Grant Achatz from The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink 2014 (Slideshow)
The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink 2014 (Slideshow)
Achatz's culinary pedigree includes training with Thomas Keller, Ferran Adrià, and the late Charlie Trotter. 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 forged a distinctly American identity for what nobody really ought to call "molecular gastronomy." With his second restaurant, Next, Achatz invented something new, a restaurant that changes concepts every few months — and, incidentally, redefined the way restaurants think about reservations. Oh, and on the side, he has created 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.
Where in the world is José Andrés? Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, Haiti, Spain, and who knows where else, sometimes seemingly all in the same week. He must have more frequent flyer miles than most of us have brain cells. Following this ceaselessly energetic and creative Spanish-born, D.C.-based chef on Twitter can give you whiplash. Today he's down in Port-au-Prince, strategizing about his plan to help install clean-cooking 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 one of his Las Vegas restaurants. In the past year, he has also premiered a short film about his culinary lab, minibar in Washington, D.C., on The Daily Meal, and joined The Daily Meal Council. Now he says that he wants to get involved in the fast food business. Whatever that means, we know it will be exciting. 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."
Can tradition and innovation exist comfortably in the same glass? In Arnold's world, they sure can. Arnold, who was a philosophy major at Yale before he became an innovator of culinary technology and food science, is part old-school bartender and part modern-day chemistry geek. At Booker and Dax, his popular Manhattan bar, Arnold is the visionary behind drinks that have included a Bloody Mary riff that calls for horseradish essential oil, tomato juice clarified by centrifuge, and a glass chilled by liquid nitrogen. He also invented a red-hot poker with which to heat cocktails — which isn't just a gimmick: the poker caramelizes the sugar in the alcohol and enhances the flavor of the cocktail. In addition, as the president of the Museum of Food and Drink, Arnold shares his adventures in food tech and experimental machinery with home cooks and notable chefs alike. His radio show Cooking Issues broadcasts from the back of the super-cool Roberta’s in Brooklyn every Tuesday.
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.
The Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless is perhaps best known for hosting Mexico: One Plate at a Time, a cooking show on Public Broadcasting Service that is now in its ninth season. Bayless has spent most of his career researching and sharing his knowledge on the culinary landscape of Mexico, and is the owner of Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the latter being one of America’s first fine-dining Mexican restaurants. In 2010, Bayless, a member of The Daily Meal Council, was the guest chef for the White House dinner honoring Felipe Calderón, the president of Mexico. The coolest thing about this talented chef–restaurateur, though, is that last year, he and two collaborators wrote and produced, and Bayless starred in the well-reviewed Cascabel: Dinner — Daring — Desire, the story of a meal song, dance, and physical feats, at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre (the production will return in 2014). Bayless’ new restaurant, Xoco Dos, is expected to open later this spring in Wicker Park, and yet another project is in the works for Randolph Row. Though Bayless has been pretty protective of the details, he told Eater that “there’s virtually nothing like it in the United States.”
Google Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, and you get things like "rum expert and tiki demi-god" and "leader of a worldwide cult of tiki." As the author of five books on vintage tiki drinks (Potions of the Caribbean is his latest) and cuisine, co-founder of the Faux-Tropical Bar School, and creator of the Tiki+ app (an expertly compiled database of more than 150 tiki drink recipes, catalogued by base liquor, flavor profile, and other characteristics), The Bum is as cool as a languorous "Aloha!" — or maybe as cool as the mai tai he’d teach you how to make (properly).
Not long ago, the irreverent radio host Elvis Duran was talking about a phone-in guest scheduled for his morning show. We've had all the great stars of music on, he said — Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the rest — but the person he was really excited about talking to was Tito. Huh? Surely not Tito Jackson? And not, we're guessing, UFC legend Tito Ortiz. Then Duran started talking about his favorite vodka, and we got it: Tito Beveridge, producer of Tito's Homemade Vodka (recently named the exclusive vodka brand for United Airlines). Now that made sense. A tall guy with wavy gray hair and a pleasantly goofy grin, Beveridge studied geology and geophysics and ran dynamite crews for oil rigs in South America before drifting into the mortgage business. But with a name like Beveridge… well… He started making a little vodka under the counter for friends, gradually taught himself the distiller's art for real, and got the first legal distillery license in Texas in modern times. The bottles are plain, the labels straightforward, and the vodka is really good and smooth as a Texas drawl.
