Dorothy Cann Hamilton, Culinary Educator and Visionary, Dies in Car Crash

This morning the tragic news is being shared throughout the New York culinary community and far beyond in expressions of disbelief as the weight of the loss sinks in.

Dorothy Cann Hamilton spoke at the New York International Olive Oil Competition in April 2016.
Sep. 19, 2016
By Curtis Cord
Dorothy Cann Hamilton spoke at the New York International Olive Oil Competition in April 2016.

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Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the vision­ary founder of the International Culinary Center and a tow­er­ing fig­ure in the culi­nary world, died in a car crash Friday morn­ing in Nova Scotia, Canada. She was 67.

This morn­ing the tragic news is being shared through­out the New York culi­nary com­mu­nity and far beyond in emails and phone calls punc­tu­ated with long peri­ods of bewil­dered silence and expres­sions of dis­be­lief as the weight of the loss sinks in.

Hamilton founded the French Culinary Institute in 1984, the renowned school later renamed the International Culinary Center that has launched the careers of thou­sands of pro­fes­sion­als and culi­nary lead­ers. In 2015, she served as the pres­i­dent of the American pavil­ion at Expo 2015 in Milan, a posi­tion she was proud to hold and that gar­nered wide­spread crit­i­cal acclaim.

ICC pres­i­dent Erik Murnighan shared the news with stu­dents and fac­ulty in an email Sunday: Dorothy was not only a trail­blazer in the culi­nary arts, she was an inspi­ra­tional fig­ure to women, aspir­ing chefs and entre­pre­neurs. She was a role model, a vision­ary and some­one who, with a dis­cern­ing eye, ele­vated culi­nary cul­ture in America. Her remark­able pas­sion for and embrace of food will pro­vide an ever­last­ing change to the way restau­ra­teurs oper­ated, chefs cooked and how culi­nary stu­dents were men­tored.”

Her friends and col­leagues, whom I am proud to be among, are met today with a pro­found sense of grief that over­comes you when some­one so impor­tant, yet so per­son­able leaves our world.

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I met Dorothy in 2012 through a mutual friend, Steven Jenkins, although I had long known of her ven­er­a­ble school and well-deserved rep­u­ta­tion as an inspired leader, and found her obvi­ous bril­liance intim­i­dat­ing at first. But almost imme­di­ately, that feel­ing was replaced by a deep respect for an inge­nious woman who spoke from an end­less well of wis­dom.

The idea I pitched to her was to orga­nize an olive oil com­pe­ti­tion with her school as its home and I recall being fas­ci­nated by how lit­tle I needed to explain. Her short answer was: Let’s do it.” For the next three years, the New York International Olive Oil Competition was held there.

Dorothy would make appear­ances dur­ing the event, with inter­na­tional dig­ni­taries and jour­nal­ists in tow, mar­veling at the judges as they ana­lyzed sam­ples from 26 coun­tries.

This past April, Dorothy and I met again to dis­cuss devel­op­ing a ground­break­ing pro­gram to teach olive oil sen­sory analy­sis at her New York cam­pus.

At the press announce­ment of the pro­gram, Dorothy said: I’m not an expert, I’m not a som­me­lier, but I can put the things together. My for­mula for suc­cess is to find the best per­son in that indus­try: Find Jacques Pépin for the French Culinary Institute; find Cesare Casella for the Italian pro­gram; find José Andrés for our Spanish pro­gram. Well when it comes to olive oil, I have to say that Curtis has my undy­ing respect. Speaking with him and then speak­ing to other experts in the field, I real­ized this is the per­son to change this indus­try. We are so proud to have you as a part­ner, Curtis and con­grat­u­la­tions.”

While Dorothy was say­ing that, I was off to the side cov­er­ing my face in my hands, caus­ing the audi­ence to chuckle as I con­cealed my blush­ing. And all the while I was think­ing, please stop talk­ing about me, talk about you…they want to hear about you and your incred­i­ble accom­plish­ments.

Yet when I lis­ten to Dorothy’s pod­cast pro­gram, Chef’s Story, and look through other projects along her illus­tri­ous career, I real­ize the same pat­tern runs through all of her work. She is the one off to the side, shin­ing the light on those she helped pro­pel.

There are few, if any, who have so trans­formed the American culi­nary land­scape and encour­aged so many as Dorothy Cann Hamilton.

Dorothy was sched­uled to address stu­dents at the first Olive Oil Sommelier Certification course that will be held at the International Culinary Center in a few weeks, and now I must decide how to fill that space. But there is a much larger empty space in the hearts of all who knew Dorothy, and at the pin­na­cle of the culi­nary world that will never again be occu­pied.


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