Alumnus, 4-star restaurant chef returns to NMSU By Ximena Tapia

As he walks through the double doors leading into New Mexico State University’s 100 West Café and makes his way into the restaurant’s kitchen, Andres Padilla can’t help but reflect on how much he has learned and grown in the 15 years since he graduated from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. 

“It’s very humbling to be back. As a college student, you can’t see or imagine what the real world will be like,” Padilla says. “I didn’t imagine this being my future, but I love it.” 

Padilla was the featured chef at HRTM’s first-ever Chef Artist dinner in February 2018. HRTM Director Jean Hertzman says it was an honor to have him back in Las Cruces. 

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for people of the area to have food prepared for them by a chef of such high status, and the fact that he is our alumnus makes it even better,” she says. 

Padilla graduated from the School of HRTM in 2003. He is now a chef at Topolobampo, an award-winning Mexican cuisine restaurant in Chicago. 

He started as a sous chef in 2008 and worked his way up to chef de cuisine in 2012. Topolobampo received a 4-star rating by Chicago Magazine and has won several awards from the James Beard Foundation, the most recent–Outstanding Restaurant 2017 award. 

This Chef Artist dinner was only the second time Padilla had returned to New Mexico since graduating, but it still felt like home to him. 

“There are not very many mountains in Chicago, so it was really nice to fly in and see them. They remind me of who I am and where I’m from,” he says. “Chicago is home for now, but New Mexico is really home for me.”

The Chef Artist dinner and silent auction raised approximately $10,000, split between the HRTM Student Travel fund and HRTM Alumni Endowed Scholarship fund. They also raised $3,000 for the Fill the Glass Campaign, which provides funds for the operation and maintenance of the Bobby Lee Lawrence Academy of Wine. 

Students work hard year-round to ensure success at all the events, lunches and dinners at the School of HRTM. They do all the work from setting up the tables and serving their guests to cooking the food. Aiyanna Guerra prepares the dining room for lunch in the 100 West Cafe.

While the Chef Artist dinner was one of HRTM’s biggest events of the year, students and faculty stay busy with weekly events. The 100 West Café, a food laboratory for HRTM students, offers fixed-price lunches starting the fifth week of the fall and spring semesters. They have a different theme every week, including French, Brazilian, Creole, Greek and many more flavors from around the world. 

On four Thursday nights each semester, the school of HRTM treats its guests to a gourmet international dinner. The night starts with a wine tasting reception in the Bobby Lee Lawrence Academy of Wine, followed by a five-course dinner in the 100 West Café. The international dinners for Spring 2018 featured a Tour de France, La Cucina Italiana, West Coast Wines and an “Around the World Winemaker’s Dinner,” featuring Irby Wood from Jackson Family Wines.

Hertzman describes the international dinners as, “the hottest ticket in town and one of the most gourmet dining experiences you can have in Las Cruces.” They sold out in both the fall and spring semesters and continue to grow in popularity. 

The Adjustment Project, also known as The TAP Series, is a monthly happy hour of specialty cocktails, beers, wines and non-alcoholic beverages with complimentary appetizers. The series runs on Fridays once a month, including summer. 

All of these year-round events are led by HRTM students that help them prepare for future careers. 

“These students are the future managers and leaders of all segments of the hospitality industry,” says Hertzman. 

Students work tirelessly all year long, but they know it’s all worth it in the end, just as it was for Padilla.

“There’s a big bright future here for everybody,” Padilla says, “It’s just a matter of putting your head down, working hard and loving what you do.” 

Industry partnership planned for new campus hotel

Construction at New Mexico State University for the Courtyard by Marriott hotel began in October 2017. Standing west of the Las Cruces Convention Center, this new hotel will provide students in the HRTM with many learning opportunities. The hotel managers will often be

The Courtyard by Marriot hotel is expected to open by June 2019. It will provide many learning opportunities for students in the School of HRTM.

invited as guest speakers to classes, and students will be able to do site visits, apply for part-time jobs and internships and earn management positions after graduation.  

“We’re most excited about this project because developing a third-party hotel property on campus for the benefit of the community as well as our students is something that’s been in the works for years,” says NMSU System Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. “We’re delighted to move this project along, particularly since it’s been 14 years in the making.”

The hotel is expected to open in March 2019. 

Ximena Tapia

NMSU graduate Andres Padilla visited the College of ACES School of HRTM in February 2018. He was the featured chef for the HRTM's first-ever Chef Artist Dinner.


Chef John Hartley, professor in the School of HRTM, talks to a Ashley Lucas about preparing a dish during class. Chef Hartley and HRTM students worked alongside Chef Padilla at the Chef Artist Dinner in February.

Alumna opens luxury hotels across the globe

Tanya Sabelman graduated from the School of HRTM in 2002. She now travels the world organizing grand openings for luxury hotels.

Growing up in a small town of about 500 people, Tanya Sabelman wanted to leave Lindrith, New Mexico, and see the world. Her dream came true—she is now the Global Openings Manager for Luxury Brands Ritz-Carlton, EDITION and Bulgari hotels. Sabelman helps hotel managers open new locations across the world. She makes sure that everything is in place and ready to go for each and every hotel grand opening. 

In the past 10 months, Sabelman has travelled to Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Malaysia, China, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and many other countries along the way.

She graduated from the School of HRTM in 2002. 

“I always knew that I wanted to travel and see the world, and I knew that a degree in HRTM would allow me to do that,” Sabelman says. “In college, you don’t really understand what it’s like working in a 24/7 industry, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Although she works long hours, including holidays and weekends, Sabelman is living her dream, and she wouldn’t trade it for a thing. 

Ximena Tapia