The Coolest People in Food for 2013 Slideshow
March 12, 2013
Grant Achatz, Chef–Restaurateur
Achatz comes at cool from several different directions. Before the backlash against the foams and chemical methods inherent to molecular gastronomy, Achatz was the substance behind the style of this approach. His culinary pedigree includes training with Thomas Keller, elBulli, and Charlie Trotter. Speaking of which, after basically being told by Trotter that he was persona non grata, he returned to Chicago and took over the city, first with Trio (making a suburb a must-visit destination for anybody serious about dining), and then with Alinea, where course after dazzling, perception-challenging course, "cool" feels like a horribly inadequate adjective. As if that weren't enough, now, with Next, he has invented a new kind of restaurant, one that changes concepts every few months and has redefined the way restaurants think about reservations. Oh, and on the side, he has created one of the most original cocktail bars in America, one of the most original cocktail bars in America with Aviary, which is cooler than the crystal-globe-like ice cubes that enclose some of the offerings.
José Andrés, Chef–Restaurateur and Activist
Following this ceaselessly energetic and creative Spanish-born, D.C.-based chef on Twitter can give you whiplash. Today he's down in Haiti, eating what he assures us is incredible food in a small village where he's helping to install parabolic solar ovens; tomorrow he's settling down to tortillitas de camarón at his favorite seafood restaurant in Cádiz; yesterday he was dining with chef friends at his second Bazaar, in Miami. Oh, and somehow, in between it all, he stopped by the International Culinary Center in Manhattan to look in on the Spanish cooking courses he organized and is also opening a new restaurant in Puerto Rico. We don't know how he does it. Well, actually, we do. He does it with style, passion, humor, and endless inspirational messages to the "People of America." And his caroming around the world doesn't seem to have any negative effect on his cuisine: His restaurants, in not just Miami, San Juan, and the nation's capital but also Las Vegas and Los Angeles, are all terrific. Can we call him "hypercool?"
Mario Batali, Chef-Restaurateur, Media Personality
He turned orange Crocs into a fashion statement. He hams it up with Jimmy Fallon. He traveled through Spain in a convertible with Gwyneth Paltrow, is opening super high-end Italian megastores right and left, and plays everything from Led Zeppelin to Neutral Milk Hotel — loud — at his flagship Babbo (a fact which apparently made former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni quiver). Batali gets extra points for being responsive on Twitter, for owning the first Italian restaurant in 36 years to boast four stars from The New York Times (Del Posto), and for remaining an unreconstructed party animal through it all.
John Besh, Chef-Restaurateur and Activist
As corny as it may sound, John Besh is cool because he cares. He's known for putting his heart and soul into everything he does — whether it’s giving back to New Orleans through the John Besh Foundation, serving as a judge and mentor on Top Chef, turning out topflight cookbooks, or developing new restaurant concepts, all without ever jumping up and down and saying "Look at me, look at me!". We also like the way he celebrates family values not through pious platitudes but through cooking good food with his loved ones and sharing it with us (in his forthcoming TV series Chef John Besh's Family Table and his book My Family Table). Besh's next book, due out this fall, is called Cooking From the Heart, which pretty much sums it up.
Les Blank, Filmmaker
This idiosyncratic Berkeley-based filmmaker has been turning out tasty documentaries for more than 30 years, mostly on two of our favorite subjects: music and food. These range from paeans to mountain fiddling and polka to the fragrant classic Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers or the exuberant Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking. The coolest food movie he ever made, though, was undoubtedly Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. The noted German director of that name had bet documentary director Errol Morris that he would never finish his film Gates of Heaven, and promised to eat his shoe if he did. Blank's film shows Herzog cooking said shoe, with garlic and herbs, with the help of Alice Waters in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, then gamely chowing down. Wow.
