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Seasons 52 founding chef departs for Bloomin' Brands

Seasons 52 founding chef departs for Bloomin' Brands

Clifford Pleau will focus on the menu at the operator’s Bonefish Grill concept

Pleau received an Augie Award from his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, in 2013. Photo: Culinary Institute of America

Seasons 52 founding chef Clifford Pleau has been named vice president of research and development at Bloomin’ Brands Inc., effective Friday.

Pleau will focus on the menu at Bonefish Grill “and overall healthy menu infusion” at Bloomin’ Brands, which operates and franchises more than 1,500 restaurants under five casual-dining brands: Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Roy’s, Pleau said in an e-mail.

Replacing him as executive chef at Darden Restaurants Inc.’s Seasons 52 is Jim Messinger, former director of culinary development for sister brand LongHorn Steakhouse. Like Pleau, Messinger is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Before joining Darden, Messinger was chef de cuisine for Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World.

Pleau also worked for Disney before Darden Restaurants Inc. hired him in 2002 to help create Seasons 52. The brand was conceived of as a restaurant and wine bar targeting mostly Baby Boomers, with a frequently changing seasonal menu and a policy of keeping calorie counts of all menu items at 475 calories or lower.

Over the years, Pleau oversaw the growth of the chain to its current 43 locations in 17 states and introduced ingredients rarely seen on chain menus, such as grass-fed beef, organic tomatoes and venison. Seasons 52 was one of the first chains to put quinoa on the menu, in 2012. At the time it was called “grains of life,” since few consumers knew what quinoa was.

Pleau also transformed desserts across the country with the introduction of Mini Indulgences — small desserts priced at around $2 with about 250 calories — that were soon imitated at other chains.  

Nation’s Restaurant News named Pleau a MenuMasters Chef Innovator of the year in 2007.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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