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Gourmet Night Journeys to the Sultan’s Palace

More than 300 guests arrived in sparkling attire to attend the 45th Annual Gourmet Night, held April 14 at the Hilton University of Houston. This year’s theme, Arabian Nights: A Journey to the Sultan’s Palace, paid tribute to the opulence of the Islamic Golden Age.

The evening’s journey began in the Sultan’s Marketplace, where guests examined treasures with a discerning eye while sipping on cardamom-infused rums and sparkling wine, and noshing on kebabs, falafel bites and squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and spices. Through their generous bids, the market raised almost $24,000 that will go toward Hilton College scholarships and programs.

When the call came for dinner, belly dancer Haydee of Haydee Professional Entertainment led guests through a canopy of flowing jewel-toned fabrics lit with shimmering lanterns toward the Sultan’s Palace (the Conrad Hilton Grand Ballroom). They found their seats amid rich hues of amber and jade, and after another provocative performance by Haydee, heard welcoming remarks by Dean Dennis Reynolds and Chancellor and President Renu Khator. Then, the evening was all about the food!  

First came the Arabian mezze platter with hummus and stuffed piquillo peppers, then pan-fried Branzino fillet with traditional Moroccan couscous. Guests then cleansed their palates with pomegranate ginger sorbet with edible orchid before the main course – the Sultan’s carved rack of lamb with saffron-infused basmati rice and caramelized figs. Dinner ended in a trio of sweets – rosewater rice pudding, baklava and pistachio rose halva.

This five-course menu, complete with wine pairings, was inspired by Guest Chef Jose Rivera, vice president of culinary operations at Ashton Gardens. Student Food & Beverage Manager Alli Bickett and Kitchen Lead Anna LeBlanc worked with Chef Jose to create each entrée. The hotel’s Executive Chef Thomas Valdivieso, our own Chef Anthony Chevalier and Executive Secretary Wendy Gary lead our student volunteers in the kitchen. Wendy, who started volunteering 16 years ago, has been a presence in the Gourmet Night kitchen ever since.

Course captains Dustin Burkhart, Christian Burris, Jonathan Vu, Shiv Zachariah, Jacob Sernec, Mac Capestani, Patricia Montemayor and Maya Moujeas – as well as nearly 300 student volunteers – also made the night a culinary success. A special shout out goes to Dean’s Assistant Donna Shaw and Tom Harwell, general manager of The Lancaster Hotel, who were invaluable resources to the silent auction team.

Finally, accolades go out to Gourmet Night Executive Director Alexis Jamieson, who with her first time at the helm of this event, mentored her team of student managers to execute a truly unforgettable evening. In addition to Alli and Anna mentioned above, student managers included Events Manager Naomi Rosales, F&B Co-Manager Jacob Pratt, Silent Auction Co-Managers Emily Copeland and Olivia Fagerman, Marketing Co-Manager Nuray Taylor, and Human Resources Manager Emily McEwin. The team was led by General Manager Ghadeer Jamal, who was presented with the Gourmet Night/Robert Raulston Scholarship by Eric’s Club Chair Mary Beth Moehring (’80).

“This event is a year long in planning and execution, and we just couldn’t do what we do without the support of so many partners and friends,” said Alexis.

Mark your calendars for next year’s event on April 13, 2019. We’ll be celebrating the College’s 50th anniversary celebration. Tickets go on sale at the end of January and will go fast! For more pictures from our Arabian Night, click on these Facebook albums: The Sultan’s Guests and the Marketplace, Inside the Sultan’s Palace, The Kitchen and Our Amazing Volunteers.

 (Story & Photo: Pearl Cajoles)

 Posted on April 25, 2018