April Bloomfield, Chef-Restaurateur
You've got to love a chef who calls her cookbook A Girl and Her Pig. Bloomfield and her business partner, Ken Friedman, sparked a nationwide trend with The Spotted Pig, a soulful (pardon the expression) gastropub in New York City's West Village, and have added The Breslin, The John Dory Oyster Bar, and then Salvation Taco to their empire. Now they've bought San Francisco's iconic Tosca Café with plans to revive it. With all that, Bloomfield is still more likely to be seen cooking on the line than making TV appearances. And in case more proof of her coolness is needed, read this story about Bloomfield’s participation in a TimesTalk during the 2011 New York City Wine & Food Festival to catch a glimpse of her character.
Daniel Boulud, Chef–Restaurateur
Is it cool to be French? This seemingly indefatigable chef-restaurateur sure makes it seem that way. Three Michelin stars, four stars from The New York Times, four James Beard Awards, the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur — if coolness were just based on awards and acclaim, he'd be the coolest guy in the room on that alone. Add to that the fact that he created the foie gras burger, that he has his own smoked salmon and is blending his own scotch, and that his restaurant DBGB pays homage to the much missed punk venue CBGB.
Danny Bowien, Chef–Restaurateur
This Oklahoma-raised former indie band frontman basically opened a Chinese restaurant inside another Chinese restaurant in San Francisco (Mission Chinese Food within Lung Shan Restaurant, on Mission Street), turning an uncelebrated spot into one with ridiculous lines by serving "Americanized Oriental food," thereby becoming one of the West Coast's most buzzed about chefs. Then he replicated that success all the way across the country on New York City's Lower East Side. Danny Bowien's success is the kind that most people can only dream of, and yet he's self-assured enough to call his restaurant one of the most overhyped in America. He also donates 75 cents from the sale of each entree to local food banks. Pretty cool.
David Chang, Chef–Restaurateur, Magazine Editor
You could talk about the hype and the attitude, the highly unconventional food magazine (Lucky Peach) published by McSweeney's, the growing empire, the pork buns, the ramen, the aesthetic (consider the restaurants’ décor and the graffiti mural outside of Ssäm Bar), the online reservation systems for special meals, the attention to detail (service and otherwise), and the fact that Chang showed a generation of chefs that you could open up a new class of quality dining without the white tablecloths. You could talk about dessert, drinks, duck, and fried chicken, and that he just doesn’t seem to ever miss. But you’d be missing the core coolness that started it all, the fact that with his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, he put it all on the line — all that pork, all that soul — and success or failure, he was going to do it the way he was going to do it, vegetarians be damned, and he did. He did that and much more.
Amanda Cohen, Chef–Restaurateur
The fact that Amanda Cohen owns an entirely vegetarian restaurant is cool in itself, but what’s even better is that it’s really good. Embracing "haute vegetable cuisine," Cohen is keen on the dining experience and created Dirt Candy with the idea that guests at the restaurant should feel like they’re in the comfort of her own kitchen. She’s also penned a comic book-like cookbook, making hers stand out among the plethora of vegetable-based cookbooks out there and adding a bit of life to the cooking experience. Her newest venture is the Lady Chef Stampede, a series for The Braiser on female chefs who have raised the bar in their field. But the most awesome thing about Cohen is her attitude. We’re still reeling over her response to an Eater reporter’s question about what was in her fridge, to which she simply replied, "Do you care? Does it really matter what’s in my fridge?" We love it.
Ann Cooper, Activist
You've got to earn a title like "The Renegade Lunch Lady" — and Ann Cooper has certainly done that. She has dedicated her life to improving the quality of school lunches for children, as well as bettering America’s relationship with food, farming, and overall health and well-being in general. Check her "online toolkit," The Lunchbox, to get an idea of how she approaches things. Cooper, an author and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is a woman on a mission — and when has unstoppable passion and determination, especially when met with success, not been cool?
