The winners (from left) with CIA president Dr. Tim Ryan (center): Leo Oosterveer CEO of Unilever Food Solutions; Masaharu Morimoto, chef/owner Morimoto restaurants; Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani; and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef/owner Jean-Georges restaurants.
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Leadership Rewarded

Beverly Stephen - April 28th, 2014

Each year leaders in the culinary field are honored with Augie Awards by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for their contributions to the industry. This year, the awards gala was held April 24th at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City, with Augies awarded to Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef/owner Jean-Georges restaurants; Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani; Masaharu Morimoto, chef/owner Morimoto restaurants; and Leo Oosterveer, CEO of Unilever Food Solutions.

Each honoree received a statuette similar to the Oscar and in fact made by the same manufacturer. Augie is affectionately named for the great Auguste Escoffier, credited with codifying French culinary technique. The Augie awards were first given in 2007.

“The Power of Food” was this year’s theme, which the honorees discussed as a panel moderated by CIA president Dr. Tim Ryan prior to the gala.

Each of these men, all natives of other countries, have witnessed tremendous changes both in this country and abroad in their careers and share a commitment to making a difference.

Ulukaya is credited with revolutionizing the yogurt market. Since he launched Chobani Greek Yogurt in 2007, it has become the top selling Greek yogurt in the United States with more than $1 billion in annual sales. “My first customers were mass supermarkets,” he said emphasizing his belief in reaching large numbers with good food. “Everybody should have access to yogurt—rich or poor. Food for the mass is the biggest opportunity there is. In five years supermarkets will be totally different.” Chobani has recently become available for food service and is already being used at New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said, noting that a four percent fat yogurt, which he believes will appeal to chefs, is due in the fall.

Oosterveer is an advocate for sustainability at the food service division of Unilever, which markets the Knorr, Hellmann’s, and Lipton brands internationally. “I’ve seen over nutrition and I’ve seen under nutrition and it’s not always a happy story,” he said. He expressed concern about the ability to feed the world’s growing population and emphasized the need to change to new business models in order to insure adequate food supplies. He’s particularly proud of Unilever’s sustainability efforts, noting that 50 percent of the raw materials the company uses are now sustainably sourced. “We want to make sustainability commonplace,” he said. “It’s our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity.

Vongerichten noted the tremendous changes that have occurred in the availability of food since he started out some 40 years ago. “Then, when I went to the Union Square market, I saw potatoes. Everything was coming from California or from France.” Over the years farmers started coming to him and his colleagues and started growing things for them and “today we eat better than ever. The farmers changed our lives. There is less pesticide, less preservatives. People want to know where things come from.” His market driven ABC Kitchen places an emphasis on vegetables, and in June he plans to open a vegan restaurant.

Morimoto see himself as a representative of the American dream. “When I came in 1985, I didn’t even think about a restaurant.” Today he runs an international restaurant empire and is credited with building understanding of Japanese food and culture. Had it not been for an early shoulder injury, the Iron Chef might have become a baseball player and the food world would have been poorer.

The honorees are presented as an inspiration to the current crop of culinary students and offered a few words of advice. Perhaps Morimoto summed it up best: “Don’t limit yourselves. You have to try everything.” Including, he added with a touch of humor, “Japanese food.”