The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink 2015
1. Sarina Prabasi and Barbara Frost, WaterAid
As Americans face a historic drought in California, some cooks are feeling a pang every time they pour a pot of pasta water down the drain. But the crisis in California is nowhere as dire as the life-or-death issues faced by the 680 million people around the world who live without access to safe water. As WaterAid CEOs, Prabasi (far left) and Frost have helped bring water for drinking and cooking, as well as for sanitation facilities, to people in 27 countries. Prabasi was a driving force behind Congress's 2014 Water for the World Act, which directs water funding toward needy communities. As of 2015, they're also aligning their goals with the United Nations and its mission to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. "We believe clean water, sanitation and hygiene have huge ripple effects in underserved communities," says Prabasi.
2. Kathleen Ligocki, Harvest Power
What if a cast-off burrito could help power a car? That's the audacious thinking behind Harvest Power, which uses cutting-edge technology to transform food waste into clean energy. Ligocki estimates that a year's worth of trash from a single restaurant could create enough electricity to power a home for a decade. Keeping food waste out of landfills is also helpful: Organic waste can produce a greenhouse gas that's 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Since taking over as CEO last year, Ligocki has raised $40 million toward the company's efforts to produce renewable energy and nutrient-rich soils. She's also leading an even more ambitious project, converting the gas produced by food waste into natural gas that would eventually power vehicles.
3. Jessica Alba, The Honest Company
Many people who live an organic lifestyle want to spread the good word; some have even turned that passion into a business. But few have been as successful as Alba. Her Honest Company sells high-quality, reasonably priced, eco-friendly goods—widely available at stores including Target and Whole Foods. Where other companies use formaldehyde and ammonia in their kitchen cleaning products, The Honest Company uses coconut-based cleaners and essential oils (although a recent lawsuit, which Alba has called "baseless," alleges some products contain unnatural and synthetic ingredients). Many of its products are biodegradable. The idea clearly resonates, because the company is growing steadily: It's been valued at nearly $1 billion, with plans to expand internationally.
4. Jen Johnson and Serafina Palandech, Hip Chick Farms
Chicken fingers and Chez Panisse aren't usually associated with one another. But Palandech and Johnson (far left), the couple behind Hip Chick Farms, are bringing a sustainable ethic to the world of frozen chicken dinners. Johnson, a former Chez Panisse chef, develops the recipes, which include spicy wings, meatballs and nuggets, using ethically raised birds from a local Sonoma farm. "Frozen foods don't tend to be superhot items in the marketplace, but we're a premium product," says Palandech. The chef-driven, sustainably sourced recipes are especially appealing at a moment when consumers and retailers alike are paying more attention to the quality of their food. In early 2015, Hip Chick was in 300 stores; by the end of the year, it will be in 1,200.
5. Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix, Speed Rack
Men in suspenders with ironic mustaches no longer define the star mixologist; talented women are on the rise. Some of the credit goes to Marrero (on right) and Mix, the duo behind the all-female bartending competition and networking confab Speed Rack. Now in its fourth year, it has raised $300,000 for breast cancer charities and is expanding in scope and influence, driven by what Mix calls its "girl-power notions": It recently hosted a summit—a series of demos organized around the Speed Rack Finals—as well as competitions abroad. As the company grows, Marrero and Mix are thinking globally. "We're constantly contacted by people from different countries, asking us to bring Speed Rack to their communities," says Marrero.
6. Julie Smolyansky, CEO and President, Lifeway Foods
Probiotics are having a moment in the U.S., and Julie Smolyansky's Lifeway Foods, which sells wildly popular yogurt-like kefir, is helping facilitate it. Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company in 2002 when, at 27, she took over the family business following the sudden death of her father. Since then, she has transformed the company into the largest kefir outfit in the country—and helped introduce millions of Americans to the power of healthy bacteria. Her dedication to research and development has been key to the company's expansion: In addition to rolling out new products like high-protein kefir, Smolyansky is pushing the brand into new categories, including probiotic pills and supplements. Thanks to the recent acquisition of a Wisconsin production facility, the company is about to increase its output by fivefold. International expansion is next, with Lifeway's entry into Mexico last June and a European presence in its sights.
