Editor's Letter: The Original Innovators

Food & Wine Editor in Chief Hunter Lewis introduces the February Innovators Issue.

Photo: Ramona Rosales

It's easy to think that people at the apex of their careers have it made, but the journey to the top—and every step after—requires constant innovation and grit. I was reminded of this last summer at the 37th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the most fun and important weekend of every year for F&W.

While I love watching Jacques Pépin cook and Martha Stewart dispense entertaining wisdom to our guests, for me, some of the best moments happen off-stage, in impromptu conversations with all of the pros strolling around the tiny mountain town, which, for that weekend, feels like summer camp for some of the biggest names in food and drink. Last summer, we surveyed some of those chefs and food personalities, asking them to share a personal story about a failure or hardship and what they learned from it. Their answers, published online as "My Epic Fail," helped to remind us that the setbacks in life, and how we respond to them, ultimately lead to growth.

What else does culinary innovation look like in 2020? Sometimes it happens through the cultivation of new relationships, like those between Ethan Frisch and his growers, who are bringing incredible new spices to the United States. Sometimes it's a brilliant ingredient combination, like in the nori-flavored stir-fry. We know it when we taste it.

For centuries, Black cooks have been responsible for some of the country's most innovative cooking, and a rising generation of chefs­—like Ashleigh Shanti at Benne on Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina, and JJ Johnson of the restaurant FieldTrip in New York City—are drawing on the 400-plus years of culinary creativity of those who preceded them. In the process, they are creating new and original dining experiences and are telling important stories that haven't been heard nearly enough. In "The Original Innovators," we celebrate some of the Black influences and contributions that have shaped cuisine in America.

Innovation also comes from a lifelong dedication to the creative process. In "Launchpads," Nashville writer and pastry chef Lisa Donovan traces the arc of her career, sharing her signature brilliant-yet-simple recipes. Each one is an aha! moment grounded in years of discipline and practice—like the Dried Apple Hand Pies that grace the cover this month.

Think of this issue as a celebration of curiosity and the delicious things that result when we all pursue a spirit of innovation. Enjoy.

From the Home Office

Hot Sauce Report

My fridge already holds the United Nations of hot sauces, so why add one more? Red Clay Original Hot Sauce demands it: Aged in bourbon barrels, it's Tabasco for the 21st century. Blasphemy? Maybe. I use it in stews, braises, and soups to add lip-smacking, umami zing, and I like it so much that I gave bottles to the F&W staff as Christmas gifts. ($9, redclayhotsauce.com)

Required Reading

Lisa Donovan, whose recipe is on the cover, earned a James Beard Award in 2018 for her F&W essay "Dear Women: Own Your Stories," and her voice is one of the most vital in food today. You're going to want to devour her upcoming memoir, Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, out this August. ($28, preorder at amazon.com)

Candy Crush

I'm a Red Boat fish sauce guy and use it several times a week, including, occasionally, to make fish sauce caramel, a traditional savory Vietnamese sauce. Now, my 6-year-old and I are devoted to a sweet riff on the latter: Red Boat caramels. ($9, redboatfishsauce.com)

Save the Date

Join us at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 19–21, 2020. Tickets are on sale now at foodandwine .com/classic.

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