NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University students in the School of Human Sciences recently traveled to Chicago to attend the National Restaurant Association Show.
During this four-day exhibit, students learned from industry professionals through education sessions, as well as sampled unique culinary dishes, viewed emerging field techniques and technologies, and more.
Dr. Chay Runnels, SFA hospitality administration program coordinator, graduate program co-coordinator and associate professor, led the trip with students in her field experiences in human sciences course.
“Part of our program’s core focus is to encourage students to experience things outside of SFA and Nacogdoches,” Runnels said. “This trip served a dual purpose. First, students were able to see the scope of the hospitality industry through the lens of the restaurant show, and they also experienced tourism in Chicago.”
At the National Restaurant Association Show, students witnessed more than 2,200 exhibitors representing more than 900 product categories, which provided students an opportunity to understand how such a massive event is organized.
Alyse Richards, an Arlington senior studying event planning, said this trip helped her get out of her comfort zone, learn to navigate a new city and better understand her major.
“I was amazed by how big the show was and how much food there was,” Richards said. “It also was very interesting to see all the different booths.”
Students also met celebrity chefs Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes featured on the Food Network’s show “Ace of Cakes;” Rick Bayless, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, who is known for his authentic Mexican cuisine and TV series “Mexico — One Plate at a Time;” Robert Irvine, known for various TV shows and cooking challenges such as “Restaurant: Impossible;” and Ming Tsai, a James Beard and Emmy award-winning chef, author, TV host, producer and product developer.
For Heather Gallant, an SFA graduate student studying nutrition, this experience introduced her to the many possibilities within her career.
“I am on the career path of becoming a registered dietitian, which means I am interested in all things related to food and nutrition,” Gallant said. “Attending the National Restaurant Association Show gave me the opportunity to speak with various food company representatives and learn how I can use their food products for my clients.”
Prior to landing in Chicago, SFA students researched the city’s tourism industry and reviewed attractions, nightlife and restaurants. Students had the opportunity to tailor the trip to their own interests.
“My favorite part of the trip was experiencing the culture of Chicago. When I travel somewhere new, I love to explore different places and observe how other people interact,” Gallant said. “I loved visiting various tourist attractions and eating at unique food establishments.”
The group had a behind-the-scenes tour of Eatly, a two-story food emporium with multiple restaurants and groceries.
The class culminated with a digital project dedicated to a specific aspect of tourism in Chicago or culinary issues. Project topics included transportation modes, food allergens, food presentation and technological advances.