Clifford Pleau, the chef who along with general manager George Miliotes made Disney’s California Grill such a popular restaurant that Darden wooed them away as a team to develop Seasons 52, has returned to the Orlando area after six years as a vice president for Bloomin’ Brands.
Pleau started with the Tampa-based company’s Bonefish Grill brand, switching it from frozen fish to fresh, then moved through some of the other restaurants, including steakhouses Fleming’s and Outback, running their research and development.
For his next act, Pleau has a three-prong business approach – after taking some time off and getting settled back in the area. He plans to do product development and endorsement; high-end catering (anyone need a chef for a six-night cruise on a private yacht in the Aegean Sea?); and restaurant intelligence, which he describes as a consultancy to help restaurateurs fix an ailing business or get started on a new one.
“Time to get back to health and wellness in my cooking for some fulfillment in the legacy years,” Pleau told me. I’m guessing that means the guests on that yacht in the Aegean won’t be served any deep-fried bloomin’ onions.
Don’t get your hopes up that he’ll helm the kitchen of a restaurant again. “I’m looking forward to a more freelance cooking world and having fun,” he said.
Pleau was the opening chef for California Grill in 1995, and he and Miliotes were given the freedom by Dieter Hannig, who was then the vice president of Walt Disney World’s food and beverage division, to essentially treat the restaurant as if it were their own. That especially allowed Pleau to offer market-fresh specials rather than running a menu change request past a committee.
Pleau and Miliotes were such a successful team that Darden Restaurants, in 2002, lured them away to spearhead its yet-to-be-named new brand that would lift the company’s reputation above Olive Garden and Red Lobster. After rolling out the first Seasons 52 on Sand Lake Road in 2003 then overseeing the openings of other locations, Pleau and Miliotes were given other duties apart at Darden. Pleau announced he was leaving Darden in August of 2014 and joined Bloomin’ Brands the following month.
Miliotes left Darden in early 2016 to develop Wine Bar George, which opened at Disney Springs in May of 2018. Dieter Hannig retired from WDW in February of 2009 and moved with his wife to Panama.
It’s nice to have Pleau’s culinary talents back in Central Florida. We’ll be hearing more from him soon.