31 Makers We Love
True craftsmanship is something you recognize as soon as you experience it. It’s in the graceful edge and silky glaze of your prized ceramic bowl. It’s in the balance and heft of your favorite knife. And it’s the thread that connects the work of the 31 makers we celebrate here. Some, like Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, have elevated the design and hospitality of the neighborhood restaurant to an art form. Others, like Baltimore’s Spike Gjerde, have created economies for locally grown food. Many, like New Orleans baker and miller Graison Gill, are redefining what we eat at the most fundamental level. What do they all share? A mastery of their craft. An engagement with their communities. And a drive to create an even more delicious future.
The Miller: Graison Gill—Bellegarde Bakery (New Orleans, Louisiana)
At his New Orleans bakery, Graison Gill is upending a flour industry 200 years in the making.
The Seed Saver: John Coykendall—Blackberry Farm (Walland, Tennesee)
John Coykendall has worked as the Master Gardener at Blackberry Farm, a luxurious hotel nestled in the mountains of Tennessee, for the past 20 years. He tracks down heirloom seeds and documents their “living history” from their places of origin to how they were used in cooking—and sometimes he saves them from oblivion. Take the Unknown Pea of Washington Parish, Louisiana. As mega-farms edged out small growers, the once-ubiquitous legume all but winked out of existence. “The old-timers down here told me this pea was extinct,” Coykendall says. He spent 30 years looking for that pea. Six years ago, he found it, in the garden of Dan Seal, then 87, who gave Coykendall a handful. “I was like a child waiting for Christmas,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get those in the ground.” He planted some at Blackberry Farm (where the chefs use it in pea flour macaroons), and from that first harvest he’s generated enough new seeds to give the pea to a number of other growers who are planting, replenishing, and dispersing it. “It’s in the bank, so to speak,” he says.—Nina Friend
Book It: Plan a stay at Blackberry Farm at blackberryfarm.com.
Take It: Purchase Coykendall’s seeds ($5 per packet) at blackberryfarmshop.com.
The Good Eggs: Michael & Vandy Passmore—Passmore Ranch (Sloughhouse, California)
When you think of the careers a former Marine from North Texas might possibly opt into, caviar farmer probably doesn’t spring to mind. But that’s what Michael Passmore, together with his wife Vandy, is doing at his 84-acre sustainable aquaculture farm near Sacramento.
The Deli Prophet: Jeremy Umansky—Larder (Cleveland, Ohio)
The pastrami sandwich certainly looks the part. The meat is bright fuchsia with that iconic peppery bark, the rye bread smells malty, and the mustard smacks of vinegar. But like everything at Jeremy Umansky’s Larder: A Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland, there’s more to this sandwich than meets the eye.
Umansky honed his interest in modern and ancient preservation techniques, as well as his mastery of koji—the microbe used to make miso, soy, and sake—while running the pantry at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s Northern Italian restaurant Trentina. But here on his own turf, he’s pushing those ideas to their most ambitious and personal ends, applying them to the Jewish deli flavors he grew up with. “My grandmother was a kosher caterer for 20-plus years, so my comfort, my inspiration has always been her honey cake, her matzo ball soup,” says Umansky. “The great thing is that these methods I like to play with now really sync up with ideas already present in ‘old-world’ food.”
Pastrami typically spends three weeks or so in a salty brine, but Umansky uses koji to speed up the process to three days. That spice rub contains the classic black pepper and coriander, but also reishi mushroom powder to dial up the earthiness. The rye bread is seasoned with toasted yeast and hydrated with sour amazake, which allows it to have a high rye content without sacrificing its airy texture. And finally, that mustard—it gets its tang from a custom vinegar made using scraps from Larder’s nearly zero-waste kitchen. Yeah, it’s a lot to think about. But the good news is you don’t have to—Larder’s lush, smoky pastrami speaks right to your heart. But do pop the hood if you wish; there’s a lot to learn just underneath.—Jordana Rothman
Click It: Go to llarderdb.com to plan your visit.
The Barsmith: Heather J. Haas—Heather J. Haas (Elizabeth, Colorado)
Heather J. Haas used to mix drinks. Now she forges red-hot steel into extraordinary bespoke bar tools.
