The Culinary Institute of America presented four foodservice professionals with its annual leadership awards last week.
The Augie Award, named for chef Auguste Escoffier, who codified traditional French cuisine at the beginning of the 20th century, was awarded this year to three chefs and an entrepreneur.
Daniel Humm, chef-owner of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad in New York City, received the award for professional excellence and innovation.
Clifford Pleau, senior director of culinary at Seasons 52, won the award for health and wellness.
Chicago-based Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and other restaurants, was recognized for his work in world cuisines and cultures for his pioneering work in Mexican cuisine.
Walter Robb, president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods Market, was honored in the category of sustainability and food ethics.
Humm, a native of Switzerland who started cooking at age 14, earned his first Michelin star as executive chef of Gasthaus zum Gupf in Rehetobel, Switzerland. From there he moved to the United States, where in 2003 he became executive chef of Campton Place in San Francisco. He moved to New York in 2006 to lead the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park, where he received a rare four-star review in the New York Times and three Michelin stars.
In accepting his award, Humm reflected on the fact that as an apprentice, “sometimes there wasn’t a chef who showed you the way.” He thanked the CIA for providing that guidance to young chefs, and said president Tim Ryan was “supplying us with the most amazing young professionals.”
Pleau, who graduated from the CIA in 1981, started working at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston after graduation. He said those two items on his résumé kept him from ever being unemployed for more than 24 hours.
From the Ritz he moved to Marin County, Calif., and worked with Bradley Ogden at the Lark Creek Inn. He then joined Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, where he opened the California Grill at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. There he met with Darden Restaurants Inc. executives to help conceptualize Seasons 52, which is now a 31-unit casual-dining concept with a menu that emphasizes healthful foods.
In a panel discussion before the awards ceremony at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, Pleau said it was necessary to win customers’ trust with good food first, rather than standing on a health-and-wellness message. “You can’t push health too far,” he said.
Bayless, a world-renowned expert of Mexican cuisine, grew up in a family of grocers and restaurateurs specializing in barbecue in Oklahoma City, Okla. He came to Mexican food through academic studies of Latin American culture and anthropological linguistics while pursuing a doctorate degree.
Accepting his award, Bayless said Americans are now being enriched by food cultures from all over the world. “To be recognized by all of you for something I just love to do is humbling,” he said.
Robb, a veteran of the natural food world, opened his own 1,000-square-foot natural food store after graduating from Stanford University. He worked his way up the ranks at Whole Foods starting in 1992, when he helped open the Mill Valley, Calif., location.
Robb noted that 75 CIA graduates currently work for Whole Foods. By giving him the award, the culinary school was “cutting to the very heart and soul of what we are as a company,” he said.