On Monday, November 29, 2010, The French Culinary Institute hosted their annual Outstanding Alumni Awards. Five individuals received a prestigious award in the following categories: culinary, pastry, professional achievement, restaurant management, and bread.
All the deans were in attendance, and the evening was highlighted with introductions given by Dorothy Cann Hamilton (CEO and founder of the school) and special words of inspiration by Dean Alain Sailhac. When describing the art of making bread, he told us when recently asked how can you tell if the bread is good, he answered “it’s all in the crackling of the crust.” In other words, if there is no sound, it is no good. Chef Alain later described Roger Gural’s bread as “extraordinaire.”
Roger Gural, this year’s Outstanding Bread Award recipient, finished the intensive six-week bread course at The FCI in 1998 and went on to work for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud shortly after completing the program. Dorothy Cann Hamilton said, “his own personal drive, curiosity, and discipline sent him in a very short period of time out to those bakeries. And to get those positions that he did was absolutely extraordinary.” In 2009 he went oversees to compete, representing the United States, in the prestigious Mondial du Pain held in Lyon, France.
Zak Pelaccio is the Outstanding Culinary Award recipient this year. He graduated in 1998 and has become the award-winning executive chef/partner at the critically acclaimed Fatty Crab, two Southeast Asian joints in NYC that focus on Malaysian-inspired cuisine, and the recently opened Fatty ’Cue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He is a partner in Cabrito and former chef for multiple critically acclaimed concepts. After graduating from the culinary arts program, Zak worked at The French Laundry and Daniel prior to traveling-throughout Asia, where he developed his unique palate. Zak is the founder of a new nonprofit called the Future Chefs Initiative and recently met with Dorothy Cann Hamilton and Phil Gutensohn, director of placement at The FCI and the executive director of The Future Chefs Initiative, to discuss future plans on how the initiative and Wellness in Schools programs can work together and create a working formula other institutions can follow.
New York Times “The Nifty 50", Christina Tosi, who’s desserts at Momofuku Milk Bar have recently been all the rage, received the Outstanding Alumni Award for Pastry. Christina went on to work for wd~50 and Bouley after graduating from the intensive pastry program in 2004. Now the heralded pastry chef at Milk Bar and David Chang’s (also an alum) Momofuku restaurants, her unique twists on conventional sweets has lead her to the top in only a short few years since graduating from The FCI. Her work has been featured in a number of local and national print magazines and periodicals, and she has made television appearances on the Today show and The Martha Stewart Show.
The Professional Achievement Award was given to Mark Dissin, who graduated in 1997. Mark, vice president of production at the Food Network, is a television pioneer who has helped to shape the food media industry into what it is today. He joined the cable network during their early inception. He has three daytime Emmy awards, is the producer of Giada at Home, 30 Minute Meals, and several other hit Food Network shows. He recently directed Cook Like an Iron Chef in 2010.
Named by O Magazine as one of the “Five Most Giving and Gifted Food Professionals,” Laura Pensiero is a chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, and a registered dietician. Laura received the Outstanding Restaurant Management Award, a title that barely describes her multifaceted talents and all the hats she wears. Laura has established a well-managed cohesive restaurant brand Gigi Hudson Valley, which includes Gigi Trattoria, Gigi Market, and she is a chef-partner of Just Salads. Laura works as a contributing writer to several national print magazines. Her most recent venture, Just Salads is “a collection of healthy fast foods” with five locations in NYC and two in Hong Kong.
Each of the five outstanding alumni received a special, hand painted plaque made by Dean Jacques Pépin.
The evening ended with a few words from Chef André Soltner: "I have been in this business for 61 years. And it was always a joy for me. I did my apprenticeship and then I was a cook for a long time. And later on, I became a sous chef and then chef and owner of a restaurant. And when I retired, I came to the school. And I must say that I’ve always had a great pleasure to be in this industry. The biggest pleasure is to see when the students who graduate—and we are very proud—when we see them years later and they are honored because they made a great career. That is the greatest thing for us. Congratulations to all of you.”
It was an intimate and exclusive gathering of star chefs, culinary notables, and experts. We raised our champagne flutes and toasted to the outstanding alumni’s achievements. Attendees included our very own founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center, Dorothy Cann Hamilton; the Master Chefs: Alain Sailhac, Jacques Torres, André Soltner, and Jacques Pépin; Vice President of Culinary and Pastry Arts Nils Norén; Dave Arnold, food technology expert; The 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award Recipients: Zak Pelaccio, Roger Gural, Christina Tosi, Mark Dissin, and Laura Pensiero; former alumni award recipient Wylie Dufresne; faculty and staff; students and alumni, with friends and family.