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Roger Michel, Executive Chef of Westin Savannah Harbor Resort
Awarded the Order Merit Agricole from the French Ministry of Agriculture

By Arlinda Smith Broady, Savannah Morning News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 13, 2010--For Roger Michel, executive chef of the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, 40 years of striving for culinary excellence were recognized by the highest order Tuesday.

The French native was awarded the Order Merit Agricole from the French Ministry of Agriculture. A lifetime achievement award of sorts, the order honors people worldwide who have made significant contributions to the field of agriculture as well as the broader fields of food and culinary arts.

"It is such an honor that I'm recognized as a professional chef striving to represent both France and America through true professionalism and delivering quality," Michel said. "All my life I've worked hard, and I'm very fortunate to be doing something that I love in such a wonderful location in such a beautiful city."

French dignitaries Pascal Le Deunff, consul general of France in Atlanta, and Nicole Hirsh, member of the Assembly of French abroad and vice president of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor, were on hand to bestow the honor.

After running through a long list of accomplishments that included volunteer efforts with Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes and guest stints on National Public Radio, the award was presented in French fashion, complete with double-cheek kisses.

A career that began in London brought Michel to the United States through the Hilton hotel chain. Though trained in classic French technique, he has mastered a variety of regional cuisines, including honors as a Texas chili cook-off champ and a four-time "Taste of Savannah" winner.

While they might not be familiar with the name behind the food, locals have marveled over Michel's creations at the Westin's three restaurants: Aqua Star, Midnight Sun and the Club Grille. The Sunday Jazz Brunch has received local accolades, as have catering events ranging from weddings to golf tournaments to corporate events and receptions for notable dignitaries.

"This serves to reinforce the fact that we are a world-caliber facility," said Mark Spadoni, general manager. "There's so much focus on local cuisine that we don't always realize the international talent right here in Savannah."

With such a high honor, Michel is far from resting on his laurels.

"I'm constantly working to perfect every dish," he said.

Spadoni agreed.

"He's his own biggest critic, and his quest for perfection makes him keep his skills as sharp as his knives."


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