Gourmand and Hindsight 20/21:

Maggie Tang and Alaina Chou’s Sweet Strides in the Food Industry

Grace Endrud

Almost everyone has a casual interest in food. However, two University of Pennsylvania juniors have taken it to the next level. Maggie Tang is a current junior at the Wharton School at UPenn, studying management and operations. Joining forces with Alaina Chou, a junior studying fine arts at UPenn, the two students founded Gourmand: a platform dedicated to inspiring the next generation of food and beverage leaders. 

How did the Gourmand come to be? Maggie credits her experience at Midland, a boarding school located in Los Olivos, California. She participated in her school’s Farm to Table Program, where she “cooked and made desserts for the whole school,” an experience that piqued her interest in the industry. Before her freshman year, she worked at the 3-star Michelin restaurant Atelier Crenn. When asked about her experience, Maggie gushed, “I loved it.” From there, she interned at renowned restaurants during her breaks, including Eleven Madison Park, the #1 restaurant in the world in 2017. These experiences led her to join Penn Appétit, UPenn’s student-run food magazine, where she met Alaina. Alaina first ventured into the food industry when she was just 13 years old. She started a baking blog, Crumbs and Nibbles, which introduced her to new recipes and to the industry as a whole. Although they come from different sides of the industry, Maggie and Alaina’s shared passion for food drove Gourmand’s creation. 

Beginning as a podcast, Gourmand launched its first season in September, entitled Sweet Treats. The podcast interviewed the people behind all of the sweets gracing Instagram feeds and restaurant menus around the world. Some of their guests included the CEO of Ladurée and the founders of Levain Bakery, NYC. When asked about its creation, Maggie explains, “What started as a desire to get more students interested in food via a podcast became so much more”. Now the podcast is entering its second season, focusing on restaurateurs and operators. The platform has also expanded to include a community blog, open for public submission, and a partnership with Women in Hospitality United, Hindsight 20/21. 

 

Women in Hospitality United is an organization borne from the #MeToo movement and the belief that there is an urgent need for evolution in the hospitality industry. Gourmand reached out to WHU with the interest of creating an event for women looking to enter the hospitality industry. The result is a meticulously planned, two-day virtual event entitled Hindsight 20/21: What I Wish I’d Known, Working with Women in Hospitality United – Liz Murray, Elizabeth Meltz, Kutina Ruhumbika. According to Maggie, the goal was to “bring together young women interested in the hospitality space and increase transparency between their generation and our generation.” 

Months of planning and preparation went into the conference. It started with the identification of themes and topics. Over a four-month period, Gourmand reached out to over 100 students interested in hospitality. In these conversations, students shared their experiences in the industry, what they wanted to know, and what they saw as the biggest issue for young people, especially women, in the industry. This process comprised the majority of the work, as Gourmand made it a top priority to go the extra mile and connect with students in order to understand the next generation’s perspective. The resulting panels are curated to the attendees: young professionals can connect with different people in the food space in order to gain an understanding of what industry professionals go through and what they wish they’d known. 

 

The event itself will take place over Zoom, on April 9-10 (4-6:30pm on the 9th, 11-4:30pm on the 10th). It is open to anyone across the country, or even the world, with an interest in food and hospitality. (Interested? Sign up at this link: https://gourmandcommunity.com/hindsight-2021). 

The first day will include a keynote and social. The second day will involve a series of panels, envisioning exercises to help students, reflections on the hospitality industry from people who have worked there, as well as a keynote. The overall theme is centered around hindsight, providing space to bridge the generational gap, and to welcome the upcoming generation in the hospitality industry. 

 

Although the process was difficult, Maggie and Alaina were thankful for the help of everyone in Gourmand, especially Aliris Tang, for building the conference. Additionally, Gourmand credits the women of Women in Hospitality United for their passion and commitment to bridging the generation gap through mentorship. The importance of Women in Hospitality United for women in the industry cannot be understated; Maggie and Alaina hold it in high esteem for increasing female presence in a male-dominated industry. For Maggie personally, the people she has connected with was the single most rewarding aspect of the partnership. She elaborates, “Coming from Penn and not being around a lot of hospitality people, it has been such a gratifying experience to talk to people across the country – people I look up to - who are so focused on hospitality”. When describing the industry as a whole, Maggie says that it's “all about people,” and that she treasures this opportunity to unite women and provide a space for women to meet with, learn from, and empower each other.   

 

So what’s next for Gourmand? Since its start, the organization has expanded slowly but surely, continuing to grow and get more students involved in the food community. Gourmand’s new project, a deck of 52 cards, with each featuring a different New York City restaurant will drop in May/June. Proceeds from the project will be donated to support independent restaurant workers and restaurants amid the pandemic. The process of getting 52 restaurants to respond and making hand-drawn cards is just another example of Gourmand and its founders’ passion and tireless devotion. Gourmand’s future is certainly bright, especially with two powerful young women at its helm. 

 

Learn more about Gourmand! 

 

Instagram: @gourmandcommunity

Blog: www.gourmandcommunity.com 

 

Sign up for the event! Register at https://gourmandcommunity.com/hindsight-2021