The first pour unleashed aromas of summer fruit, cassis and red currant. The second serenaded the nose with subtle notes of licorice, cinnamon and black pepper. You could excuse everyone with glass in hand if they thought they were at a vineyard in the French countryside. In reality, they were experiencing the inaugural “Corks & Forks: Around the World” wine tasting event hosted by the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership.
“We’ve wanted to do a fall event since the pandemic,” said Dennis Reynolds, dean of Hilton College. “A wine and food tasting experience featuring products from different parts of the world seemed like a natural fit given our new name.”
Held in the Conrad Hilton Grand Ballroom at the Hilton University of Houston, the event was part fundraiser and part celebration of the College’s new name that was adopted earlier this year. It featured meticulously selected wines from 11 regions around the world, from Texas and California to France, South Africa and Australia. In addition to the wines, guests were treated to scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, including mint lamb chops, sesame tuna and Thai fried chicken skewers.
“The international nature of the event speaks for itself and is a great way to underscore that global focus for our students,” said Erin Kenyan, an instructional assistant professor at Hilton College who oversaw the event.
The heavy lifting for “Corks & Forks: Around the World” was left to the students and was managed by Ariana Silva, a senior from Las Vegas, as part of an independent study with Kenyan. Silva’s team was responsible for setting up the banquet space, selecting the wines and food menu and working with the various vendors.
“I came to Hilton College because I was impressed with how the faculty prepares you for a future in the industry,” said Silva. “Not only are they able to teach us the basics of what we need to know, from food preparation to banquet and event planning, but they offer us real-life examples.”
That kind of feedback is welcomed by Kenyan, who is part of a world-class faculty that prides itself on being the best in hospitality education and research as regarded globally by the academic and hospitality communities.
“Our students’ involvement in the preparation and execution of ‘Corks & Forks’ is illustrative of how we prepare future leaders of our industry,” Kenyan said. “This event, as well as signature events like ‘Gourmet Night’ which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the spring, are examples of the kinds of experiential learning we create that are unlike any other program.”
The Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Right now, the hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation that includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower, that is expected to be completed in February.
The College also recently consolidated its curriculum into four tracks to better prepare students for inevitable growth and change in the industry: lodging management, foodservice management, wine and beverage studies and project management and analytics. Since its founding as the first hospitality school in Texas more than 50 years ago, Hilton College has graduated nearly 10,000 students who work in hospitality leadership positions around the world. Events like "Corks & Forks: Around the World" equip current students with the tools they need to continue that leadership tradition.
“’Corks & Forks’ was another unique opportunity to showcase the hard work and amazing talents of our students,” said Reynolds. “Hands-on experiences like this demonstrate how we are setting the standard in preparing tomorrow’s leaders in the global hospitality industry.”