7. Leanne Brown, Author, Good and Cheap
Eating well can be expensive, but Leanne Brown, the author of the free book Good and Cheap, is proving that anyone, including the 46 million people in this country who rely on government assistance for grocery money, can afford a good meal. "It's skill, not budget, that's the key," says Brown. As part of her thesis project at New York University, 30-year-old Brown started developing tasty, nutritious recipes that low-income Americans can make using just $4 per person per day—that being the amount the government provides to families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Brown developed nearly 100 recipes, which she then distributed as a free PDF. Within six months, the book had been downloaded more than 500,000 times; it was so successful that she started selling it as a print edition. Now she's partnered with Workman Publishing to print a second edition and, as with the first, she'll donate one to a person in need for every copy she sells. Brown wants to make cooking less stressful for people who don't have a lot of time to think about it. "If you can become a more skilled cook, then you'll be able to conjure delicious food anytime," she says.
8. Danielle Gould, Founder and CEO, Food + Tech Connect
When Danielle Gould founded Food + Tech Connect in 2010, she wanted to create a website that would track the latest news in the food tech sector. Five years later, she's built something much bigger than that—Food + Tech Connect now serves as a full-scale community aimed at supporting innovative, forward-thinking food entrepreneurs. It hosts meet-ups and hackathons, offers business courses and mentorship opportunities, and guides promising food startups in their efforts to raise funding. "Our mission is to lower the barrier to success for innovators who are creating a better future for food," says Gould. "One that's better for people, profit and the planet." Soon, she and her husband will launch Alpha Food Labs in Brooklyn, a co-working space she hopes will foster even more creativity within the community. "It will be an ecosystem that gives food innovators the workspace, community, consumer access and development resources they need to better transform the food industry," she says.
9. Lauren Bush Lauren, Founder, FEED, FEED Supper
Lauren Bush Lauren has a talent for mobilizing young people around a good cause. The FEED founder has made a career selling simple bags, T-shirts, and accessories to the young and fashionable as a way to raise funds to fight global hunger; now, with FEED Supper, she's encouraging her supporters to throw dinner parties for the cause, too. It's kind of like a fund-raising supper club: A host organizes a dinner party with help from the FEED Supper team—which provides decorations and thank-you notes—and guests are encouraged to bring cash instead of the requisite bottle of wine as an offering. Thanks to a strong base of grassroots support and the power of social media, the initiative raised enough money for nearly 2 million meals in just a month. "It was such a thrill to go on Instagram every day and see people spreading the word about the cause and posting photos with #FEEDsupper," says Bush Lauren. "The dinners accomplished what we had hoped they would, which was grassroots engagement around the issue of hunger." This year's FEED Supper project runs from September 16 through October 16, which is World Hunger Day.
10. Carla Hall, Co-host, The Chew
"My mother always told me it's my job to be happy, not rich," says chef Carla Hall. "So that's my mantra. I have to like what I do." She does, and it shows. Hall, co-host of ABC's The Chew, is inspiring home cooks all over the country with her trademark enthusiasm and clever but accessible recipes. "When I'm developing recipes, I think about how many pans they'll require and where the ingredients for them can be purchased," she says. The Nashville native and Top Chef alum is also setting an example with her ingenuity and entrepreneurialism: Thanks in part to funding she earned via a Kickstarter campaign, Hall is opening her first restaurant, Carla Hall's Southern Cooking, in Brooklyn this fall; she's also writing a third cookbook and launching a cookie shop out of New York City's Gansevoort Market. The chef wants to reach as many people as she can, whether as a television personality, an author, a chef or a volunteer. "I have a platform," she says."I want to use it to reach out and help people."
