Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: Vice President of R&D, Bloomin Brands
Clifford Pleau is the vice president of research and development at Bloomin Brands, Inc., which operates and franchises more than 1,500 restaurants under five casual-dining brands including Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, and Roy’s. Pleau’s focus will be on Bonefish Grill’s menu and the overall healthy menu infusion at Bloomin Brands.
Pleau previously served as director of culinary development and executive chef at Seasons 52, a “casually sophisticated” grill and wine bar that focuses on seasonal, healthful flavors and natural cooking techniques. Part of Darden Restaurants, Inc., 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, venison, and quinoa.
Always interested in cooking, Chef Pleau first considered becoming a professional chef as a teenager, and a trip to The Culinary Institute of America for a career day confirmed his choice. He graduated from the CIA in 1981 and went to Boston with just the clothes he could fit in his backpack. Chef Pleau quickly landed a job at the Ritz-Carlton, eventually working his way up to saucier. Three years later, he headed west to take a position as sous chef at the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, CA, right in the thick of the action in the California culinary scene and its focus on simplicity, quality, and fresh, locally grown ingredients.
After several years on the West Coast, Chef Pleau moved on to other positions with luxury hotels, including stints as executive sous chef at the Boca Raton Hotel & Club in Florida and executive chef at the Mayfair Regent Hotel in Chicago. In 1991, he was tapped to join the opening team for Euro Disney. He helped open the Disneyland Hotel in Paris and launched 65 different themed restaurants (including the first California Grill) on the same day.
Returning to California, Chef Pleau’s next stop was Bradley Ogden’s Lark Creek Inn in Marin County, where he worked directly with farmers and suppliers, reinforcing his interest in using fresh ingredients of the highest quality. In 1994, he returned to Disney to help create the award-winning California Grill at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. The restaurant was wildly successful and earned raves from food writers around the country. During his tenure there, Chef Pleau was selected as a “Rising Star” by Wine Spectator and named one of the Top 50 New Tastemakers by Nation’s Restaurant News.
In 2003, after almost a year of planning, Chef Pleau and his team opened the first of seven Seasons 52 locations. The restaurants have since earned countless regional and national accolades and awards, including the Nation’s Restaurant News National “Hot Concept!” Award for outstanding new restaurant concept and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. In addition, Chef Pleau in 2007 received the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Award as Chef/Innovator in 2007 and was named “Master of Taste” by the American Academy of Taste.