Champagne & Chocolat Gala: A Valentine’s Night of Giving for the Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship

By: Kimberly Chuck 


The posh River Oaks Country Club was the elegant setting for the exclusive Champagne & Chocolat Gala on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, February 14, 2017. Dressed in fashionable ensembles that matched the cocktail and red-tie Parisian theme, 200 of Houston’s philanthropic leaders were in attendance to support the Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship


Hosting the opulent event was none other than Marie LeNôtre, Founder and President of the Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship fund, which raises money for tuition scholarships for students in culinary arts programs. LeNôtre’s powerhouse gala committee included honorary chairs Anne and John Mendelsohn and co-chairs Kelli Cohen Fein and Mary Ann McKeithan.


The evening began with a Champagne reception, during which guests enjoyed hand-made bites coupled with Charles Collin Brut Champagne. As well as mingling, guests perused the lavish items on display for the silent auction, whose generous donations featured a little something for everyone. Hand-painted art fitted with antique frames thrilled art lovers, custom jewelry from Paris and priceless one-of-a-kind clutches turned fashionistas’ heads, autographed sports memorabilia intrigued sports fans, and the idea of private dinner parties catered by various culinary chefs from the LeNôtre Institute thrilled foodies. 


Following the reception, the dancers of the French Cancan Show thrilled partygoers with a high-kicking opening performance. During the rest of the evening, live music was provided by Bubba McNeely and Greg Giacoma. The romantic melodies and lyrics they entertained guests with set the mood for love, generosity, and hope.


When attendees sat down to dinner, they found their tables were adorned with extravagant handmade pastillage centerpieces exemplifying the passion the culinary students have for their work. The live auction set the background for the fabulous epicurean meal and dancing. Participants enthusiastically bid on the luxury items on display hoping to make the dreams of young culinary arts students come true. A few of the noteworthy treasures included the original painting, “Cupid by the Bayou,” by Niki Serakiotou; an exhilarating helicopter tour of either Houston, Galveston, or Clear Lake; and a week-long Florida penthouse getaway for 10 people.


After dinner and the live auction, a ceremonial parade was held for the Culinary Institute LeNôtre students. As well, Margaret Alkek Williams was presented with the 2017 Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship Ambassador Award for her exemplary philanthropic leadership and outstanding contributions to the scholarship fund. It was presented by Marie LeNôtre and the 2016 Ambassador Award recipient, Rolanette Lawrence.


At the end of the evening, Marie LeNôtre made the much anticipated announcement that the dessert buffet was officially open. Upon hearing those sweet words, guests made their way to an immaculate dessert display showcasing delicate petits fours and miniature sweet creations that included over 1,000 chocolates, 500 macarons, and 400 pâtisseries.


The elegant affair, which raised almost $250,000 for deserving culinary students was a philanthropic success.


Guests: Rolanette and Berdon Lawrence, Rose Cullen, Martin Fein, David McKeithan, Alain LeNôtre, Zane and Brady Carruth, Jane-Page and James Crump, and Christina and Mark Hanson.


About the Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship

The Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, which raises funds for tuition scholarships to provide hands-on training to deserving students aspiring to a rewarding career in the culinary arts. Tuition scholarships are awarded to students based on financial need as well as academic and professional merit. The Gaston LeNôtre Scholarship has awarded close to $1 million to deserving culinary students since 2001. Its worthy efforts support high quality education in the culinary arts and help students realize their dreams of achieving a rewarding career in the hospitality industry.

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