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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Napa Valley College Delivers Excellence in Hospitality & Tourism Programs

By Linda Bausch -

Hospitality, according to Oxford, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or foreigners”

To many, Napa Valley is the epitome of Hospitality, Hospitality, with a capital H . . . luxurious Hospitality.

It is no secret that the region produces fine wine. Our chefs prepare the most elegant, nourishing food. Valley hotels and resorts provide respite that any world traveller or local resident would enjoy. From the south end of the Napa Valley to the north, Silverado Trail, west to Highway 29—the true secret is that it is the people who prepare the food, serve our guests and provide warm comfort that solidify the cherished memories that will endure in the minds of our guests. But we’ll get back to “the people” in a bit.

The hospitality industry is by far the largest employer of all, not just here in the event-heavy, heart of Napa Valley, but globally. There are a multitude of disciplines within the industry. Consider the opportunities: line-cook to executive chef, housekeeper to director of sales, dinner service to dishwasher or sommelier—the expertise required to provide any of these services translate to marketable skills that may be put to good use in any profession, no matter the location. A solid overview of all these tasks and positions pave the way for a comprehensive understanding of the hospitality industry-at-large: lodging, restaurants, food and beverage, tourism and recreation.

It is true, not all of these positions require higher education. On-the-job training will always be a way to get a start with some entry level positions, but it’s the hard way. Many of the disciplines do require a specific training certificate or a degree. A more direct and focused path to a successful career in the Hospitality, Culinary, or Tourism Industry is readily available through a program designed to do just that and it is currently being offered at Napa Valley College (NVC).

When it comes to hospitality in Napa Valley, excellence is the only standard. To ensure the creation of a work-force that is engaged, well-trained—and without question—prepared, to provide the highest quality service standards, NVC’s accredited Hospitality and Tourism Management Department is the first college program, in the world, to join forces with luxury hospitality specialists, Forbes Travel Guide. Together, they have constructed an online program: Introduction to Luxury Service and Luxury Service Standards, creating powerful and effective training courses for students and hospitality employees.

The partnership with Forbes Travel Guide was the brain-child of Napa Hospitality Industry Professionals (Napa HIP), and a group of lodging, restaurant, and winery employers in Napa County. The main goals of the group are to identify the demands of the industry, improve training, enhance soft job skills and job-specific skills, increase awareness and exploration of hospitality careers among the youth, and promote HIP Member Program participation. A full-action plan is spelled out, describing how to accomplish these objectives, and identifying long term goals and community opportunities for progress.

Building community buy-in of local business members is essential. Businesses are encouraged to send their employees through the program, building the skills and experience that students will carry on with excellence and vision. Yountville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Whitney Diver McEvoy, acknowledged the combined efforts of Napa HIP and Napa Valley College in an NVC press release, “Napa HIP leaders have been diligently working together to enhance education opportunities for students and adults in Napa County. We are thrilled these new courses at Napa Valley College will help to grow our dynamic workforce.”

The unique advantage of location fares well for everyone involved. The schools are in the heart of Napa Valley, the whole hospitality industry is the heartbeat of the Valley; the students, in turn, have access to some of the most talented mentors the industry has to offer. There is no way to calculate the value of the collective human resources on hand.

When combining Forbes’s sixty years of luxury hospitality knowledge, and the previously existing, hospitality and culinary programs offered at the NVC and Upper Valley Campuses, the success of NVC students is easily at hand.

There’s so much more . . .

The Hospitality and Culinary programs at both campuses have long been turning out talented chefs and hospitality professionals. Remember, at the beginning, I said we’d get back to “the people”—well, here we go.

