Visiting Chefs’ Bios

John Folse

John Folse

Executive Chef/Owner, Chef John Folse & Company, Gonzales, LA

Chef John Folse, born in St. James Parish in 1946, learned early that the secrets of Cajun cooking lay in the unique ingredients of Louisiana’s swamp floor pantry. Folse seasoned these raw ingredients with his passion for Louisiana culture and cuisine, and from his cast iron pots emerged Chef John Folse & Company.

When Folse opened Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant in 1978 in Donaldsonville, he set out to market his restaurant by taking “a taste of Louisiana” worldwide. He introduced Louisiana’s indigenous cuisine to Japan in 1985, Beijing in 1986, and Hong Kong and Paris in 1987. In 1988, Folse made international headlines with the opening of Lafitte’s Landing East in Moscow during the Presidential Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1989, Folse was the first non-Italian chef to create the Vatican State Dinner in Rome. Promotional restaurants also included London in 1991 and 1993, Bogota in 1991, Taipei in 1992 and 1994, and Seoul in 1994. In 1988, the sales and marketing executives of Greater Baton Rouge named Folse “Marketer of the Year” and the Louisiana Legislature gave him the title of “Louisiana’s Culinary Ambassador to the World.”

The international success of Folse’s cornerstone property, Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, spawned the incorporation of several other Chef John Folse & Company properties. White Oak Plantation in 1986 established Folse’s catering and events management division. Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, since 1989, has produced ten cookbooks in his Cajun and Creole series, plus a novel, two children’s books, and a religious memoir by other authors. His recently released “Can You Dig It” vegetable cookbook won the Benny award for Best Cookbook, the highest honor in the 2015 Premier Print Awards. A Taste of Louisiana is Folse’s international television series produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting since 1990. Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing, since 1991, is one of the few chef-owned food-manufacturing companies in America producing custom-manufactured foods for restaurants as well as retail and foodservice industries. In January 2005, a new USDA manufacturing plant opened in Donaldsonville, and in 2007 growing demands pushed the plant to expand. In 2008, Folse cut the ribbon of his expanded 68,000 square-foot food manufacturing plant.

The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University (NSU) in Thibodaux, La., opened in October 1994 and is devoted to the preservation of Louisiana’s rich culinary and cultural heritage. In August 2015, the new culinary arts building was dedicated.

In August 1996, Folse began broadcasting his radio cooking talk show, “Stirrin’ It Up.” In 2001, “Stirrin’ It Up” expanded to a television-cooking segment during the 5 p.m. newscast on WAFB-TV Channel 9 in Baton Rouge, La. In 2016, WVUE-TV FOX 8 in New Orleans started airing “Stirrin’ It Up” cooking segments during the morning show.

The bakery division was launched in 1996 to create specialty desserts, pastries, and savories. In October 1998, a fire destroyed the 200-year-old Viala Plantation, which housed Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, and in May 1999, Folse opened his former Donaldsonville home as Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation offering fine dining and bed and breakfast accommodations. In the year 2000, Folse incorporated Digi-Tek Productions, a full-service digital recording studio.

Folse has received numerous national and international accolades. In 1987, the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) named him “Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year.” In 1989, Nation’s Restaurant News inducted Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant into its “Fine Dining Hall of Fame.” In 1990, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) named Folse the “National Chef of the Year.” In 1992, Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., recognized Folse with an Honorary Doctorate of Culinary Arts, as did Baltimore International Culinary College in 1995. In 1994, he assumed the role of national president of the American Culinary Federation, the largest organization of professional chefs in America. In 1995, Folse was one of 50 people recognized in Nation’s Restaurant News’ “Profiles of Power.” In 1996, Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant received the Award of Excellence from Distinguished Restaurants of North America. (Folse served two terms as DiRōNA chairman.) In 1998, Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing received TGI Friday’s Inc. Procurement Product Development Award for assisting in the development of Friday’s Jack Daniels© Glaze; in 2011, Folse received their “Food Vendor of the Year” Award; and in 2012, he received TGI Friday’s Purposeful Innovation Award. In 1998, Food Arts magazine awarded Folse the “Silver Spoon Award” for his sterling performance and contributions to the foodservice industry. In 1999, the Research Chefs Association (RCA) named Chef John Folse & Company “Pioneers in Culinology” because of the efforts of Folse and his culinary research team. In 2001, Folse was elected to RCA’s Board of Directors and served as RCA president from 2005-2007. In 2006, Folse was inducted into National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s College of Diplomates. He was appointed by the Governor as the marketing specialist for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board in 2008, and also served as the chairman in 2013.

