The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink
1. Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic
According to the United Nations, the world produces more than enough food for everyone on the planet. Yet billions of pounds end up in landfills every year. Leib is taking on the hunger epidemic by focusing on legislation to address labeling and to make donating easier. "For most foods the date on the label is about freshness, not safety," she says. "There are no guidelines at the federal level and inconsistent ones on the state level that are not based on actual science. We want to make labeling laws clearer, so when people pick up a yogurt, they know when it's OK to eat it and when to throw it out." This common-sense approach has the potential to transform our system, with the ultimate goal of getting more food to those in need.
2. Betsy Babcock, Handsome Brook Farm
This former CEO of a venture-capital firm has become a leader in the sustainability movement--one egg at a time. Approaching semiretirement, she and her husband moved to a farm in upstate New York and bought seven chickens, opening a B&B with breakfasts courtesy of their tiny flock. Seeing untapped potential in those high-quality eggs, she decided to expand in a major way. Today, the Handsome Brook Farm network has 351,000 pasture-raised chickens, producing 58 million eggs a year. Babcock took the unusual step of buying her own mill to ensure her hens have organic, non-GMO feed that can be easily customized for different flocks. And, to spread her ideals, she's partnered with 66 small farms, most certified organic, and expects that number to grow to more than 200 next year. "All follow strict 'pasture-raised' standards, like providing plenty of space for chickens to forage," Babcock says. "Because it requires a lot of land, the scalability of pasture-raised animals is tough, but it's possible. We haven't had to sacrifice the integrity of what we're doing."
3. Monica Garnes, Kroger supermarkets
Locavores across America have a powerful ally in Garnes, who is in charge of produce for Kroger, overseeing more than 2,700 outlets in 35 states that sell over 2 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables each year. By focusing on building relationships all over the country, she has increased the number of local farmers Kroger buys from by 27 percent over the past five years. "Now we can tell our customers exactly who raises their vegetables, which is pretty darn exciting," she says. She's paying special attention to organics, one of the fastest-growing parts of her business. "It's amazing to find new farmers who thought they'd never be able to do business with Kroger," she says. "The partnership can be life-changing for them."
4. Kavita Shukla, FreshPaper
A billion people around the world still live without refrigeration, making food spoilage a global problem. But even those of us with big fridges can benefit from Shukla's invention: naturally antibacterial sheets infused with herbs to keep produce fresh up to four times longer. Shukla had her eureka moment when, on a visit to India, her grandmother staved off an upset stomach with a homemade herbal drink that included fenugreek. Years of R&D on similar mixtures ultimately led to a patent, and FreshPaper is now sold everywhere from Walmart to Whole Foods. Next up: specialized sheets for cheese, bread and flour.
5. Sarah Adler & Mackenzie Barth, Spoon University
With 170 chapters at colleges worldwide, Spoon U is proof that food is a topic of vital interest for students. While studying at Northwestern three years ago, Adler and Barth founded the first chapter to train a new generation of cooks and media upstarts. Students learn how to run all aspects of a food-focused print magazine and website, from event planning and ad sales to writing and photography. "People wanted to be entrepreneurial while they were in college, and food was becoming a much more important part of the conversation," Barth says. "We wanted to help start the dialogue and democratize it while making learning fun." With 4 million visitors to the site each month, Spoon U seems to be achieving its goal.
6. Claire Benjamin DiMattina, Food Policy Action
As Executive Director of D.C.-based Food Policy Action, DiMattina calls attention to the importance of policies that impact childhood nutrition, provide access to healthy food and support farmers. “This isn’t hippie back to the land stuff, people want to know where their food comes from and that it’s safe,” she says. She also educates politicians and makes them accountable with public scorecards that quantify how they’re voting on these critical issues. A 2014 race in Florida proves it’s working: “The incumbent had a lousy voting record on these issues, including offering an amendment to cut SNAP by $46 million, disproportionately impacting children, elderly and unemployed veterans. With our outreach we tested the theory that people would vote against a politician not upholding their values. And they did,” says DiMattina. Working with chef Tom Colicchio, a co-founder of the organization, DiMattina has also done an incredible job of leveraging chefs to help advocate for better food labeling and programs like summer meals for children.
