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The American Institute
of Wine & Food
gourmet articlesarchivethe american institute of wine & food

What is the AIWF, and what is their mission?
The American Institute of Wine & Food is an organization with chapters in 32 cities. It was founded 20 years ago by Julia Child, Robert Mondavi and others to promote the understanding and appreciation of food and wine. AIWF is unique because membership includes both food professionals and interested consumers. The AIWF is dedicated to understanding and celebrating the pleasures, benefits and traditions of table. About 400 food and wine programs are held annually by chapters. One of our primary national programs is "Days of Taste," a program that teaches children across America the fundamentals of healthy food choices by providing tasting experiences and lessons by farmers and chefs.

How big is the Chicago chapter, what local projects are you working on?
The Chicago chapter is the largest chapter, currently with 530 members. Generally, the Chicago chapter provides three events per month. The next event is a Farm Table Dinner featuring local produce. Other exciting upcoming events include a program the "American Cheese Revolution" that will discussed crafting of unique American cheeses and showcasing cheese menu items from local chefs. In October, a program called "Carmen and Carmen" will be a dinner showcasing Chile's venerable Carmen wines accompanied by excerpts from Bizet's opera of the same name.

Does the AIWF have any scholarships?
AIWF proudly awards about $40,000. of scholarships annually. The scholarships are awarded by chapters and some are matched by a grant from the Chalone Wine Foundation. Some scholarships are for students pursuing culinary and viniculture careers, while others are scholarships for chefs to take continuing education courses.

Does the group take any political stand on food issues or remain impartial?
As a nonprofit organization we do not take stand on political issues. We do, however, provide educational programs that provide a lively forum for exchange of ideas on controversial food and wine issues.

What is the most interesting event you have done in the past year, and what events do you have coming up?
One of the most interesting events of the past year was a Visionary Panel where Julia Child, Robert Mondavi, Warren Winiarski and Marion Cunningham each spoke about where the food and wine world were when they started their careers and where they think it is going. It was a fascinating oral history of wine and food in America by four living legends.

There are lots of interesting events in many chapters. The Dallas chapter soon will be hosting a Caesar salad competition among 12 of Dallas's finest chefs where attendees taste and select their favorite Caesar salad. Our new visiting scholars program will send experts on taste, spices, tea, mangoes and Chinese ingredients to chapters for special educational programs.

What are your duties as president?
As Chairman of the Board, the bylaws say that I will preside at meetings of the board and executive committee, be the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute and shall generally supervise, direct and control the business and the officers of the Institute In reality, I work with our staff, chapter leaders, committees, and board members to do the work the Institute. Working with 32 chapters, each with elected leaders and differing community needs and resources and providing the services they need to serve members is quite a challenge.

What do you hope to accomplish in your term?
The two goals set by the Board of Directors for 2001-2002 are to increase member services and satisfaction with AIWF and to increase revenues from all sources. I am dedicated to meeting those goals. In addition, I want to improve be policies and procedures of the organization, develop alliances that will allow AIWF to become more recognized, and stronger and increase the number of members and chapters.

What attracted you to the group?
Over a decade ago, the AIWF launched a Taste and Health initiative and brought members of the health and food communities together in a series of national meetings. At that time I was the President-elect of the American Dietetic Association and took the position that food could be both healthy and delicious if prepared well and eaten in moderate quantities. Through this program I got to know many AIWF leaders and was asked to join the Board of Directors.

How can one join the group?
Joining is really easy. Email [email protected] or call 800-274-AIWF and ask for a member application. Joining the national group automatically enrolls a new member into the chapter nearest their home. Memberships begin at $75./year, only $40. for students. There are dual memberships for couples and partners.

On a personal note, what is your message as a nutritionist to the general public?
Understanding more about food allows each of us to make more informed food choices that meet both our personal preferences and health needs. Eating well immeasurably improves the quality of our lives and health. Knowing how to cook is a basic life skill that we should have and pass on to future generations. Eating well is more than just food and nutrients, it must nourish body and soul.

What else on a personal note would you like to incorporate?
Lots of information about AIWF can be found on our Website We are the process of expanding the Website to include programs and activities of all chapters. Joining and becoming active in The AIWF is a great way to meet others who care about and enjoy quality food and wine at events that are fun, interesting and educational. For chefs and food professionals, membership provides access to food and wine opinion leaders in your community and an opportunity to showcase your skills, restaurant or product.

A nationally recognized expert in food and nutrition communications, Mary Abbott Hess is president of Hess & Hunt, Inc. The firm, based in Chicago, provides consulting services to the food and health industries and government. Hess currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Wine & Food

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