40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under
Jennifer Rubell: Food Artist
Jennifer Rubell, 40, creates the kind of interactive experiences that rarely happen at art galleries—like encasing desserts in white balloons that guests have to figure out how to pop. This December, at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, she explores the meaning of perfection, inviting visitors to play Goldilocks in a room full of porridge and closets of brown sugar.
Photo © Kevin Tachman 2010.
Siggi Hilmarsson: Icelandic Yogurt-Maker
How often can one man claim to have brought a whole new food to the US? Iceland native Hilmarsson, 34, started making skyr—the thick, tangy yogurt of his homeland—and single-handedly popularized it across America. Siggi's skyr uses skim milk from grass-fed, hormone-free cows raised near his New York production facility and natural sweeteners like agave nectar. Coming this fall: a drinkable yogurt.
Photo © Dorothy Hong.
Sam Kass: White House Food-Policy Adviser
Within three years, the 31-year-old Kass went from being the Obama family's chef to an unprecedented White House role that's a combination of chef, gardener, educator and policy adviser. He's working with First Lady Michelle Obama in her campaign against childhood obesity—he is a fierce advocate for improving school-lunch programs—and inspiring other chefs to help.
Photo © Kevin Dietsch/Corbis.
Zach Brooks: Food Blogger
If chefs now think launching a food truck is a good idea, they may have Brooks to thank. Four years ago, the 34-year-old launched his Midtown Lunch website in Manhattan with the belief that a tasty, $10-or-less lunch is every office worker's inalienable right. Now he has thousands of followers with whom he shares his discoveries of schnitzel trucks and the like, and he has expanded to L.A. and Philadelphia.
Photo © Alexandra Penfold.
Robert Litt: Urban-Farm Pioneer
When he opened the quirky Urban Farm Store last year in Portland, Oregon, the 39-year-old Litt officially became a trailblazer in the urban-homesteading movement. He and his wife, Hannah, supply aspiring chicken owners and postage-stamp-backyard gardeners with baby chicks, organic vegetable starters and bee-keeping equipment; their guide to raising chickens, A Chicken in Every Yard, will be published next year.
Photo courtesy of Robert Litt.
Brett Beach & Tim McCollum: Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers
After doing volunteer stints in Madagascar, Beach, 35, and McCollum, 33, returned in 2008 to found Madécasse, a chocolate company in which every step of the process—not only cultivation but also packaging and distribution—is done locally. The result: a lot more income for workers. Says McCollum, "In some ways, making high-end chocolate in Africa is changing the course of chocolate history."
Photo courtesy of Madécasse Chocolate.
Geoff Bartakovics & Nick Fauchald: E-Entrepreneurs
Bartakovics (chief executive, 33) and Fauchald (editor in chief, 31) founded Tasting Table as a food e-newsletter that scouts trends and discovers up-and-coming artisans, like a new charcuterie maker in Wisconsin. It has already signed on nearly half a million subscribers and expanded into five cities. Up next: Portland, Oregon.
Photo © Melanie Dunea/CPI.
Matt Timms: Contest Impresario
In founding Chili Takedown competitions, Timms, 36, has created a new way for amateur cooks to become part of a food community—through raucous events that are part Pillsbury Bake-Off, part WWE match. Contestants compete in categories like "best lamb" or "best grits"—all for the old-fashioned glory of winning before a crowd of their peers.
Photo © Mollye Chudacoff.
Michael Kirban & Ira Liran: Coconut Water Popularizers
In the span of a few years, childhood friends Kirban (photo), 35, and Liran, 32, took coconut water—a super-nutritious, low-calorie drink—and turned it into Vita Coco, the biggest company in the category, with celebrity investors like Madonna. Mixologists and chefs are using it for recipes, too, expanding its popularity beyond gym-goers and yogis.
Photo © Jordan Hollender, 2009.
Emily Olson & Rob LaFave: Online Food Scouts
When they launched Foodzie, a website connecting thousands of food artisans to customers, Olson, 26, and LaFave, 27, created the world's biggest online food market. The pair hunt down worthy items—fantastic Parmesan flatbreads from Little Ragghi's Crackers, for instance—and manage the sales transactions, so craftspeople can keep doing what they do best.
Photo courtesy of Treasa Ewing.
Brendan Newnam & Rico Gagliano: Public Radio Hosts
"When you go to a dinner party, you're expected to be able to converse about things, like what book you're reading—or what book you're supposed to say you're reading," says Newnam, 36. At the Dinner Party Download, he and co-host Gagliano, 40, cover food trends, too—and their hipster podcasts have already been downloaded more than three million times.