Is it cool to be French? This seemingly indefatigable chef–restaurateur sure makes it seem that way. With 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 Boulud, a member of The Daily Meal Council, created the foie gras burger, has his own smoked salmon, is blending his own scotch, and that his restaurant DBGB pays homage to the much missed punk venue CBGB.
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. Bowien then replicated that success all the way across the country on New York City's Lower East Side, though that establishment is temporarily closed. Bowien's success is the kind that most people can only dream of, and yet he's self-assured enough to have called his own restaurant (the New York Mission Chinese) one of the most overhyped in America. He also donates 75 cents from the sale of each entrée to local food banks. Though we’re still waiting for the New York Mission Chinese to reopen in a new location, Bowien’s San Francisco-inspired, casual-and-cooler-than-you vibe lives on in his latest project Mission Cantina on Orchard Street.
Just consider this life story: Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr. grew up working in a distillery, earned a law degree on the GI Bill, went into the military, practiced law for 30 years, and then decided to go into the bourbon business with his great-great-grandfather’s recipe from the 1800s. Bulleit then managed to smooth talk Seagram's into buying Bulleit Bourbon(it's now under the Diageo umbrella), all while keeping the historical recipe in check and setting up shop in Kentucky while jet-setting across the country to promote his family’s product. As a result, he’s a) been everywhere, and b) knows everyone. The next step for Bulleit, whose Kentucky bourbon is only available in select bars and boasts a pretty devoted following, is to expand overseas. The old-school American is bringing his 45 percent proof whiskey to the international market, including Japan, Germany, and Brazil. He’s basically your favorite charming grandfather who knows all the good stories to tell and says things like, "the Facebook," except he also knows how to make a kickass batch of bourbon.
Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that he’s the co-founder and CEO of La Colombe coffee roasters, a premium coffee chain founded in Philadelphia and now expanded to New York, Chicago, and Seoul, South Korea and think about his other accomplishments: He’s the first American ever to solo-trek the continent of Antarctica, from the coast to the South Pole. He has visited nearly half of the world’s countries. He’s aspiring to cross Death Valley without assistance. He and his wife, singer/songwriter Lauren Hart, have four adopted children from Ethiopia. All of that adds up to a pretty full, bountiful life — and then you stir in his quest for the best possible cup of coffee, with a side of social justice, and your mind is blown. Carmichael's concerns include fair and ethical trade with farmworkers, "earth-conscious" coffee farms, and a staggering amount of aid for causes like clean water and orphans in Africa. La Colombe’s roasts, meanwhile, can be found in the restaurants of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay among others — but he maintains that coffee is “the ultimate democratic luxury. You can have the best coffee in the world for $2.” Carmichael’s not only an urban rebel-slash-mountain man, he’s a guy who’s lived through enough stories, cool ones at that, for nine lives in his 49 years.
The Philadelphia-born Carroll, who was a law student before she went to culinary school, is what an earlier generation used to call a tall, cool drink of water. After working at restaurants in San Francisco and her hometown, Carroll — who took sixth place in Urbanspoon's America's Sexiest Single Chefs competition — impressed Eric Ripert enough to win the post of sous-chef at his three-Michelin star Le Bernardin in New York City, and then the top chef's spot at his 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge back in Philadelphia. Pretty much unflappable in her appearances on Top Chef and Top Chef: All Stars despite being eliminated on both shows, she has long been working on a restaurant of her own, to be called Concrete Blonde. Last year, Johnette Napolitano, of the band Concrete Blonde, attacked Carroll on Twitter ("I don't even have a TV but you have no idea what can b unleashed" she threatened), and demanded payment for use of the name. "How about all the other Concrete Blondes out there," Carroll responded, reasonably enough, mentioning a winery, a book, a movie, and an Australian restaurant. Napolitano offered to "throw down" with Carroll, but as far as we can tell, the chef was too cool to respond.
