Dorothy Cann Hamilton is no stranger to the world of food. In 1984 she started the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center, in New York and recruited renowned chefs like José Andrés and Jacques Pépin as teachers. Ms. Hamilton, 65, is the president of the USA Pavilion at the 2015 World Expo, in Milan through Oct. 31. The theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” and she is running a 35,000-square-foot pavilion that puts American food culture in the spotlight. Following are excerpts from a conversation with Ms. Hamilton.
Q. This year is the first time in the history of world’s fairs that the theme is food. Why do you think the topic is so important now?
A. The Expo organizers have posed the question of how we will feed nine billion people in 2050. If we continue to eat and farm the way we do, there will not be enough food to feed the planet by then. The event will see the brightest-thinking people from over 140 countries addressing this problem.
What kind of foods and chefs will be featured in the USA Pavilion?
We have a team of chef advisory board members, including Dan Barber, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali and Mary Sue Milliken, and on the Expo grounds we will have six food trucks serving iconic and regional American foods, from lobster rolls to barbecue.
Also, we have a pop-up James Beard American restaurant in downtown Milan featuring cuisine from 50 highly regarded chefs like Rick Bayless, Barbara Lynch and Marc Murphy.
With 20 million projected visitors, what will draw guests to the USA Pavilion?
Our interactive exhibits. We have one on the panorama of American eating, which includes artisanal craft beers and how we eat on the go, and gives insight into the cultural differences in the Thanksgiving dinner, like how the Chinese-American table is different from the Italian-American one.
Another feature is a 7,200-square-foot vertical farm with a water-efficient irrigation system and panels that provide natural light and increased ventilation inside the pavilion.
Why did you open a French culinary school?
In the early ’80s, France was the pinnacle of fine dining. The French are the codifiers of technique in Western cuisine. Our school was based on teaching those techniques.
What sparked the change to become international?
The French were incredibly generous in taking in young non-French cooks for internships who came back to their respective countries, took those incomparable techniques and applied them to their native products and foods. We then had an explosion of beautifully executed food all over the world, and our thirst grew for understanding and learning other cuisines.
Every year there seems to be a hot new food city. What is that city today?
Philadelphia and young chefs there like Marc Vetri. He can take the most humble dish like his pappardelle with lamb ragù and make it ethereal. I was just amazed by Mitch Prensky’s Supper because he reimagines comfort food classics like tamale fries made out of masa, or dreams up a pastrami fried chicken. It’s familiar but new.
What is the most underrated food city?
Parma. It’s one of the most sumptuous regions of Italy, rich in cheese, butter and pork. People tend to go the Rome, Florence, Milan route. But Parma: ah! The local cuisine is heaven, and I believe trumps those other cities.