The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink for 2012

They're not trendy, they're not hot, they're just… well, you know

David Back, Flickr/New Amsterdam Market, Eric Levin, Nigel Parry, The Chef's Garden, Tito's Handmade Vodka

We've written about the most powerful people in food and regularly cover the most interesting, accomplished, and innovative figures in the whole big world of food and drink. As spring approaches and the weather warms, though, we thought it might be time to recognize and salute the coolest people in the gastronomic universe.

Click here for The Coolest People in Food Slideshow

Click here for The Coolest People in Drink Slideshow

The point of singling out cool folks in these areas, to us, is that men and women who are genuinely cool tend to be the true innovators in their fields, precisely because, by definition, they aren't overly concerned with what their colleagues are doing or what the critics or those who tweet and Yelp might think. They make their own rules, and in so doing lead us into new territory.

When we set out to compile our list, of course, we quickly realized that defining cool is more difficult than defining powerful, interesting, and the like. Cool is elusive, subjective, ephemeral. What is cool, anyway? It's is an aesthetic, a way of behaving, an attitude; it has to do with self-confidence, self-assurance, aplomb, imperturbability, and quite possibly a nonironic sense of irony. Cool people are true to themselves, and don't serve the masters of fad or fashion. Hipsters aren't cool. Cool is the opposite of trendy, the antithesis of "hot."

The people we've chosen for our list express their cool factor in various ways. It might simply be a matter of how they approach their chosen métier or how they deal with critics and/or customers. It might be shaded by the way they dress or act or decorate their bodies (are tattoos cool? only cool ones) — though this isn't enough in itself to make them cool. It might have something to do with outside interests, whether it's playing a mean Stratocaster or giving up playtime to do some good in the world. It might be none of the above.

On our roster, you'll find celebrity chefs (hey, Grant Achatz; wassup, Mario Batali), some distillers (Islay malt, Texas vodka), a self-styled "coffee lunatic;" you'll meet barbecue pitmaster Aaron Franklin, soft drink bottler Jeff Kloster, butcher Pat LaFrieda; you'll encounter a filmmaker, a brewer, a farmer, and — trust us — The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Who's the coolest of them all? That's not for us to say. There are no degrees of cool. It's like "unique." You either are or you're not. For that reason, our Coolest People in Food and Coolest People in Drink are listed alphabetically. We're sure that there will be some folks out there who think they're cool and wonder why they're not on our list. There's a simple answer to that one: If you think you're cool, amigo, you're not.


Photoshop manipulation courtesy of Jane Bruce