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Arts & Life

Dorothy Cann Hamilton, Founder Of French Culinary Institute, Dies At 67

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to remember a woman who helped reshape American food. Dorothy Cann Hamilton died on Friday in a car crash in Nova Scotia. She was 67. She founded the International Culinary Center in the mid-1980s, a Manhattan school that trained some of America's most well-known chefs.

Many of the greatest names in food served as teachers there, including our next guest, the chef and restauranteur Jose Andres. Welcome to the program.

JOSE ANDRES: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: How would you describe Dorothy Hamilton's impact on food?

ANDRES: First, I will have to describe who she was. This was a woman that, every time you were next to her - she will be looking at you deep in your eyes. And she will be listening to you and your dreams - what you hope for. And she will always be there for you.

I have a very special relationship with her because I've never really had - I never had a sister. She kind of become this big sister everybody hopes to have. And I had the dream. My dream was I needed to have a culinary program about the Spanish cooking.

She told me, no problem. We'll make it happen. I'm so sad because we were in the process of trying to open a Spanish school in Madrid. Today, America, without a doubt, is eating better because we had an amazing woman in her.

SHAPIRO: The great chefs who have graduated from her school span virtually every genre, from baking to grilling to molecular gastronomy. What was her approach to food and cooking?

ANDRES: I think her approach was always - there is not two types. There is not just the modern cooking and the traditional cooking. There is only the good cooking and the bad cooking.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ANDRES: In a very simple way, she - through her school in the heart of Manhattan - she opened that school to so many people. Everybody that came from anywhere around the world - they had there a place to share their knowledge.

She was a big supporter of traditional French cooking. But she always understood that we all had to work hard to keep moving forward. And we had to push the boundaries of what we know.

SHAPIRO: I was surprised to learn that she opened this school as a part of her father's Apex Technical School in New York. Did she ever tell you what inspired her to open the institute?

ANDRES: She understood that education was the only way forward. I'm a guy that left school when I was 14, 15. I went to culinary school. But I really never, ever graduated.

But the conversations I would always have with her - it's saying, it's amazing how the right to education can be giving hope to people that - sometimes, they don't come from rich families - that they need to find a place to belong.

And she always saw very clearly that the food industry - that we need to remember, almost over 10 percent of the American workforce works in food - in restaurants, in farming. It's a very powerful force. So here we had Dorothy - that she very much was like the quarterback of an entire quantity of young people that - they were precisely looking - whole kind of country went to a better future, a better America.

And there she was, giving this option to thousands of young students - that they dream to be cooks that could be feeding the world.

SHAPIRO: She also hosted a podcast called Chef's Story. And I want to play a clip from that for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOROTHY CANN HAMILTON: And today, we have the greatest Spanish chef - I would say working in America - but I think the greatest Spanish chef working in the world because he is not only a chef. He's a missionary.

ANDRES: Yeah. This is who she - I'm not going to say who she was because I think she's going to be with us forever. It's who she is. She did this amazing show for PBS. I think it was 26-plus episodes. And she invited some - 26 of the best chefs of America.

And it was a talk. And you will spend over an hour talking with her about life, about anything that was important for us.

It's what I was telling you at the beginning - is she always was somebody that listened and always - even only with her eyes. Without telling you anything, she was able to guide you. And there's not a lot of people that have that power.

SHAPIRO: Well, Jose Andres, thank you for remembering your friend Dorothy Hamilton with us.

ANDRES: Thank you. Thank you for remembering her.

SHAPIRO: And on a lighter note, before you go, I also want to mention that President Obama is honoring you this week with the National Humanities Medal. And so congratulations on that honor, as well.

ANDRES: Well, thank you. But if somebody really deserves an honor like this, it would be somebody like Dorothy. So this one goes to her. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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