Photo © Angela Kim.
Matthew Cain: Eco-Wine Importer
Each carton of Yellow+Blue wine Cain sells has a carbon footprint half that of the average bottle. Cain, 40, who has worked for renowned wine importer Kermit Lynch, sources high-quality organic wine from around the world, then ships it in bulk in Tetra Pak containers, reducing the amount of packaging and changing the image of boxed wine for the better.
Photo © Peggy Peterson Photography.
Anya Fernald: Slow-Food Activist
Fernald, 35, worked with Alice Waters to organize the first Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco three years ago—a seminal moment. Now the founder of the consulting firm Live Culture Company, she helps small-scale artisans expand their businesses while following principles of sustainability. She also founded the Eat Real Festival in Oakland, California, with the premise that good food should be about fun, not denial.
Photo © Aya Brackett.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Food-Science Whiz
An MIT grad and chef, Lopez-Alt, 31, has earned a fanatical following for his blog, the Food Lab, by demystifying cooking techniques like sous vide (his version involves a plastic cooler) and cheerfully creating a homemade In-N-Out burger. "Understanding what goes on behind a recipe is the best way to become a better cook," he says. "If you get why something works one time, you can do it again." His first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, comes out next fall.
Photo courtesy of Kenji Alt.
Frances Ro: Housewares Hunter
Since taking over her father's Los Angeles–based importing business and department store a few years ago, the 34-year-old Ro has brought incredible new kitchenwares to the US—everything from stellar pressure cookers and pots made by 165-year-old German company Fissler to ingenious soap-conserving sponges from the Japanese company Goodbye Detergent! "I get excited about things that are innovative, design-driven and, most importantly, things that solve a common problem," Ro says.
Photo © Lisa Boyle Photography/Fissler USA.
Charles Bieler: Wine Collaborator
A visionary marketer and compulsive collaborator, Bieler, 35, takes what could be pure gimmick—selling good Cabernet in a screw-top jug, for example—and turns it into a bona fide opportunity for worthy wines. In the last few years, he has co-released a mezcal with Richard Betts, wine director at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, and teamed up with Long Island winemaker Bruce Schneider to put Riesling from New York's Finger Lakes in kegs—helping to launch the wine-on-tap trend at restaurants.
Photo courtesy of John Benson.
Chris Parachini & Brandon Hoy: Locavore Leaders
Parachini, 38, and Hoy, 33, founded Roberta's not only as a Brooklyn restaurant but also as an incubator for other locavore projects. These include the biggest rooftop farm in New York City—a one-acre operation that supplies both home cooks and other restaurants—plus beehives, greenhouses, a radio station and an artisanal bakery.
Photo © Michael Harlan Turkell.
Tata Harper: Beauty Maven
An up-and-coming skincare entrepreneur, the Colombian-born Harper, 35, grows some of her organic ingredients—calendula, lavender, narcissus flower—on her Vermont farm. Horrified by the chemicals in most creams, she spent five years researching all-natural alternatives. "Women should not have to be guinea pigs to be beautiful," she says.
Photo © Bona Park.
Annemarie Ahearn: Farm-to-Table Teacher
The 29-year-old Ahearn created her cooking school, Salt Water Farm, on the Maine coast as a playland for DIY cooks. Guests can learn how to butcher pigs, infuse vodka and pickle vegetables alongside young chefs drawn there for the same reason as everyone else—free rein on the farm and in the kitchen.
Photo © Joshua Nagle.
Minh Tsai: Soy Artisan
Compared to processed tofu, the artisanal kind has an entirely different flavor—and Tsai, 39, is on a mission to prove it. He began selling his fresh-that-day tofu at the Palo Alto, California, farmers' market in 2004; today his company, Hodo Soy, sells soy-based products to dozens of stores on the West Coast, as well as world-class restaurants like Coi in San Francisco.
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Schreiber.
Amanda Hesser: Cookbook Author
Hesser, 39, didn't just update the 1961 edition of The Essential New York Times Cookbook; she excavated more than a century's worth of recipes from the newspaper's archives for an account of the evolution of American cooking. (The green-pea fritter recipe from 1876, for example, still sounds great.) She's also at work on another project: Food52, a website she created with Merrill Stubbs where amateur cooks submit recipes to be tested by experts and voted on, with each week's winning dish earning a spot in a cookbook due out next year.
Photo © Sarah Shatz/W.W. Norton & Co.
