Simply Jules: Honoring the Masters of Hospitality

CIA students Jules Esposito and Brandon Medley hosting the CIA's Leadership Awards

Each year, The Culinary Institute of America honors individuals and companies for their outstanding achievements in the industry at its Leadership Awards in Manhattan. Celebrity chefs, television personalities, and industry professionals gather for a night to celebrate the joy of their craft; network with others, including CIA students; and raise funds for CIA scholarships. This year, the gala was centered around five Masters of Hospitality. This included Laura Cunningham of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Will Guidara of Make it Nice, Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group, Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group, and Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington.

A hospitality management student’s dream come true

I was given the incredible opportunity to emcee the event alongside fellow student Brandon Medley. With my interest in event planning as well as television hosting, this was an unbelievable experience that I am so grateful for. I began the day bright and early by taking the train into the city. Not being too city savvy, I admit my map and directions on my phone were needed in order to finally reach the ballroom! As soon as I arrived, I was instantly in awe of the grandeur and sophistication of the décor and ambiance. Dim lighting, perfectly set tables, spectacular flower arrangements, and mesmerizing light effects created the perfect atmosphere for the event. This exact feeling is what interests me so much in the planning of events.

CIA students attending and volunteering at the CIA's Annual Leadership Awards

Meeting hospitality greats like Danny Meyer

I spent the day running through my lines and positions, ensuring every detail was nothing short of perfection. We then took plenty of photos as a group, and began to get ready for the hundreds of people who were soon to arrive. In the early evening, the cocktail hour began, and during this time I was completely taken aback as to the caliber of people I was standing amongst. During this time, I was able to chat with Danny Meyer, Christina Tosi of Milk Bar, Thomas Keller, and even Stew Leonard. In simply talking to these individuals, I was able to grasp their true passion and love for the industry. We conversed over wonderful hors d’oeuvre prepared by guest chefs from successful establishments all over the country.

Helping to introduce the Augie Award winners

Cocktail hour came to a close, and we assumed our positions on stage to welcome all of the attendees and begin introducing the honorees. We assisted CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan in introducing each individual as well as handing out their Augie Award. Midway through the ceremony, we took a break from presenting to indulge in a heavenly dinner of lobster and lamb. Come to find out, I would be eating across from Daniel Boulud and Anne Burrell. After taking that in, I returned to the stage to finish honoring the selected Masters of Hospitality. After closing our speeches, we welcomed guests to a dessert reception equipped with countless decadent confections crafted by Magnolia Bakery of Boston, Milk Bar, and coffee sponsored by illy. We said our goodbyes to the guests, and began to conclude what was truly a night to remember.

CIA student Jules Esposito with Thomas Keller, Danny Meyer, Will Guidara, and Christina Tosi.

An opportunity and an honor

Attending this event honoring the Masters of Hospitality was especially thrilling for me, as I am part of the first batch of students in the new hospitality management program here at the CIA. It was an absolute honor to be among accomplished people in the industry, and I walked away from the event feeling utterly inspired, grateful… and perhaps a bit starstruck.

Jules Esposito