Olson Communications, a full-service agency that specializes in delivering marketing-communication strategy to its portfolio of select food-industry clients, announces the winning recipients of its fifth-annual Chefs of Tomorrow grant program for culinary educators.

Austin Yancey, a chef-instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Chicago at 361 W. Chestnut, was selected among postsecondary culinary educators who teach in the City of Chicago to receive a $1,500 grant from Olson Communications’ Chefs of Tomorrow initiative based on juried review of his application and essay.

Yancey used the grant to attend the American Culinary Federation’s recent Central Regional Conference in Detroit, at which he competed in two cook-offs against peers and also delivered a cooking demonstration and workshop for chefs and culinary students focusing on current menu trends featuring Idaho-grown potatoes.

As founder and coach of his school’s competition team, Yancey trains Le Cordon Bleu-Chicago students to compete individually and in groups, using these opportunities to teach teamwork, organization, and excelling in a high-pressure environment, as well as proper foodservice sanitation and safety.

“With a background in high-level competition as well as working in fine-dining restaurants, I’m living proof of what a background in high-level competition can do for an aspiring culinarian’s career,” says Yancey, who, before joining Le Cordon Bleu’s faculty in 2009, cooked in the kitchens of such Chicago celebrities as Grant Achatz and Rick Gresh.

“As the coach and mentor to many Le Cordon Bleu students, I feel it is important to not only train through lecture and kitchen practice, but also—through demonstration of my ability to compete—to inspire my students, showing them what is possible and obtainable.”

Katherine Walsh, a culinary-arts instructor at Richards Career Academy at 5009 S. Laflin, was honored in the high-school division of the grant program. Walsh will apply her $1,500 grant toward research on social entrepreneurship as a means of sustaining culinary-training programs like hers across the country in an era of deep budget cuts.

Having spent most of her career in the hospitality and education arenas, Walsh discovered that many nonprofit organizations embrace culinary themes for events that not only raise funds to meet budget goals, but do so while creating value for citizens of the community, resulting in a sustainable relationship.

“Working in Chicago Public Schools under the Office of College and Career Preparation, our program has been well funded, and we have been very fortunate financially,” Walsh says. “I believe, however, that the proverbial hand-writing is on the wall, and it is important to start planning for our future sustainability.

“With a grant from Olson Communications, I want to apply my research, one, to teaching students entrepreneurship and everything that running a business entails, and two, to growing our program at Richards Career Academy to become a hub of positive community activity using the ideas of social entrepreneurship.”

Olson Communications committed in 2008 to offering up to $20,000 in grants to the City of Chicago’s high-school and college-level culinary educators over five years through the Chefs of Tomorrow program in recognition of the agency’s then-20th anniversary. In all cases, the professional-development award must ultimately benefit student learning. Additional grants have been made to Chicago community-based programs that endeavor to improve education on food and nutrition.

In this, the grant commitment’s fifth and final year, Olson Communications awarded an additional grant of $500 to Della Gossett, a pastry chef-instructor at The French Pastry School at 226 W. Jackson. Gossett is also a founder of and volunteer instructor at Pilot Light, a grass-roots organization of Chicago-area chefs that uses food to engage and connect students of Chicago’s public schools to their community, culture, studies, and the environment.  

“The Chefs of Tomorrow grant will help fund ingredients, equipment and course materials to make lesson planning and demonstrations at Pilot Light more effective,” Gossett says.

Past Chefs of Tomorrow grant recipients include chef-instructors Dana Cox of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and Tai Sellers of George Washington High School (2011), Laurette Stefani of Robert Morris University (2010), and Laura Vaughn (2009) and Lee Jamison (2008), both of Washburne Culinary Institute.

Industry News, Philanthropy