In November 1999, the Acadiana Chapter of the American Culinary Federation inducted Folse into the Louisiana Chef’s Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to the promotion of Louisiana cuisine. Additionally, Folse received the Antonin Carême Medal in November 2000 and has served on the National Dairy Council Chef’s Advisory Panel. In 2007, Folse served as the American Judge for the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France. In October 2008, Folse was awarded the Louisiana Governor’s Cultural Economic Development Arts Award and Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award. In August 2011, Folse was honored with the Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award by Baton Rouge Epicurean Society, and in December he received an Honorary Doctorate of Commerce from NSU.

In August 2010, Folse announced his partnership with Chef Rick Tramonto and the formation of Home on the Range: Folse Tramonto Restaurant Development, LLC. Their first joint venture, Restaurant R’evolution, opened in June 2012 at 777 Bienville St. at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. In November 2014, Folse and Tramonto opened their second joint venture, Seafood R’evolution, in Ridgeland, MS, a bedroom community of the metro Jackson area. Seafood R’evolution’s menu pays homage to Mississippi’s heritage, focusing on the freshness and flavors of the Gulf Coast region. In just one short year, Seafood R’evolution made quite a splash! Executive Chef Payton Warren was recently named “Best New Chef” in the Jackson Free Press “Best of Jackson 2016” awards. Seafood R’evolution also was included as a “Best of Jackson 2016” finalist in the following categories: “Best Brunch;” “Best New Restaurant;” “Best Seafood;” “Best Gumbo;” and “Best Wait Person” (Josh Rushing). It also earned the “Best Seafood Restaurant” title in the Clarion Ledger’s “Mississippi’s Official People’s Choice Awards 2015.” In addition to multiple OpenTable “Diner’s Choice Award” honors, Mississippi Magazine’s “Best of Mississippi” also awarded it “Best Seafood” and a spot on the “M List” for “Best New Restaurant.”

In August 2012, Folse was honored to represent Louisiana and the Gulf Coast with BP’s Spirit of the Gulf campaign at the London Olympics. He led a group of eight Gulf region chefs who prepared and served seafood dishes to guests at USA House in an effort to promote Gulf Seafood worldwide. In spring 2013, Folse received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Research Chefs Association. In March 2014, Folse received St. Joseph Cathedral Community Award given by Bishop Robert Muench, Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. In August 2015, LRA honored him with the Hall of Fame award. Currently, he serves on the Sister Dulce Foundation Board of Trustees.

Almost 40 years of culinary excellence later, Folse is still adding ingredients to the corporate gumbo he calls Chef John Folse & Company, which is as diverse as the Louisiana landscape, and he would not want it any other way.

Elaine Gardner ‘11

Elaine Gardner ‘11

Chef, Dizengoff, Whole Foods Market, Philadelphia, PA

Elaine Gardner landed an internship during the summer of 2009 that resulted in one of the most intense experiences of her life. While at Le Bec-Fin, one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants, she learned the fundamentals of how a real kitchen operates and loved every second of it.

Following graduation from Pennsylvania College of Technology in 2011, Gardner returned to Le Bec-Fin as a line cook. After the announcement of Le Bec-Fin’s closing, Gardner made contact with Michael Solomonov, chef and owner of Zahav. She would spend the next three years as a line cook at Zahav learning how to prepare Israeli cuisine, before Chef Solomonov asked for her help opening a new restaurant. Gardner continued to flourish serving as sous chef at Dizengoff, an Israeli hummusiya in center city. She would return to Zahav as chef de cuisine one year later where she worked to turn pressure into reward.

Gardner currently serves as chef at Dizengoff inside of Whole Foods Market in Fairmount. She enjoys the simplicity of the delicious food she works to prepare, while also capitalizing on cooking more for herself, friends, and family. Gardner continues to grow and is eager to open her own restaurant in the future.

Rick Tramonto

Rick Tramonto

Executive Chef/Partner, Tramonto Cuisine, McHenry, IL

For 11 years, Rick Tramonto was executive chef and founding partner at Chicago’s world-renowned four-star fine-dining restaurant Tru, in partnership with Rich Melman, of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Tramonto was also culinary director of Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood, and RT Sushi Bar, in the Westin Hotel in Wheeling, IL.

In 2010, Tramonto announced his partnership with Louisiana native Chef John Folse and the formation of a new restaurant company, Home on the Range. Tramonto and Folse opened their first joint restaurant project, Restaurant R’evolution, in New Orleans’ renowned French Quarter in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, in 2012. Their second project, Seafood R'evolution, opened in November 2014 in Ridgeland, MS, just outside of Jackson, MS.