Darrell Corti, Grocer
One sign of how cool this Italian-American Sacramento grocer is is the fact that he'll think the whole idea of being considered cool is just plain silly. Running the family business in the California capital is a full-time job, and he doesn't have spare moments for a lot of folderol. Of course, Corti is a grocer like Itzhak Perlman plays some fiddle. Corti is simply one of the most deeply knowledgeable food and drink experts in America, able to expound with equal authority on Chinese tea, Spanish vinegar, Central Asian wine, Italian pasta, and about 30,000 other gastronomic topics. He knows everybody worth knowing in his chosen field, and everybody knows him. They call him "The Professor." If you've never heard of him, well, that sort of makes him even cooler, you know?
Robert Del Grande, Chef-Restaurateur
The wry, soft-spoken, amiable Del Grande came to Texas from California with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, turned himself into one of the best and smartest "new Southwestern" chefs, and galvanized the Houston dining scene with his Café Annie — now morphed into the buzzy RDG and Bar Annie — and the more casual Taco Milagro and the Café Express chain. Along the way, he started playing guitar and singing with Dallas chef Dean Fearing, at first casually in hotel rooms at food events and later with their band, The Barbwires, sharing the stage with people like Steve Winwood, Rodney Crowell, and Richie Furay. Returning to his scientific roots, Del Grande has recently concocted, with distiller Don Short, the first-ever Texas-made gin, called Roxor and flavored with Texan botanicals (pecans, anyone?).
Dom DeMarco Sr., Pizzaiolo
Dom DeMarco isn’t just cool — when it comes to New York City pizza, he's a legend. Arriving in New York City from Caserta, near Naples (birthplace of pizza) in 1959, he opened Di Fara Pizza on Avenue J in Brooklyn and has been doing it his way, pie by pie, ever since. The pizzas — stretched out dough, ladled sauce, sprinkled cheese, a drizzle of oil, scissor clippings of fresh basil — are all lovingly made by DeMarco himself, how and when he wants, ravenously consumed by lines of both locals and tourists in the know. As far as pizza-savvy New Yorkers are concerned, if you haven't braved the masses to enjoy a Di Fara pie, you don't know pizza at all.
Wylie Dufresne, Chef–Restaurateur
He’s been called one of "the most important chefs that America has ever produced" by one of the most important chefs that America has ever produced (David Chang). But, as Chang noted to Jeff Gordinier in The New York Times Diner’s Journal, Dufresne "doesn’t get that recognition." He might not have the caché of an Achatz, Keller, or Bouley, but with WD-50 he’s been holding down the fort for modern cuisine on the East Coast for nearly a decade now. Yes, you may need a slice of pizza to fill you up after experiencing his tasting menu, but after having raised the bar in New York for experimentation with technique, Dufresne has continued to hold it high (even recently reinventing his menu) even since the term "molecular gastronomy" has become a dirty one. For this, for reaching beyond the familiar with a new project, Alder (a casual non-molecular spot in the East Village), and for doing it all confidently and competitively without calling attention to himself — and for doing all this with a questionable haircut that’s so uncool it’s cool — Dufresne makes this list.
John T. Edge, Journalist, Author, and Educator
For starters, Edge looks cool: He was wearing thick-rimmed glasses long before every hipster in America started sporting a pair, and his signature soul patch actually somehow lends him soul. Not that he wouldn't have it anyway. As an author of books dedicated to (among other things) fried chicken, apple pie, burgers, and the food truck culture; director of the Southern Foodways Alliance (which studies, promotes, and preserves the kind of food we all want to eat); frequent contributor to The New York Times, Oxford American, and Garden & Gun; and frequent and entertaining tweeter extraordinaire, Edge is an American culinary treasure.
Susan Feniger, Chef-Restaurateur
Sure, she's one of TV's Too Hot Tamales — with longtime colleague Mary Sue Milliken, her collaborator on the Border Grill restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas — and an acknowledged expert on Mexican and Latin American cuisine and on international street food. But Feniger is also an exuberant personality (try to find a photo of her where she's not laughing or at least grinning broadly) with a magnificent mane of hair and lots of earrings, who once revealed that her childhood hero was legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. I mean, come on. Cool, or what?
