Entries in ‘California’ Journal

Hilton Huanying Program Welcomes Chinese

Wednesday March 25, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 0 Comments

Hilton Hotels have mastered the art of making guests feel comfortable during their travels. However, if you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and the customs are different, you know a smile and warm welcome can go a long way. The company recently introduced the expansion of their Hilton Huanying (huan ying) program to welcome Chinese guests.
Hilton, Huanying, Chinese

I had the pleasure of meeting with several Chinese journalists during their visit to San Francisco to experience the program first-hand. With outbound tourism from China forecast to double from 100 million to 200 million by 2020, capturing the Chinese tourist market is key to many hotels. Hilton was a pioneer in rolling out the Chinese welcome mat back in 2011 and continues its expansion with a more comprehensive program in 2015.


“Huanying is an essential part of the Hilton hospitality promise, welcoming Chinese travelers with a level of service and personalization we know they expect and enjoy,” said Rob Palleschi, global head, full service brands, Hilton Worldwide. “Since being introduced in 2011 at 51 properties in 13 countries, Huanying has empowered more than a million Chinese travelers to explore new destinations with the comforts of home.”


coit tower, san francisco, huanying, tea

Coit Tower and tea photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Some of those comforts include a Huanying greeting in Chinese; Mandarin interpretation services, guest room amenities such as tea kettles, Jasmine tea, slippers and a Mandarin-speaking television channel. Additionally, the breakfast buffet offer two varieties of congee with condiments, fried noodles, dim sum and fried rice, as well as fried crullers, hard boiled eggs and Chinese tea.

chinese breakfast, Hilton huanying, san francisco

Chinese breakfast buffet photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Not all Hilton Hotels offer the Huanying program, but hotels may request the program if they have an average of four Chinese travelers requesting rooms per day. This is why my hometown of San Francisco is an integral component to the Huanying program. The Hilton San Francisco Union Square, Hilton San Francisco Financial District, Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront in Burlingame and Parc 55 San Francisco a Hilton hotel, all offer the program due to our large influx of Chinese travelers.

karaoke, SF financial district hotel, huanying

Karaoke at Hilton SF Financial District. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Not only does San Francisco offer the largest Chinatown neighborhood outside of Asia, it’s the oldest Chinatown in North America and being a city of foodies, we serve up some excellent, authentic Sichuan cuisine. I also love that Hilton SF Financial District has a karaoke room for guests to enjoy in addition to amazing views of Coit Tower.

Z&Y restaurant, sichuan, San Francisco

Chinatown offers authentic Sichuan. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


z&y restaurant, sichuan, san francisco

Culinary delights in Chinatown. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Have you traveled to China? What are your favorite things about San Francisco’s Chinatown? Article, video and photos courtesy of Nancy D. Brown. No red peppers were consumed in the creation of this story.

Madame Tussauds, San Francisco

Wednesday March 4, 2015 at 8:08 AM | 0 Comments

Police lineup outside a cell at Alcatraz in Madame Tussauds San Francisco.

Police lineup outside a cell at Alcatraz in Madame Tussauds San Francisco.

When I thought of wax museums, I pictured creepy mannequins of British royalty with eyes that follow you around a hushed museum space.

Well, I’m pleased to report, that Madame Tussauds San Francisco, the new San Francisco attraction at Fishermans Wharf, has completely upended

Queen Elizabeth at Madame Tussauds.

Queen Elizabeth at Madame Tussauds.

my imaginings. Though there is an obligatory cluster of royals when you first walk in.

It turned out the day I visited was Lunar New Year, a holiday for San Francisco Schools, and I four kids to entertain. I didn’t tell them where we were going. I wanted it to be a surprise. Plus I wasn’t sure how to explain it.

They were captivated before we even entered the building. A life-sized Leonardo DiCaprio greeted us at the door. The two seven-year-olds stared at him for some time before wondering aloud, “is he real?”

Inside, the space is divided into sections, some with vignettes that encourage interaction. It begins with “Spirit of San Francisco” — we meandered through the Haight where one of the boys picked up a guitar and jammed with Jimi Hendrix, while the girls begged me to take mug shots of them at Alcatraz.

Roman jams with Jimi at Madame Tussauds.

