In just a short time, three people’s lives will change forever when they are chosen to win $50,000 each. The Vilcek Foundation awards were founded by immigrants Dr. Jan T. Vilcek, research professor at New York University School of Medicine, and art historian Marica Vilcek. They had the courage to come to America as penniless refugees from communist Czechoslovakia in 1965 and their contributions comprise millions of dollars given over the years within arts, culture, and science. The Vilceks’ hope in awarding this year’s excellence in culinary promise is to shine a light on some of the highest achieving people in America being immigrants and their contributions to the culinary industry. “The Creative Promise award is a celebration because it goes to the people whom we feel the money will help do something exciting in the future,” said Gabrielle Langholtz, director of culinary projects. “The prizes are meant to facilitate future discovery and impact for promising professionals at a critical stage in their careers.”
The application process deadline is June 11, 2018, so professionals have until then to apply. The Vilcek Foundation mandates each of the juried awards of $50,000 will go to immigrants in culinary arts professions, born in 1980 or later, who demonstrate extraordinary talent, dedication, and potential to advance the field of culinary arts. Eligible applicants can come from all fields related to the culinary arts, including but not limited to chefs, bakers, mixologists, culinary writers, cookbook authors, test kitchen chefs, prepared food makers who create craft jams, chocolates, cheeses, and charcuterie, vintners, distillers, brewers, bartenders, and coffee roasters. “These applicants are people who are great at their craft and true rising stars in their fields, the kind of people who show potential,” said Langholtz. “They could be someone to watch whether they are making ice cream or tacos or coffee.”
The jury meeting to choose the winners happens in July and the winners are informed immediately. They will receive their award in April 2019. The prize money is unrestricted and there is no fee to apply. Jurors include Ed Levine of Serious Eats, Francis Lam of Splendid Table, and food writer Rachel Wharton. While the annual Vilcek Prizes celebrate immigrant contributions to the arts and sciences, the foundation only awards culinary professionals in a rotating category of art. Past prize winners include Yo-Yo Ma, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Christo, and, in 2010, José Andrés. “Even if you think you might not be a candidate, go for it because we are looking for promise and this is the time when the culinary arts have come around,” said Langholtz.
Foundation president Rick Kinsel spoke about why the culinary arts prizes matter at the annual awards dinner in April. “In the culinary arts, this is especially fitting as so much of what we call ‘American food’ was brought here by immigrants over the centuries, and because some of the greatest chefs in America moved here from around the world – like Marcus Samuelsson, Dominique Crenn, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Nobu Matsuhisa, Roy Choi, Daniel Humm, Eric Ripert, April Bloomfield, Charles Phan Ignacio Mattos, and Michael Solomonov – and, of course, our previous prizewinner José Andrés, just to name a few,” he said. “Food has the power to unite people at the table.”
There is a third $100,000 prize for which José Andrés won last year, for which the Foundation doesn’t accept applications. For this main Vilcek Prize, a separate jury considers top immigrant chefs and chooses one winner. The jurors for that prize are Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetite, Nilou Motamed formerly of Food & Wine, Mitchell Davis of James Beard Foundation, Kate Krader of Bloomberg, chef Tom Colicchio, and chef Michael Anthony.