionable, creative and delicious event €œwith the underlying understanding to recycle and leave no trash behind € fits in well with the college €™s values.

As with any WHC event, the White Out Waste dinner required much collaboration and attention to detail. Emily explains, €œwe needed to convey the elegance and level of effort requested by the planning committee to influence potential sign-ups in understanding our message €.  Guests wore all white and dined with eco-minded service ware. Guests brought their own food and sense of style to the picnic-esque event, a sparkling cider toast kicked off the evening of sustainability-focused conversation. Looking to the future is important for the sustainably-minded Student Leaders and the entire WHC Community. Minimizing waste was the central goal of this event and the Student Leaders wish to continue this focus in day to day life at WHC and into the future with more events and collaboration. Emily looks forward to collaborating the future student leaders on similar events, €œhappily, the initiatives drawn up by the existing generation of Student Leaders are meant to give structure and inspiration to our peers and even faculty. From eliminating paper printouts and installing multiple blue recycling bins throughout campus, we ask that everybody remember being mindful of waste, electricity, and making €˜green €™ choices! €.  The White Out Waste event highlighted that eliminating waste and focusing on other sustainable practice require looking into the past and embracing new methodologies as we move forward as individuals and as a college community towards the constant goal of thinking and acting €˜green €™. Check out all everything else Student Leaders are up to here!


Dishing out scholarships at the 2016 Walnut Hill College Culinary Competition!

On Saturday, May 7, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College hosted yet another of its annual scholarship events for high school students, this time the 2016 Culinary Competition. We were excited to have 20 students hailing from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware come to our Philadelphia campus to show us their cooking chops for the chance to earn partial tuition!

The Culinary Competition challenged students to compose a chicken dish with an array of ingredients that they didn €™t know about until they arrived in our kitchens. This surprise element to the competition forced the students to think on their feet and really brought out the creative cooking ideas we love to see! In fact, the judges were so impressed that they awarded top prizes in the high school and vo-tech divisions to seven students instead of the usual six, with two students tying for third in the vo-tech division! All of the students walked away with a $500 scholarship to attend Walnut Hill College, so the day was an overall success for everyone who participated.

We’d like to thank all of the students for competing as well as their instructors and parents for  supporting them during contest prep. Of course, a huge thank you goes to our esteemed chef judges–some of whom are alumni–Marcie Turney, Evan Turney, Rocco Cima, and Todd Braley!

Please enjoy the photo album from our 2016 Culinary Competition.


Sweets & Scholarships at our 20th Annual Chocolate Competition

On Saturday, April 30, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College hosted its 20th annual Chocolate Competition for high school juniors and seniors. This event showcased the talents of rising pastry professionals and gave the young competitors the chance to earn scholarships to attend the college in the program of their choice. Over 20 students from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland descended onto our Philadelphia campus to vie for the top prize in their respective division: high school or vocational-technical school.

For the competition, all of the students had to bake a chocolate cake prior to arriving on campus. What set each cake apart was the extraordinary design work that each student put into his or her confection on competition day! Whether they chose to make a simple but elegant cake or go all out with a multi-colored, multi-layered masterpiece, the students were encouraged to be creative. Judging the students €™ cakes were Kathy Gold, Executive Chef and Owner of In the Kitchen Cooking School, Nancy Miller, Executive Chef at Villanova University €™s Donahue Court, and Jill McClennan, Food Technologist at Campbell Soup Company.

All of the competitors went home with a $500 scholarship to attend our school, while the top three winners in both divisions also won scholarships in the amount of $6000, $3000, and $1800. Congratulations to all of the students who competed!

View the photo album from our  2016 Chocolate Competition.


For a Limited Time Only, Timeless: A Gastronomic Tour Through the Ages

Timeless: A Gastronomic Tour Through the Ages  is the newest pop-up restaurant at Walnut Hill College.   Twenty one Bachelor students have planned and executed every aspect of this limited time experience available March 15th– April 16th 2016. The website with menu and access to reservations can be found here. The menu takes guests from the 16th century through to the 21st with three courses: appetizer, entrée and dessert; the menu is paired with a lovely, inventive cocktail menu. Options are friendly to both meat-eaters and vegetarians in all courses!

Guests are greeted and seated, then introduced to a confident and professional management student who provides a brief overview of the project. This pop-up does not hold back on delicious bread or beautiful presentation; the menu is especially aesthetically pleasing! Every plate looks strategically executed and presents a piece of history (and a piece of something delicious).  Each entrée option is inventive and inspired by the 18th and 19th centuries; one option is a unique and delicious polenta vegetable lasagna. The sweetest and final course boasts modern-time influenced dessert options. For a truly unexpected and lovely taste experience try The Tea Party, you €™ll want to order several to take home for a midnight snack. Timeless is a treat for every palate; the bachelor students strategically planned every aspect of the experience. Don €™t miss out on this limited time pop up!


