HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Warren Leigh, an Holyoke Community College (HCC) culinary arts professor, has been named “Educator of the Year.”

Leigh was named “Educator of the Year” by the Center for the Advancement of Food Service Education (CAFÉ), which is a national industry group. He received his award back on June 21st at the 2023 CAFÉ Leadership Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Leigh, who is from Springfield. “It’s nice to be recognized. It’s humbling.”

Leigh is a professional chef and restauranteur who has been at HCC for 15 years. He also received an honorable mention for CAFE’s annual “Community Outreach” and was nominated by both Chef Paul Sorgule, a retired culinary educator, and president of Harvest America Ventures,  a restaurant consulting and training company.

Sorgule has known Leigh for over 40 years and has watched him become the talented chef, restaurateur, and teacher he is today.

“Even at a young age, he had a strong inclination towards serving others, and the kitchen drew him in,” said Sorgule. “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.”

Leigh, who is also the co-chair of HCC’s Culinary Arts program, was also recognized when he received his award for his part in designing the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which is the college’s state-of-the-art teaching facility on Race Street that opened in 2018. He was also recognized for re-imagining the culinary arts curriculum, creating a line cook training program in collaboration with HCC’s non-credit business and workforce division, and pushing forward his concept for a mobile kitchen where students could learn food truck operations while teaching the community about nutrition and how to eat healthy.

“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,” said Maureen Hindle, a culinary arts alum who now works as a lab tech at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute.

Leigh has a bachelor’s degree in science in food service administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from the University of Phoenix. He is the owner, operator, and executive chef for Hydrangea Catering & Consulting and has worked in many restaurants in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, such as The Standish House in Wethersfield, Madeleines in Windsor, and The Eatery in East Windsor, and more.

“As a product of his work myself, I can attest to his superb teaching and knowledge,” said HCC alum Matthew Enos ’19, 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.”

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