7. Susie Weintraub, Compass Group USA
Compass serves 8.5 million meals every day in 4,000 locations across the country, including corporate cafeterias, schools and senior centers. By focusing on wellness, sustainability and accessibility Weintraub makes it easier for the people that Compass serves to make better food choices. She created a partnership with Hampton Creek, makers of earth-friendly vegan mayo, salad dressings and cookies. “The key to getting people to eat healthier is to make it more convenient, more accessible, just as economical and maintain the quality and flavor so there’s no reason not to choose that option. Hampton Creek is a great example of that,” says Weintraub. She’s also tackling food waste partnering with Food Recovery Network and Feeding America to donate food and, through Imperfectly Delicious, rescuing perfectly good food that might otherwise end up in landfills.
8. Kristy Lewis, Quinn Snacks
Just because something is a snack food doesn’t mean it can’t be both healthy and socially responsible. Kristy Lewis, founder of Quinn Foods, took that realization and applied it to one of America’s favorite snacks: microwave popcorn. Her “pure pop bag” uses recycled, compostable paper that’s free of the chemical-infused linings common to other, similar products; and her “farm-to-bag” popcorn itself uses organic ingredients and is GMO-free (plus the batch number on each bag, when entered on the company’s web site, shows exactly where every ingredient came from). Her rapidly growing empire now includes pre-popped corn and stovetop kernels, and she also recently launched the first GMO-free, gluten-free pretzel, made from whole-grain sorghum flour. “Food should be simple, honest and transparent,” Lewis says, and its a message consumers have responded to: As of June, Lewis’s snacks were available in Target’s 1,700+ stores, as well as Whole Foods, H.E.B., and a plethora of other markets around the country.
9. Emily Miller & Kimberly Jung, Rumi Spice
Vermillion threads of fragrant saffron have long been one of the most sought-after, priciest spices in the world. So, after these two former Army Corps of Engineers officers (and West Point and Harvard Business School grads) ended their military tours, they came up with the idea of harnessing Afghanistan’s underutilized abundance of this rare spice. “We wanted to help get them into the international economy,” Jung says. “This isn’t a charity; we’re literally giving these farmers a livelihood when we buy saffron from them.” Initially sold to star chefs like Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert, Rumi Spice’s saffron is now also available to ambitious home cooks through the company’s online shop. The resulting demand has led Miller and Jung to set up three more processing plants this year, and increase their harvesting team from 75 local women to four hundred. In 2015, Rumi accounted for 3.6 percent of the total foreign investment in Afghanistan’s agriculture, but Jung and Miller don’t plan to stop there: Their ultimate goal is to work towards replacing the ubiquitous opium poppies in Afghan farmers’ fields (proceeds from which help fund the Taliban) with acres of saffron-producing crocus flowers.
10. Christina Minardi, Whole Foods
As President of the Northeast region for Whole Foods, Minardi oversees 50 stores, including nine in New York City that are consistently top ten performers for the company. A single New York City store serves 80,000 customers each week and, thanks to an automated checkout line system that Minardi pioneered, they do it more than 30% faster than they used to. She’s particularly passionate about prepared foods and in-store restaurants, likely the result of growing up in a food family–her grandparents opened a bakery in 1927 that her family ran for 83 years. As a result she’s involved in all aspects from securing top chefs, like the team behind Frankie’s Spuntino in Brooklyn who will have a fast casual spot in the new Bryant Park location opening soon, to menu development and tastings and overall design. A store in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood has become the model for locations across the country with its glass front butcher room, an extension of the brand’s commitment to transparency, to its in-store knife sharpening and shelves full of locally made products. Minardi excels at weaving the local fabric of each neighborhood into stores whether that’s putting a coffee roastery and rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn or making homemade naan and other traditional Indian foods in a New Jersey community with a large Indian population.
11. Sylvie Cazes, La Cité du Vin
What if there were a single, spectacular cultural center that chronicled our global wine heritage and made every aspect of wine—its history, its production, its flavors and aromas, its personalities, its place in traditional and also pop culture—accessible to a worldwide audience? That was the question that Bordeaux city mayor and former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé asked Sylvie Cazes in 2008. This June, Cazes brought the answer to that question into reality, when the doors to Bordeaux’s La Cité du Vin opened to the public. Over several years, as president of the foundation that runs the Cité, Cazes raised over $90 million to fund the project, pulling from governmental institutions from the regional level up to the European Union as well as from corporate and private donors—and all while attending to her other wine-related responsibilities as well. (She’s chairwoman of the advisory board for the Cazes family firm, which owns or runs a variety of top Bordeaux chateaux, and personally owns Château Chauvin in St-Emilion, Le Chapon Fin restaurant in Bordeaux, and the Bordeaux Saveurs tour agency.) But the Cité has been her life over the past few years, and it was extraordinarily gratifying to have the Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazière-designed building welcome over 40,000 visitors from over 70 nationalities in its first month. “Wine is part of our patrimony, and the goal is for people to learn about it in a completely interactive and fun way,” says Cazes. “After eight years of work, opening the Cité was one of the biggest days of my life.”