11. Cristina Mariani-May, CEO, Banfi Vintners
If you like Italian wine, odds are you've had a bottle from Cristina Mariani-May's Banfi Vintners. As co-CEO of the burgeoning wine empire, which every year imports and markets millions of cases of wine from all over the world, Mariani-May has pushed the brand toward modern and sustainable practices—both by partnering with biodynamic wine companies and by promoting the use of new winemaking equipment. It was on Mariani-May's watch that Banfi's flagship property, Castello Banfi, became the first winery in the world to receive a triple ISO designation, awarded for exceptional environmental, social, and ethical responsibility; she also built a boutique hotel there as a way to make the winery a travel destination.
12. Kara Cissell-Roell, Managing Director, VMG Partners
"American consumers are demanding real food that tastes delicious," says venture capitalist Kara Cissell-Roell. She realized years ago that consumers are in the market for health-conscious, pre-packaged snacks—and she's invested big in putting wholesome, forward-thinking food products on the market. Since co-founding VMG Partners in 2005, Cissell-Roell has backed some of the healthy food industry's biggest names, including KIND, Mighty Leaf Tea and Justin's nut butters. In addition to identifying and financing healthy-food upstart companies, she helps guide them to success, providing mentorship and assistance with branding, operations and legal strategy. Thanks to savvy investments like Cissell-Roell's, VMG Partners is growing: In July, it closed its third—and biggest yet—round of funding, with $500 million from investors.
13. Pashon Murray, Co-Founder, Detroit Dirt
A lot of people think of composting as small-scale, backyard business—the work of eco-conscious home cooks tossing eggshells into a bucket of soil—but Pashon Murray is leading a major composting revolution in Detroit. Through her organization Detroit Dirt, Murray is diverting tens of thousands of tons of food waste away from landfills and into a closed-loop composting system she built from the ground up. (Last year, Detroit Dirt diverted 51,000 tons away from landfills; Murray projects that number will be 70,000 by the end of this year.) Then she's redistributing that soil to bolster Detroit's sustainable urban farming community. "Twenty percent of our nation's landfills are taken up by food waste. It makes no sense," she says. Murray is currently the only paid employee at Detroit Dirt, but she has a sweeping vision for making the city one of the greenest in the country. She knows she can't do it single-handedly. "I've started helping out at public schools and talking to educators about why we need to teach composting to young people," she says."They're going to be managing the future technology in this field. This really is about the next generation."
14. Kara Goldin, CEO and Founder, Hint Inc.
Kara Goldin, the CEO and founder of flavored water company Hint Inc., is converting soda addicts into flavored-water fans all over the country. In the last year, she has made major inroads into the college market, and now Hint Water and Hint Fizz—all of which are sugar-free, calorie-free, sweetener-free and preservative-free—are being sold at nearly 100 campuses in the U.S. (No small feat, considering Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's longstanding contracts with American universities.) Ultimately, she hopes her brand will become a leader in the healthy eating category. To reach as many people as possible, she's selling her water directly to consumers through the Hint website. By the end of this year, she expects that channel will approach close to 40 percent of its sales volume.
15. Dominique Crenn, Chef, Atelier Crenn
"I don't want people to look at my menu and see just the ingredients," says chef Dominique Crenn. "I want to take them on a journey." At Atelier Crenn, her flagship San Francisco restaurant, the experience is grounded in poetry and nature: Menus are written in verse, and the food is presented alongside elements from nature, like honeycombs that double as serving dishes. Crenn's newest restaurant, Petit Crenn, facilitates a different type of connection: The servers are also the cooks. "The chefs connect with the guests, as well as to the food." Not everyone understands her boundary-pushing approach, but Crenn, one of the most ambitious and technically accomplished chefs in the country—and the first woman in the U.S. to receive two Michelin stars—has faith in her instincts. "I've met a lot of people who were resistant to my ideas, because they were afraid to get into unfamiliar conversations," she says. "I didn't listen to them." Crenn's forthcoming cookbook, Atelier Crenn, is out this November with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
16. Bertha González Nieves, Tequila Casa Dragones Cofounder and CEO
Known in some circles as the First Lady of Tequila, Bertha González Nieves—the first woman ever to be certified as a "Maestra Tequilara"—is bringing artisanal, small-batch sipping tequila to Americans. González Nieves, who was a top executive at the largest tequila company in the world, decided to go small in 2008, when she went into business with media mogul and investor Bob Pittman. Over the next two years, González Nieves explored agaves from different regions and learned about various methods of extraction and cooking; in 2009, she launched a first run of 1,000 nine-liter cases of the limited-edition sipping tequila Casa Dragones Joven. Last year, Casa Dragones rolled out its first Blanco tequila, giving the brand a foothold in the cocktail game. Between both lauded lines, the company is approaching 10,000 nine-liter cases for 2016.
