Interview with Dorothy Hamilton: The Modern Day Julia Childs

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Interviews / 6 comments

A passionate entrepreneur and award-winning educator, Dorothy Hamilton is one of the most influential forces shaping the American culinary landscape today.

She is the Founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center which includes the world-renowned French Culinary Institute whose graduates include many of America’s most prominent chefs and The Italian Culinary Academy.

Hamilton’s distinguished career in vocational education and her outstanding reputation for creating innovative programs in gastronomy has earned her numerous awards and even a knighting.

Most recently, she was inducted into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation and was nominated for the Entrepreneur Award of Excellence by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Hamilton was also the creator and host of Chef’s Story, a 26-part television series and the author of the companion book, Chef’s Story. The textbook she conceived for the school — The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine– received James Beard Foundation Award in 2008. Her book on culinary careers, Love What You Do, and the school’s Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts were published last year.

The lifelong food lover talks about her inspirational work philosophy in this following short video from NYBC New York Channel and shares advice on balancing a demanding career with motherhood.

WomanzWorld was able to take a moment of Dorothy’s time to find out what’s driven her entrepreneurial success.

WomanzWorld: What was the catalyst that made you want to start your own business?

Dorothy Hamilton: I returned to NYC during the recession of 1974. I was an English major in college and had just served in the Peace Corp in Thailand. I had no job skills or opportunities so I took the only job available to me—a job at my father’s trade school in NYC. I loved it. I loved working with the students. From there, I followed my passion for cooking and food after I visited culinary schools in Europe. I convinced my dad to create a culinary trade school in NYC and the FCI was born.

What has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

Business never runs smoothly. 9/11 happened 10 blocks away and the economy tanked. During the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s students couldn’t get loans. The day-to-day operations of a business are grueling. You have to steel your stomach and know where your center is.

When did you experience your first business win or success & what impact did it have?

When Julia Child got FCI on Good Morning America and the school started to fill up. I understood the power of the press and how integral the press is to you in helping your reach your consumers.

What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned to date?

Trust your instincts. At the end of the day, you have to know who you are and what you’re doing.

What are the key strengths/qualities you’ve found in yourself as an entrepreneur?

Creativity. I’m also personable. In business, people don’t work for you. People have to want to work with you.

What’s your secret to keeping focused on your business and the vision you have for it?

I love it. I absolutely love what I do.

Do you have any daily habits as an entrepreneur that propels you to success?

I try to go to bed at a decent hour most nights. I’m clearest in the morning when I can think and strategize. A restful sleep is key to intelligent thought the next day.

What are the 3 top books you’ve read that have made a personal difference to you and influenced you and why?

Pierre Franey’s memoir, A Chef’s Tale. Epitomizes the of joy of French cooking and cuisine.
La Technique by Jacques Pepin. Don’t ask. Just look at it and you will know why it is seminal.
Moby Dick. Because it is so much more than a whale of a book.

Which females are your personal source of inspiration and why?

Julia Child was highly influential in my life. I observed how much of a people-person she was. She taught me the value of spending a moment or two with people– listening to them, asking questions, paying attention to them. She never talked about herself.

My Czech grandmother was inspirational to me. She came over to the U.S. when she was 14.

My friend, Christine Baranski, too. I am inspired by how hard she works!

What are your future plans?

We’re looking to spread the gospel of the International Culinary Center (FCI and Italian Culinary Academy) on TV, radio and the web.

What is your key piece of advice to any female considering becoming an entrepreneur?

Find the courage to pursue your dream job.

Currently, Hamilton is on the board of Abraham House, an organization that trains ex-offenders from New York City’s Rikers Island prison for reintegration into society; is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and Les Dames d’ Escoffier; and is a Sopexa Chevalier..

Hamilton holds a B.A. with honors from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and an M.B.A. from New York University.