Food Arts presents the December 1997 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to certified master pastry chef Gilles Renusson, who founded the U.S. Pastry Alliance in 1994 to elevate the professional status of practitioners of the pastry arts. Renusson served as coach, team manager, and guiding spirit of the U.S. Pastry Team that garnered a sliver medal at the 1997 World Pastry Cup in Lyons, France.
“The way my own career advanced, mainly due to devoting myself to learning everything I could from the foremost masters of our profession, led me to want to do something nurturing for those coming after me, “ Renusson says about why he spearheaded and association for pastry chefs. “It was time for a vital new organization to share professional interests with mutual benefits.”
Initially, the U.S. Pastry Alliance’s priorities were to establish a job bank, get on the Internet, publish a newsletter, and to provide health insurance for its members. “Many of our younger members are investing a lot of time in traveling and learning in places where they don’t get insurance,” notes Renusson. “This is a tangible benefit of being a member.”
Today, however, the mission statement reflects Renusson’s best hopes for gaining both respect and visibility for pastry chefs. The group, whose ranks have swelled to 750 members, emphasizes seven points: the advancement and promotion of pastry making in the United States as a viable art and business; the promotion of education and educational opportunities; the fostering of standards; the facilitation of communication and professional contacts; the dissemination of information about new products and equipment; the support of competitions; and the creation of an atmosphere of social responsibility.
“Individually, we don’t know everything,” says Renusson. “But collectively, if we join together, we do. If 10 people, each with one idea, communicate with each other, each one will go home with nine new ideas.”
Ewald Notter, founder of the International School of Confectionery Arts in Gaithersburg, Maryland, recalls first meeting Renusson. “He had just come to the United States and was already a master pastry chef,” he says, “but he took one of my pulled and blown sugar course as an opportunity to meet other sugar artists and to exchange ideas on techniques and styles. He is not one of those chefs who keeps his knowledge secret—he shares everything and is always eager to learn more.”
Renusson, 43, was born in Château du Loir, France, attended the L.E.T. Albert Bayet Catering School in nearby Tours, and graduated there years later as best regional chef apprentice. After stints in Belgium and France, he was determined to specialize in pastry. So he headed to Paris and world-renown Fauchon, where, after two years, he completed his pastry apprenticeship. Further study, in Le Mans, yielded a master pastry chef diploma, in 1981, he came to the United States to teach pastry arts at Johnson & Whales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Then, after working as executive pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago for two years, he took off for the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1984, mainly so his wife, Evamarie, could be near her family. He worked at the hotel until 1992. Currently, Renusson serves as advanced pastry chef/instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, as a consultant for several food corporations, and as fonder and chairman emeritus of the alliance.
As a pastry chef and educator, Renusson embodies two different traditions: the French culinary disciplines, where codified procedures and formal hierarchies reign, and the more free-form American approach that appeals to the new generation entering the pastry field. He seamlessly reconciles the two in his classes, encouraging the creative and entrepreneurial spirit while imparting to his students a deep-rooted Gallic respect for the perfection of technique. “You must first learn to create your art,” he says. “Then you must learn to sell it.” Plans for the next chapter of his career include a “very precise and thorough book about how pastry works, geared for both apprentices and professionals,” and expansion of his food-science consulting business.
According to Philippe Laurier, Patisfrance brand manager and newly installed president of the U.S. Pastry Alliance, “Gilles has found his way as a teacher. Before, he was just a very good chef. But by teaching, he has also become a great leader. He brings people together. Not only did he conceive the pastry alliance but he got the corporate sponsorship necessary to make it happen. That combination of vision and drive is rare.”