The coolest people in food and drink aren't necessarily the most powerful or the most successful (though they might sometimes be). They aren't necessarily the TV stars, restaurant moguls, prize-winning brewers or winemakers (though they might sometimes be those things too). What they are, is originals, true innovators, people who go their own way and aren't overly concerned with what their colleagues are doing, how the critics judge them or what the loud crowds on the Internet might think. Cool people just do what they do, usually really well, and in so doing, lead us into new territory.
The tricky thing about compiling a list like this, of course, is that defining cool is tricky business. Cool is elusive, subjective, ephemeral.
Beyond that, it's an aesthetic, a way of behaving, a bearing, an attitude; it has to do with self-confidence, self-assurance, aplomb, imperturbability, a sense of perspective. 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." If you think you're cool, you probably aren't.
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 blues harp (like Norman Van Aken), cavorting on a theater stage (like Rick Bayless), or giving up playtime to do some good in the world (like José Andrés).
On our roster, you'll find famous chefs (like Jacques Pépin, who was cool when chefs weren't even cool yet, and Mario Batali, who stays cool no matter how many ventures he has going); a couple of celebrity distillers (Tito Beveridge, Tom Bulleit); a fellow who brings an artisanal sensibility to soda pop (John Lynch); an unconventional barbecue pitmaster (Aaron Franklin); a groundbreaking wine bar entrepreneur (Paul Grieco); a coffee roaster-cum-adventurer (Todd Carmichael); even America's coolest grocer (Darrell Corti), who's so cool that he'll think being included on a list of cool people is just plain silly.
You'll note that our list of the Coolest People in Food and Drink is alphabetical. We haven't ranked our coolest people in numerical order; we haven't told you who we think is the coolest of them all. That's because there are no degrees of cool. It's like "unique." You're either cool or you're not. Cool?
Head to the next page for the complete list.