After 15 years of mixing cocktails, most recently at RiNo Yacht Club in Denver, Haas turned her attention to crafting better bar tools. “Our job is so theatrical, yet we use crappy $12 serrated knives to cut citrus,” she says. After studying at the New England School of Metalwork in 2016, Haas is now working to become one of just five female Master Bladesmiths in the world. At her workshop outside of Denver, she forges gorgeous “bar cutlery,” including muddlers, bar spoons, knives, and ice chippers. She’s become known for her pattern welding, a labor-intensive method in which she hammers together multiple layers of steel into a single piece, treating the metal with heat and pressure and then twisting it to form intricate patterns, resulting in one-of-a-kind barware like a Damascus steel ice chipper, made with more than 200 layers. H.J. Haas pieces have become coveted within the industry: Matt Poli, formerly the beverage director at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, ordered a set of her Damascus steel steak knives for the restaurant. “They were always a conversation starter when we set them on the counter,” he says. But they’re not just conversation pieces—they also feel good to use. That’s by design, Haas explains: “Chefs often say a knife is an extension of their hand. The same goes for bar tools. You want the ergonomics of a muddler or spoon to be just right.”—Jen Murphy
Take It: Damascus steel bar spoons ($125), bar knives ($350), and ice chippers ($265) can be ordered at hjhaas.com.
The Contrarian: Ayele Solomon—Bee D'Vine (Sonoma, California)
What is wine? Who says it has to be made from grapes? Why not, Ayele Solomon might say, from honey?
Solomon, who was born in Ethiopia, is the founder of Bee d’Vine, and from his base in Sonoma County he’s channeling a winemaking tradition that goes back millennia. Whether you call it mead (England), aguamiel (Mexico), t’ej (Ethiopia), or balché (ancient Maya, why not?), honey wine has been around for several thousand years. And it has probably, Solomon would tell you, been misunderstood for nearly as long: “Everywhere you go, there’s a culture of drinking mead, but it’s seen as a farmer’s drink or a historic oddity.”
To clear up a few misconceptions: First, honey wines are wine; the basic ingredients are honey, water, and yeast, and they’re fermented in the same way that grape-based wines are made (they’re not brewed; mead is not a beer). Second, people tend to assume that anything made from honey will be thick and sweet. Tasting the Bee d’Vine Brut, Solomon’s dry cuvée, is a revelation: It smells of floral honey but isn’t sweet at all. Instead it’s delicate and lightly citrusy, with the flavor of honey but none of the sweetness.
Solomon grew up tasting t’ej, Ethiopian honey wine. On a trip home several years ago, it dawned on him that one way to save the country’s rainforests from being clear-cut for crops would be to make the trees more valuable through honey harvesting for wine. But the practical difficulties of exporting Ethiopian honey wine to the U.S. market were beyond daunting: “There was no wine industry there, so essentially you’d have to be a millionaire and set up an entire infrastructure.” So he moved his concept to Sonoma. He’s now on his fourth vintage, making both a dry and lightly sweet style, with a sparkling cuvée on the way.
But he hasn’t forgotten that initial inspiration to play a part in saving Ethiopia’s rainforests. “I hope there’s a way to do it,” he says. “But it’s still a dream. First I have to get people in the U.S. to start drinking honey wine!”—Ray Isle
Solomon makes two honey wine cuvées, both of which are most easily purchased through his website, beedvine.com. A sparkling version is planned for later this year.
Bee D'Vine Brut ($39)
Solomon’s brut (or dry) wine deceives the senses. It smells like citrusy honey (it’s made from California orange blossom honey) but isn’t sweet in the slightest. Chilled down, it’s a delicious and conversation-worthy aperitif.
Bee D'Vine Demi Sec ($39)
Lightly sweet, with somewhat more intensity than the brut version, this crystal-clear honey wine with its lingering flavors would be ideal with fresh fruit desserts—or simply a crisp-crackly square of baklava.
The Free Spirits: Lars Williams & Mark Emil Hermansen—Empirical Spirits (Copenhagen, Danmark)
Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen eagerly anticipate the question that arises whenever a bottle of their Empirical Spirits hits the table. “Is this a gin or a vodka or ...?” At their Copenhagen distillery, the duo—both formerly of Noma restaurant and the Nordic Food Lab—explore the boundless territory in that “or.” They don’t make gins. Or vodkas. Instead, they eschew traditional beverage categories to create expectation-defying, free-form spirits focused wholly on flavor.
And oh, those flavors. Their flagship bottle, Helena, is a distillate of barley koji and Belgian saison; Fallen Pony features quince black tea and kombucha; Souk Blend is made with the North African spice blend ras el hanout and cacao shells. To make them, Empirical built their own machinery, which allows alcohol to distill at a 99 percent vacuum at 5°C, meaning that liquids can boil at low temperatures and thus not lose their distinctive characteristics. Williams and Hermansen are both adventurous and exacting in their recipes, pairing groundbreaking practices with ingredients that are just familiar enough to tease a sense memory while allowing you to experience it in a wholly new form. They’re not precious about it, either. “We may or may not have distilled a pretty popular corn chip snack that I dare not mention for fear of hearing from their legal team,” Williams admits. “It actually tasted great, but it was just too stupid.”