17. Allison Hooper, Co-Founder, Vermont Creamery
"Until recently, no self-respecting dairy farmer in Vermont would ever milk a goat," says Allison Hooper, the co-founder of Vermont Creamery, which sells award-winning artisanal goat cheeses. Hooper is on a mission to change that. After struggling for years to find enough local goat milk for her products—most farmers in the area sell cow milk—Hooper helped establish Ayers Brook, the state's first model goat dairy, which aims to cultivate the industry and help goat farmers improve their businesses. "I wanted to understand what it would take to create a viable, thriving goat farm," she says. That way, other farmers can mirror the model—and people like her can buy milk from them. "The plan is to replace the milk we purchase outside Vermont and to support the growth of the cheese business," she said. "I imagine we could have 20 farms milking 500 goats in the next ten years. That's quite a lot of farmland. It's a pretty audacious goal."
18. Jessamyn Rodriguez, Founder, Hot Bread Kitchen
Most of the world's bakeries provide a pretty straightforward service: They sell bread. Jessamyn Rodriguez's Hot Bread Kitchen, on the other hand, also provides paid, on-the-job food service training to immigrants and low-income women, and serves as an incubator for primarily women- and minority-run small food businesses. When she started the organization in 2007, Rodriguez's goal for Hot Bread Kitchen was to create opportunities that would make it easier for women with high barriers into the workforce to find secure, upwardly mobile jobs. Since then, its job training program has trained 82 women from 20 different countries—and 33 of them have gone on to get jobs at top bakeries and specialty retailers. "My greatest pride is seeing women come back through our alumni network and hearing them talk about what it feels like to be in a hiring position," she says. This October, Rodriguez will publish a Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook, featuring her trainees' stories in addition to their recipes. "The book is truly the manifestation of the dream. It's the document that tells our story."
19. Caroline Frey, Winemaker
The winemaking community can be a male-dominated world, but that hasn't prevented Caroline Frey from making a name for herself at some of the most illustrious estates in France. Frey, who is the winemaker at Jaboulet in the Rhône, Château La Lagune in Bordeaux, and Château Corton in Burgundy, has also worked to institute organic and biodynamic practices at her vineyards, which she believes will safeguard workers from harmful chemicals, increase biodiversity in the vineyards and, crucially, create higher quality wines. "The terroir has to be lively to give a good expression to the grapes and to the wines," she says. "And of course, it's important to take good care of the people in the vineyards." By next year, wines at two of her three wineries will be certified as organic.
20. Nikiko Masumoto, Artist, Activist, and Farmer, Masumoto Family Farm
At least one good thing has come out of the California drought, according to farmer-artist-activist Nikiko Masumoto: "It's forcing the state to have big conversations about the future of water and climate change." Masumoto, who works with her family at the Masumoto Family Farm, is an important voice in those conversations. When she's not working on the farm, the 29-year-old speaks at conferences and forums around the world, raising awareness about economic issues facing small, family farms, and encouraging broader discussions about climate change and labor policies in the agricultural world. She has also worked to educate grocers and consumers about the merits of small fruits, which require less water to grow than their larger counterparts. The performance artist has also managed to carve out time for her artistic pursuits. "I couldn't survive as a farmer without making space and time for my creative projects," she says."Most of my ideas come to me when I'm on the tractor."