The more than 400 people who attended Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality All Stars fundraiser on Sept. 27 were treated to a smorgasbord that included more than just (great) food from some of Denver’s top chefs.
Attendees could meander throughout the University’s dazzling new Hospitality Learning Center (HLC) and the SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown and have a governor or a big-city mayor pour them a drink, attend a wine talk with a master sommelier, take in an art history lecture, shoot baskets with a former Denver Nugget or listen to the jazz stylings of the MSU Denver faculty jazz quartet.
And in true learning-lab style, the event—a fundraiser for the HLC—was staffed and staged by MSU Denver faculty, students and alumni.
“The event has been a tremendous success,” said Sandra Haynes, dean of MSU Denver's School of Professional Studies. “It’s a veritable who’s who of Denver here.”
Thirsty patrons eager to get served cocktails by public servants could get a Metropolitan—a martini made of clementine vodka and cranberry juice—mixed and poured by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who also demonstrated his ability to catch cherries with his mouth. Or, they could get a St. Bernard—a concoction of Pig’s Nose scotch, dry vermouth and fresh pineapple juice—served up by amateur mixologist Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Both politicos took time out of their busy schedules to help raise money and awareness for the HLC, which opened in August.
“One of the great challenges of Denver and Colorado is connecting the Auraria Campus and MSU Denver to downtown Denver,” Hickenlooper said. “What better way to do that than take an institution like the Hospitality Learning Center and immerse them in downtown. What a gift.”
“I have always been proud of MSU Denver,” Hancock said. “What they do here—educating urban kids—they’re incomparable. And this is an impressive learning lab. This is, to me, the stuff that greatness is made of.”
Well-known chefs from Denver’s restaurant scene were sprinkled throughout the event like finely chopped parsley, and included such food luminaries as Sean Yontz, Frank Bonanno, Kevin Taylor, Goose Sorensen, Tyler Wiard, Troy Guard and others.
Taylor, whose stepson Cooper Mease is a freshman in the University’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events Program and owns several of Denver’s most renowned restaurants, prepared a foie gras and duck confit terrine in the HLC’s mixology lab-student restaurant for those lucky enough to get it.
“This is the future,” Taylor said. “This is a cutting-edge program. And for $5,000 a year, it’s remarkable. And these kids can work here and see what reality is. It’s built well and well thought out.”
Not too long after Taylor stopped serving goose livers, Bonanno dropped in to prepare his signature macaroni and cheese with kielbasa. Bonanno recently audited a wine class at the HLC and came away impressed by the information the University’s students got in the course. “It was well above what I had in culinary school,” Bonanno said. “And the HLC is gorgeous. MSU Denver should be proud.”
Indeed, the celebrity chefs and political heavyweights may have been outshined by the HLC itself. As people mixed and mingled throughout the entire facility, everyone—from student to visitor—marveled at the HLC’s classroom space, learning labs and hotel facilities.
Berri Yang, a junior business management major from Denver who worked alongside Duane Walker of Denver’s Lola to dish up an amazing roasted corn soup mixed with avocado salsa and topped with lime crema and cotija cheese, said the HLC easily outmatches the former facility.
“The HLC is way better than our other building,” Yang said. “In here, we have new machines that are high tech and we have more space so it’s not too crowded. And I like the lighting in the Sensory Analysis Lab—you can really see the color of the wine.”
Tyler Wiard of Elway’s said other culinary and hospitality schools in the Denver area now have major competition thanks to the HLC. He marveled at the structure’s design.
“There’s something peaceful about this facility that you don’t find in a culinary school,” Wiard said. “The careful thought that went into the design—you can tell it was done super super well.
The three-hour get-together also featured MSU Denver Trustee and former Denver Nugget Bill Hanzlik’s hoops demonstration while fellow Trustee Terrance Carroll staged a roping demonstration. Carroll, the former Speaker of the House, was decked out in full-on Western attire. He said he learned roping from state Rep. Wes McKinley.
“I truly believe in the school and its mission,” Carroll said. “Last time I was here, it was during construction and now, it’s amazing.”
Overall, the event was a success not only for its fundraising and turn-out, but for showcasing the HLC to the world. Many attribute MSU Denver’s increased enrollment in the HTE program to the new facility.
“This event is great for the HLC because we’re exposing it to the community,” said MSU Denver trustee Walter Isenberg, who is CEO of Sage Hospitality—which operates the HLC’s SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown at MSU Denver. “Everyone can see what a world-class facility we have to train hospitality students.”
For more photos of the Hospitality All Stars, go to HLC photos.
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