Pierre Pilloud

//BY LINDA SHRIEVES BEATY

A globe-trotting chef settles down, but reminds students that the world is
their oyster.

Most of us go on vacation and dream of eating shrimp and drinking margaritas.

But when Chef Pierre Pilloud vacations, he indulges in gastronomic adventures that may not be for the faint of heart. During a spring break trip to Peru this year, for instance, he sampled roasted guinea pig and alpaca (which he says “tastes like donkey,” not chicken).

Not your standard bill of fare, but Chef Pierre, who has been at the helm of Valencia’s hospitality and culinary programs since 1996, is not your standard community college professor.

A native of Switzerland, Chef Pierre never set out to become a chef. Instead, he dreamed—as many Swiss boys do—of becoming an alpine skier. But when that dream didn’t pan out, he turned first to kitchens and then hotels.

His culinary career started in 1963, when he worked as an apprentice at the famous Mövenpick Hotel in Zurich. Then in 1967, he was accepted into the highly ranked hotel management school in Lucerne’s Hotel Montana.

In the 1960s, plenty of students wanted to become hotel managers. But when a hotel executive told Pilloud that what they really needed were chefs, the young Swiss skier signed on to cook with Hilton International, after interning in Morocco and Kenya.

That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with food and travel.

“I thought I would travel the world for a few years, and go back to Switzerland and settle down,” says Pilloud, with a shrug. “But I never went back.”

Instead, after graduation, he headed to Africa— specifically, to Tunisia—where he worked for Hilton International. Before long, he realized that international hotels could offer him more opportunities than the hotels he’d seen at home.

The opportunity to give the students what I know—that’s the reason I come here every day.”

In his own words, Chef Pierre Pilloud describes a few highlights of his culinary career.

“At the time, hotels in Switzerland were very small—they had about 75 rooms, at most,” says Pilloud. “Here I was, at 22 years old, working in 500-room hotels.”

After a year, in Tunisia, the young chef signed on for another year in Tunisia with one stipulation—that he be named the sous chef. Although he was young, Pilloud quickly learned how to motivate people and earned the respect of the kitchen crew.

His next stop took him to the south of France, where for a year he served as chef in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a seaside village on the French Riviera. There, during his year-long stay, he met Laurance Rockefeller (and his pal, English actor David Niven). Rockefeller’s company, Rockresorts Inc., operated luxury resorts in the Caribbean islands that became playgrounds for Hollywood celebrities. So when Rockresorts offered Pilloud a job in Puerto Rico, he took it.

Pilloud, who’d never even heard of Puerto Rico before he took the job, worked at the luxurious hotel, the Cerromar Beach resort. But in 1971, he headed to Aspen, Colo., to go skiing one winter—and stayed for 15 years.

He fell in love with Aspen and the people who lived there. “They were so generous. If you said, you didn’t have a car, so you couldn’t go somewhere, they’d say, ‘Here, take my keys.’ ”

That attitude was indicative of the time and the era, says Pilloud, but it was infectious. After one winter spent skiing, he bought a restaurant that was foundering—and brought it back to life. And over the course of his 15 years in Aspen, he owned three restaurants, including a ski lodge cafeteria, a French restaurant and another that specialized in what he dubbed “high-altitude cuisine.”

Nowadays, the 70-year-old Pilloud teaches his students to travel while they’re young, make the most of their opportunities—and be prepared to work hard. It was a lesson he learned in Aspen. There, during the slow summer seasons, he operated his restaurants at night, but made extra money by working at the Aspen Institute and the famous Aspen Music Festival during the day. During the festival, he took visitors fly fishing and mushroom-hunting and later taught them how to cook their finds.

 

 

Chef Pierre’s Culinary Journey to Valencia

Always on the lookout for a new venture, Pilloud befriended a grandson of Col. Harlan Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. So when the KFC heir wanted to invest in a new concept, Pilloud was ready with an idea: an Italian eatery. Together, they set up shop in West Palm Beach, Fla., and named the venture Ferrari. In Casselberry, they created another restaurant called Adam’s Apple.

When both restaurants sputtered, Pilloud saw the writing on the wall and cashed out.

Without a job, but with a small cushion to tide him over, he headed to Orlando—and looked up the Swiss family that owned Maison et Jardin, a swanky French restaurant that operated in Altamonte Springs for decades. Although they didn’t need a chef, owner Bill Beuret made a few phone calls and landed Pilloud a job as executive chef at Orlando’s Grosvenor Resort. There, Pilloud spent two years as the executive chef.

But the hotel business had changed—and so had Pilloud. Working 90 to 110 hours a week was wearing thin. So he left—and decided to try his hand at teaching.

That took him to Southeastern Academy, a now-shuttered culinary school that operated in Kissimmee. From there, he headed to ITT Tech, where for five years, he taught in the hospitality program. When Valencia decided to revamp its hospitality program in 1996, Pilloud joined the college.

pierre-quote

He didn’t start in the kitchen however. Instead, Pilloud began his Valencia career 20 years ago as the curriculum writer for the continuing education department. A few years later, when Valencia officials decided to start a culinary program—though they weren’t certain it would fly—they sent Pilloud to the East Campus, where his new culinary students shared the kitchen with the cafeteria staff.

“That was the challenge. I still look back and think, ‘Why did this work?”

But the times were changing. The Food Network ignited the nation’s passion for cooking. And students who were unhappy in one career saw culinary school as a way to launch a new one. Today, Valencia’s culinary classes are packed—and the college is preparing to expand its culinary programs again when the department moves to the proposed UCF-Valencia Downtown Campus.

For Pilloud, the journey from globe-trotting chef to the classroom has been a sweet transition. And he’s content to stay in the classroom—while satisfying his yen for travel by taking summer and spring break trips abroad.

His therapy, he says, is cooking—and working with students.

“Retirement is for the birds,” says Pilloud. “The beauty of working with young people is they keep you young—and they make your brain work. The opportunity to give the students what I know—that’s the reason I come here every day.”