The International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association’s (IFWTWA) prestigious Excellence Awards are awarded quarterly and recognizes the best of the best in beverages, cruise, culinary, and hospitality around the world. The award nominations are recommended by IFWTWA members, carefully evaluated by IFWTWA’s Excellence Awards Committee, and finally approved by IFWTWA’s Board of Directors.
Recipients include MS Europa (Cruise); Rob Howell GM and owners Charles & Virginia Kirkwood of Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort (Hospitality); Chef Gaurav Navin of The River Room at Shawnee Inn (Culinary); and Chef Dan Stripp of Gem & Keystone Brew Pub (Culinary).
The MS Europa (Hapag Lloyd cruise line) earned IFWTWA’s Cruise Excellence Award. Year after year, the Berlitz guide gives the Europa the highest ratings given to any ship. The vessel inside and out is impeccably clean featuring creative innovative architecture and ambiance. Ports of call are as advertised and the staff is friendly and responsive to inquiries and requests. The crusie company makes a concerted effort to operate using sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.
According to the IFWTWA member journalist who nominated The MS Europa for recognition, “On-board food and beverages use quality ingredients and are professionally prepared and served. This cruise company offers interesting activities with knowledgeable and friendly guides/leaders. I have not yet had an experience comparable to the times I’ve sailed on the Europa. ”
Rob Howell, GM and owners Charles and Virginia Kirkwood of Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort in Pennsylvania have earned IFWTWA’s Hospitality Excellence Award. The establishment uses “green”, eco-friendly operating practices whenever possible, The guest room amenities are exceptional in quality and variety. The staff is friendly and responsive to requests and acts as an excellent resource for area activities. The establishment takes strong measures to ensure guest safety and security. On ten evenings from November through March, free community dinners are provided at the resort to all families and individuals who utilize the services of the local Food Bank. The dinners are prepared and served by volunteers among the resort’s staff.
According to the IFWTWA member journalist who nominated Howell and the Kirkwoods for recognition, ” General Manager Rob Howell was chosen by the American Hotel and Lodging Association as United States General Manager of the Year 2011. Charles and Virginia Kirkwood have owned the historic resort since 1977 and besides maintaining the highest standards of luxury and comfort within an affordable family price structure, they have been at the cutting edge in creating as small an environmental footprint as possible from natural cleaning products, recycling/processing brown water for exterior cleaning to reusing building materials. Community involvement is equally strong. The Kirkwood’s fully restored the National Historic Register Shawnee Playhouse. Community concerts by local groups take place on the Grand Lawn every Wednesday evening along with a farmers’ market featuring members of the Foodshed Alliance.”
Chef Gaurav Navin of The River Room at Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort located in Pennsylvania earned IFWTWA’s Culinary Excellence Award. The cuisine represents a specific culture or region. The preparation uses innovative, cutting edge techniques. The combination of ingredients is well balanced in terms of flavor profile and texture. The presentation is creative, appetizing, aesthetically pleasing, and uses sustainable sources (i.e. locally sourced, organic ingredients).
Chef Navin grew up in India north of Delhi receiving his B.A. in International Hospitality Management from Bangalore University. After graduation he worked in the kitchens of the Ashok Hotel Group as an assistant cook. He joined Celebrity Cruise Lines as a cook’s assistant and received several promotions within a couple of years. At 27-years-old, Gaurav Navin became the River Room’s new Executive Chef.
According to the IFWTWA member journalist who nominated Chef Navin for recognition, “This chef is firmly committed to the principals of local sourcing. Chef takes full advantage of produce from the resort’s own Great Shawna Island Farm, honey from its apiary, and beers from ShawneeCraft® Brewery. With a menu that changes with the seasons – last autumn’s focused on game – purchasing priorities go to members of the Foodshed Alliance – a non-profit of local farms and dairies. Local sources are used for fish, seafood, artisan cheeses, and such items as quail eggs.”
Executive Chef & Manager Dan Stripp of The Gem & Keystone Brew Pub located in Pennsylvania earned IFWTWA’s Culinary Excellence Award. A graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in Art & Animation, thirty-two year old Chef/Manager Dan Stripp did not come from a foodie background. He started working in the business about five years ago when a national chain held the franchise for a pub restaurant at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort. With his art background, being the expeditor – designing the plate presentation – was a logical introduction to the business. Soon he was learning with a franchise’s set of recipes which gave him a good start in the basics of restaurant cooking. In 2009 Shawnee ended the franchise contract creating the Gem & Keystone Brew Pub. Dan was asked to take over as chef/manager.
According to Chef Stripp, “My approach is what’s my dining population going to be comfortable with and what are two ingredients that scare them (but will) branch them out a little bit? Then I find a prep method that will create an attractive presentation. What I lack in a sensitive palate, Travis and Corey (his sous chefs) are better at, and (I balance) what they lack in visual presentation.” The menu changes with the seasons. Favorite items: local trout, ribs, sashimi and crab cakes and local artisan cheeses. A wood grill is used for most meat and fish dishes. The wood is locally sourced as well, and he particularly likes fruit tree wood. Food sources include the resort’s own Great Shawna Island Farm, its apiary,orchard, maple trees, the FoodShed Alliance and ShawneeCraft® Brewery.