Olson Communications, a full-service agency that specializes in delivering innovative marketing-communication strategy to its portfolio of select food-industry clients, announces the winning recipient of its third-annual 20th Anniversary Chefs of Tomorrow™ grant program for culinary educators.
Laurette Stefani, a chef instructor at Robert Morris University’s Institute of Culinary Arts in downtown Chicago, was selected among greater Chicago culinary educators to receive a $1,500 grant from Olson Communications’ Chefs of Tomorrow™ initiative based on juried review of her application and essay. Stefani recently will used the grant to fund an educational immersion in the rich growing and harvesting region of Northern California’s Bay Area and Napa Valley. Along the way, she sampled the fare of some of the nation’s most distinguished restaurants.
“My grandparents exposed me to the sweet taste of freshly picked basil from the garden, the waft of homemade bread being baked in the oven, and the communal event of making ravioli at the kitchen table,” Stefani says. “Since I became an instructor at Robert Morris University, I learned that many of our students did not have the same opportunities I did. Processed cheese supplied their lunches, while dinners came from a microwavable carton. There is no connection to the food, and no respect for its origin or maker. As an educator, I want to teach them that there is more to cooking than what you can prepare out of a box.”
For more than a week beginning Aug. 6, Stefani’s farm-to-table journey included biking through Healdsburg’s boutique olive estates, wineries and chicken co-ops and a tour of Hog Island Oyster Company in Tomales Bay. She sampled freshly made salumi at Chef Paul Bertolli’s Fra’ Mani in Berkeley; reveled in a tea ceremony at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center on Muir Beach; tasted goat’s-milk cheese, yogurt and kefir at Redwood Hill Farm in Sonoma Valley; and shopped for produce at Ferry Building Market in San Francisco. Stops to dine at such landmark eateries as Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse and a wine-and-food-pairing class at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone rounded out Stefani’s Northern California food excursion.
“I am endlessly preaching the importance of craftsmanship and quality to my students,” Stefani says. “I find fascination in the simple artisan work of the world’s great cheese and winemakers, charcuterie masters and natural farmers, and I often bring in products for the students to sample in class.”
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Stefani earned her bachelor’s degree in dietetics/nutrition at Benedictine University. She went on to work as a garde-manger chef, banquet chef and pastry chef at LaGrange Country Club and chef de cuisine at both Buckingham Athletic Club and Tweet Le Soir in Chicago. She joined the faculty of Robert Morris University’s downtown Chicago campus as a chef instructor five years ago.
Chefs of Tomorrow™ grant recipients include chef instructors Laura Vaughn (2009) and Lee Jamison (2008), both of Washburne Culinary Institute. Olson Communications will announce the 2011 Chefs of Tomorrow grant program next spring.
Olson Communications has committed to offering up to $20,000 in new grants to the greater Chicago area’s high-school and college-level culinary educators through 2012 through the company’s Chefs of Tomorrow™ program. In all cases, the professional-development award must ultimately benefit student learning. Additional grants will be made to Chicago community-based programs that endeavor to improve education on food and nutrition.
Olson Communications, since 1988, has specialized in offering personalized, uniquely crafted marketing communication strategies for food-business clients based in the United States and abroad. The agency’s business strategy of remaining small while exceeding the range and depth of service typical of larger food-marketing agencies has earned Olson Communications international recognition.
Pictured (l. to r.): Rachel Tracy of Olson Communications; Stefani; and Sharon Olson of Olson Communications.