As a 14-year-old boy in Le Mans, France, Gilles Renusson remembers the tension he felt showing his parents a bad report card.
His mother waited until after dinner to show the bad marks to his father. Then his parents made a life-changing decision. Their son, the second of seven children, would have to choose a boarding school to go to.
Young Gilles did. He would pursue cooking, he decided, and was soon enrolled at a technical school in Tours, France.
So began the trajectory of Chef Renusson’s storied career. Four years later, he graduated at the top of his class. Since then, the Frenchman has made his mark on the global patisserie scene as one of the best in the business.
“It was 50 years ago I started my apprenticeship: Monday, the 15th of September, 1969,” said Renusson, reminiscing as he led a tour of the Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts, where he has taught for 28 years. He lauded the school’s kitchens, equipment and, most effusively, the work of his colleagues.
The certified master pastry chef and renowned sugar artist was recently honored with a medal of Chevalier du Merite Agricole, from the French Minister of Agriculture, during a reception in the Heritage Restaurant at GRCC. The medal honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to agriculture. Created in 1883, it is second in importance only to the Legion of Honour.
Renusson said he was humbled to receive the medal.
“Coming to teach here has been the best decision,” he said. “The reward I’m given really reflects the support I have been given by all of my colleagues.”
A Distinguished Career
Renusson’s resume includes stints at Maxim’s restaurant and Fauchon, a gourmet food and delicatessen company in Paris. He led 20 pastry chefs at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and serves as president of the U.S. team for the Club Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, an international pastry competition.
He received a “Brevet de Maitrise” bachelor’s degree from the Chamber Des Metiers de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. He was also a chef at the Connaught Hotel, in London, and the Ritz-Carlton, in Chicago.
Renusson moved to the U.S. when he married Evamarie in 1978. They have two adult sons.
He travels far and wide for trade shows and competitions, and has brought groups of students to compete in France.
‘He’s so excited about what he teaches; you can’t help but get excited too.’ — Elizabeth Hamilton, a student of Gilles Renusson’s
But at GRCC, he still gets excited showing off the different convection ovens, walk-in coolers, freezers, juicers and slicers culinary students get to use as they begin their education.
“It’s extremely well equipped, but it’s realistic equipment,” he said, noting students are challenged to learn sophisticated techniques.
He teaches Pastry; Principles of Food Science; Principles of Baking Science; and pastry Centerpieces and Wedding Cakes — all courses in the Baking and Pastry Arts Certificate Program.
GRCC instructor Chef Luba Petrash is a former student of Renusson’s.
“His teaching is passionate,” Petrash said. “He’s very passionate about pastries. He expects the same from his students. He is always trying new things. He never stops.”
The Culinary Craft
Renusson still likes to enhance his network by attending seminars and trade shows. He has participated in and organized many competitions worldwide, and said he will never stop studying his craft.
At GRCC, Renusson stopped to chat with student Elizabeth Hamilton and recent graduate Morgan Brown. He told them about witnessing five cooks on a hot line running a restaurant and serving 3,000 meals in Las Vegas.
“Insane. It was insane,” he said. “I’ve travelled all over the world and I still get impressed with things.”
“He brings a lot of energy,” said Hamilton, who is in Renusson’s pastry class. “He’s really good at encouraging students to do their best. He’s so excited about what he teaches; you can’t help but get excited too.”
“He’s really motivated me to dive deep and explore the industry,” added Brown, who is now pursuing her hospitality management degree. “He’s incredibly passionate and it rubs off on his students. He’s probably taught me an eighth of what is in his head and I feel like I’ve learned so much.”
Said student Lisa LaForge, “Not only is he an engaging, funny and excellent teacher, he also holds students to a high standard by inspiring our best behavior. He holds us accountable for our actions in a way that, instead of shaming us, pushes us to offer up excellence. This is such a difficult skill and Chef Gilles has mastered it.”
Along with equipping students to make gorgeous cakes and perfect croissants, Renusson passes on many pearls of wisdom too. He remembers being “poor as a church mouse” while working at Maxim’s. But he learned discipline, rigor and accountability — and never let go of his passion.
He remembers being delighted to be offered a dream job at Fauchon, but had second thoughts when he learned it paid even less than the 1,800 French francs (equivalent to $360) per month he was already making. He took the job anyway.
“I tell my students for a long time I ate bread, apricot jam (the cheapest jam in France),” he reflected. “If you believe in what you do and you invest in your career, it will pay off.”