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"A Tour of Italy with Fork, Knife and Glass"

New York, November 2011 ...For the seventh consecutive year, chefs from Benchmark Hospitality International have been invited to cook at the storied James Beard House in New York City. The seven-course Benchmark chef's dinner, entitled "A Tour of Italy with Fork, Knife and Glass," will take place Thursday, December 15, 2011. Featured chefs from fine dining restaurants, luxury hotels & resorts operated by Benchmark Hospitality will be Renato de Pirro, executive chef of Ristorante Cavour at Hotel Granduca in Houston; Alan Gould, executive chef of Nine18, the Villas at Grand Cypress Resort, Orlando; Michael Jackson, executive chef for Deloitte University, Dallas; Francisco (Paco) Aceves, executive chef of Stonewall Resort and Stillwaters Restaurant in Weston, West Virginia; and Matt Kelley, pastry chef for The Barking Frog at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Washington. Mary Watson-Delauder, Benchmark Hospitality's chief sommelier, will be present to discuss wine pairings with each course.

Benchmark's "Tour of Italy" James Beard Dinner will begin with an hors d'oeuvres and wine reception at 7:00 pm on December 15th. A seven-course chefs tasting menu will be served starting at 8:00 pm. Reservations can be arranged by calling the James Beard House at 212-627-2308 and are $130 per person for members of the James Beard Foundation and $170 per person for the general public.

"We're thrilled to be returning to the James Beard House," said Giorgi Di Lemis, vice president food & beverage, "and are looking forward to cooking and presenting our dinner, 'A Tour of Italy with Fork, Knife and Glass,' which features seven distinctive regions. Italy is the country of origin for select members of our 2011 James Beard culinary team, and to bring a bit of our heritage to New York and the prestigious James Beard House is tremendously exciting."

"We're so pleased to have the chefs from Benchmark Hospitality join us this December," said Izabela Wojcik, director of house programming for the James Beard Foundation. "Having them cook at the James Beard House each December has become an eagerly anticipated annual tradition for us and the Foundation members, and we look forward to their culinary tour of Italy this year."

The James Beard House was once the residence of legendary James Beard, America's first celebrity chef who is revered today as the dean of American Cookery. Mr. Beard lived in the Greenwich Village townhouse until his passing in 1985. A gifted impresario who along with his close friend, Julia Child, led the way for many of today's celebrity chefs, James Beard established cooking schools and published over 20 cookbooks, many of which are still in print. As important, he left a legacy of culinary excellence and integrity for generations of America's home cooks and professional chefs.

"A Tour of Italy with Fork, Knife and Glass"

Benchmark Hospitality's 7th Annual James Beard Dinner



Cichetti (Hors d'oeuvres)~Butler Passed
Foie Gras terrine with Passito di Pantelleria con Panettone
Sautéed Snails with Saffron sauce
Caponata con Burrata
Garlicky Rock shrimp
Pearls and Oyster

Cardinale with Gin, Campari and Vermouth
Rossini with Strawberry nectar and
Prosecco Avisi

First Course
Coastal Italian ~ Crudo di, Capesante, Tonno Adriatico e Branzino
Crudo of Scallops, Adrtiatic Tuna and Mediterranean Sea Bass
Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc, Malborough, New Zealand Sauvignon 2010

Second Course
Emilia & Romagna~Astratto di Salumi e vegetali sotteranei 
Abstraction of cured meats and root vegetables
Samuel Adams, Black Lager

Third Course
Veneto ~ Risotto con Astice involtato con inchiostro di Seppie e Sorbetto di Pomo
Venetian Risotto in Squid ink, lobster and pomodoro Sorbetto
Bolla Bardolino, Veneto 2009

Fourth Course
Toscana ~ Taglio Piemontese alla padella, Vitello Arrostito. Maiale Brasato con accompagnamenti classici
Piedmont Beef, Roasted Veal, Braised Pork Belly with classic accompaniments and sauces
Arcanum, Tuscany 2006 

