Major: Culinary Arts Certificate
Job Title: Owner, The Trellis Café, Restaurant, and Grill
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
“I attribute my success in life to three things,” says Marcel Desaulniers. “A great upbringing, my service in the Marine Corps, and the CIA.”
And what success he’s had. The former executive chef and co-owner of The Trellis Café, Restaurant, and Grill in Williamsburg, VA, Marcel is also a prolific cookbook author perhaps best known for Death by Chocolate. In addition, Marcel, his restaurant, and his books have racked up an impressive list of industry accolades, including an Ivy Award, induction into Nations Restaurant News‘s Fine Dining Hall of Fame, IFMA’s Silver Plate Award, and four James Beard Foundation Awards.
In between it all, for more than 20 years, he has somehow found time to actively support his alma mater. Now a Trustee Emeritus and Life Fellow of the Institute, Marcel has mentored students; twice delivered the commencement address (including at his daughter’s—Danielle ’96—graduation); performed a demo for the CIA’s Great Chefs Series; put on a fundraising dinner for The Trellis’s 10th anniversary to benefit the college; and served on the Alumni, Executive, Long-Range Planning, and Educational Policy Committees of the Board of Trustees. Fittingly, in 1996 he received the CIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“All the recognition I’ve received from the school means a lot to me,” Marcel says. “Without the CIA, I might still be in Rhode Island pressing shirts. My mom was widowed at an early age and had to raise six kids on her own, so I worked all through high school. When I visited the CIA campus in New Haven, I was so impressed by all the chefs in their white uniforms, the mansions on Prospect Street…I immediately took a shine to it.
“At the time, there was nothing in the country like it. But I don’t think you can even compare the CIA today to the way it was then. I served on the Educational Policy Committee for about 10 years, and to see the transformation in the level of excellence…it was amazing.”
As the CIA celebrated 60 years of excellence in 2006, The Trellis completed a yearlong commemoration of its 25th anniversary, a remarkable achievement in the competitive independent restaurant segment. Marcel attributes The Trellis’s success to a combination of factors, not just its top-notch food and service. “Our menu was pioneering at that time in that we used fresh foods; something that’s taken for granted now. Our location in Colonial Williamsburg is certainly helpful, and having a good business partner to handle the front of the house is invaluable. And a good marital partner can’t be discounted. Connie and I had only been married for three years when we opened. It was rough in the early years of the restaurant; I was working around the clock because we couldn’t afford to hire a lot of people back then. Without that support, you’re in the soup, so to speak.”
In 2010, Marcel retired from the Trellis, but says he keeps busy writing more cookbooks, sharing his recipes—and recipe for success—with appreciative home cooks everywhere. Indeed, he couldn’t rest on his laurels for long, and has opened MAD about Chocolate! in Williamsburg, VA.