Aaron Franklin, Pitmaster
The Texas barbecue tradition is full of ancient pitmasters with pits even older than they are. Franklin meets them on their own turf. His Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, which grew out of a food truck, makes 'cue so good that you've got to line up early in the morning to have even a chance at sampling it. Franklin could build bigger pits, quadruple his seating, and hire 20 more assistants and probably make a fortune. He's more interested in making barbecue, at his own pace, and he sure hopes you like it. His pit is smoking; he's cool.
Jonathan Gold, Journalist and Author
OK, so one way to be cool is to know what you want and to use your strengths to express your identity to the best of your ability. Who's cooler, then, than a guy who wins a Pulitzer Prize (among many other honors) for his food criticism but continues to use his influence to shine a light on the small, mom-and-pop restaurants in Los Angeles? If Gold can write a vibrant, captivating column about an outstanding Thai restaurant in a strip mall located in the middle of nowhere — and as a result get throngs of Angelenos to venture there for a meal — that’s definitely chill. And now Gold has brought that cool from LA Weekly to an even bigger stage, the Los Angeles Times.
Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, Food Writers, Stylists, Photographers, and Publishers
The California-born Hirsheimer — Ms. Hirsheimer to you — has lived in Australia, Hawaii, and Illinois and has been a restaurateur, a corporate chef, a caterer, a food stylist, a magazine editor and co-founder (Saveur), and most of all, a game-changing food photographer, now widely imitated for her accessible, sensuous, natural-looking images. Melissa Hamilton, a native of New Jersey, once ran the test kitchen at Saveur and before that was the co-founder and executive chef of her father's popular Hamilton's Grill Room in Lambertville, N.J. Today, the two are redefining cookbook publishing with their unique — and frankly gorgeous — Canal House series of periodical cookbooks, while they create and document wonderful lunches daily (for themselves only, alas) at their canalside New Jersey studio.
Judy Joo, Chef
The first time we saw Judy Joo, a Korean-American with a degree in engineering from Columbia University, she had given up a career as a fixed-income derivatives seller at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to become both a kitchen and an editorial intern at Saveur. The next time we saw her, she was executive chef at the Playboy Club in London (she still is), adding Asian accents to American comfort food while Bunnies played croupier at the mini-casino next door and the celebrity bartender downstairs mixed up the world's most expensive cocktail. You may have seen her yourself on The Next Iron Chef — or losing (unfairly, we thought) to Alex Guarnaschelli in the most recent Iron Chef UK vs. Iron Chef America competition. The fact that she has done all this, combined with stints working for Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller — high-stress positions of two different kinds, we'd imagine — and stayed calm and smiling is a sign of her coolness right there.
Thomas Keller, Chef-Restaurateur
Nobody knows how this happens, but it's pretty clear that some people were simply born to do what they're doing. Thomas Keller, who is almost certainly the finest American-born chef in the country, is one of those people. At some point in his young life, he figured out that cooking was what he was supposed to be doing. He started as a dishwasher at the Palm Beach Yacht Club and never looked back — and since then he has dedicated his life to learning how to practice his art pretty near perfectly. That's pretty cool right there. Even cooler, though, is that — ambitious perfectionist though he may be — Keller has also trained and mentored a remarkable progression of up-and-coming culinary stars, who leave his kitchens to go out on their own and achieve success, never forgetting to thank Keller for providing inspiration as a teacher and a friend. When your employees past and present are the ones constantly reminding the public how cool you are, then it must be true.
Lee Jones, Farmer
OK, let's start by talking sartorial self-confidence: How many people can get away with wearing a bow tie with overalls? Lee Jones is the only one we can think of offhand. But forget the wardrobe and simply consider what Farmer Lee Jones (as he likes to be called) represents: The Chef’s Garden. In the 1980s, after losing a large part of their harvest one year to hailstorms, the Jones family decided to focus on the needs of chefs, developing exceptional specialty and heirloom vegetables, herbs, micro greens, and edible flowers. Farmer Lee Jones was growing the kinds of produce everybody uses today when most of the folks who use them were still mere sprouts themselves.