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), or 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. You could note that at his Noodle Bar, Chang has begun a monthly “cook takeover” where a line cook gets to add to the Momofuku menu, and that he brought dim sum to Má Pêche — not to mention that in March of this year, the James Beard Foundation inducted Chang into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. 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.
Clendenen looks like the drummer in a Southern jam band, has made wines inspired by Mexican wrestlers and Italian porn stars, and owns more Hawaiian shirts than Don Ho. More to the point, through his Au Bon Climat winery and related enterprises, Clendenen is as responsible as anyone for earning Santa Barbara County its reputation as the source of some of the best wines in America — and his chardonnays and pinot noirs are good enough to make producers in his beloved Burgundy more than a little nervous. Just to seal the deal, Clendenen is also known as one of the best cooks in the winemaking community.
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. Cohen also called out TIME editor Howard Chua-Eoan, the man responsible for naming the so-called ‘Gods of Food,’ and incisively brought him down a peg and referred to his position as “a human centipede of journalism.”
“Some people might assume that if the press isn’t giving more coverage to women then it’s because there aren’t enough female chefs who deserve the coverage,” Cohen wrote in The New York Times. “I would suggest that if you think the word 'deserve' has anything to do with who gets press coverage then you don’t know anything about the real world.”
There are a million wine blogs out there, offering a million different approaches to this most complex and delightful subject, but Colman's stands out. Styling himself "Dr. Vino" (he has a doctorate in "the political economy of the wine industry in France and the United States"), he promises "wine talk that goes down easy." This involves everything from unconventional wine pairings (Felsina vin santo with peanut brittle), to reports on amusing contretemps from the world of wine (Buckingham Palace served President Obama a chablis that the Queen's own tasters had described as "soapy" and "odd"), to investigations of such serious issues as how the drought is affecting California winemaking and wine's carbon footprint. He's knowledgeable, irreverent, and, best (and coolest) of all, he writes short and to the point — at least on his blog. His book Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink was somewhat weightier.
New York's Guggenheim Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are but two of the institutions in which Cooper's light sculptures and other environmental installations can be found — but after he discovered true artisanal mezcals in the Oaxaca countryside in 1990, he saw a different kind of light and made it his mission to bring these unique and powerful spirits to an American audience. The label he founded, Del Maguey, doesn't traffic in those mild, anonymous mezcals that are trying to be tequila; these bottlings are produced absolutely by hand, from agave hearts roasted in stone pits and ground in horse-powered mills, and they're full-bodied, often smoky, and flavorful as hell. Cooper imports seven kinds of mezcal, some of which are fermented for up to a month.
"It takes time, but we're extracting flavor," he told Food and Wine. To help ensure that this traditional treasure won't be lost, the affable Cooper has even founded a nonprofit organization with a name almost as mouth-filling as Del Maguey's products: the Foundation for the Sustainable Development of the Producing Communities of Maguey and Cultural Rescue of Mezcal.
One sign of how cool this Italian-American Sacramento grocer 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. The Corti Brothers online store, where you can buy their Italian specialties even if you don’t live in Sacramento, remains charmingly low-tech and straightforward, giving away very little about the vast treasures and culinary knowledge amassed by this family. Corti, a member of The Daily Meal Council, 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?
Davis was the research editor at Saveur under Colman Andrews, now The Daily Meal's editorial director, and then went off to Portland, Ore. as managing editor and food editor at Portland Monthly. Somewhere along the line, she decided that she wanted to know how to butcher meat, so she did an apprenticeship at a butcher shop and charcuterie in France. Back in Portland, she wanted to pursue her studies of the craft, but couldn't find a place to do it — so she launched a butchery school of her own, the Portland Meat Collective, drawing some of the region's best chefs and butchers in to teach classes. Soon, she was skilled enough to start teaching classes herself. Today, the PMC tutors students in such subjects as basic beef butchery, sausage making, and basic rabbit butchery and charcuterie. Davis, part of The Daily Meal Council, takes her message of cutting what you're going to chew even into local schools. If you've seen Davis in those Wusthof knife ads, you know that she can handle a blade with real savoir-faire.