Matt Jennings: Chef & Cheesemaker
Lots of chefs make their own ricotta or chèvre, but few have gone as far or as deep as Jennings, 34. Not only does he run an excellent cheese shop (Farmstead) and a bistro (La Laiterie) in Providence, Rhode Island, he also regularly collaborates with small farms on experimental cheeses. He worked with Dancing Cow Farm on its famed washed-rind Sarabande and innovates with other cheeses on his own, like dunking a wheel from a Wisconsin creamery in Belgian ale and wrapping it in hay.
Photo © Kate Kelley.
Alison Pincus: Online Housewares Seller
Launched by Pincus, 36, and co-founder Susan Feldman just last year, the website One Kings Lane has registered nearly a million members, who come for 72-hour "tag sales" on furniture, home accessories and kitchen-and-bath items by designers and labels both established (Missoni) and up-and-coming (Kimberly Ayres). The site recently began a smartly curated list of interior designers' must-haves, as well as artisanal food products like grass-fed beef.
Photo © Classic Kids Photography/courtesy of Alison Pincus.
Tracey Brandt: Urban Winemaker
By experimenting with novel techniques—like making wine using grapes growing wild on abandoned vineyard land—Brandt, 40, and her husband, Jared, are helping to change the way wine is made. They're also changing where it's made: They produce their distinctive Rhône-style bottlings in a warehouse in downtown Berkeley, California, in the heart of fast-growing urban-winemaking country.
Photo courtesy of Tracey Brandt.
Rob Cooper: Spirits Inventor
A third-generation distiller, the 33-year-old Cooper is one of the most influential spirits makers in the country. His deliciously subtle St-Germain elderflower liqueur—made with petals picked by hand each spring in the French Alps—permanently altered the cocktail menus at bars everywhere. He aims to repeat the feat with Crème Yvette, a violet liqueur based on a long-lost Cooper family recipe.
Photo courtesy of Cooper Spirits/Eisenhut and Mayer Wien.
Christian Ettinger: Organic Brewmaster
Portland, Oregon, has long been known for both craft beer and eco-consciousness. Now Ettinger, 37, is combining them: The former brewmaster of Laurelwood, he launched his own organic craft brewery, Hopworks, in 2008—it's a 10,000-square-foot, biodiesel-powered facility with an organic restaurant and an outdoor bar where cyclists can pull up for a pint of "seven-grain" stout.
Photo © Tim LaBarge.
Peter Karpinski: Hotel Restaurateur
A protégé of Philadelphia empire-builder Stephen Starr, Karpinski, 35, of Sage Restaurant Group, is bringing indie style to big hotel restaurants in cities often overlooked by other boutique hoteliers. Urban Farmer in the Nines hotel in Portland, Oregon, gets greens from local farmers; a market at Toasted Oak in Detroit offers wines that diners can drink at the restaurant for a corkage fee.
Photo © Jeremy Bitterman.
Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru & Jonathan Neman: Eco-Salad-Chain Founders
Three years ago, when these Georgetown University classmates launched the quick-service salad shop Sweetgreen their senior year, they built in a serious eco ethos that's only gotten stronger. Backed by investors with environmental chops, including Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg, the team built five DC–area locations in three years, with a Philadelphia expansion in the works. The restaurants run on wind energy, source local ingredients and send a fuel-efficient truck around the city selling organic frozen yogurt.
Photo © Bona Park.
Zac Triemert: Craft Distiller
Triemert, 36, helped rewrite Nebraska's Prohibition-era liquor laws to open the doors to craft brewers and spirits distillers alike. He makes his vodka, Joss, with organic Nebraska wheat and filtered water from the Ogallala aquifer; his barrel-aged, Cuban-style rum is set to be released this fall, followed by a Scottish-style single malt whiskey next spring.
Photo © Andrew Marinkovich.
Anthony Myint & Danny Bowien: Charitable Chefs
Myint, 32, founded Mission Street Food in San Francisco to raise money for good causes: In its first year, the pop-up restaurant donated more than $20,000 to a local food bank. Now Myint and Bowien, 28, have a permanent restaurant, Mission Chinese Food. "There's a synergy between eating and gratitude that makes sense," Myint says. "People feel thankful when they're eating."
Photo © Alanna Hale.
Jeremy Tooker: Coffee Craftsman
Coffee's rising star, Tooker, 31, launched Four Barrel in San Francisco in 2008 and quickly started supplying prestigious restaurants like New York City's Maialino. A co-founder of Ritual Coffee Roasters, Tooker left to open Four Barrel, known for impeccable roasting of seasonal single-farm-origin beans. He also has a business relationship with Stumptown Coffee Roaster's Duane Sorenson—who is under 40 himself but already anointing the next generation of leaders.
Photo © Eric Wolfinger.