Meryle Evans / September 2007
Food Arts presents the September 2007 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Joseph Amendola, the pioneer culinary educator whose extraordinary career spans 77 years—and counting. Founding "uncle" of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and revered mentor of thousands of its students, author of classic professional baking and ice carving books, sought-after technology consultant, and globe-trotting ambassador for the hospitality industry, "Mr. A" still works seven days a week and maintains a daunting travel schedule that would exhaust anyone half his 86 years.
At the age of 9 Amendola became an apprentice at his tyrannical uncle's pastry shop in New Haven, Connecticut, working afternoons, weekends, and holidays. When, after eight years, he asked for a day off, the reply was, "If you want one day off, you'll want another later. Instead, take them all off. You're fired."
Characteristically, he immediately found a job as a baker at a larger establishment, advancing to the position of supervising bakery manager. But then came Pearl Harbor. The following day Amendola enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was shipped off to the Mojave Desert as an aircraft sheet metal specialist. However, he soon persuaded his sergeant to let him make apple pies for his battalion. As he tells the story in his beguiling life-lessons book, Tastes and Tales of a Chef, a visiting general who came to dinner relished one of the private's pies and subsequently had him transferred to London, where he spent the rest of the war preparing meals at officers' headquarters.
Returning to civilian life in New Haven with Marge, his English bride, in 1947, Amendola talked his way into a position as baking instructor at the year old New Haven Restaurant Institute, created to train ex-GIs for careers in the culinary arts. The fledgling school morphed into the CIA, and Amendola became, as Paul Bocuse put it, "the teacher who teaches the teachers."
Later, as dean of students, director of development, and acting president, he became a role model for graduates like chef Charlie Palmer, who calls him "a true icon." According to Mark Erickson, the CIA's vice president for Greystone and continuing education, his greatest contribution to the industry has been as a "wonderful friends-raiser; he's an unbelievably connected individual."
For instance, visiting Japan, Amendola introduced the president of the Takaki Baking Company to the then-new concept of frozen dough and arranged for their bakers to learn the technology, leading to great success. Many years later, when the CIA needed a new baking center, Amendola engineered a huge donation for two Takaki baking and pastry institutes at the Hyde Park and Greystone campuses.
With awards galore from the American Culinary Federation and almost every other chef's association and three Amedola libraries (in Brazil, California, and Orlando, his home-base since officially retiring from the CIA in 1988), Amendola is busier than ever. "My new adventure in life," he says "is equipment and technology that will make food preparation safer, healthier, and easier."