Tim Love, Chef
Tim Love doesn't mess around. At his Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth, Texas, he serves kangaroo carpaccio, rabbit-rattlesnake sausage, and Rocky Mountain elk loin — which he doesn’t cook just for shtick, but expertly and to acclaim. At his Woodshed Smokehouse, in the same city, where the pits and hearths burn mesquite, hickory, oak, and pecan, the fare includes brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers, 16-hour smoked beef shin for four, and "today's animal" with assorted homemade salsas. He's got an aw-shucks grin and a fondness for good tequila, and has been known to lose a small fortune at poker and then keep playing all night until he wins it back. He's also a nice guy, a real dude, and a great cook — one of the rare ones to have bested Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America. Pretty cool.
Harold McGee, Author and Scientist
Some food scientists might have thought this former literature instructor at Yale was uncool for having presumed to approach the things we eat and the way we prepare them from an analytical — well, let's just come right out and say "scientific" — point of view. Where was this guy's doctorate in colloid science or organic chemistry? He didn't have one. What he had was a strong sense of curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a lively intellect, and he applied these to the process of demystifying and "demythifying" what we do in the kitchen in ways that no specialist had ever managed. Through his first book, the classic On Food and Cooking, and other writings — most recently Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes — he has galvanized chefs all over the world (Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià among them) and made sense of the cooking process for all of us. He's cooler than liquid nitrogen.
Nathan Myhrvold, Scientist, Inventor, and Author
Talk about a résumé: He has studied mathematics, geophysics, and space physics, has a Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics from Princeton, worked for a year with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, and has applied for more than 500 patents, many of them granted. He's also a terrific cook. After working at Microsoft for 14 years as a chief technology officer, Myhrvold decided to try a new hat on for size — a chef’s toque, more specifically. A master French chef, he specialized in barbecue for a bit before writing 2011’s literary behemoth Modernist Cuisine, where he explained and exercised new scientific technology and principles in cooking — proving once again that science plus cooking equals cool. Last year he published Modernist Cuisine at Home, making his often dazzling culinary techniques at least slightly more accessible to you and me.
Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
Admit it: Part of you wants to hate this glamorous (if temporary) inhabitant of the White House. She looks like an athlete, dresses like a model, tweets more than you do, and actually seems to have our best interests at heart. Yeah, we get it. We understand the Michelle backlash. But somehow she brings it off. She dances with Jimmy Fallon, jokes with David Letterman, cooks with Rachael Ray, and lets Jack Nicholson introduce her at the Oscars, and doesn't miss a beat. "She isn't just breaking the mold," wrote Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. "She's shattering the good china." And she does all this in a way that seems natural and unforced, and pretty much unconcerned with fallout. But she does good works, too. We like that Laura Bush's big crusade was for literacy (hey, she came from Texas, where you can't take that kind of thing for granted), but we love the fact that Michelle Obama's is getting us, and especially our children, to eat better. She does this primarily through her Let's Move! campaign, whose goal is "to raise a healthier generation of kids" — but she's also the First Gardener, planting a White House vegetable garden and later writing a book about it, and there's something cool about a woman in her position getting her hands dirty in the topsoil. A woman with hot bangs.
