What makes somebody cool? The Oxford English Dictionary lists fully 21 meanings of the word as an adjective, of which the most pertinent here is a portion of 2.d. Cool in that sense, says the OED, means "…assured and unabashed where diffidence and hesitation would be expected." That works for us. In that context (which the dictionary traces back to 1723, incidentally), we'd add such qualities as imperturbability, originality, self-awareness and a capacity for self-mockery, and probably usually some kind of quiet courage.
Cool people are people who are true to themselves, and don't care much about fad or fashion. They got over the joke of "irony" long ago. They're real. Hipsters aren't cool, though the cool can be hip. Cool is the opposite of trendy, the antithesis of hot. James Dean was cool. Miles Davis was cool. Snoopy was cool, except maybe with that Red Baron stuff.
In our almost five years of existence, The Daily Meal has called out America's most powerful people in food and most successful chefs, and has regularly featured profiles of and news about the most interesting, accomplished, and innovative figures in the whole big world of food and drink — not least the members of our own Daily Meal Council. Now, for the fourth year in a row, we thought it might be time to recognize and salute the coolest people in the gastronomic universe.
We polled the editorial staff at The Daily Meal and our food-savvy friends and contributors to come up with this list. The people we've chosen 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 — 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.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.
On our roster, you'll find celebrity chefs (Daniel Boulud? Mais certainement; José Andrés? Muy guay), some beverage producers (guys who give us everything from artisanal sodas to great wines with punny names to old-school bourbon), a barbecue pitmaster, a lobster-roll pioneer, a performance artist — a first lady.
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.
Which one of this diverse collection is 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 60 (plus) Coolest People in Food and Drink are listed alphabetically. Unless you think that "A" is cooler than "W," read no more into our nominees' order of appearance than that.
We know as well as you do, of course, that "cool" is subjective, ephemeral, highly debatable. We're sure you'll disagree with some of our choices, and maybe wonder where your own favorite cool food or drink person is. Let us know. We'll take your input into consideration for next year's list. Oh, and if you're in this business and think you're pretty cool yourself and wonder why you're not on the list, there's a simple answer to that one: If you think you're cool, amigo, you're not.
Andrew Zimmern, Media Personality
As host of the Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods and various spinoffs, Zimmern has visited more than 30 countries around the world and most of the states in America, eating crazy stuff and living a life that many people who are passionate about food and travel would kill for. Despite all that, he remains unexpectedly self-effacing and accessible, and as we learned when we asked him if he shaves his own head, he has a sense of humor about himself, too. (His response: "Well, I used to shave it myself, but now that I'm a big TV star, I have a really young intern who does nothing but travel with me, sees to my bags, and shaves my head. [PAUSE] Of course I shave my own head!") Zimmern is one of those people who is more likely to say nice things about someone else before talking about himself, a quality few of his TV food colleagues are chill enough to emulate. He also rocks the bald look.
David Wondrich, Cocktail Historian
The New York Times dubbed him "a living iPod of drink lore and recipes," while Conan O’Brien once described him as a "crazy, bearded Civil War general." How could you not dig a guy like that? Wondrich is the first person we'd want on our team for cocktail trivia, and also the one we'd trust most to make us a classic cocktail — then tell us its entire history as he worked. Wondrich doesn't just look backward, though. He's a cocktail innovator, too. Consider, for example, the Colbert Bump, created for our favorite recently retired political TV pundit and incipient late-night TV host. It includes Cherry Heering, "good ol' Republican gin," lemon juice, and soda — a real summer cooler.
Read on for the full list of 2015's Coolest People in Food & Drink!
Additional reporting by Arthur Bovino.