Fifth Course
Lombardia ~ Formaggi Artigianali curati a mano
Hand cured, trio of Artisanal cheeses
Yangarra Shiraz, Australia 2008

Sixth Course

I Dolci Italiani ~ Interpretazione di tre Dolci
Sgroppino Egg - olive oil crumb, Prosecco gel, Limoncello foam and Meyer lemon Sorbetto; 
Chocolate Rosemary Bombolino, pine nut praline, chocolate crumbs, Rosemary blossoms 
Mascarpone Panna Cotta, Sicilian Bronte pistachios, preserved figs in Brachetto, Vin Cotto
Korbel, Sweet Rose'

Seventh Course
Finale diMignardise
Lavazza Coffee

The Benchmark Hospitality's Chefs & Sommelier

Renato De Pirro, Executive Chef
Hotel Granduca, Houston, Texas

Tuscan-born Renato De Pirro joined Hotel Granduca in March 2010 with over 20 years of exemplary culinary experience. He served most recently as executive chef for Osteria del Circo, at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prior to this, De Pirro was executive chef and manager for Terra Rossa, located at the Red Rock Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. While there, he served as corporate executive chef for the Italian-branded restaurants of Station Casinos and developed new culinary and interior design concepts for seven of the company's Italian restaurants. Previous to this, De Pirro was chef de cuisine and restaurant manager for The Grill at Valentino in Las Vegas. He joined the restaurant as line cook and was rapidly promoted to pastry chef. De Pirro progressed to sous chef, executive sous chef and chef de cuisine during his seven-year tenure with the restaurant.

Chef De Pirro launched his culinary career in his native Italy, where he served as executive chef for La Locanda di Ansedonia, Grosseto, located in Ansedonia, Italy. As an entrepreneur, he owned and was executive chef of Ristorante La Ribotta, located in Monte Argentario, Italy.

Renato De Pirro graduated from the Culinary School IPSAAR Spoleto, Italy, with a Certified Chef De Cuisine Diploma. He has been a featured chef on numerous regionally and nationally televised cooking shows, including the Food Network, and was a Silver medalist in the World Cup of Culinary Arts. He was also winner of the Third Annual Bertolli Sous Chef Award, which honors the up-and-coming stars of the culinary world.

Francisco "Paco" Aceves, Executive Chef
Stonewall Resort, Weston, West Virginia

Francisco "Paco" Aceves is executive chef for Stonewall Resort, located near Weston, West Virginia. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Aceves previously held the title of executive chef for one of West Virginia's most popular restaurants, The Bridge Road Bistro in Charleston. Prior to this appointment he served as banquet chef for the Four Diamond La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, gaining experience in southwestern cuisine.

Early in his career, Paco Aceves was employed as sous chef for The Houston Country Club in Houston, Texas, where he trained under Certified Master Chef Fritz Gitschner. During his tenure there, Chef Aceves was chosen by Gitschner to participate as part of the United States culinary team at the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon, France, one of the world's most distinguished culinary competitions.

At the launch of his career, Francisco Aceves apprenticed at Handke's Cuisine in Columbus, Ohio, where he trained under Certified Master Chef Hartmut Handke. Chef Aceves has previously cooked at the James Beard House.

Alan Gould, Executive Chef
The Villas of Grand Cypress, Orlando, Florida

Alan Gould is executive chef for The Villas of Grand Cypress located in Orlando, Florida. Chef Gould has been at the helm of the culinary department for 15 years. He is an award-winning chef that oversees the culinary operations for all property dining at Grand Cypress, including The Club and Nine18.

Chef Gould started his culinary career at the Four Seasons San Antonio where he served as a sous chef. He then took the same position at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando. Chef Gould has served as executive chef at other prestigious properties like the PGA National Resort & Spa, the Imperial Golf Club Naples, the Ocean Club Key Biscayne, and Caneel Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Chef Gould graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and is a member of the American Culinary Federation – Central Florida Chapter. His passion for cooking is evident in everything that comes out of the kitchen. His vision and artistic techniques truly provide guests with a dining experience that is unmatched. Chef Gould has previously cooked at the James Beard House.