Rolling out the Red Carpet: Freshman Showcase

Friday, March 18  marked WHC €™s Freshman Showcase, during which our campus was turned into a wonderland of food, drink, and decor. Upon arrival, guests received a “passport” directing them through different cultural experiences for the palate. The red carpet was rolled out and guests were invited to walk through the restaurants, kitchens, and classrooms to sample sweet and savory morsels and assorted beverages–including wine for those of age! Cheers to our wonderful freshmen and all of the faculty and staff who helped to make Friday night so delectable!

Freshman Showcase was a truly delightful display of how hard each student has worked so far in their career at Walnut Hill College. Culinary, pastry, and management skills were crucial in pulling off such a large and amazing event. Guests were treated to delicious seafood, some Italian staples, a chocolate fountain, and many other themed savory treats! Every aspect of our newest students’ knowledge was put to the test for their family, friends, and even future colleagues, as some incoming students attended to see what they have to look forward to later this year. The freshmen have already expanded their knowledge in their short time at the college, and Friday €™s event certainly reinforced all of their hard work and proved they have the passion to showcase their technical skills and creative expertise. Families and friends were undoubtedly impressed with the visual presentation and, of course, all of the food upon which they feasted! Hats off to the freshman class at Walnut Hill College. Keep up the beautiful and tasty work!

Here’s our Freshman Showcase photo album!


Congratulations, Graduates!

Sunday, March 13  marked graduation at Walnut Hill College. Although it was rainy, bachelor and associate students donned gowns and decorated graduation caps for the momentous occasion. Family, friends, faculty, and staff gathered at the University of Pennsylvania to celebrate the newest members of the working force. Several awards were granted, including one in recognition of  those who very impressively maintained perfect attendance throughout their degree programs.

Students and their guests enjoyed two keynote speakers, one a fellow graduate of WHC. Following eloquent and engaging speeches from the valedictorian of each degree program, Dean Morrow announced the names of his “newest colleagues” as students crossed the stage with pride and received medals, degrees, and congratulations from President Liberatoscioli and Executive Vice President Karl Becker. The ceremony concluded and the grads tossed their beautifully decorated caps in celebration.  Cheers to the newest graduates! The WHC community is so proud and cannot wait to see what you’ll do next!

View our Commencement Ceremony photo album.


€œLaissez les bons temps rouler! € €”or as you may know it, €œLet the good times roll! €

The spirit of New Orleans was alive and well in Philadelphia at our annual Walnut Hill College Mardi Gras celebration. The Mardi Gras parades are known all over the world for their bright colors, bold costumes, and over-the-top festivities, and our students and staff pulled out all the stops to recreate some of the drama of this popular holiday!

Today €™s party literally included all the bells and whistles of a traditional Mardi Gras celebration, as members of our Hospitality Engagement Club paraded through the Courtyard donning masks and using noisemakers to rally their fellow students. Beads rained down from our rooftop deck into the crowd, another tribute to the New Orleans celebration that made the day all the more exciting! And of course, our clubs featured everything from freshly-made pierogies straight from our kitchens to Mardi Gras inspired mocktails. Thanks to all of our students and staff for an awesome turnout and some amazing food, beverages, and memorably good times!


Best of luck to all of our students, staff, and faculty in the Year of the Monkey!

On Monday, the Walnut Hill College family got together for yet another exciting event: our annual Chinese New Year celebration! As always, the Student Activities Department put together a festive display in our Courtyard and several of our clubs came out in full force to celebrate 2016, the Year of the Monkey.

Students took part in a Chinese tea tasting and tea trivia game courtesy of the Foodie and Yearbook clubs. Cocktail Club delighted the masses with Orange Blossom mocktails, while our Arts Appreciation Club invited students to design and create their own pieces of artwork to commemorate the occasion. To top it all off, our Hospitality Engagement Club treated everyone to an amazing display and tasting of homemade fortune cookies! It was truly a fantastic event and we can €™t wait to top it next year!


Ready. Set. Action.

Thanks Iron Knife Films  and Properpix!

For the launch of our new website, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College teamed up with Iron Knife Films and Properpix for what turned out to be our most amazing video and photo shoot yet! Preparation began early in the morning with the arranging of lush flowers, dramatic candles, and fine place settings in our Italian Trattoria as part of a fantastic tablescape scene featuring some of our Management students. Lights and cameras adorned just about every corner of every kitchen and dining room to capture our talented students in action as they prepped, cooked, and plated an eclectic array of dishes.

We didn €™t want to miss a single moment of the amazing work our students created, so our shoot went on well into the evening, wrapping just after midnight! It was hard work, but we are truly proud of the final product and are excited to share it with everyone. Thank you to all of the teams at Iron Knife Films and Properpix as well as all of the students and staff members who played a part in today €™s shoot.