Tramonto is an accomplished author with eight titles to his credit: His memoir, “Scars of a Chef”, was published in March 2011. His cookbooks include: “Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto;” “Osteria;” “Fantastico!;” “Tru;” “Amuse-Bouche;” “Butter Sugar Flour Eggs” (nominated for the 2000 James Beard Award for the Best Cookbook in the Baking and Desserts category); and “American Brasserie” (finalist for the Julia Child Cookbook Awards).

Because of his respect he has earned in the culinary world, Tramonto has won numerous awards including: James Beard Award – Best Chef Midwest, James Beard Award – Best Service (Tru), Wine Spectator Grand Award (Tru), Best Chef in Food & Wine Magazine (Trio), Four Star reviews in Chicago Tribune, Four Star reviews in Chicago Magazine, and Best New Restaurant in New Orleans Magazine (Restaurant R’evolution).

Donald Wressell

Donald Wressell

Corporate Pastry Chef, Guittard Chocolate Company, Burlingame, CA

Growing up in Issaquah, Washington, Donald Wressell credits much of his cooking career to his grandmother. When he was seven, the duo would watch The Galloping Gourmet and entranced by the flipping, stirring, and sautéing, Wressell decided to become a chef.

As a young adult, he enrolled in the Washington State Chef Association Culinary program and continued to garner pastry expertise through positions at the Westin Hotel in Seattle, Watergate Pastry in Washington D.C. where he worked with Jean-Louis Palladin, and the Breakers Hotel Sky Room in Long Beach, California.

He worked at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia in 1986 and remembers this as a formative time working with Executive Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix “who was brilliant with food and people.” In 1987, Wressell was named Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was here that he wooed the hotel’s celebrity clientele with the sweet creations of his hands and humor. While at the Four Seasons, Wressell made the City of Beverly Hills’ 75th Anniversary cake, a gâteau enjoyed by 10,000 people. He continued to mix, frost, and pipe at the hotel for 19 years. In 2015, he was invited to make the cake for Beverly Hills’ 100th birthday, this time for 15,000 people. The celebration took place April 27, 2014.

In 2006, Wressell joined San Francisco Bay Area based Guittard Chocolate Company as the corporate pastry chef. “I have used Guittard chocolate both professionally and personally and I was thrilled at the opportunity to be the pastry chef for the oldest family run chocolate company in the U.S. I have always loved working with chocolate; it’s an amazing food with magical qualities. What other food can be made into decorative shapes and visual amusements that not only tastes good but has incredible food value?”

Wressell’s accolades are many. He was awarded the Distinguished Visiting Chef Award 2016 by Johnson & Wales. In 1998 and 1999, he was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs by Chocolatier Pastry Art & Design magazine and, in 2003, he was named Southern California’s Restaurant Writers Pastry Chef of the Year. He is the recipient of both Silver and Gold medals in the Grand Salon Culinaire and, in 1995, won the opportunity to go to the Les Masters du Chocolate competition. His pastry pedigree also includes “Pastry Chef of the Year” by the Organizing Committee of the 2005 National Pastry Team Championships as well as recognition from the White House for his work with the US Pastry Team.

Wressell’s experience in domestic and international pastry competitions is unparalleled. As team captain during the 2011 National Pastry Team Championship, his team was awarded a Gold medal and First Place in Degustation. In 2012 as team captain at the World Pastry Championship, his team was awarded the Silver medal and First Place in Degustation. In addition, Wressell has represented Team USA seven times at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie as a competitor, team captain, coach, manager, and/or on the jury. He competed for the first time in 1993; in 1995, he was team captain leading the USA to a Bronze (the first medal won by Team USA at that time). In 1999, he was coach/manager with USA winning the Bronze. In 2001, he was coach/manager when the team won its first (and only) Gold medal to date. In 2003, he was chairman/coach/manager/judge with Team USA placing 4th. In 2005, he was team captain winning the Bronze. Most recently, in 2015, he was coach/manager winning the Bronze.

He also has made many television appearances: The Challenge Series; Coupe Du Monde; and Pastry Team Championship documentaries on the Food Network, ET, Roseanne Barr Show, Access Hollywood, Good Morning America, and Chuck Henry’s Travel Cafe.

Today, Wressell continues to develop recipes using Guittard Chocolate and does speaking engagements, conducts demonstrations, participates in international competitions, and leads his signature “Guest Chef Series” classes at the Guittard Chocolate Studio in Los Angeles. When he’s not in the pastry or demo kitchen or masterminding the design and production of a larger-than-life birthday cake, he derives great pleasure in his own kitchen and woodworking workshop.