Michael Jackson, Executive Chef
Deloitte University, Dallas, Texas

Mike Jackson, executive chef at Deloitte University, began his formal culinary career in Austin, Texas, working at the Four Seasons Hotel under the direction of acclaimed Chef Robert McGrath, a James Beard winner for Best Chef, Southwest. In 1990, Jackson was promoted to sous chef for the private membership sports club at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas, and later appointed to the position resort banquet chef. 

In 1994, he joined the Omni Mandalay Hotel as Chef de Cuisine for the fine dining restaurant Enjolie, perfecting his French cooking skills under the tutelage of Executive Chef Marc Gouronc. Jackson earned the title of "executive chef" in 1997 for the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel, a Four Diamond hotel on the Corpus Christi Bay. He returned to the Omni Mandalay in 2002 as executive chef before being selected as opening executive chef of the new Omni Fort Worth Hotel. In April 2011, Jackson joined Benchmark Hospitality as part of the pre-opening team of Deloitte University.

Chef Jackson was media spokesperson in 2004 during a chef's tour of Chile in South America and has served on the American Egg Board's Food Service Advisory Council. He was a featured "Celebrity Chef" in a 2005-2006 national advertising campaign for "Look Who's Cooking with California Raisins." In 2007 and 2010, Jackson was honored to accept an invitation to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in Manhattan, and served as Host Chef for a "Friends of the James Beard Foundation" event in 2008. Chef Jackson has appeared on television, radio and in print media numerous times promoting the culinary arts.

Matt Kelley, Pastry Chef
Willows Lodge, Seattle, Washington

Matt Kelley is pastry chef for Barking Frog at Willows Lodge, a Northwest retreat in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country. In his position, Kelley oversees the dessert menu at Barking Frog, including the creation of all dessert and pastry items.

Most recently, Kelley served as pastry chef at Café Juanita in Kirkland, Washington. Prior to joining Café Juanita, Kelley served as pastry chef of Rover's, where he earned the Star Chef's Rising Star Award for 2009. His experience also includes positions as pastry cook at the Four Seasons in Chicago, Ill., where he worked in banquets and at the hotel's fine dining restaurant, Seasons; pastry chef at Bin 36 in Chicago; head of the pastry department at A Mano in Chicago; and pastry cook at Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, Washington. A Seattle native, Kelley attended the Seattle Culinary Academy.

Mary Watson-DeLauder
Chief Sommelier, Benchmark Hospitality International

Mary Watson-DeLauder is chief sommelier for Benchmark Hospitality International, the first professional to serve in this position for the leading hospitality management company. Ms. Watson was previously the award-winning sommelier for Lansdowne Resort and its popular On the Potomac restaurant in Leesburg, Virginia. She held this role for 16 years, garnering several awards along the way.

Throughout her tenure with Benchmark Hospitality, Mary Watson has been instrumental in strengthening the company's relationships with signature wineries in Virginia, nationally and internationally. She developed an acclaimed curriculum of food & wine and Culinary University classes, which provide an in-depth look at a variety of American and International cuisine and wines. Ms. Watson has also developed the wine programs for several of Benchmark Hospitality's properties.

Mary Watson's expertise has been recognized nationally. She has been the recipient of the Wine Spectator award for the past 18 years, and has been featured nationally on NBC's Today Show and in countless regional and national consumer and food & wine publications. She is an active member of the Women Chef Restaurateurs, Knights of the Vine, Society of Wine Educators and the Virginia Viniferea Wine Growers Association. Ms. Watson has received the Gold Cluster of Virginia Award and served as a judge for the Virginia Wine Growers Association Wine Competition, the American Wine Competition and the International Wine Competition. She has served as sommelier for numerous dinners at the James Beard House in New York City.