Roman jams with Jimi at Madame Tussauds.

The first figure to completely stop me in my tracks was Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg sitting barefoot and crosslegged on a chair, computer on his lap. He looked so real. I couldn’t stop staring.

This floor also included historical and political figures like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and President Obama in the Oval Office.

We then watched an interesting video on how the figures are made and the kids got to create wax replicas of their hands with help from a member of the staff.

Upstairs rooms are dedicated to pop music, movies and sports. A likeness of Abbey Road is set up with all four Beatles walking along. Parker had tea with Audrey Hepburn, Josie sang with Beyonce and we could barely pull the boys away from the large screen interactive football video game.

One vignette explains the fascinating life of Madame Tussaud who escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution due to her wax modeling skills. She was employed to make death masks of the Revolution’s most infamous dead including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre.



I had a dream...

They had a dream…

Insider Tip

Walk by the Boudin flagship location where you can view the demonstration kitchen and watch bakers make bread with a recipe nurtured since 1849. Then stop inside for clam chowder in a bread bowl, the real San Francisco treat.

145 Jefferson Street @ Mason
San Francisco, California 94133

Post and photos contributed by Lisa Dion. I was a guest of Madame Tussauds.

Review: Napa Cooking School

Friday February 20, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 0 Comments

When my husband and I married, nearly 30 years ago, our videographer asked a close friend of ours to share a word of advice to the new bride and groom. “Don’t cook together,” she said with a laugh. She knew both of us too well.

Silverado Cooking School, produce

Fresh fruit and vegetables play a key role in cooking classes. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Today, neither my husband or I are comfortable in the kitchen. I prefer to make reservations rather than follow a recipe and my husband will always opt for the backyard barbeque over the stove. Yet, after a morning spent in Napa at Silverado Cooking School, my culinary skills moved up a notch.

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes learned to cook at the tender age of five. As a dual citizen of France and the United States, de Sieyes blended the best of both places. “California is the closest place you can get that is similar to Europe,” notes de Sieyes.

Malcolm de Sieyes, Liam Mayclem

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes with Liam Mayclem. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


“Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive,” said de Sieyes. “I want people to feel comfortable in the kitchen. We’re not like a restaurant. We’re a commercially licensed kitchen, but I wanted this to be a very friendly place. I tried to create a space that was warm and inviting.”



His hands-on cooking classes are geared to the home cook with a typical class lasting four hours, resulting in a four-course meal. From Fortune 500 companies looking for a team-building activity to girlfriend getaways, or wedding party bonding, Silverado Cooking School is a unique way to spend time in the Napa Valley other than wine tasting. That’s not to say that wine (or beer) is not served throughout the class. Chef Malcolm and his crew aim to please and teach students a lesson, or two.

chicken soup, Silverado Cooking School

Winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Sample class menu

Our lunch menu consisted of winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup, Santa Maria tri tip, salt-roasted carrots and turnips, sauteed wild mushrooms with creamy polenta and warm Meyer lemon pudding cake with blood orange sorbet for dessert. Our group of eight students divided into teams to prepare each course. I volunteered to chop the root vegetables and add them to a bed of salt. Not only did this dish make for a pretty presentation, it was very friendly to those watching their caloric intake.
Spectacular proteins paired with fresh produce is the goal for Chef Malcolm de Sieyes. The majority of the produce comes from his two acre farm, augmented with produce from Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa.

Classes range from 1-12 people with $1,500. renting the kitchen and crew. For groups of 12-24 people the cost is $95. per person.

Silverado Cooking School

Lunch is served at Silverado Cooking School. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
As a newbie cook, I am sorely lacking in knife skills. Some of you might be familiar with “the claw.” Keep a half open fist when you hold an item to be diced or sliced. This hand position will protect your fingers from getting cut on the hand that is opposite a very sharp knife.

Have you ever taken a cooking class? What are your insider tips to share when it comes to the kitchen?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and Silverado Cooking School on Facebook.

Silverado Cooking School

Cooking in wine country. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

If You Go:
Silverado Cooking School (707) 927-3591
1552 Silverado Trail
Napa, California 94559

Article written by, photos and video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Silverado Cooking School while researching this article. All opinions are my own.