Cindy Pawlcyn, Chef-Restaurateur
Pawlcyn was doing local and sustainable before a lot of today's local and sustainable apostles could put their Pop-Tarts in the toaster by themselves. She once opened a restaurant in a building shaped like an Airstream trailer (Fog City Diner in San Francisco) and now she owns (among other places) the best restaurant in the Napa Valley that isn't The French Laundry: Mustards Grill, which just celebrated its 30th birthday. And speaking of local and sustainable, Pawlcyn also now runs the food service at that beacon of piscatorial sustainability, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Jacques Pépin, Chef and Educator
Is classical French cuisine cool? In certain circles, at least, it actually is — it's so far from being cool, that is, that its actual cool factor is pretty darn haute. What's so cool about French master chef, cookbook author, and teacher Jacques Pépin, though, is that he probably doesn't care whether it's cool or not; he just knows that it's important to the way we cook and eat today, whether we realize it or not. For decades, Pépin has generously shared his knowledge with the world, through books (most recently Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques), TV shows, and educational programs at places like the International Culinary Center and Boston University. But he's no French snob: He is proud of the fact that his first big cooking job, back in 1961, was developing recipes for Howard Johnson.
Adam Rapoport, Magazine Editor
This Bon Appétit magazine editor-in-chief has dipped his fingers into all areas of the editorial world: travel, fashion, design, film, and music. Before coming aboard to steer the ship at Condé Nast’s food lifestyle publication in 2010, he spent time at GQ magazine, Time Out New York, and the James Beard Foundation. His time at Bon App has, according to some, brought about a reinvention of the magazine, but it’s his life outside of work that we can’t get enough of. His editor letters about his Chelsea apartment and his chic dinner parties have our mouths watering. Stories of his home being remodeled to resemble some of his favorite restaurants, and about such things as that time he discovered avocado, Maldon salt, and red pepper flakes on toast, and his icing mantras about white wine set him apart from the rest of the so-called epicureans we read about, and define him as someone who is down-to-earth and, well, cool. And does anybody remember the time he went on HSN and sold cookware? For someone to be able to do that in the name of his business and save face, that's cool.
Michel Richard, Chef-Restaurateur
This Santa-sized master cuisinier, quite possibly the best French cook in America, always looked so happy when you saw him at work, behind floor-to-ceiling glass, in his kitchen at Citronelle in Washington, D.C., that it was hard to imagine any man more consumed with joy at the creative process. Last year, though, water damage forced Citronelle to close (theoretically only temporarily) — and this year, the Revel casino and hotel/restaurant complex in Atlantic City, where he has a branch of his ebullient bistro, Central Michel Richard (and where he planned to open more restaurants), declared bankruptcy. He's still got Centrals in D.C. and Las Vegas, though, and rumors are that he will open a restaurant in Manhattan's Palace Hotel later this year. There've been some bad breaks, but Richard has found his place in the universe, and has a damn good time there — and anyone who eats his food shares in the fun. And we'll bet that he still looks happy.
Eric Ripert, Chef-Restaurateur
Handsome, calm and collected, witty, and one of the best chefs in America, Ripert has made Le Bernardin in New York City, a temple of seafood cookery over whose kitchen he presides with Poseidon-like authority, a must on any visiting gastronome's itinerary. In late 2011, Ripert and the restaurant's proprietor, Maguy Le Coze (who opened it in 1986 with her late brother, Gilbert), remodeled the elegant, upscale dining room, making it sleeker and more accessible to a younger and/or more casually minded clientele. We think the idea of serving food of lapidary perfection in welcoming surroundings is pretty cool. Ripert’s poise and understated bad-boy image are just miso–dashi vinaigrette on the bacalao.
Jennifer Rubell, Performance Artist
Rubell graduated from both Harvard and the Culinary Institute of America, once interned for Mario Batali, and has exhibited her provocative art — including a piñata of Andy Warhol’s head — in galleries and museums all over the world. What we think is so cool, though, is the way she stages larger-than-life food events, where you can eat the art. In Dallas, she’s dripped honey from the ceiling onto a ton (literally) of baby back ribs, and in New York, she padded a room with 1,800 cones of cotton candy. And Rubell’s cheese plate doesn’t come served cubed or on a cheese board: it consists of elevated, life-sized cheese blocks in the shape of her head, blasted with heat guns, dripping onto stacks of crackers. Her art cooks.