Robert Del Grande
The wry, soft-spoken, and amiable Del Grande (who recently joined The Daily Meal Council) 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 and distiller Don Short created the first-ever Texas-made gin, called Roxor and flavored with Texan botanicals.
Dom DeMarco Sr.
Dom DeMarco Sr. 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.
Kerry Diamond & Claudia Wu
Diamond and Wu are the dream team behind the twice-yearly Cherry Bombe Magazine, which celebrates women in all aspects of the food industry. They’ve also organized the sold-out Cherry Bombe Jubilee, this March 30, which does the same thing while allowing all these wonderful women to meet and make valuable connections. Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Christina Tosi, April Bloomfield, and Anita Lo, among others, have all collaborated with Cherry Bombe and the Jubilee counts Reichl, Lo, Gabrielle Hamilton, Suzanne Goin, Amanda Cohen, and Christine Muhlke, among many others, as featured guests. Cherry Bombe is part style magazine, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s fluff. Food and fashion can’t help but be connected, and these two know how to make that work for them — and for women in the culinary world. The boys can have their womanless Time magazine "Gods of Food" if they want; Cherry Bombe is way cooler.
John T. Edge
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. A Daily Meal Council member, Edge continues to champion the best food that the American South has to offer, (lots of greens, beans, and turkey necks, of late) and just knows a whole lot about food. If you let him, Edge will utterly school you on why Southern food matters: “Our beloved provincial dishes serve as unifying totems of people and place.” See? Cool.
There are scores of artisanal distilleries around America today (heck, sometimes it seems as if there are scores of artisanal distilleries just in Brooklyn alone), so what makes Brian Ellison, president and CEO of Death's Door Spirits, something special? Above all, the inspiration behind the company: Ellison worked in land planning and economic development in Madison, Wis., and took up the cause of supporting small- and medium-size family farms in the region. He eventually focused on Wisconsin's 22-square-mile Washington Island, once known for its potato fields but then lying fallow. In 2005, brothers Tom and Ken Koyen planted five acres of wheat on the island, originally meant for flour. It soon found a market, though, as base material for ale produced by the island's Capital Brewery and for all of Death's Door spirits — first-rate, character-filled vodka, gin, and whiskey. Ellison and his crew now produce more than 250,000 cases annually of these products, and are supporting efforts to expand those five acres of wheat to 1,200 acres. We love the idea of distilling with a purpose. We also like the name Death's Door — a reference to the passage between Washington Island and the mainland.
From her signature blonde rock star hair to her offhanded ease in any kitchen, whether she’s making James Beard award-winning pastries or excelling in the Worldwide Pizza Championships, Falkner is just one of those people who projects a laid-back mien These days, the California native, who has competed in and won several iterations of Iron Chef and Top Chef, can be seen around in New York, where she recently served as executive chef at Krescendo in Boerum Hill and then Corvo Bianco on the Upper West Side. While she considers future possibilities, Falkner is, serving as president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, working to help get women chefs in the spotlight and doubtlessly doing it with her usual calm efficiency.
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 as well as 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. This year, Feniger, a member of The Daily Meal Council, was recognized for her talents in California cuisine by receiving the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Restaurant Association. She also opened Mud Hen Tavern, a gourmet comfort food eatery in Los Angeles just a couple of months ago, inspired by her memories of going to minor league Mud Hens baseball games in her native Toledo, Ohio.
Flay is a household name, in and out of the business. The so-called “George Clooney of food" has a bunch of restaurants and Iron Chef titles under his belt, and has shaken up the culinary world with his unforgettable TV personality, as expressed on such popular Food Network shows as Throwdown! With Bobby Flay and Best Thing I Ever Ate. Just for having remained a major player, and a well-liked one at that, for as long as he has, Flay deserves inclusion in this list. But he's still moving forward. His new restaurant, Gato, just opened in New York to good notices, and he has recently launched another TV show, Beat Bobby Flay, where he gets to go head-to-head in the kitchen against everyone from Jonathan Waxman to President Obama. Very chill.