The James Beard Foundation www.jamesbeard.org, based in New York City, is the definitive culinary arts organization in the United States dedicated to showcasing American chefs' talents. It is named after the great American chef, Dean of American Cooking, and Father of American Gastronomy, James Beard, who authored over 20 cookbooks and hundreds of articles, many of which are still in print. Beard appeared on network television's first cookery program in the 1940s and established a renowned cooking school. The Foundation and The James Beard House, where chefs from around the world showcase their talents, are situated in Manhattan in Beard's original townhouse, located in Greenwich Village.

Hotel Granduca. Considered one of Houston's premier, luxury boutique hotels, and the only Leading Hotels of the World property in Texas, the Forbes Four Star Hotel Granduca is majestically situated in the heart of Houston's Uptown Park and Galleria district. Built in 2006, and offering 123 luxuriously appointed accommodations and suites, Hotel Granduca also features the award-winning Ristorante Cavour, more than 1,200 square feet of exclusive function space, Bar Malatesta, a sparkling pool with private cabanas and lushly landscaped verandas and courtyards. For information or reservations, call 1-888-472-6382, or contact your travel professional. Visit online at www.granducahouston.com. Hotel Granduca is operated by Benchmark Hospitality International.

Deloitte University , operated by Benchmark Hospitality, is an over 700,000 square-foot state-of-the-art learning and leadership development facility stretching across a107 acre campus in Westlake, Texas. As the largest professional services firm in the United States, Deloitte expects more than 30,000 of its own professionals to attend Deloitte University each year to experience a wide range of learning opportunities for professionals at every level of the organization. For more information, visit www.deloitteuniversity.com.

The Four Diamond-rated Stonewall Resort (www.stonewallresort.com) is a 208-guestroom property with a lakeside lodge and lakeside cottages, a conference center, restaurants, complete fitness center and swimming pool, spa and an 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course. The resort is located at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park near Weston, West Virginia. Stonewall Resort is a joint private/public development between McCabe-Henley LP and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. Benchmark Hospitality International operates Stonewall Resort.

Villas of Grand Cypress, managed by Benchmark Hospitality International, is a Four-Diamond property located in the Lake Buena Vista area of Orlando, adjacent to Walt Disney World and just minutes from Universal Studios and Sea World. A member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, the property is part of a 1,500-acre resort complex that includes The Villas of Grand Cypress, which features 146 elegantly appointed accommodations comprised of Club Suites and one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom villas with full kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms. For additional information about the Villas of Grand Cypress and Grand Cypress Resort, call (877) 330-7376 or visit www.grandcypress.com.

About Willows Lodge

Willows Lodge, a Northwest style lodge located in Woodinville Wine Country just outside of Seattle, features 84 luxury guestrooms, a full-service spa and high-tech equipped meeting space.  Executive Chef Bobby Moore’s American regional cuisine at Barking Frog reflects the seasonal and organic produce found in Puget Sound, and is artfully paired with an extensive list of Washington wines.  Willows Lodge also boasts Fireside lounge, offering a casual and sophisticated atmosphere tucked away in the lobby with an outdoor patio overlooking the expansive surrounding landscape. www.willowslodge.com.

About Benchmark Hospitality International™

Benchmark Hospitality International™ is a recognized global leader in the management and marketing of resorts, hotels and conference centers.  The company’s two distinctive portfolios of properties, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels™ andPersonal Luxury Resorts & Hotels™, represent the finest in guest-dedicated hospitality in unique destinations across the United States, in the Caribbean and Japan. As a founding member of the International Association of Conference Centers, Benchmark Conference Centers™ maintain the highest standards for certification in meeting excellence. Benchmark Hospitality was launched in 1980  as an independent company and today operates worldwide from offices in The Woodlands (Houston), Texas, and regional offices in New Jersey, Washington State, Japan and Chile. For additional company information visitwww.benchmarkhospitality.com.

Media Contact:

Kirsten Andresen

Regional Director of Public Relations

Willows Lodge

206-427-5482 direct