Taking Home Silver, Hoping for Gold

IFMA's annual awards are a testimony to industry movers and shakers

Judging the Gold and Silver Plate awards for more than 15 years has afforded me the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at many of foodservice’s most talented individuals.

Reading the nomination forms is insightful and inspiring, and the judging process is equally so. The judging, which takes place annually in early February, brings together some of the industry’s most creative editors as well as the nine Silver Plate recipients from the previous year.

The judges come prepared and are always very familiar with the nominees up for discussion. The process is thorough and very respectful of all parties. More than once I have heard Silver Plate winners so impressed with the voting process that they jokingly wondered aloud how they ever made it through the vetting.

Through the 58 years the awards have been in existence, the list of Silver and Gold Plate recipients reads like a who’s who of the restaurant industry. Thomas Lackmann of Lackmann Food Service, Mary Angela Miller of Ohio State University Medical Center, Richard Marriott of Host Hotels & Resorts, Steve Ells of Chipotle, Sally Luck of Hallmark Cards, Steve Sweeney of Chartwells, Jim Skinner of McDonald’s Corp., Bert Cutino of The Sardine Factory, and Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger all have taken home the Silver.

The awards, which are sponsored by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), honor excellence in nine categories of foodservice operations.

From among these nine, one honoree is chosen by secret ballot to receive the IFMA Gold Plate. Some of those “Golden” industry luminaries include Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, Ted Fowler of Golden Corral, Ted Balestreri of the Sardine Factory, Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings, Van Eure of The Angus Barn, Timothy Dietzler of Villanova University, Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants, the late Joe Baum of Baum and Whiteman and Jon Luther of Dunkin’ Brands.

“The Gold and Silver Plates have been awarded to the movers and shakers of our industry for 58 years. The awards program continues to be the most prestigious in foodservice,” asserts Larry Oberkfell, IFMA’s president and chief executive.

The 2012 class of recipients is in keeping with the award’s reputation. From the full-service restaurant arena, Clarence Otis was selected in the Chain Full Service category. Otis is chairman and chief operating office for Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52 restaurants. In the Independent category the Silver Plate went to Phil Fahrenbruch, who is the executive chef at Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, a German-themed facility on 13 acres of riverfront property in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Mark Freeman, who is the senior manager of global employee services at Microsoft, was the honoree in the Business and Industry category. Freeman, who oversees an operation that generates $140 million in sales volume and reaches 23 countries, has been at the Redmond, Washington-based company for seven years. In the Chain Fast Service category, the honors go to Cheryl Bachelder, who has been the president and chief executive of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for five years. During her tenure at the company, Bachelder has made several changes including initiatives in marketing, food safety, operations, and training.

Mary Molt, who is assistant director for housing and dining services at Kansas State University, is the 2012 Silver Plate recipient in the Colleges and Universities category. Molt, who has been in her current position for 22 years, has spent 38 years at the school and is a mentor to many in the industry.

In the Hotels and Lodging category, the award is being given to Frank Weber, who is the vice president of food and beverage operations at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Azamara Club Cruises. Weber, who oversees a $550 million operation and 15,000 employees, has been in foodservice for 28 years.

Taking the Silver Plate in the Health Care category is Dan Henroid, who is director of nutrition and food services for the University of California, San Francisco, (UCSF) Medical Center. Henroid’s job entails responsibility for annual volumes of 637,000 patient meals for two hospitals, five retail outlets generating $6 million in sales and catering services grossing $2.2 million from 11,500 events.

Lyman Graham, food services director at Roswell Independent School District, Carlsbad Municipal Schools, Dexter Consolidated Schools in Roswell, New Mexico, is the honoree in the Elementary and Secondary Schools category. Graham’s annual budget is $9.4 million, and it encompasses 38 public schools in three school districts in southeastern New Mexico.

In the Specialty Foodservices category, the Silver Plate belongs to Ricky Clark, who is the training and development coordinator supervisor for the Academy for Staff Development of the Virginia Department of Corrections. Clark, who has been working in foodservice for 32 years, is responsible for the training of 9,800 employees that make up the Corrections Department support staff.

The Gold Plate award will be given to one of these nine Silver Plate winners during the 2012 Gold and Silver Plate celebration, which is set for May 7 at The Great Hall at Chicago Union Station during the National Restaurant Association’s “NRA Show 2012.”

The event, which was sold out last year, is a real tribute to the industry’s operator community, and steeped in suspense to boot.

I know whom I chose to take home the “Gold” on May 7, but unfortunately I will have to wait just like everyone else to find out if my choice got the most votes. Here’s hoping.