With determination, gusto and flair, the housekeeping staffs and chefs of some of the area’s finest hotels proved that even under time pressure and the scrutiny of one’s peers, good work does prevail.
The bed-making competition, and the exciting Champions de Cuisine six-hour elimination cook-off highlighted the fifth annual Hospitality Expo, which was held March 4 in the Colorado Hall at the Broadmoor Hotel. Outgrowing earlier venues, the Expo is drawing increasing attention from the hospitality industry and its member hotels, restaurants and vendors, says founder and promoter, Fred Foster. “This is really a collaboration of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association and the Colorado Restaurant Association, Colorado Springs Chapter.” Foster’s own career in the hospitality field led to establishing the competitive showcase. “It’s rare to see this type of program – I don’t know of any other states that host a hospitality competition.”
“We try to pattern our Champions de Cuisine after the Iron Chef competition on the Food Network, organized by the American Culinary Federation,” he said. “This was the brainchild of Victor Matthews, chef at the Black Bear Restaurant in Green Mountain Falls. He has brought some great ideas – especially the incorporation of a secret ingredient – into our program.”
Competitors in the Champions de Cuisine program included: Christine Adrian (La Petite Maison); James Africano (The Warehouse); Brent Beavers (Sencha); Christian Bowie (Villa at Palmer Lake); John Broening (Primitivo); Paul Jensen (The Broadmoor); Chip Johnson (The Briarhurst); and Michael Kline (The Broadmoor). The field was whittled from eight to four to the final two: Broening and Jensen, who created a number of dishes utilizing the final secret ingredient: truffles.
The 2002 winner of the intense Champions de Cuisine competition , Paul Jensen, of The Broadmoor Hotel, prevailed in a field of eight of the area’s top chefs. According to Elaine Hofmann, president of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association and general manager of the Homewood Suites Hotel in Briargate, the Expo attracted some of Colorado’s best. “It was amazing how creative they (the chefs) were under pressure,” she said. Jensen’s winners included dishes like white truffle and Camembert risotto with a deep-fried black truffle and shrimp ravioli – and black truffle napoleon with grilled apples and Calvados-truffle reduction sauce.
This year’s exhibitors included a number of colorful, delicious and specialized companies who market their wares to hotel and motel prospects. From Red Herring Productions’ nostalgically-costumed actors promoting Corporate Entertainment to the Colorado Water Company, a private label water distributor headquartered on the Western Slope, and from the Manitou Chamber of Commerce promoting to members of Meeting Planners a Conference Suppliers of Southern Colorado (MPACS), the event offered something for everyone. Delicious smells generated by the Rocky Mountain Waffle Company filled the exhibit hall – and Lombardi’s meats were lovingly displayed. “We incorporate everyone from massage therapists to insurance companies and food vendors in our trade show,” said Foster. “They’re all very supportive of our industry and play an important role.”
The bed-making competition provided an especially visual and spirited break between cooking categories. Participating hotels sponsored internal qualifying rounds at their own properties, prior to the citywide invitational. “We had eight teams from local hotels,” said Hofmann, “including the Homewood Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Courtyard by Marriott, the Residence Inn by Marriott, the Fairfield Inn South, the Best Western Palmer House, the Wyndham Hotel and the Town Plaza Suites.” Gold, silver and bronze medal winners were announced , after members of each hotel’s housekeeping team completed timed rounds. Each contestant was judged on quickness and presentation,” Hofmann said, “and most of the hotels brought in employees to cheer their teams on.”
First place honors and a gold medal were awarded to Lorena Suarez of the Hilton Garden Inn while a silver medal went to Manuela Morales, also with the Hilton Garden Inn. Two women tied for third place honors and received bronze medals – Ramedios Morena from the Hilton Garden Inn and Sonia Reyes from Homewood Suites.
One of the most interesting aspects of the action-packed afternoon came from the passion exhibited by each of the contestants and their respective cheering sections. Amid balloons and noise, and the spirit of friendly, respectful competition, the area’s best chefs and housekeeping professionals were on view – something that Fred Foster hopes will likely happen more often in the future.