Auburn University’s annual Hospitality Gala features three chefs with ties to university

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The 2014 Hospitality Gala, the annual benefit for the Hotel and Restaurant Management program at Auburn University scheduled for Thursday, April 10, at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, will feature six chefs, including three with ties to the university.

Chefs Rob McDaniel, David Bancroft and Leonardo Maurelli all attended Auburn. McDaniel and Maurelli graduated from the Hotel and Restaurant Management program in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Although Bancroft did not complete his degree, he served as executive chef at Amsterdam Café in Auburn for five years and last fall opened his own restaurant, Acre, in Auburn.

Maurelli also worked at Amsterdam and at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. He is currently the executive chef at Central in Montgomery. McDaniel is general manger and executive chef of SpringHouse on Lake Martin.

After participating in the hotel’s Chefs to the Rescue event in 2011, the trio founded the Front Porch Revival, an organization committed to promoting the arts, food and culture of Alabama.

The event also will feature the culinary talents of Chef Jose Chesa, owner and executive chef of Ataula, a Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant in Portland, Ore.; Chef Shaun Hergatt owner and executive chef of Juni, a boutique restaurant within Manhattan’s Hotel Chandler; and Chef Dallas Masteller, executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead.

“In past years, world-renowned chefs have participated in the Hospitality Gala, but this year, we will merge international talent with Auburn-grown talent, for an even more over-the-top experience,” said Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel. “Having guest chefs like this talented group is a way to expose not only our customers and students, but also our local chefs to international talent. Additionally, it gives the visiting chefs a taste of what our Alabama chefs can do.”

The chefs have prepared reception and dinner items to be paired with select wines from Chappellet Vineyard & Winery, Miura Vineyards, Clos Pissarra, Phipps Family Cellars and Taittinger Champagne.

Winemakers Dominic and Amy Chappellet of Chappellet, Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji of Miura and Clos Pissarra, and Andrew Phipps of Phipps Family Cellars will attend the gala to meet with guests.

Every year, the Hospitality Gala serves as an opportunity for junior and senior students in the Hotel and Restaurant Management program to gain real-world experience by planning and executing all aspects of the affair. They receive guidance from faculty in the College of Human Sciences and the hotel leadership team led by Van der Reijden. The gala has become the largest single-night fundraiser on Auburn’s campus.

“The annual support received from this event goes a long way toward helping Auburn’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program position itself and compete amongst the very best programs in the nation,” said Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management. “The money raised supports a host of student and faculty development initiatives and aids us tremendously in the realization of our vision – namely to be recognized globally as a true leader in the field of hospitality and tourism education.”

The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the Taittinger Champagne reception featuring a meet and taste with the chefs and winemakers, and a silent auction. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m., followed by a live auction and a presentation of the 2014 Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality to Niki Leondakis, CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts in San Francisco.

Some of the items up for auction include a journey aboard the largest private yacht in the world, a trip through the California wine country with dinner at The French Laundry, trips to Asia and the Caribbean, and a Disney World experience complete with a behind-the-scenes tour.

When Leondakis was named CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts in 2012, she was tasked with leading the global expansion of the Commune brands. The hotel group was created only a year prior with the merger of Joie de Vivre Hotels of San Francisco and Thompson Hotels of New York. Leondakis had been president and COO of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

The annual gala is an extension of the college’s relationship with the Capella Hotel Group, the Atlanta-based luxury hotel management company that manages The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

For ticketing information, visit

(Written by Amy Weaver)

Contact: Gwen Lloyd, College of Human Sciences, (334) 844-4000 (,
Hans van der Reijden, The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, (334) 321-3178 (,
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (