Nicolas Stipcianos/Getty Images For SOBEWFF; OurLocalCommons; Courtesy of Brigaid

We’re highlighting the forward-thinking chefs, entrepreneurs, and creators who are impacting massive change in the food space.

Maria Yagoda
June 29, 2018

It’s impossible to ignore the seismic shift happening in the food world, one that’s being led by a handful of people committed to revolutionizing the way we eat. As the industry continues to contend with existential questions around culture and sustainability, these leaders are doing the work—imagining a future that’s fair, safe, and delicious. Here, we’re showcasing people and places where the biggest changes are happening: from grassroots thought leaders in Atlanta to multinational tech companies to the responsible-sourcing entrepreneurs re-imagining how consumers in this country go about their weekly supermarket runs. These ones to watch are poised to advance the industry in big ways.

These People Will Change the Way You Shop

Josh and Davi Reznick

Founders, Duckchar in St. Louis, MO

As online shopping technology gets more sophisticated, the mail-order meat business boom has been further bolstered by chefs and meat-loving home cooks, many of whom want the stuff professionals use but don’t care to track down butchers—or can't muster the courage to ask questions at the counter. Josh and Davi Reznick launched their mail-order, St. Louis-based duck company, Duckchar, to make purchasing high-quality Moulard duck easier for American consumers, but also to spark a shift in our country’s surprisingly duck-free diets by way of education. Moulard, a prized hybrid of Muscovy and Pekin ducks, is a healthy and delicious alternative to home-cook standards like chicken and beef, so the Reznicks are encouraging more consumers to give it a try, offering their own recipes to demystify the process (including one for “Duck Breast Bacon.”)

“There are a lot of misconceptions about duck here,” Josh told Food & Wine in April, “and our bottom line is to educate people about it, and how easy it is to cook with. People are used to Pekin duck, but the flavor profiles are so different. This breed is really familiar because of the way it looks, tastes, and how you prepare it.” The company, which sells duck in select grocery stores, ships around the country, and is introducing more Americans to duck while simplifying the purchasing process—a model that more online retailers are sure to adopt.

Scott Meyer

Founder, Congaree and Penn in Jacksonville, Florida

Meyer may run the smallest rice farm and mill in the United States, but his reach is massive and growing. The farming visionary, who’s working on some Florida olive oil (ready in a few years), estate-grown shrubs, and Creole tomato jelly—showcases his products around the country and works with some of the best chefs in the country (2016 Food & Wine Best New Chef Edouardo Jordan, whose Seattle restaurant Junebaby just won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, found the farm on social media and “asked Meyer for the rawest rice they could get to him.”)

Meyer, who dreams of opening a sustainable fish farm at some point in the future, recently teamed up with a local distillery to make sake with his rice, too, as chefs around the country continue clamoring for his rice (and many other products). “We grew the business for two years based on one chef or another trying it, it was all word of mouth," Meyer told Food & Wine in 2017. "The quality spoke for itself." Meyer’s rice operation started as an experiment, so we can only imagine what other experiments will lead to—with an A-list fan base, we’re sure it will be big.

Sean Barrett

Founder, Dock to Dish, Montauk, NY

In 2017, the United Nations recognized Dock to Dish as a breakthrough innovation “that can scale to solve the ocean’s grand challenges”—and they’ve only just begun in their quest to proliferate live-tracking, low-impact technologies for wild seafood, partnering with top chefs like Dan Barber, Michael Cimarusti, and many more to apply the “farm-to-table philosophy to the ocean,” as Barber put it to the Times.

Since founding the program in 2013 in Montauk, Barrett has grown Dock to Dish into something industry-shifting: an ethical and sustainable means by which restaurants around the country can get high-quality fish delivered to their doors within 24 hours of being caught. Since spreading among dozens of NYC restaurants (and even Google’s campus in Chelsea), Dock to Dish now commands a global network that continues to expand and innovate economic models for local seafood, bolstering artisanal fishermen in the process.

David Ryder/Getty Images

Gianna Puerini and Dilip Kumar

Amazon Go

Amazon Go supermarket pioneers Gianna Puerini and Dilip Kumar debuted "Just Walk Out" technology to the public in Seattle earlier this year—and there are already plans to roll out the cashier-less shopping experience to other cities around the country (rumor has Los Angeles as next in line). "Other grocers have created technology that lets shoppers scan each item, pay on their phone, and walk out, but we deliberately decided not to do that," Kumar told Fast Company last month. "I knew people would like getting a little time back, but I underestimated how it would feel to actually leave the store. We found so many customers stopping and asking one of our associates, “Are you sure it’s okay if I just walk out?” That’s a cooler, more magical moment than I imagined." Amazon may be the first-to-market trendsetter in this case, but it's not the only tech company committed to a seamless shopping transaction—news outlets report that Microsoft has developed rival "automated store technologies" that are nearly ready to roll out across big box retailers such as Walmart. The future of Sunday supermarket runs all across the country just got that much easier. — Danica Lo

Chefs Who Are Changing the Conversation—and the World

Allegra Anderson

Dan Giusti

Former executive chef at Noma, Founder of Brigaid

Chef Dan Giusti was at the top of his game when he switched gears in a major way. The former executive chef at Noma in Copenhagen and 1789 in Washington, D.C., Giusti enjoyed posts at some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants when he left it all behind in 2016 to found Brigaid, a start-up that recruits professional chefs to lead school kitchens full-time. Notoriously under-staffed and under-trained, school kitchens were ripe for innovation, as Giusti felt that all students deserve wholesome and delicious food, no matter their socioeconomic status.

And his project is growing fast: Since 2016, Brigaid has operated in six New London, Connecticut public schools, serving homemade meals to over 3,300 students every day (and over 800,000 meals in that first year alone); in 2018, the nonprofit partnered with NYC Public Schools to work with six more in the Bronx. Giusti’s mission, we suspect, will continue rippling across the country; he designed the model to be financially self-sustaining for public school food departments, as upping the number of students eating school meals means “school districts receive more federal and state reimbursement dollars that go directly back to their food service programs,” Brigaid says. And the chef is eager to work with more schools, more community leaders, and more chefs as he attempts to grow Brigaid into the national standard.

José Andrés

Chef, Humanitarian, Author

We don’t need to tell you what José Andrés has been up to this past year, but just in case you’ve been chilling in a bunker, we’ll recap: The chef and restaurateur has been tirelessly feeding communities in crisis, most notably Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit, all while opening new restaurants around the world at an inconceivable pace. While Andrés has fought against hunger with World Central Kitchen for years, the Spanish-born chef has stepped up as a leader during crises in Haiti, Houston, and L.A., as well, earning him a nod this February from the James Beard Foundation as Humanitarian of the Year.

“With a fraction of the resources available to the government, huge non-profits or NGOs, José Andrés and World Central Kitchen fed hundreds of thousands of desperate people in Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria," said the late Anthony Bourdain, whose book imprint will publish Andrés’ forthcoming children’s book, We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. And Andrés is only getting started in his fight against hunger; his political activism and outspokenness has started important, albeit difficult, conversations about the restaurant industry as he plans new initiatives to combat hunger. “We’re actively talking about organizing a more cohesive unit,” Andrés told Food & Wine in April. “So that when something small happens, we can help communities activate themselves. And when something very big happens, we’re a big cohesive force.” That’s a future worth organizing for.

David Chang

Chef, Television Personality, Media Guy

Two-thousand eighteen is the year that David Chang pivoted to media, and America will never be the same again. This may sound like a gross exaggeration, but the Momofuku chef has recently taken some high-profile gambles that may have rewritten the very definition of what it means to be a chef.

For one, Chang founded Majordomo Media Group in March, which he plans to include podcasts, TV development, and editorial platforms; “I don't want to tell people what to do or show them the new cool thing. Plenty of places do that. I want to teach them how to find—and understand—new and different things,” Chang said in his announcement. Since, he’s launched a super-popular podcast called “The Dave Chang Show,” and his Netflix hit, Ugly Delicious, proved to be one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the year. Undoubtedly, Chang has paved the way for chefs to participate in media innovation (and lift the veil on restaurant culture) in ways we’ve never seen before.

Food on Your Phone

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sundar Pichai

CEO Google Inc.

It's a tenuous argument, putting the CEO of Google on any ones-to-watch list, but earlier this spring, the tech company began a slow roll-out of Google Lens on handheld Android devices—and it's no exaggeration to say that Lens' combined AR functionality and Google's unparalleled search power has the potential to revolutionize the way we see, understand, eat, share, and cook food. As Lens' abilities evolve from ID-ing products and ingredients—"It's the Shazam of food!" a longtime Pixel user enthused to me last week—to visual calorie-counting to recipe and ingredient divining, the amount of actionable food information in the palm of your hand starts to feel infinite. In the near future, imagine spotting a beautiful restaurant dish photograph in the feed of one of your favorite social media feeds—and instantly knowing how to recreate it at home, thousands of miles away. Or, right now, traveling to a country where you can't speak a word of the local dialect and knowing exactly what's on offer at the fruit market—and how to prepare and eat it—with a simple shutter click on your Android smartphone. — DL

Atlanta: Forward-Thinking Food Industry Visionaries

Jen Hidinger-Kendrick

Co-founder and Spokesperson, Giving Kitchen. Co-founder, Staplehouse

The second Friday of every month, thousands of people in the greater Atlanta area paw at their phones in hopes of snagging a reservation at Staplehouse, the beloved Old Fourth Ward restaurant that’s a subsidiary of The Giving Kitchen. A nonprofit that provides emergency assistance to restaurant workers, GK was founded by Jen Hidinger-Kendrick and her late husband, chef Ryan Hidinger, after he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in 2012.

Happy Birthday Jenny! Your Staplehouse Family loves you!! @jenhidinger ❤️

A post shared by Staplehouse (@staplehouse) on

Through crisis grants, GK aids those in the restaurant community who need help covering their living expenses while recovering from an accident, illness, or natural disaster; meanwhile, Staplehouse consistently serves some of the best food in Atlanta, with all after-tax profits from the restaurant benefit Giving Kitchen. The structure that Hidinger-Kendrick’s crafted has national implications; the entrepreneur has imagined a smart—and replicable—model for restaurants to do tangible good in their communities while remaining profitable. Since its founding, GK has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to restaurant workers in the metro Atlanta area, many of whom have no safety net to speak of. At a time when restaurants are grappling with how to take better care of their employees, both in and outside of the kitchen, Hidinger-Kendrick continues to offer ideas that make the industry better.

Asha Gomez

Chef at The Third Space, cookbook author

We can’t stop watching Asha Gomez, and we’re not the only ones. The chef, whose meticulous cooking has raised the profile of Indian food in the South, was born in the Kerala region of Southern India. Ever since beginning her monthly “Spice Route Supper Clubs” in 2010, she’s become something of a local hero. In her 2016 James Beard Award-nominated cookbook, My Two Souths, she weaves Indian flavors and technique into the region's culinary traditions—think fried chicken and cardamom waffles—all while re-imagining what it means to be Southern; her participation in this year’s “Brown in the South” collaborative dinner series helped shine a spotlight on chefs of Indian descent who live in the South, but who are often made to feel like outsiders. Her latest project, The Third Space, is a forward-thinking concept that’s half-restaurant, half-cooking-class-venue, hosting dinners, classes, and private events. As we anticipate Gomez’s next restaurant, cookbook, and who-knows-what, we welcome a new generation of chefs who take cues from her distinctive path—one that privileges engaging with questions of culture, belonging, and exchange. 

Restaurant Movers and Shakers

Adrienne Cheatham

Chef, New York

In the months since Adrienne Cheatham was named runner-up on Top Chef season 15 early this year, she’s gained even more momentum, proving herself to be someone who’ll command our attention for years to come. In fact, the day after the show ended, Cheatham announced her popular “Sunday Best” pop-up dinner series, serving reimagined Southern classics in her hometown, Harlem.

The chef, who got her start in the kitchens of Le Bernardin and Red Rooster, proves her singular vision every month at dinner, with dishes like blackened octopus with squid ink grits and sweet pepper chow chow, foie gras-filled red velvet macarons, and seared pork loin with boudin and Hoppin' John. In short, we need our Cheatham restaurant, and we need it now. While the chef has only teased plans to open a brick-and-mortar, a next-level restaurant is undoubtedly on the horizon. We will be watching and waiting until she opens her doors—hopefully, many doors.

Heather Marold Thomason

Butcher and Founder, Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia

A skilled whole-animal butcher with a strong business savvy, Thomason founded Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia in 2016 and, within months, became the go-to supplier for some of the city’s most important restaurants, including Vetri, Walnut Street Café, and Mike Solomonov’s Rooster Soup. (Before the whole meat thing, she was a successful graphic designer living in Brooklyn who happened to fall in love with butchery, so she apprenticed with the best to hone her craft.)

In addition to selling meat subscriptions online and fresh cuts at her just-opened brick-and-mortar (which she helped fund with a Kickstarter), the butcher-entrepreneur is committed to educating consumers about ethical and delicious meat-eating, hosting meat-focused “summer camps” with Eat Retreat. Thomason is one of the most energizing forces in Philly’s restaurant scene, as well as a major disruptor of the boys club that butchery has been for decades, and we can’t wait for her next move.

Katie Parker McDonald

Cattle Rancher, The Bear and Star, in Los Olivos, California

Since The Bear and Star opened in Los Olivos on the California Central Coast in April 2017, Katie Parker McDonald has achieved something akin to cult status. The self-described “cowgirl” runs the hit restaurant’s wagyu program, breeding cattle that are 50 percent wagyu, 75 percent wagyu, and 100 percent wagyu, as well as bottle-feeding baby goats and raising lamb used at the restaurant, making sure all of her practices are sustainable and modern. (She’s also created aquaponics gardens at the ranch—trout coming soon—and grows produce like kale, spinach, prickly cactus, and more, running a sophisticated operation not unlike that at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns.)

And her reach is about to get even bigger: Discovery Channel is shooting a documentary at the Bear and Star on the future of food next month. “I am 100 percent self-taught,” she told Food & Wine in March. “I came out of the womb riding a horse and chasing a cow.” Parker McDonald’s work marks a new era in the farm to table movement—one in which the table is on the farm. 

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