Anne Saxelby, Cheesemonger
Buying cheese used to be fairly simple. You got everyday stuff at the deli counter or at the supermarket, and maybe made the trek to a specialty cheese shop once in a while if you were having a dinner party or started craving a slightly better Brie than you could get at Trader Joe's. Today, there are so many cheeses available to us — from all over the world, of course, but also from almost every state in the union — that we need the help of those who know their asiago from their Butterkäse. In other words, we need cheesemongers. Like Anne Saxelby. She apprenticed at Murray’s Cheese in Manhattan, among other places, then started her own small enterprise with a booth at Essex Street Market. Now she stocks cheeses at some of the best restaurants in New York and beyond and has helped to vastly improve the quality of cheesy comestibles we can all enjoy. Saxelby’s rise is a tribute to the DIY ethos, and her success shows that sourcing locally and supporting small producers can be a viable business practice.
Lydia Shire, Chef-Restaurateur
Shire is cool and bad-ass. We named her one of our bad-ass woman chefs, in fact, for professional moves like taking over Boston's venerable Locke-Ober, which had banned women from the dining room for its first century of existence (it's now closed), and for cooking "big" food, full of fat and flavor. Shire, who favors black, pink, or pistachio-green chef's jackets and henna-red hair, got where she is her own way — hocking her wedding ring to go to cooking school after her first marriage broke up and working her way through every good kitchen in Boston, before opening Biba there, and electrifying Beantown palates with such fare as fried calf's brains with capers and black gnocchi with squid. Today, she serves great take-no-prisoners food at Boston's Scampo (in the city's old Charles Street jail) and Towne Stove and Spirits.
Frank Stitt, Chef-Restaurateur
As executive chef and proprietor of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala., opened in 1982, Stitt helped invent modern Southern cooking. Then, inspired by Arrigo Cipriani's approach to Italian cooking, he opened Bottega, following that with his state's most authentic French bistro, Chez Fonfon. Stitt is a champion of local ingredients, especially the Gulf seafood caught off the Alabama coast, an influence on many other Southern chefs, and a really nice guy. He pretty much typifies that notion, all too rare among chefs these days, of developing one's own food traditions, learning how to express them very well, and then just keeping one's head down and making diners happy.
Susie Strassburger, Meat Purveyor
One look at Strassburger’s signature cowboy hat and you’re instantly standing a bit on your toes. This is clearly a woman who knows her meat, her drinks, and her business. That’s no surprise, as Strassburger is the face of Strassburger Prime Dry-Aged Steaks, a fifth-generation family business. Strassburger loved meat even in her early years; she was the childhood friend who wanted to offer you steaks as an after-school snack, rather than your typical PB&J. Strassburger knows her way around a good cut of meat — the marbling, color, and texture of each piece of beef aging and waiting to be cut — and supplies some of New York City’s finest steakhouses, including Smith & Wollensky and Frankie and Johnnie’s. She also recently brokered a deal to sell Strassburger meats through Williams-Sonoma. You might expect someone who has spent her life among ranchers, cattlemen, meat packers, and butchers to have become a hardened expert at playing the female card in a business that has traditionally been a boy’s club — but not so with "Suzy Sirloin," as she likes to style herself. Strassburger, who has a master’s in Beef Advocacy and shares her knowledge on her blog, The Sirloin Report, instead shows a deep appreciation and respect for the men — and women — of the meat business. She's cooler than a steakhouse walk-in.
Michael Symon, Chef-Restaurateur, Media Personality
Philanthropist, TV star, great cook, and all-around nice guy, the bald-pated Symon is a guy who obviously loves his job. One of our favorite, coolest Symon moments came during the most incredible episode of Iron Chef America ever, in season eight’s "Battle Cauliflower," when Iron Chef Michael Symon stepped into the ring with challenger John Fraser sans sous chefs. The two chefs put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating five judge-worthy dishes in an hour — and not surprisingly, Symon came out on top. And did we mention that he has won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's high-profile (and highly competitive) Burger Bash three times in a row?