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, just named “best barbecue in the world” by Texas Monthly, grew out of a food truck and turns out 'cue so good that you've got to line up early in the morning to have even a chance at sampling it. In Texas, that’s saying something. In fact, 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, though, at his own pace, and he sure hopes you like it. And if you can’t make it to Texas, you can enjoy Franklin's first-class meats vicariously in his upcoming TV series, BBQ with Franklin.
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 not only 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 cool. And now Gold has brought that cool from LA Weekly to an even bigger stage, the Los Angeles Times. This year, the famous food critic (who is part of The Daily Meal Council) compiled his first-ever 101 Best Restaurants List for the Los Angeles Times, and Michael Cimarusti’s Providence went home with the top prize.
"We've been so busy at chez Doon of late," wrote Grahm in a dispatch from his Bonny Doon Vineyard in California's Santa Cruz Mountains, "that we've not sent samples out in essential a counoise' age…[L]et us know which of these wines really picpoule your interest."
Counoise and picpoule, of course, are French grape varieties. The wordplay is typical of this self-described "provocateur, punster, philosopher & winemaker." Lanky and long-faced, with an abundant ponytail and owlish glasses, Grahm was one of the original Rhône Rangers — American vintners who specialize in working with southern French grapes — and may well have coined the term. It's his kind of pun. (His book Been Doon So Long includes chapters with titles like "Trotanoy's Complaint," "Howlbariño," and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Rootstock.") It's not all talk, though: Grahm continues to produce lots of very cool and unusual wine, much of it Rhône-inspired, usually under engagingly silly names, like Vinferno, Le Pousseur, and (The Wine Formerly Known As) Clos de Gilroy. Now he's also making Querry Cider, using four kinds of pears, 10 varieties of apple, and two kinds of quince; if anyone can make cider cool, it's Grahm.
Much of what makes Paul Grieco so damn cool can be surmised from the tagline of his growing empire of New York City-based wine bars: "Terroir, the elitist wine bar for EVERYONE." If you don’t read that and think, now that’s a place I’d like to grab a glass of wine, then perhaps his mammoth list of impeccable and frequently rotating selections, organized in a binder that looks like it was assembled by a doodle-happy wine bozo will win you over. Consider Grieco the recruiter for the "Wine Is Not for Snobs" army — thirsty citizens who drink what they like and like what they drink.
Christopher Hirsheimer & Melissa Hamilton
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 (both members of The Daily Meal Council) are redefining cookbook publishing with their Canal House series, a unique— and frankly gorgeous — collection of periodical cookbooks, while they create and document wonderful lunches daily (for themselves only, alas) at their canal-side New Jersey studio. Each issue of Canal House delves into homey, yet innovative recipes and ideas that make you wish you had thought of baking a chocolate gingerbread cake sooner.
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. Many of the big names in the industry like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud get their produce from Jones, and he has also worked with the late greats Julia Child and Charlie Trotter. Farmer Lee was growing the kinds of produce everybody uses today when most of the folks who use them were still mere sprouts themselves.
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 versus 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. Also, she connects with her fans by consistently posting what she’s making in the kitchen on her Facebook page (we can’t get enough of her desserts) — and is about to launch her own TV show, Korean Food Made Simple, on the Cooking Channel. She even swung by to do a demo at The Daily Meal recently.
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. Since then he has dedicated his life to learning how to practice his art to near-perfection. From Per Se and the French Laundry to Bouchon and ad hoc, Keller’s restaurants have received consistent thumbs-up from everyone in the business. 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 while 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.
He calls himself "shawkward" — shy plus awkward — but we can hardly find anything of either about him. As the founder, publisher, and president of the fine beverages magazine Mutineer, he once told us that he fell into the beverage world simply by taking a job as a bartender. Once he realized that he loved wine and spirits, he got certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and ended up as the sommelier at the London Hotel in Los Angeles and other prestigious establishments. Flash-forward to today, where Mutineer (which by definition means "one who rebels against authority") continues to be a leading voice in drink media.
"We all wonder why it’s so hard to connect with wine culture," Kropf said in a TEDx Napa Valley talk. "There’s nothing to connect to with. We’ve tried to provide the answer key and… help people not screw up when make their buying decisions."
When Kropf isn't geeking out at TED, he’s heading up a new initiative, Drink Careers 101, to get millennials employed in the beverage industry.
