Every now and again a gal needs glam, and it was certainly there at The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences’ dinner at the Martinez, Cannes.
In the bygone past the Academy dinners were, well, slightly chaotic. Anyone came, numbers did not mean a thing and awards ceremonies went on forever. One, in Shanghai, saw every hotelier present clambering on to a stage to be given a heavy plaque to be carried home, put up in pride of place in the hotel.
Things are different now. The Academy’s core, magnet, what you will, is the eternally youthful Joe Cinque.
He is like a jack-in-the-box. He pops up here, smiling, he pops up there, smiling. Whatever event is going on, he might well be there, or then he might be here. He normally has the current Miss Universe in tow, and Miss USA, too. This time he came to Cannes, courtesy Delta, with a whole bevy of’em.
There was Miss Ireland, law student Aoife Hannon, with a lilt that made one realize how much one misses the Emerald Isle. I had already met Miss Italy, Elisa Torrini, and Miss Netherlands, Kelly Weekers. Now there was a chance, too, to meet close up Miss Croatia, Natalija Prica; Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, and Miss Universe herself, Leila Lopes, from Angola. (It was last year’s Miss USA, Rima Fakih, who was caught drink-driving back in Michigan this week – ‘it was she who crowned me’, said Alyssa, with a grimace).
OK, so what is the recipe for an American Academy fiesta? Take one luxury hotel, in this case the long-suffering and ever-imaginative Martinez, and its amazing GM, Richard Schilling. Add to this ingredients of beauty – see above – and culinary talent.
Tonight the round up of chefs included, as guests, Annie Féolde, fabled cook of Enoteca Pinchiorri Restaurant in Florence; Karlheinz Hauser, Süllberg Restaurant on the outskirts of Hamburg, and Alfonso Iaccarino of Don Alfonso, at La Mamounia, Marrakech, Le Sirenuse in Positano and Don Alfonso 1890 in Sorrento.
Add a few restaurateurs, like Andrew Tjioe, chairman of the Tung Lok Group (and Ernst & Young’s 2011 Lifestyle Entrepreneur of the Year). And a couple of media, say Elite Traveler’s food-loving President, Doug Gollan, and, from Shanghai, Hurun Report’s Bridge Ni. Fashion names of the calibre of Leonardo Ferragamo, Chairman of Lungarno Hotels, help (it was natural for us to progress to hotels, he said in his speech).
A destination always adds flavour. This year it was Georgia – the Black Sea one rather than the state-of-the-USA. The Georgia delegation included the Mayor of Batumi, who did not make a speech, the Prime Minister, who said hello, and the President, Mikheil Saakashvili, a charmer who, in faultless English-English (he graduated both from Columbia and George Washington Universities, in the USA), exhorted everyone to come to his beautiful country, which is already getting three million tourists a year.
The ingredients are blended by master organisers Karen Dixon, out of New York (she is a Hollywood-type beauty who, in her sea-green strapless gown, was a match for all those Misses – all she needed was a crown), and, from Cannes, the suave Vittorio Gai and his wife Sandi. These are the three who make it work, for Joe and for the Academy.
Tonight the cocktail champagne was Taittinger, and it flowed and flowed. Emcee was veteran WPIX Anchor, Marvin Scott, from New York (he was brilliant). Only about 12 were called up on stage to receive awards, and then everyone, like about 200, climbed on up (on stage) while a photographer climbed much much higher (up a 12-foot pair of steps) to take the commemorative looking-down-on-you gals-and-guys photo.
The chosen few then went on up to La Palme d’Or, the Martinez’ own restaurant, transformed with large function-type tables and big standing video screens so that we could actually see, real-time, what was happening in the kitchen (top culinary honcho Christian Sinicropi cleverly wears an apple green jacket, standing out from all the whites around)
And oh the dinner! It started as a homage to Italy. First was Trippa di baccalà con spuma di baccalà (salt cod tripe and salt cod), namely outsized champagne coupes filled with a kind of cold brown soup with a cream topping, prepared by Enrico and Roberto Cerea, of Michelin three-star Restaurant Da Vittorio in Brusaporto. The next course was Gnocheti di cernia con alge marine e vongole (homemade grouper dumplings, topped with clams and strips of seaweed), Antonino Cannavacciuolo, Villa Crespi Restaurant at Orta Lake.
Next, the green-coated genius presented Le Veau de Lait (milk-fed baby veal, preserved for 72 hours and topped with thinnest truffle slices). The party then proceeded to dessert by Susur Lee, Andrew Tijoe’s corporate chef in Singapore, doing Winter mascarpone layers, with wild blueberry, raspberry, and chocolate crumble. And what did we drink? Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2006 en magnum Domaine Jean Marc Brocard, and Ch Fombrauge Cuvée Le Cadran 2006 St Emilion Grand Cru.
There was a finale. Here, at the intimate dinner, the ultimate accolade was presented to Joe Giacoponello, much-loved long-time President and CEO of Leading Hotels of the World. He spoke with the same warmth everyone remembered years back (his successor, Ted Tang, was also at top table and beamed, throughout).
You have no idea how incredibly humble I am to be here, I feel so inadequate, I worked with so many talented people – Leading’s Chairmen during my spell, Ernst Scherz of Gstaad Palace, and Jean-Jacques Gauer of Lausanne Palace, and the world’s top travel agent Bill Fischer (at his table). Passion, everywhere, tonight. Thank you, my Sicilian brother, Joe G said to Joe C. It was not only passion, it was emotion.