Dale Talde, Chef–Restaurateur
While Chicago-born chef Dale Talde could have kept it low-key after turning out impressive performances on not one, but two seasons of Top Chef (season four in Chicago, and All-Stars), that’s just not his style. Last year he teamed up with restaurateur David Massoni and bartender John Bush to open his first restaurant, which he named Talde (because, why not?), in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He created a neighborhood gem that’s not only packed every night of the week, it’s bringing crowds in from Manhattan by the F train-full and boosting other local businesses all the while (the owners of the wine bar next door certainly appreciate the overflow crowd). His brand of Asian fusion predated the arrival of the likes of Danny Bowien, and is accomplishing something that’s still rare in this town: mapping uncharted territory in flavor combinations while inventing brand-new comfort food classics at the same time.
For his next move Talde felt the urge to go low-brow, and that that he did, heading over to the other end of the neighborhood to open a roadhouse-style bar, Pork Slope. The cheap drinks, insanely delicious no-frills bar food, and party-like atmosphere draw a slightly different type of crowd, but keep it packed at all hours of the night.
John Thorne, Writer
Thorne doesn't hobnob or schmooze. You won't see him on Food Network or at star-studded food and wine festivals in Las Vegas or Miami. He's the opposite of a self-promoter, and always seems vaguely embarrassed when other people try to promote him to the public. All he wants to do is sit in his house in rural Massachusetts with his wife and collaborator, Matt Lewis, and turn out painstakingly crafted, often grippingly evocative meditations on food and cooking — most of them published in his occasional newsletter, "Simple Cooking," and eventually collected in book form. He pretty obviously isn't doing what he's doing for fame and fortune; he's doing it because it's what he does. How cool is that?
Christina Tosi, Pastry Chef
The 2012 James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef was originally hired by David Chang, he noted in the introduction to Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, "to help us organize our 'office' — a desk in a hallway. Instead, she started organizing the company." Despite being only 30, Tosi has a culinary résumé that rivals the most accomplished pastry chefs out there, having worked in the kitchens of Bouley and WD-50 before blowing fellow cool kid David Chang away with her chops at Momofuku. Tosi’s outrageous, ingenious combinations of flavor and texture and confident risk-taking put her in a class of her own. But you can forget all of that — many would argue that just by creating Crack Pie and Cornflake-Marshmallow cookies Tosi did enough to secure a spot on this list.
Norman Van Aken, Chef-Restaurateur
A pioneer of the New American cuisine and founding father of New World cooking, with its blend of Caribbean, Latin American, and Southern flavors, Van Aken — chef–proprietor of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando and Tuyo in Miami — is friendly, intense, and really into what he does, which is orchestrating whole symphonies of flavors in one dish. He also writes not just cookbooks but also thoughtful and amusing essays on food, hangs out in Key West when he can (and not for the reason suggested by Charlie Trotter when he described Van Aken as "the Walt Whitman of American cuisine"), and plays a mean blues harp.
Jonathan Waxman, Chef-Restaurateur
Waxman radiates cool. His fellow contestants on Top Chef Masters a while back dubbed him Obi-Wan Kenobi for his Zen-like calm. Tranquilly slicing vegetables and heating up pans while other well-known chefs fretted and scurried, he was the picture of poise and self-possession. Before he became the TV and food festival guest star he is today (besides running his sensuously minimalist Italian joint Barbuto, in Manhattan), he cooked at Chez Panisse, brought California cuisine to New York City in the 1970s with Jams, ran one of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley with Alice Waters' ex-husband, and, way back, played trombone in a rock 'n' roll band.
Andrew Zimmern, Media Personality
As host of the Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods, Zimmern has visited more than 30 countries around the world, eating crazy stuff and living a life that most people who are passionate about food and travel would kill for — but 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.