Their liquors are packaged simply, with small labels listing the name, ingredients, and alcohol content (always relatively low). The rest, Williams says, is up to the drinker: “All the other stuff is just a distraction. The spirits need to speak for themselves.”—Kat Kinsman
The Revivalist: António Maçanita—Azores Wine Company (The Azores, Portugal)
It's hard to imagine now, but there was once a time when the Azores—a nine-island Atlantic archipelago some 1,000 miles west of Portugal, now known mostly as a vacation spot—were a vital part of the European wine world. “Up until 1852,” António Maçanita says, “you had nearly 15,000 acres of vines on these islands, producing over 2.5 million gallons of wine every year.” Then it ended.
In 1854, an epidemic of powdery mildew destroyed grape-growers’ crops, and in 1857, the root louse phylloxera arrived and killed all of the vines (as it did throughout Europe). By 1859, Maçanita says, production had dropped to a negligible 8,000 gallons, never to recover—perhaps until now.
Open a bottle of the 2015 Arinto dos Açores from Azores Wine Company. The wine smells of grapefruit peel and volcanic stones, of fresh citrus and sea spray. Maçanita, who makes wine in Portugal’s Alentejo region as well, has been vacationing in the Azores since he was 6. In 2000, he planted his first vineyard amidst the island’s jagged terrain—the Azores are essentially outcroppings of black volcanic basalt—but it was destroyed by a storm. “The ocean pounds on the rocks, that atomizes the salt in the water, and then the winds basically salt your vineyard. And then it’s dead,” he says. “That’s why people here build stone walls around their vineyards.”
He tried again, successfully, and now Maçanita farms more than 300 acres of grapes, by far the largest new vineyard development here in centuries. His success has raised the image of the islands’ wines, and farmers who were once being paid as little as 78 euro cents per kilo of grapes now sell their fruit for upward of 4 euros per kilo.
The islands are not easy to farm, but the recent fascination with cool-climate wines has helped boost interest. “Our vineyards are on the same latitude as New York,” Maçanita says. “We don’t have to hunt for cool weather.” Yet when the sun comes, the wines are remarkable. “Everyone wants to bite into terroir,” he says. “They want to taste it. And you can do that in the Azores. Here, terroir, you can drink it.” —Ray Isle
Wine from Stone and Sea
2017 Azores Wine Company Arinto Dos Açores Non Sur Lies ($55)
Pale gold in hue, this smells of grapefruit, mint, and sea spray. It would be a killer accompaniment for oysters on the half shell.
2017 Azores Wine Company Verdelho o Original ($51)
Vineyards on the tiny volcanic island of Pico produce this lime-scented, saline white. Its fresh, vivid flavors distinctly recall ripe passion fruit.
2016 Azores Wine Company Isabella a Proibída ($36)
Maçanita makes this effusively raspberry-rich red wine from the obscure Isabella variety, a hybrid of European Vitis vinifera and American Vitis labrusca grapes.
The Magician: Ericka Duffy—Mothership Scotland (Edinburgh, Scotland)
“What I do is ephemeral—drinks get consumed, and you’re left only with a memory. It’s the closest to being a magician that I can think of.”—Ericka Duffy
The Power Couple: Rita Sodi & Jody Williams—Via Carota (New York City)
How Rita Sodi and Jody Williams created some of New York’s most distinctive and beloved dining spaces.
The Potters: Alex & Connie Matisse—East Fork (Ashville, North Carolina)
“Our business is the best way we know to affect the change we want to see in the world. We hope to grow East Fork to a place that can support our values.” —Connie Matisse
Think of clay and you probably think about the way humans can shape it. You probably do not think about the way clay can shape humans—but that’s only because you aren’t Alex or Connie Matisse, the married founders of North Carolina’s East Fork pottery company.
Alex comes from a long line of artists (his great-grandfather was the painter Henri Matisse). He has been tinkering with ceramics since the fourth grade; he was raised in Massachusetts but followed the clay down South to North Carolina, were he met Connie.
“There are tons of potters in North Carolina because this state is really clay-rich—white clay on the coast, blue in the mountains, red in the middle,” says Connie of the magnetic effect of the region’s prized resource. Limiting themselves to clays harvested in the Southeast not only has positioned East Fork as a homegrown outfit but also has shaped the company’s aesthetic. The local material is rich in iron and minimally refined, qualities that lend the final bowls, mugs, plates, and tumblers their unique speckled look.
But the clay isn’t the only thing worthy of a deep dive at East Fork. The proprietary glazes give a special matte effect; the shapes are engineered for utility. (Ask Connie about the hundreds of plate-lip iterations they explored to land on a piece that a server could clear without touching the table, and you’ll understand why they’re a favorite at restaurants like Cúrate in Asheville.)
