Meet Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya, Founder and President of the Food Dreams Foundation
Philanthropist, passionate about food, daughter of one of the world’s most famous Chef, Louise is running a high impact non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between underprivileged students and the working culinary community.
Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya
Food Dreams Foundation is a story of family, passion and solidarity. Initiated by Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya 4 years ago, it is with her brother Cédric Vongerichten and her father, the culinary icon, triple star chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, that she co-founded the non-profit in 2016. As the President of the foundation, she’s fulfilling the culinary dreams of an unprivileged youth from across the globe, through scholarship, mentorship and career development. Passionate about gastronomy since she grew up in this environment, benevolent by nature and committed to notions of sustainability and impact, it is therefore quite naturally that the Food Dreams project has become a large part of Louise's daily life.
Through Food Dreams, Louise advocates Education as a key for a sustainable future.
Welcome Louise to Chefs for Impact!
By Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya as told to Chefs for Impact
What’s the mission of the Food dreams Foundation?
“Food Dreams foundation is a non-profit foundation that my father, my brother and I, we decided to launch 4 years ago. Our mission is to help unprivileged youth from across the globe, also refugees, to go to culinary school. By creating Food Dreams we wanted to help, as we have been helped in the past. We were lucky enough to have access to education, the right people to meet and the support to launch our own restaurants. There are so many young people all over the world that need financial help to study. To do so, we’ve built strong partnerships with several culinary schools and institutes in the United States. We will be launching the program in India at the end of the year with the renowned Christ University. Europe and Asia will be the next steps with, by 2021, hopefully around ten countries in which we will be able to help students go to school in their respective countries.
Then we created this post-graduate program where all the students will go into a one-year program and they will be working their way through the different Jean-Georges restaurants. They get knowledge about food, and from there they decide whether they want to specialize in fine-dining, fast casual, farm-to-table or vegan. Once graduated and after completing their post-graduate program, we guarantee them a job within the company. It’s been a great journey so far, even more to do this project as a family.”
Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya & Cédric Vongerichten Ulukaya
How many students have you been able to help so far?
“Food Dreams has become a conduit for opportunity for over 60 youth in 4 years. Most of our graduate students now work in one of our restaurants in the US or abroad. We have helped some of them to find a job in other restaurants, and others have decided to return to their home countries to work. But whatever their choice is, all of them have become part of our family through the Food Dreams Foundation’s programs.”
How do you select the students ?
“We’re looking for driven, passionate, talented and ambitious people. Being a Chef is a difficult profession that requires a lot of resilience. We attach great importance to their personality too. We select our students based on their financial situation. Once they meet all the criteria, these people will be able to see their food dreams come true with scholarship, mentorship and career development.”
What type of program do you provide them access to?
“We partner with schools that offer two types of programs. Universities such as the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) provide longer and more complete training. They give access to a College Degree with strong culinary and managerial knowledge. In addition, we work with Institutes such as ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) which offer shorter and more targeted training courses, mainly in cooking techniques. These short programs allow some students who are in tricky economic, demographic and family situations, to go to school without having to commit on the long run.”
What actions have you implemented since the lockdown?
“During this difficult time, we are always looking for new ways to help those in need. We rolled out solidarity actions beyond our primary mission by partnering with organizations such as Food Bank New York City. We are using the Food Dreams foundation's funds to buy food to feed the communities in need. We bought produces at cost from various local farms in the Upstate New York area. Today, these farmers are struggling since most of their revenues came from restaurants. We then deliver to Food Bank NYC where we created these Food pantries from all the food gathered. We will continue to do this for as long as it takes, at least until school resumes and our scholars are back.
My father and his team went on the field to launch the operation and to distribute food. It was heartbreaking to see all these people, especially the children who had come without their parents to feed themselves. It's terrible to be in New York and to see people in such distress. The public school provided at least two meals a day to this kids. It is tragic and we wanted to help. More and more suppliers are contacting us to join the movement now. Our desire to remain local motivated us to get closer to the NY producers and farmers. We actually toured and selected the farms in person last month with my brother.”
How do you see the foundation grow within the next 5 years?
“We would like to have several programs in about 20 countries and to be able to fund between 600 and 1000 scholarships worldwide by then. Ideally we'll have activations around the world with local Chefs such as press events and fundraising events for example.
We are also developing a range of Food Dreams branded products such as aprons, saucepans, and tote bags. I want to see retail expand further so it could generate an additional source of income for the foundation too.”
What is a more Sustainable Gastronomy ?
“This crisis definitely calls for reflection and I think that people are very concerned about protecting what is important to them. They will give even more value to local sourcing.
At Food Dreams, we produce everything in the USA. My brother and father have rethought their restaurant menus to prioritize local suppliers even more. They have identified new sources of supply from Upstate New York. Going local and being responsible must become the norm. This is our philosophy at Food Dreams foundation and in all the Jean-Georges restaurants.
The future of food is to pay greater attention to local farmers. We must work with products that are available nearby even if it is always risky for a Chef to work with new products. These sustainable food practices are also a way to discover a new craft and the passionate people who are working in a magnificent way with deep commitment and strong expertise.
We must preserve and protect our planet and, with the Food Dreams foundation, this message passes through the students we train day after day.” These sustainable food practices are also a way to discover a new craft, and meet the passionate people whose magnificent work shows strong expertise.
Learn more about Food Dreams: http://www.fooddreams.org/