'06 Tastemaker Awards
Tyler Gray, 29, has been a prawn fisherman and a skateboard-park designer, but he always found time to forage for mushrooms. Now he does it professionally for his Portland, Oregon-based company, Mikuni Wild Harvest. Gray sells 50-plus varieties of the most exceptional wild and cultivated mushrooms, sourced from places as varied as Bulgaria and China, to elite chefs like Thomas Keller. He makes incredible mushroom finds in the U.S., too—foraging for matsutakes, for instance, from July (when they grow at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies) to January (when they shoot out of sand dunes along Oregon’s coast). Recently, Gray has gone beyond mushrooms; Mikuni is distributing Blis, a line of artisanal products like a deeply smoky bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup (mikuniwildharvest.com). —Ratha Tep
Big Easy Booster
Anne Baker has a seemingly simple goal: to help New Orleans residents do their food shopping. Post-Katrina, the city has faced a tremendous loss of markets, as Baker experienced firsthand. ("I used to have several grocery stores near my house. Now the closest one is a couple of miles away," she says.) So, as project director of New Orleans Food & Farm Network, Baker, 35, and fellow board members Max Elliott, 32, and Marnie Genre, 34, took action. After identifying the supermarkets and emergency food pantries that were still up and running in seven hard-hit neighborhoods, the trio created the NOLA Food Map, then distributed it locally and posted it at nolafoodmap.com. This month, with grants from the USDA and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Baker is going even further: The network will pinpoint the two neighborhoods most in need of "food justice"—without access to fresh produce or transportation to markets, for example—and then work to solve the problems. —Diana Kuan
Dave Catania is called Cachaça Dave for good reason: He’s dedicated himself to bringing the best of the Brazilian spirit to the U.S. His Mãe de Ouro is indeed a standout. Catania, 29, whose day job is doing research for investment banks, discovered cachaça four years ago. He trekked around Brazil trying countless varieties before choosing the artisanal variety from the Mãe de Ouro farm in the southeast. It grows sugarcane sustainably and harvests it by hand, which preserves the cane’s natural flavor, then uses an eco-friendly pressed-sugarcane fuel in the distillation process. Aging in 30-year-old Scotch barrels gives the cachaça an exceptionally smooth, oaky flavor, making it a favorite at retailers like Sam’s Wines & Spirits in Chicago. Catania’s grassroots marketing also helps. Late one night last February he introduced himself to Dewey Dufresne, co-owner of WD-50 in New York City. After Catania had mashed arguably the most important caipirinha of his life, he landed one of his first restaurant accounts (samswine.com). —Hillary Kaylor
Jay Foster, 33, the owner of San Francisco’s Farmer Brown restaurant, is dedicated to saving the black-owned family farm from extinction. While family farms have been hard hit in the past hundred years, those owned by African Americans have been particularly devastated, disappearing at three times the national rate; today there are fewer than 18,000, only about one percent of the nation’s farms. Through partnerships with seven local farms, Foster gets ingredients like black-eyed peas and Silver Queen corn for his neo-soul food menu. It’s a boost for purveyors like Scott Family Farm, which previously sold its produce only in small quantities at farmers’ markets. By 2007 Foster plans to buy all his produce from local, organic black farms; he’s also working with them on crops to sell to Bay Area restaurants (farmerbrownsf.com). —Jenna Pelletier
Francesco and Marco Gillia
Woodworking Whiz Kids
In less than three years, brothers Francesco and Marco Gillia have gone from watching instructional DVDs to creating one-of-a-kind coffee tables from sustainably harvested wood for Herman Miller, the modern-furniture maker. Italian-born Francesco, 34, a painter, and Marco, 31, an architect, combined their talents to launch their Bottega Montana line in 2003 in Lima, Montana. The Gillias’ inspirations range from legendary midcentury designers like Charles Eames and George Nakashima to even older influences; their 350-pound dining table is based on a Renaissance design. Limited production allows the pair to stick to items they’ re passionate about, like the vintage-looking skateboards that designer Paul Smith will sell this winter. Now the duo is working on a new product. "Everyone tells us our work has a modern medieval sensibility reminiscent of Italian wineries," says Francesco, "so our next design will be a shield-shaped wine-tasting table." (bottegamontana.com) —Jen Murphy
It’s not unusual to find Duane Sorenson, 35, hanging out at a mountainside mill at 6,000 feet looking for the perfect beans for his Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon. Sorenson travels from Colombia to Ethiopia looking for what he calls grand cru coffee, for which he might pay up to 12 times the going rate (at a recent auction he paid $51 a pound for Panama Esmeralda beans—a record). Raised in the Northwest during the late-’ 80s Starbucks-fueled coffee boom, Sorenson launched Stumptown in late 1999 after spending every penny he had (around $8,000) for a 1919 Probat roasting machine. Now, at his four Portland locations (a fifth is opening in the lobby of the new Ace Hotel), he serves hand-roasted coffee; he also delivers it to local espresso bars, restaurants and specialty stores. And he means local—Sorenson turns down a dozen would-be wholesale customers a week because they’ re beyond the 45-minute drive that his "freshness philosophy" demands. He will ship his coffee to home brewers but, in keeping with his ethic, only in one-week quantities (stumptowncoffee.com). —Stacey Nield
Philip Abbott of Terra Spice Company in Walkerton, Indiana, is a silent partner to some of the most innovative chefs in America, who rely on him for everything from rare spices to industrial-food ingredients. "We once decided to play a game called Stump Philip," says Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea. "We threw out this crazy request for chufa nuts, used in the Spanish drink horchata. A few weeks later he came back to our door holding two live chufa plants." While Abbott, 35, sells basics like ultrafresh Indonesian peppercorns, he also offers small packets of items like sodium alginate (used to create the flavored "caviar" pearls made famous by Ferran Adrià) to avant-garde chefs who previously had to buy them in bulk; the packets are even available to home cooks at Manhattan’s Room 4 Dessert (willpowder.net). —R.T.