12. Barbara Lynch, chef
Star chef and self-proclaimed troublemaker Barbara Lynch grew up in a housing project in South Boston. She was a runner for local bookies and quit high school a few credits short of graduation. But it was her home economics class at Madison Park High School in Roxbury where she discovered her talent for cooking. As her empire has grown–including No. 9 Park, The Butcher Shop and Menton, among others–so have the requests for donations from various organizations. So she created her own foundation to better understand exactly where her efforts and money go and to help ensure the work is effective. Working with City Year she’s helped teach Boston students about nutrition, how to cook and how to think about food. She has also supported Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to create programming that teaches entrepreneurial skills and innovative thinking in underserved schools. Going forward she’d like to focus even more resources on helping women get started in the hospitality industry.
13. Marianne Barnes, Castle & Key
“I was well-equipped to build a highly efficient fuel ethanol, but it wouldn’t have tasted very good,” Marianne Barnes says with a chuckle. “I had to learn the art and flavor of bourbon.” This former chemical engineer studied as a master taster at Brown-Forman (the vast spirits company that makes Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s and Old Forester, among other brands) before making her mark, with the debut of Castle & Key distillery, as Kentucky’s first female master distiller since Prohibition. Production at the refurbished Old Taylor distillery in Woodford County begins this fall, with Barnes continuing traditions set by Old Taylor’s founder Colonel E.H. Taylor, while also bringing her scientific background into play—for instance, by testing old sediment found in the distillery’s pipes for clues into its early Bourbon recipes, and by working with a local farmer to resurrect the strain of wheat used for early Old Taylor bottlings. Barnes also plans to release a vodka and a gin, the latter made with botanicals grown on-site, and open up the distillery to the public for tours later this year.
14. Terry Wheatley, Vintage Wine Estates
As EVP of Global Sales and Marketing for Vintage Wine Estates, which includes Clos Pegase, Swanson and Cosentino, among others, Wheatley is helping to build a formidable wine company with women at the helm—In leading roles in sales, marketing, finance and IT. She believes in the power of collaboration and mentorship, something she affectionately calls the sisterhood. “I’ve always thought it’s important to have outside influences. When I was starting out my sisterhood was 90% men, because that’s who was leading companies,” Wheatley says. “And now one of the things that I’m proudest of in my career is the women I’ve mentored and opened a door for.” She has extended a similar approach to the wines she oversees, relying on social media for direct feedback on what customers want. Case in point: she launched Middle Sister without any advertising or merchandising and, through social buzz quickly grew production to 300,000 cases per year. And now, with Sisterhood Direct, Wheatley has created an innovative platform with the goal of empowering women to learn more about wine. “We wanted to launch a brand in a different way, through a network of women, and to educate and entertain them.”
15. Niki Nakayama, chef
Japan’s tradition of kaiseki cuisine is many things: exacting, beautiful, intensely seasonal, ritualistically structured—and rarely if ever welcoming to women chefs. That hasn’t stopped Los Angeles-based Niki Nakayama, who initially gained acclaim as a sushi chef (a world resistant to women in itself), and whose third restaurant is the wildly praised, kaiseki-focused n/naka (well documented on season 1 of Chef’s Table on Netflix). Twenty years of training—several at Japan’s renowned Shirakawa-ya Ryokan—and planning went into n/naka, somehing that clearly shows in the exquisite thirteen-course meals Nakayama serves there. Driven by what she grows in her own garden (cultivated together with the urban-farming group Farmscape) and what she sources from local foragers, Nakayama’s ever-changing menus take kaiseki’s rigorous traditions seriously, but also bring her own interpretation of its sensibilities to the table as well. That might mean something as simple as using locally grown black mustard flowers as a stand-in for wasabi, or as complex as an exotic, aromatic dish of delicate spaghettini with black abalone, pickled cod roe, and summer truffles; but no matter what, on every plate Nakayama's work is extraordinary.
16. Ashby Marshall, Spirit Works Distillery
California’s Sonoma County may be synonymous with wine, but this female-powered distillery is making a strong case for the region’s whiskey—and it is truly regional. Last December, co-founder Ashby Marshall released her terrific Straight Wheat Whiskey, made with organic red winter wheat from the Sacramento Valley. Distilling from local grain is both time-consuming and labor-intensive (most start-up whiskey brands purchase their base spirits in bulk from industrial producers), but this “grain-to-glass” method suits Marshall’s focus on non-GMO, organic, sustainable and local ingredients and suppliers. “The hands-on approach doesn't necessarily make more economic sense, but it’s important to us,” she says. “We’re here for every step—testing the pH levels during fermentation, testing the brix [sugar content] of the mash, making the cuts during distillation—and we wouldn't have it any other way.” This setup also allows for experimentation including using ancient grains such as emmer and amaranth to make spirits and finishing rye whiskey in sloe gin barrels.
