Chef Clifford Pleau ’81, The Corporate Chef

Clifford Pleau '81, Executive chef of Seasons 52
Clifford Pleau ’81, Vice President of R&D at Outback Steakhouse and Fleming’s Prime Steak

CIA Alumni Bio

Chef Clifford Pleau is the vice president of research and development for all of the Outback Steakhouse and Fleming’s Prime Steak restaurants in the United States. And there are quite a few. Outback Steakhouse operates 732 restaurants in 47 states and Fleming’s Prime Steak operates 70 restaurants in 28 states.

The Corporate Chef

Chef Pleau previously served as the vice president of research and development at Bonefish Grill and as the vice president and corporate executive chef director of culinary 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 Seasons 52 to its current 45 locations in 21 states and introduced ingredients rarely seen on chain menus, such as grass-fed beef, organic tomatoes, venison, and quinoa.

A Graduate on His Way

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.

Learning from Coast to Coast

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 addition, Chef Pleau 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.

Chef Clifford Pleau majored in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He is the vice president of research and development for Outback Steakhouse and Fleming’s Prime Steak.