Thanks to Taylor Griffin, 35, jamón ibérico, the long-banned ham from Spain’s centuries-old breed of ibérico hogs, will soon make its way stateside. Last year, Griffin, president of the Rogers Collection in Portland, Maine, received a call from famed Washington, DC-based Spanish chef José Andrés, telling him that Embutidos Fermín, the first USDA-approved ibérico producer, was ready to start exporting. Griffin got on a plane and days later signed an agreement to be its exclusive U.S. importer. He debuted the meaty ibérico chorizo and lomo, dry-cured pork loin, last summer at tienda.com and is preparing for the spring 2007 launch of jamón ibérico, the ultimate ibérico delicacy. —R.T.
In his new book, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, hunter and writer Steven Rinella, 32, offers a completely unexpected perspective on the link between food and its origin in the natural world. Rinella’s book chronicles the year he spent searching out ingredients for a feast based on recipes from his unlikely source—legendary French chef Escoffier and his 1903 classic cookbook, Le Guide Culinaire. Rinella, whose research included pursuing mountain goats in Alaska and stalking surprisingly elusive pigeons behind an Irish pub in Montana, has developed a cult following, from fellow hunters to chefs who love his thrifty approach to cooking. Rinella’s newest obsession is buffalo; his book on their history and the year he spent hunting them is due out next year. —Jessica Tzerman
Mary Welch & Jeremy Pyles
Husband-and-wife team Jeremy Pyles, 35, and Mary Welch, 31, of Niche Modern are creating some of America’s funkiest new lighting designs. Frustrated with lighting options for their Manhattan home-furnishings shop, Niche, they created a handblown pendant in 2003. "Stamen" became the store’s most coveted item, and in 2005 they debuted a line of 10 lights, in shapes from flattened spheres to bell jars. Influential restaurant designers are taken with their ingenious touches: Tony Chi, for one, chose "Aurora" to light chef Michael Mina’s new Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point, California. Recently the couple teamed with a Singaporean father-daughter duo to make gorgeous porcelain vases with star-shaped openings (lighting from $295, vases from $65; nichemodern.com). —Dani Fisher
Dave Phinney, 33, owner of Napa Valley’s hugely successful Orin Swift label, began making his best-known wine, The Prisoner, by accident. In 2000 he added a few varietals to a batch of Zinfandel gone awry; the red berry-inflected blend has been selling out vintages ever since. But Phinney’s newest project is entirely purposeful—he’s donating all of the proceeds from his supple Veladora Sauvignon Blanc to the consortium called Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors), which provides medical care to Napa’s farm workers and their families. This year’s sales should bring in close to $50,000 (orinswift.com). —Megan Krigbaum
Ben Leventhal and Lockhart Steele
Intrepid Web Masters
Year-old Eater (eater.com) has become required reading for anyone who follows New York City’s frenetic restaurant scene, thanks to its obsessed-with-getting-the-scoop founders Ben Leventhal, 28, and Lockhart Steele, 32. Now the enormously popular Web site is expanding to California: la.eater.com (for Los Angeles) and sf.eater.com (for San Francisco) went live this fall. Eater’s inspiration is not food; it is, as Steele describes it, a "bizarre fascination with places on the verge of opening, trends in the food scene and a distinct lack of interest in cooking at home." Leventhal and Steele’s ingenious posts, which receive hundreds of thousands of hits each month, range from "Plywood Reports," which fanatically chronicle the progress of restaurants still under construction to "Deathwatch," which dooms faltering dining spots. Among Eater’s scoops: the front-page news of the closing of New York’s legendary Second Avenue Deli. —M.K.