Gathering industry leaders, educators, and top students from more than 100 restaurant and culinary schools nationwide, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) joined forces with Founding Partner The Coca-Cola Company and Presenting Sponsor Ecolab, Inc. to host the 21st annual Salute to Excellence Awards Gala. This highly anticipated event, which celebrates the best and the brightest in the restaurant and foodservice industry by spotlighting esteemed leadership and extraordinary academic accomplishments, took place on Saturday, May 17th at the Hilton Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, kicking off the 89th National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.

The Salute to Excellence Awards Gala was sponsored by Founding Partner, The Coca-Cola Company; Presenting Sponsor, Ecolab, Inc.; Welcome Reception Sponsor, Pearson Education; Grand Dessert Reception Sponsors, Rich Products and Sweet Street Desserts; Coffee and Tea Sponsor, Dunkin Donuts Inc; Beer Sponsor, Heineken; and Contributing Sponsors, Kellogg’s Food Away From Home and Panda Express.

During the Awards Gala, several awards were presented, including the highest distinctions awarded by the NRAEF: the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award. Established in 1987, the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award is presented each year to a member of the NRAEF’s College of Diplomates in recognition of extraordinary achievement in the industry, exemplary career leadership and substantial contributions to education. The 2008 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality is Joseph K. Fassler, FMP, retired president & CEO, Viad Food Service & Hospitality.

Each year at the Awards Gala, the NRAEF inducts outstanding industry professionals who actively strive to support and strengthen the advancement of professionalism and education within the industry into its prestigious College of Diplomates. The 2008 Diplomates inductees are Herman Cain, chief executive officer, THE New Voice, Inc.; William Regas, chairman emeritus, Regas Restaurants; and Christianne R. Ricchi, chef proprietor, Ristorante i Ricchi.

The 2008 Michael E. Hurst Lifetime of Achievement in Education Award was presented to Raphael R. Kavanaugh, Ed.D., FMP, professor and department head, Purdue University. One of the highest honors in hospitality education, this award is presented to a current or retired post secondary and/or graduate professor or administrator who has dedicated his or her career to academic instruction in the field of hospitality, culinary or foodservice management.

“We were honored to host the 21st annual Salute to Excellence Awards Gala, an evening celebrating the current and future leaders of our great industry,” says Linda Bacin, chairman, NRAEF Board of Trustees. “Our 2008 honorees have given more to our industry than could possibly be recognized in a single evening, but this event at least gives us the chance to not only pay tribute to their accomplishments but demonstrate their commitment to the industry in front of the students who will lead our industry into the future.”

The evening also included the presentation of the Al Schuman Ecolab Undergraduate Entrepreneurial Scholarships to three outstanding undergraduate students with a business management focus and an entrepreneurial spirit. Receiving a $7,500 scholarship and attending Pennsylvania State University was Crystal Neil. The second place winner, receiving a $5,500 scholarship and also attending Pennsylvania State University was Trevor Swope. The third place winner receiving a $3,500 scholarship and attending Michigan State University was Courtney Moore.

The Robert E. Rich Aspiring Entrepreneurs Scholarship, established by Rich Products Corporation in honor of the late Robert E. Rich Sr., awarded $10,000 to four undergraduate students attending the Awards Gala. Rachel Neitzke from Johnson & Wales University and Kristen Holtvoigt from the Culinary Institute of America each received $3,000 scholarships. Gregory Austudillo from Johnson & Wales University, and Eric Rosell of the Culinary Institute of America each received $2,000 scholarships.

The James H. Maynard Excellence in Education Award, made possible by Golden Corral, was presented to two outstanding ProStart educators at the Awards Gala. This year’s winners were: Julian Buckner of Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, SC and Susan Schumacher from Pleasant Grove High School in Pleasant Grove, UT. These teachers each received a $5,000 cash prize.

The Salute to Excellence Awards Gala recognizes the triumphant careers of these exceptional leaders who have made extraordinary individual contributions to promoting education and mentoring. The Awards Gala also presents an opportunity to honor the country’s most remarkable restaurant and foodservice industry student delegates who represent our industry’s future leadership.

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