Tim Love doesn't mess around. At his Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth, 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. Love also just opened Queenie’s Steakhouse last year in Denton, Texas, a neighborhood favorite that’s gotten rave reviews. 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.
Wouldn't it be cool if somebody applied the imagination, wit, and skill evinced by America's new crop of craft brewmasters and distillers to G-rated beverages? And did it not in some trendy enclave on either coast but in the middle of Ohio? That somebody in John Lynch. He started out as a craft brewer, in fact, but quickly realized that the field was crowded and getting moreso every day. He and his family had found a space in Columbus where they wanted to open a brew pub, but then thought they might try doing something different but along the same lines. They named their place Rambling House, explaining that in Ireland, a rambling house was a community meeting place. The community now flocks to Lynch's place, to enjoy all-natural root beer, ginger beer, Columbus cola, organic orange, and other flavors (including, we almost hesitate to reveal, salted caramel soda) all of them chilled and full of flavor.
"Bartender" is probably not quite the right word for McGarry. As the bar manager at the critically acclaimed Dead Rabbit, which has helped transform the nightlife desert of Manhattan’s Financial District into “the place to be," McGarry has the cocktail-shaking ease of a mixing master. And at only 24 years old, he has already won top honors as 2013 International Bartender of the Year from Cocktail’s Spirited Awards. McGarry is most often seen on the second floor of this three-floor old-school Irish bar chatting with customers in his thick Irish brogue and making unusual cocktails that come almost exclusively from pre-Prohibition recipe books.
Renowned Oregon-based bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler can take a lot of credit for popularizing barrel-aged cocktails, but he's not sure he wants it.
"Believe me, I’m all for innovation in this little business of ours….” he once wrote in a post on his eponymous blog. “But…I don’t think we need to run around barrel-aging every goddamn liquid out there…”
We think it's cool that he doesn't brag about this claim to fame. We also like the fact that he once wrote a veritable rhapsody about the brandy Old Fashioned. After studying Hungarian baroque architecture in Budapest earlier in his career, Morgenthaler tended and managed bars in almost every watering hole in Eugene, with a stint as a researcher for a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome study in between; since 2009, he's been the man behind the adult beverages at Portland's Clyde Common. He does the city proud.
Talk about a résumé: Myhrvold 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. Two years ago, he published Modernist Cuisine at Home, making his often dazzling culinary techniques at least slightly more accessible to you and me, followed last year by The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, which reveals the secrets behind his team's remarkable images and gives us plenty more of those images to feed on.
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, above all trying to get 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." 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.
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 has been going strong for more than three decades. And speaking of local and sustainable, Pawlcyn also now runs the food service at that beacon of piscatorial sustainability, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
What's so cool about this French master chef, cookbook author, and teacher is that he probably doesn't care whether it's cool or not; he just knows that his native cuisine, unfashionable though it may be at the moment, is 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.
As the longtime restaurant critic for New York Magazine, Platt is probably one of the most recognized names in the tightly-knit critics circle. Up until late last year, in fact, he was just a name. Platt made headlines at the end of 2013, though, when he did something that food critics hardly ever do: he took off his mask and revealed his identity as the self-proclaimed “tall, top-heavy gentleman” (complete with photo) behind many of New York’s most famous restaurant reviews. As a member of the old guard before Yelp and bloggers took over, Platt has taken his new lack of anonymity with grace and wit, as he does with most of his writing. And with a Twitter handle like “Plattypants,” you know he doesn't take himself too seriously, which is definitely cool in our book.
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.
Her father was the legendary sports writer Dick Schaap. Her cousin is Phil Schaap, one of the most famous jazz disc jockeys and jazz historians. This Schaap's sport, and her art form, too, is cocktails — making them (she is a sometime bartender), writing about them, and enjoying them. Schaap writes a regular Drink column for The New York Times Magazine and last year published a memoir (and panegyric on drinking places she has known) called Drinking with Men: A Memoir. She is also an ordained minister, former chaplain, the onetime librarian for a paranormal society, taught English, and managed homeless shelters. With her cascading mane and almost cherubic smile, you'd spot her on a barstool in an instant — and if you were lucky, sidle up beside her for something cool.