It’s this level of care—obsession, really—that has rocketed East Fork from a craft-fair operation powered by one hand-built kiln to a rapidly expanding business on the leading edge of American ceramics. Not bad for a lump of clay. —Jordana Rothman
Take It: Shop East Fork's pottery at eastfork.com
The Artist: DeVonn Francis—Yardy (New York City)
“I want to think about not just dinner but holistic programming—using food to engage in other people’s stories and identities.” —DeVonn Francis
From start-up capital, labor, and marketing costs to more intangible things like cultivating an audience, the barriers to entry for the restaurant industry are very real and very steep. It’s a reality that has made food an often homogeneous and inequitable world.
But there’s a movement of food entrepreneurs who are seeing those hurdles and clearing them—by running full speed in the opposite direction. “I want to consider the benefits of borderlessness,” says DeVonn Francis, creator of the New York City–based food-event company Yardy. “Not being tied to one brick-and-mortar location means we are able to reach into different cultures and communicate with people on their own terms, in their own spaces. It means we can resist stagnation, resist ‘business as usual.’”
Yardy’s roving pop-ups interrogate notions of migration and identity, blending elements of art with food. Francis, the queer son of Jamaican immigrants, looks to his heritage to inform the menus—you might taste Jamaican run down, a stew rich with coconut milk, or dhalpuri roti, a Caribbean flatbread. Along the way, you might hear from poet Pamela Sneed; drag performer and hot sauce bottler Andre Springer (aka Shaquanda Coco Mulatta); or Arielle Johnson, a flavor scientist and MIT fellow.
It’s a complete picture, a moveable feast not limited to the space between four walls. If this is the future of restaurants, we’re along for the ride.—Jordana Rothman
Click it: Visit yardy.nyc for news on upcoming events and booking information.
The Designers: Tamara Codor & Sterling Voss—Codor Design (Seattle, Washington)
Tamara Codor is a classically trained painter who went to school for set design. Sterling Voss is a woodworker turned furniture maker. Together, they compose Seattle’s most sought-after restaurant design team, helping to shape the personalities of some of the city’s most exciting places to eat. Most recently, they’ve collaborated with 2016 F&W Best New Chef alum Edouardo Jordan, whom they met while working on aspects of 2011 Best New Chef Matt Dillon’s Bar Sajor, where Jordan was chef de cuisine at the time. “I told Edouardo, ‘You’re going to own your own place someday, and I want to build it when you get there,’” Voss says. Jordan must have remembered, because he called up the Codor Design team to build his first restaurant, Salare—a collaboration that continued with Jordan’s JuneBaby in 2018 and with the recently opened Lucinda Grain Bar.
Every Codor Design project has an element of the unexpected—what Codor calls their “clean-with-bursts-of-craziness” aesthetic. Codor looks at each project as a composition, while Voss makes sure that every piece, however beautiful, is also functional. The combined effect yields distinct spaces that surround diners in beauty. As Voss puts it: “The goal is to have every single thing, from the artwork on the walls to the lighting fixtures, be a piece of art.” —Nina Friend
Codor's Greatest Hits
Codor Design worked with F&W Best New Chef Edouardo Jordan on his Seattle establishments.
1. Junebaby Codor used Photoshop to create a towering image of ancient trees dripping with Spanish moss.“Edouardo wanted it to really feel Deep South,” says Codor. The evocative image brings texture to the restaurant and reinforces Jordan’s exploration of the roots of Southern cuisine in the cooking of enslaved peoples.
2. Lucinda Grain Bar “It’s such a small space; he wanted it to be really intimate and feel cozy,” says Codor. The restaurant is named for Jordan’s great-grandmother Lucinda. No photos exist of her, Voss says, “so we asked him to be on the lookout for pieces that evoked who she was and the era she lived in.”
3. Salare “That’s our Salare chandelier,” says Voss. “It was a custom piece for Edouardo. It was made to match the table underneath, which was made by a friend who’s a woodworker. In the back there’s a verre églomisé, or back-painted mirror, that was hand-painted by Tamara.”
The Importer: Sana Javeri Kadri—Diaspora Co. (Oakland, California)
“The women entrepreneurs of Oakland want to lift each other up.” —Sana Javeri Kadri
25-year-old Sana Javeri Kadri wants to change the way you think about turmeric.
The Ringleader: Spike Gjerde—A Rake's Progress (Washington D.C.) & Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore)
“Our motto is ‘there’s got to be a harder way.’” —Spike Gjerde
The Futurist: Bertony Faustin—Abbey Creek Vineyard (North Plains, Oregon)
“I may be the first black winemaker [in Oregon], but now it’s my job to let you know I’m not the last.” —Bertony Faustin