Citi Taste of Tennis Pairs World’s Best Chefs with Top-Ranked Players

Food is a universal language.

That’s what the masterminds behind Citi Taste of Tennis realized when creating the first culinary and tennis event in 1999, pairing leading chefs in the restaurant industry with the top-ranked tennis players in the world.

Judi and Penny Lerner, the mother-daughter duo behind AYS Sports Marketing that organizes the experience, were familiar with the fact that tennis players are constantly training for competition, rarely getting to show the “human side of tennis.” They also knew all about the extensive cuisine the Big Apple had to offer as frequent visitors and original East Coasters growing up in Philadelphia.

“That’s when the magic happened,” Penny said.

“When we were developing the brand and the experience, it was really natural — not forced at all,” she added. “The event allows players to experience something different away from the tennis court.

Citi Taste of Tennis has become widely popular amongst the players because it has featured some of the world’s best chefs, including Iron Chef Morimoto who has taught U.S. Open competitors how to roll up sushi the week before they take the courts at Flushing Meadow. Tennis players from all over the world have also come to Manhattan to enjoy watching Emeril Lagasse whip up his world-renowned pasta. 

Tennis player Andy Roddick and chef Emeril Lagasse attend the 5th annual “Evian Taste of Tennis” Aug. 26, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)


“Culinary is a global landscape, not just a regional landscape,” Penny said. “The premise here is no matter what you’re cooking, the cuisine in your restaurant, somebody from tennis will be from there.”

The Citi Taste of Tennis is held in five different cities and kicks off a handful of professional tennis tournaments including Indian Wells, Calif., Miami, London, Washington D.C. and New York.

The New York event holds a certain prestige as one of the world’s most dynamic culinary capitals and the first city to host the culture-blending experience. It has attracted some of the best players in the game, such as Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, John McEnroe, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Coco Gauff, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios and many more.

One of the best parts of the experience is having players interact with the celebrity chefs, the Lerners recollect.

“We have the players put an apron on and have them learn to roll up sushi, for example,” Penny said. “In the past, we had Serena and Venus face off in a cooking competition with their sister, Aisha, being the judge.”

U.S. tennis player Serena Williams and French chef Cedric Tovar attend the Citi Taste Of Tennis gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City on Aug. 23, 2018. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

Kyrgios will be back Thursday night. He will introduce Beyond Meat. Naomi Osaka is also a headliner at the 2022 Manhattan event. She’ll present for Daring Foods, a plant-based chicken company.

The two tennis stars will go head-to-head in a cooking competition led by a lineup of celebrity and local chefs including Chef Emma Bengtsson who holds two Michelin stars at the New York City-based restaurant Aquavit.

What have athletes made in the past at Citi Taste of Tennis?

The fun part about the experience is that players get to gear up in aprons and get behind counters to cook some delicious dishes with the celebrity chefs.

Earlier this year in Indian Wells, Calif., chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo from Italian diner Jon & Vinny’s made their famous Spicy fusilli, vodka, basil, and parmesan with Kyrgios.

Chef David Shim from COTE, a popular Korean steakhouse in South Florida, made Japanese A5 ribeye with world No. 9 Garbine Muguruza at the 2022 Taste of Tennis in Miami.

Garbiñe Muguruza cooks during The Taste Of Tennis Master Class With St Giles Hotels at The Tuscany, A St Giles Signature Hotel on Aug. 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for St Giles Hotels)

In Washington D.C. earlier this month, Chef Jassi Bindra from Amrina the Woodlands, a luxe Indian restaurant, made Yellowfin Tuna Bhel with world No. 11 Andrey Rublev.

AYS Sports Marketing’s creative initiatives 

Judi and Penny jumpstarted AYS in 1995 to provide consultation services and marketing solutions to help their clients maximize their marketing initiatives. 

The female-owned agency has stepped up by representing driven individuals and brands around the world. One of their many notable initiatives is working with ATP No. 2 Alexander Zverev’s management team on his North American marketing partnerships.

AYS also takes pride in representing transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Schuyler Bailar to generate “understanding and acceptance.”

“We wanted to represent the underrepresented,” Penny said. “We’ve had a lot of incredible stories that were not told and we wanted to be part of telling their stories.”

She added, “We’re all humans. We’re all here to be together and we all deserve a chance – that’s what we are about at AYS.”

Whether it’s the vibe of togetherness that the Citi Taste of Tennis creates or the intensity of flavors blended at the numerous cooking stations, New York has a lot to bring to the table.

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