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, 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), which pretty much redefines Italian cuisine in Shirean terms.
Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo
OK, these guys look cool to begin with. More than that, they've made offal cool in a town whose putative culinary identity was identified by Woody Allen in Annie Hall as "alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast." Their first restaurant, Animal, defiantly sits two doors down from iconic Los Angeles Jewish deli Canter’s, while serving a daily changing menu that includes ingredients like pig ears, pig tails, and pig’s head (along with lamb neck, veal, and sweetbreads). The food is delicious, and the restaurant is packed every night. The fare at their second eatery, the seafood-themed Son of a Gun, isn't quite as daunting, though they have offered things like geoduck sashimi and alligator schnitzel, but that's packed, too. Shook and Dotolo cook what they want, and we all end up wanting it, too.
She opened Campanile, one of the definitive Los Angeles restaurants of the late 20th century with her then-husband, Mark Peel, and on the side, oh, just changed the world of bread in America with her next-door La Brea Bakery. The small artisanal operation in opened its doors in 1989 and sold in 2001 for somewhere around $60 million. She invested her share of the proceeds with a guy named Madoff, and when that went south, what did she do? She joined up with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich to help re-energize the city's dining scene with the wonderfully original and instantly popular Osteria Mozza (where she makes fresh mozzarella through the evening) and Pizzeria Mozza (there are now an Osteria and a Pizzeria Mozza in Singapore, too, as well as Pizzeria Mozza’s in San Diego and Newport Beach). Last year, Chi Spacca (Italian for "what splits" — in this context meaning "cleaver"), the kind of place that gives your vegan friends the willies, with its menu of things like house-made salumi, lamb neck stracotto, beef and bone marrow pie, pancetta-wrapped sweetbreads, and 50-ounce Florentine-style beef shop. Bread, cheese, and meat. What's not to like?
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.
One look at Strassburger’s signature cowboy hat and you’re instantly standing a bit on your toes. Then you find out that she knows her meat — the marbling, color, and texture of each piece of beef aging and waiting to be cut. 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. Today, she supplies some of New York City’s finest steakhouses, including Smith & Wollensky and Frankie and Johnnie’s and sells 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. She's got the hat and the cattle.
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," 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 four times in a row?
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, that’s just not his style. Two years ago, 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, creating a neighborhood gem that’s not only packed every night of the week but is bringing crowds in from Manhattan and boosting other local businesses all the while. For his next move, Talde felt the urge to go low-brow, and 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. Now Talde and his partners are also running the old-style Thistle Hill Tavern, a block from Talde. Specialties include lobster (not crab) Rangoon, mac and cheese (with four cheeses), Thai mussels, chicken tikka masala, along with regular, vegan, and falafel burgers. Talde is clearly no follower; he invents his own style as he goes along. Be on the lookout for a new restaurant from him opening soon across the Hudson River, in Jersey City.
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," which are 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?
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 paired with her confident risk-taking put her in a class of her own. But you can forget all of that — many would argue that Tosi did enough to secure a spot on this list just by creating Crack Pie and Cornflake-Marshmallow cookies.
Norman Van Aken
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 cookbooks and thoughtful, amusing essays on food, has recently published a must-read memoir called No Experience Necessary, hangs out in Key West when he can (and not for the reason suggested by his late friend Charlie Trotter when he described Van Aken as "the Walt Whitman of American cuisine"), and plays a mean blues harp.
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. His latest projects include restaurants in Nashville (where he hangs out with the Kings of Leon) and Toronto, a couple of cool venues to be sure.
When The New York Times calls you "a living iPod of drink lore and recipes" and Conan O’Brien prefers to think of you as a "crazy, bearded Civil War general," chances are you have something going on. Wondrich is the first guy 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. Wondrich doesn't just look backward, though. He's a cocktail innovator, too. Consider, for example, the Colbert Bump, created for our favorite political TV pundit, you-know-who. It includes Cherry Heering, "good ol' Republican gin," lemon juice, and soda — a real summer cooler.
As host of the Travel Channel’s 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 the type of person 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.