Eat, drink and be merry: UH Fred Parks Boardroom opens its doors

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Plush leather chairs lounge around a granite table, while vintage wines nest coolly in their racks, waiting for the perfect pairing for lunch or dinner. Nearby, a grouping of couches and tables invite. On the wall, a plasma television is ready for the flashiest of presentations or the most heated competitors of the field. The elegant and livable space is the new Fred Parks Boardroom at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, and the doors are open for business.

“This beautiful addition to the college will be the setting for meetings, receptions, wine tastings or intimate gourmet meals prepared by our executive chef,” said Kevin Simon, director of the UH Fred Parks Wine Cellar. “Guests will choose from featured menus and have available to them a host of fine and rare wines.”

The Boardroom is made possible by a grant from the Fred and Mable R. Parks Foundation. The late Fred Parks was a Houston trial lawyer, who served as counsel in such high-profile murder cases as that of River Oaks socialite Joan Robinson Hill, a story later made infamous in the best-selling book, “Blood and Money.”

Passionate about the law, Parks also was passionate about wine and education. A portion of his collection of fine and rare French wines, which features more than 1,000 bottles from the early 1900s to contemporary vintages, was donated to the college in 1994. At his bequest, his estate donated the remainder of his collection to the college after his death in 2001.

“The wine selections include many First Growths of French Bordeaux wines,” said Simon. “Fred’s philosophy was to promulgate wine to the masses. I think he would be proud of what we are doing.”

In addition to being an event destination, the Boardroom also will serve as an educational venue for industry professionals, community members and those UH hospitality industry students who are studying the culture of wine and the process of winemaking. The college expects next spring to offer a course in gourmet dining, where students create the dinners and consider the wine pairings. These dinners will be open to the public and designed around activities that will introduce the Fred Parks Boardroom and its wine collection to the community.

The wine and spirits industry, in Texas and across the nation, is a multi-billion dollar a year business, creating thousands of jobs—8,000 in Texas, according to 2005 statistics from the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute. Students of the college, some on their way to becoming sommeliers, will have access to the resources of the Fred Parks Boardroom.

“Wine is history and art,” Simon said. “The bottles, the labels, each date provide insight into its life and times. One of our bottles is from 1918…the things that bottle has seen.”

The Boardroom seats 28 for dinner or 30 for receptions. Simon creates all wine lists and executive chef Abbas Jaffari prepares all menus. For information on reserving the Fred Parks Boardroom, call Kevin Simon at 713-743-2459 or ksimon@uh.edu.

For more information on the Fred Parks Boardroom or UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, visit www.hrm.uh.edu/cnhc/ShowContent.asp?c=12609.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos are available at www.uh.edu/admin/media/nr/2007/08aug/hrm_fredparksph.html.

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