17. Mercedes & Maria José López de Heredia
Sometimes the most disruptive strategy is not to change. Technological advances in winemaking and a worldwide growth in interest has resulted in a wine market saturated with marketing-committee-designed, adjunct-infused bottles. But for influential (and stalwart) opposition to this trend, look to sisters Mercedes and Maria José López de Heredia of Bodegas López de Heredia in Spain’s Rioja region. Not only do they not use pesticides, commercial yeasts, or other chemical aids, their family never has; in fact, almost nothing has changed at the family’s bodega in the entire 140 years since it was founded. Mercedes and Maria José (together with their brother Julio César) have seen trends come and go, and they remain among the world’s most steadfast champions of a labor-intensive, organic approach that includes aging wines for up to two decades—in their labyrinthine, stone cellars—before releasing them. For decades, Lopez de Heredia was considered behind the times; a relic. That’s all changed. Thanks to Mercedes’ intense devotion to quality (as winemaker) and Maria José’s formidable skill at communicating their philosophy (she is general manager of the family company), a new generation of sommeliers and wine lovers around the world have made their wines more popular than ever before, to the point where new releases sell out practically overnight. “Being organic is a belief,” says Maria José. “It shouldn’t be an option but a must.”
18. Gabriela Cámara, chef
When Mexico City chef Gabriela Camara opened her first U.S. restaurant, Cala in San Francisco, she took an unprecedented and controversial approach: she, together with general manager Emma Rosenbush, filled 70 percent of their staff openings with former convicts, most of whom had no restaurant experience whatsoever. But for Camara the focus wasn’t charity—it is and has always been on sustaining a high quality of food and service. Camara pays her workers above the city's minimum wage, which is already higher than much of the nation and provides benefits, and they repay her with passion for the restaurant and a willingness to push themselves to learn service at a high level. The result has been overwhelmingly positive reviews, and a low turnover rate for the restaurant staff—itself a very hard thing to achieve given the costs of living in the Bay Area. “It’s about time that people think about how they’re treating their employees, not just their guests,” Camara says.
19. Andrea Stanley, Valley Malt
As one of the first artisan maltsters in the U.S., Stanley turns grains like wheat, barley and rye into malt for craft brewers and distillers. Her malt house in western Massachusetts fills a crucial, local-ingredient gap (most malt comes from industrial producers in the Midwest or Europe) while simultaneously providing small farmers with demand for grains. “These were new crops for a lot of farms around here,” Stanley says, “so we had to bring in seeds and nurture relationships with farmers. And we also wound up creating a market for vegetable farms here that use rye as a soil-nourishing cover crop.” When Stanley started Valley Malt in 2010 there were two other craft malt houses in the U.S., one in Colorado and one in Nevada; six years later there are 40, spread across the country. Valley Malt may be tiny compared to large-scale commercial producers (they produced about 175 tons last year, up from 30 tons in 2010) but “we ship our malt the day it’s finished, whereas at the large houses shipments might be ninety days old,” Stanley says, noting that the result is aromas and flavors that are far fresher and more intense. Stanley is also the president of the Craft Maltsters Guild, an organization she helped found to work on variety trials and development to figure out which grains will grow best in different regions.
20. Cecilia Rios Murrieta, La Niña del Mezcal
Too many people think of mezcal as tequila’s rougher, less classy cousin, but Cecilia Rios Murrieta intends to change that. Her mission in starting La Nina del Mezcal was to educate the public about mezcal, and her brand’s artisan spirits are the perfect vessel for that lesson. “Every agave has a distinct personality, and every mezcal has a sense of place,” she explains, making the point that great mezcal is as distinctive and expressive as great tequila or even single-malt Scotch. Today Rios Murrieta divides her time between building her brand in the U.S. and working to source artisanal offerings from Oaxaca’s palenqueros, the small distillers hidden throughout the province’s villages. “I fell in love with being a Mexican woman in Oaxaca,” she says regarding the region, which is the source of her passion for this spirit. Now, with five different bottlings in her portfolio, more on the way, and a distribution network that’s spreading throughout the country, her mission is on its way to being accomplished.