"An Evening in Thailand" launched Niagara University's sixth annual Spotlight on Chefs.
The dining series is a showcase for 50 students enrolled in NU's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
They hone their skills with hands-on work preparing buffet dinners for the public on most Tuesdays and Thursdays through Dec. 12. The venue is the Statler Dining Room in St. Vincent Hall, which can accommodate about 75 diners.
Priscilla Wood of Rutland, Vt., was the student manager for the series opener last Thursday. She will graduate this December with a bachelor's degree in hotel planning and control.
She said she awoke early that day, nervous about her role for the first dinner.
Supervising 20 other students, Wood was responsible for the theme, menu, food preparation, serving and cleanup.
"It's good to get the leadership experience," said Wood, who hopes to land a food and beverage job at a luxury hotel or resort.
There were 55 reservations for the dinner, which included spring rolls, spicy shrimp soup, mussels in white wine, Thai cashew chicken, beef stir fry and Thai noodles with peppers and snow peas. Dessert was fried bananas. Beverages included Thai iced tea.
"Nothing is standardized. Each student who takes the lead on a dinner plans the menu," said Gary Praetzel, dean of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Dinners also are unique in their "decorations and ambience," he said. "Once we get into the spring semester, students find the bar has been set pretty high" by dinners held in the fall semester, Praetzel said.
Spring's offerings are more specialized in pairings of wine and food. And some involve guest chefs from area restaurants, he said.
"People are very interested in learning more about gourmet foods, fine wines, liquors and elaborate desserts," said Scott Beahen, director of NU's food service operations.
He said the chefs' series "offers people a chance to ask questions of our guest chefs and student chefs, and to relax in a beautiful setting while enjoying gracious service, fine foods and refreshments."
Dinners start at 6 p.m. and cost $14. Others are set for tonight and Oct. 31, Nov. 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 28, and 30 and Dec. 7 and 12.
A special dinner featuring guest speaker John Bourdage of Social Edge Seminars will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 21. The price is $35.
Bourdage, a North Tonawanda native and graduate of the Ivor Spencer School of British Butler Administration in London, will discuss entertaining, business and social etiquette, and wine selection.
Dinner reservations can be made through NU's Office of Continuing and Community Education, co-sponsor of Spotlight on Chefs, at 286-8181. Payment by credit card is required when reservations are made. Space is still available at all dinners.