Daily News

HCC Culinary Arts Professor Warren Leigh Named Educator of the Year

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) Culinary Arts Professor Warren Leigh has been named Educator of the Year by the Center for the Advancement of Food Service Education (CAFE), a national industry group.

Leigh, a professional chef and restaurateur who has been teaching at HCC for 15 years, received his award June 21 at the 2023 CAFE Leadership Conference in Charleston, S.C.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized. It’s humbling.”

Leigh also received honorable mention for CAFE’s annual Community Outreach award. He was nominated for both by Chef Paul Sorgule, a retired culinary educator and president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant consulting and training company.

Sorgule said he has known Leigh for more than 40 years and has watched him mature into a talented chef, restaurateur, and teacher.

“Even at a young age, he had a strong inclination toward serving others, and the kitchen drew him in,” Sorgule said. “His professional work and personal life experiences became the stories that brought his classrooms to life, but it is also his unwavering commitment to professional standards, his passion for the craft, and his unique empathy for students trying to figure out where they fit that makes him very special as an educator.”

In receiving the Educator of the Year award, Leigh, co-chair of HCC’s Culinary Arts program, was recognized for his part in designing the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, the college’s state-of-the-art teaching facility on Race Street that opened in 2018; reimagining the culinary-arts curriculum; creating a line-cook training program in collaboration with HCC’s non-credit business and workforce division; and pushing forward on his concept for a mobile kitchen where students could learn food-truck operations while also teaching the community about nutrition and healthy eating.

“Throughout my 14 years of knowing Warren, first as a student and currently as a colleague, he has always had a heartfelt commitment to serving our students, as well as our greater community,” Maureen Hindle, a culinary-arts alum who now works as a lab tech at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, wrote in support of Leigh’s nomination.

Leigh holds a bachelor’s degree in food service administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from the University of Phoenix. He trained extensively as a chef in Germany and Switzerland.

He is the owner, operator, and executive chef for Hydrangea Catering & Consulting and has worked over the years in many capacities at restaurants in Connecticut (including the Standish House in Wethersfield, Madeleines in Windsor, and the Eatery in East Windsor) and Western Mass.

“As a product of his work myself, I can attest to his superb teaching and knowledge,” said HCC alumnus Matthew Enos, now an executive sous chef at Johnny’s Bar and Grille in South Hadley. “Chef Leigh has given me a great stepping stone to launch a career in culinary.”