That was my question for Rebecca Weiss, Daily Sun Senior Editor, as the second of two dessert courses was placed in front of us at Cornell’s Statler Hotel on Saturday night. We had delved tastebuds-first into a realm of Cornell that neither of us knew very well: the inner workings of Cornell’s famed Hotel School. Besides having eaten breakfast there a few times when my family has come up to visit, the hotel’s Taverna Banfi is relatively foreign turf for me. I spend more time in the much less glamorous Alfalfa Room on — surprise — the Ag quad.
The occasion was the Hotel School’s prestigious Guest Chefs Series, in which a prominent chef comes to Cornell for a weekend to prepare a menu of his or her creation for paying guests ($150 a head), with most of the help coming from undergrad hotelies themselves. This weekend’s guest chef was Daryl Schembeck, Executive Chef of the United Nations Delegates Dining Room in New York City. To be honest, I had never heard of the Guest Chefs Series until Rebecca called me up earlier in the week asking if I could tag along as a Sun photographer. As media representatives, the cost of the meal was taken off our hands, which made the whole situation even better. A top-notch meal…for free!
Before the pre-dinner cocktail reception started, Rebecca and I had been led to the kitchen by a couple of the hostesses, who gave us some background info on how the event was going to work. I juggled two camera bodies and snapped photos of the hotelies in action preparing the various hors d’oeuvres as I tried not to bump into anyone. Daryl came to introduce himself to Rebecca and me, and we had a brief conversation before he got back to work. Heading back out to the reception, Rebecca and I joined a growing group of about 100 or so gastronomically-inclined members of the Cornell community. She took notes as I took photos of people I don’t know…all in a day’s work for the Sun. The people I did know were a bunch of the hotel students staffing the event, both in the kitchen on food prep duties and in the restaurant on serving duties.
Come 7PM, Rebecca and I joined the wave of guests from the reception area to the restaurant, where we sat down at our table and glanced at the menu.
Duck and foie gras terrine with a pink peppercorn-pear sorbet
Seared black bass with collard greens, pecans, and sweet potato coulis
Roasted veal cheek Schnitzel with egg Spätzel, and sauerkraut vinaigrette
Cappuccino Napoleon with caramel sauce; ginger-milk chocolate truffles; and gingerbread cupcakes with chai cream cheese icing
“Whatever this is, I want to smear it all over my face”
Needless to say, each course was better than the last. Between the fish course and the meat course, I went back into the kitchen to visually document the intense process of preparing the veal dish with an assembly line of hotelies working hard under the supervision of Chef Schembeck and a couple of Hotel School professors. The atmosphere was tense, as servers formed a line to pick up entrees and the culinary students worked to make sure they weren’t holding up the preparation process. At a couple of points, Chef Schembeck and the professors interjected with suggestions or urgings-on to keep the food flowing smoothly from the kitchen into the dining room. I returned to my table to eat my veal with a profound appreciation for the work these culinary students do. While I can’t speak for them, I’d guess that the Guest Chefs Series is one of their most rewarding experiences as hotelies, seeing as how it’s a completely real-world situation with high-profile figures; not just cooking lab.
I must say the highlight of the night was the Cappuccino Napoleon dessert. It was so good that Rebecca and I were grinning uncontrollably for a while afterwards, probably looking ridiculous, but that’s okay. In reference to the sauce on the dessert’s plate, Rebecca remarked, “Whatever this is, I want to smear it all over my face”. Yeah, it brought out Rebecca’s more ravenous side, as well. It was that good.
Turns out the logo was edible. Multilateral cooperation has never tasted so good.
United Nations Executive Chef Daryl Schembeck to prepare a meal fit for a king at Cornell [Cornell University School of Hotel Administration]
Slideshow of my photos from the event [The Cornell Daily Sun]
Be Our Guests, Be Our Guests, Put Our Service to the Test [The Cornell Daily Sun]