NVC’s Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism Management Department is led by Program Coordinator, Elena Sirignano, a very humble professional. Elena wants to give credit where credit is due, shining a bright light on the team. But first, a little bit about her phenomenal experience. Elena’s long and colorful career in high-end culinary spans over 25 years as a chef, sommelier, culinary instructor, bean-to-bar chocolate maker, manager, and specialty foods entrepreneur on both the East Coast and in the Napa Valley. Chef Elena has been part of the Napa Valley restaurant scene since 1992, where she has worked with Thomas Keller as a member of the original French Laundry kitchen team and has been part of both front and back of the house operations at Bistro Don Giovanni, Pat Kuleto’s Martini House, Bouchon, and Bouchon Bakery. An experienced culinary instructor, Chef Elena has taught at Delaware Technical & Community College and the Culinary Institute of America Greystone and COPIA. She is the founder/owner of Mayacama Chocolate.

Elena is proud of the HCTM team. (Please, check out their complete BIO’s. These dedicated and very accomplished professionals deserve more recognition than my word count allows.) Elena wanted to ensure that they were recognized as the backbone of the program. There are certainly countless hard-working people behind the scenes, in each department, making a difference in the lives of these students and our community. Here’s a big thank you to you all!

HCTM Teaching Staff William Namnath, graduate of Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University, specializes in hospitality law said, “The Hospitality Law class has two main focuses for our students to help with their journey as hospitality entrepreneurs and managers. First, we want to give our students a broad background on the United States legal system. Second, we want to give them familiarity with legal issues that are common for the hospitality industry. For example, we cover contract formation and breach, franchising, negligence, duties owed to hotel guests, food and alcohol liabilities, and labor law and workplace harassment. There is a wide range of legal issues business owners and employees face within the hospitality industry. Our course is designed to give our students the opportunity to recognize potential legal issues so that they may seek professional advice when they face them in their business ventures.” The importance of which cannot be overstated.

Jessica Penman, graduate of University College, London, and Director of Community Relations for Yountville Chamber of Commerce, is one of the driving forces when it comes to the partnership between local hospitality entities and the people at Forbes Travel Guide for the Luxury Training program. She engages with students, local businesses, and other hospitality based nonprofit industries, such as Napa Valley Vintners, and professional groups such as CANVAS, regarding marketing of the NVC programs.

Derek Corsino, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, fills out the course subject matter with a full plate! Subjects focus on topics such as: Hospitality Cost Control, Principle of Hotel Administration, and Food and Beverage Management. The value of this educational training is immeasurable when it comes to providing excellence in service and the importance of knowing how to meet the bottom line.

In addition . . .

At the Upper Valley Campus of Napa Valley Cooking School, the Food and Wine Enthusiast program offers students and adults a wide variety of hands-on workshop training with local chefs. This fall, the program workshops include: Gluten-free and Vegan Dessert options, and another session called Seasonal Pies, with downtown Napa’s own Sweetie Pies Pastry Chef, Toni Chiapetta. Greg Miraglia tempts us with Southern Italian cuisine. Chef Roline Casper will whip up some fun Filipino and Southeast Asian dishes to liven up your next gathering. Don’t forget the wine tasting class, and your chance to master cocktail shaking, stirring and muddling, which will be offered by mixologist, Traci Dutton.

Also bringing a bit of spice to the table, is Chef Pat Burke, professional BBQ champion and former chef to the Oakland Raiders football training camp. Since 2017 Chef Pat has been engaged with the Food and Wine Enthusiast Program. Keep an eye out for his future workshops.

Whether you have an interest in a career in the Front of the House or Back . . . I strongly encourage anyone interested in the topics mentioned in this article to trust the professionals at NVC and Napa Valley Cooking School to set you on the path to success in your Culinary or Hospitality Career. If you are just beginning your career or brushing up on your skills, there is an opportunity to make progress in your personal, culinary or hospitality journey. NVC offers two Certificate of Achievement options, as well as an A.S. Degree option. (Specific information regarding classes can be found easily on the website.)

Elena Sirignano, Executive Chef and Instructor HCTM Program Coordinator, and Food & Wine Enthusiast Program Coordinator may be reached at



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