Every year at The Daily Meal, we publish our rankings of America's most powerful people in food and most successful chefs, and we regularly cover all the most interesting, accomplished, and innovative figures in the food and drink world — not least the members of our own Daily Meal Council. But we also publish a different kind of annual list, not ranked and not based on power or financial success or any other standard measure of acclaim.
In this case, we hail, instead, those chefs, restaurateurs, writers, brewers, winemakers, and other food and drink folk who we believe possess that most elusive, almost ineffable of qualities: cool.
To come up with this list each year — and, yes, we realize that it's highly subjective and maybe even a little bit capricious — we poll our editorial staff and our food-savvy friends and contributors and scan biographies and press coverage of various people, then discuss among ourselves just how much we think various factors add up to what we're looking for.
Inevitably, each year, the people we chose express their cool factor in various ways. It might simply be a matter of how they approach their profession or how they deal with critics and/or customers. It might be shaded by the way they dress or act — though hip raiment and fancy footwork aren't enough in themselves to make them cool. It might have something to do with outside interests, whether it's blowing a bluesy Hohner or giving up down time to help chefs deal with stress. 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 those who Tweet and Yelp might think. They make their own rules, and so they are the most likely to lead us into new territory, broadening our horizons, expanding our tastes.
What is cool and what imbues some people with it while their friends and colleagues circulate around them at a higher temperature? The Oxford English Dictionary lists 21 meanings of the word as an adjective; the one that comes closest to the sense we're after is "…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 that cool — our kind of cool — is likely to involve some combination of such qualities as imperturbability, originality, self-awareness and a capacity for self-mockery, as well as the courage of one's convictions.
Cool people, to put it another way, 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 and Miles Davis are icons of cool; David Bowie, too. Kobe Bryant is cool. So is Helen Mirren. We're still making up our minds about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But back to food and drink: On our roster this year, you'll find celebrity chefs from Daniel Boulud — French cool — to Kris Yenboomrang — spicy Thai cool. You'll also find, among others, a winemaker with a penchant for puns, a woman who made cereal into cuisine, an old-school restaurateur, a cheeky YouTube star, and a Harvard graduate who figured out a way to drink root beer for a living.
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 "Z," read no more into our nominees' order of appearance than that.
You'll probably 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 world yourself and think you should have been among the coolest, remember this: If you think you're cool, amigo, then almost by definition, you're probably not.
Additional Reporting by Dan Myers