The 2014 Culinary Institute of America’s Leadership Awards (also known as the “Augie,” after chef Auguste Escoffier) were held in the ballroom of Midtown’s Grand Hyatt on Thursday evening. The culinary elite and CIA students alike gathered to honor four stars of the food world: chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef Masaharu Morimoto, Unilever CEO Leo Oosterveer, and Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.
The event also featured a silent auction where guests could bid on items ranging from a trip to France to a private cooking lesson, which raised thousands of dollars that will go toward student scholarships.
While the evening’s honorees thanked the CIA for their recognition and support, they also made sure to discuss relevant culinary issues, including sustainability, food availability, and the increase in global food quality.
“We aren’t ready for the future yet,” Oosterveer, who recently launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, told the crowd. “If everyone ate like we do in the U.S. and Europe, we would need three planets. But if we change to new business models, we can feed everybody. But we can’t do it alone, which is why partnerships like the one Unilever has with the CIA are so important.”
Jean-Georges, who within the past couple weeks was awarded four stars from the New York Times for his flagship eponymous New York restaurant, opened a restaurant in Tokyo, and became an American citizen, lauded the availability of first-rate ingredients.
“Forty years ago, the Union Square farmer’s market only sold apples and potatoes,” he said. “In 1987 farmers came to us with catalogues, and we told them to bring us everything they could grow. Same with local fish; the fishermen were here, but everything was still imported. Since then there’s been a sea change and I’m just lucky to be a part of it. Now we have the best ingredients in history.”
Morimoto, who sang a traditional Japanese fishing song for the audience, also noted the availability of top ingredients and a willingness on the part of Americans to try them.
“I represent the American dream,” he said. “In 1985, when I arrived here, I had no idea that this is where I’d end up. But the American people understand different cultures and are willing to step out of their comfort zone to experience them.”
Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant who founded the company after realizing that the yogurt sold in American supermarkets was inferior to what he was used to growing up, spent two years perfecting his recipe and was named the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young.
“I always put the human being at the center of everything,” he said. “We’re constantly thinking that somebody is going to eat this, and it needs to be the best possible product that it can be. Most supermarkets want better food for everyone. If Chobani plays a small part in that, then I’m proud.”
The awards are given yearly to honor those who excel in professional excellence, health and wellness, global cuisine and culture, sustainability, and food ethics. Last year’s honorees included chefs Rick Bayless and Daniel Humm.