You might not believe that a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model would be considered as influential in the food business as megachefs José Andrés, Dan Barber, and Danny Meyer. And you might not consider an ice cream purveyor whose business suffered a listeria outbreak to also be considered amongst food’s MVPs. But in 2015, where Instagram, food waste, no tipping, and food borne illnesss were all buzzy topics in the industry, such players were leading the conversation. Between launching restaurants, seducing Twitter followers, bouncing back from a corporate crisis, and rethinking the future of food, these industry titans have earned the distinction of being named Yahoo’s Food People of the Year.
Photo: Blair Getz Mezibov
The innovative Spanish chef not only runs a successful restaurant empire, Think Food Group, but he’s the biggest advocate for reform in both food business and immigration policy. Andrés this year served as chair at Silicon Valley’s BITE conference, which gathered chefs, scientists, and business leaders to discuss new technologies in food, and pushed ideas such as solar powered stoves to prevent people from being exposed to toxic fumes as they cook. Andrés also stood up for immigration reform by taking on Donald Trump — the chef canceled a contract to open up a restaurant in the new Trump International Hotel in D.C. after the presidential candidate made several disparaging comments about immigrants and foreigners during his campaign stops. “As a proud Spanish immigrant and recently naturalized American citizen myself, I believe that every human being deserves respect, regardless of immigration status,” said Andrés, who became an American citizen in 2013 and wrote an emotional op-ed about process. Trump sued Andrés for breach of contact, and Andres countersued, but we’ve already reached a verdict that the chef’s bold stance was one of the best culinary statements of the year.
Photo: Aubrie Pick
In 2015, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model proved that models do eat — and cook, and cook well. Teigen’s approachable and authentic commentary on food has earned her a cult following on her blog sodelushious.com and on Twitter, where the irreverent cook declares her love of fried snacks, burritos, cheese, and pie while looking impossibly alluring at all times. The model also scored a deal for her first cookbook, and flexed her cooking prowess on camera while co-hosting the daytime talk show, “FAB Life” alongside Yahoo’s own Joe Zee. Expect big things from Teigen in 2016 — her book, “Cravings: Recipes for What You Want To Eat,” will hit bookstores in February. And her first child with husband, John Legend, is due this spring.
Photo: Melissa Hom
The founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, the empire which includes Union Square, Blue Smoke, Gramercy Tavern, and the billion dollar burger joint Shake Shack, changed the game of tipping in 2015. Meyer made headlines this fall when he announced he would cut tipping at the 13 restaurants of USHG. The move was intended to improve wages among his kitchen staffs, particularly the back of the house; most if not all tips go to waiters and bartenders versus cooks and dishwashers. The move has been heralded as a sea change in how restaurants will tackle wages in the future. Some restaurants have already followed Meyer’s lead to end tipping. Others have panned the move: Meyer is being sued by two former employees over unfair wages. Nevertheless, Meyer’s move was a bold step toward improving restaurant employee pay across the board.
Photo: Susie Cushner
The king of farm-to-table has launched a massive campaign to encourage people to love the unused parts of fruits and vegetables in our kitchens. The founder and chef of Blue Hill Farm restaurants last spring launched wastED, where for three weeks, Barber served meals created from vegetable pulp, stems, day old bread and other cast-offs at his restaurant’s NYC location. He also welcomed top chefs including April Bloomfield, Daniel Humm, and Mario Batali to work one night each in the kitchen, where they also churned out innovative dishes from what would normally be considered food scraps. Since then, food waste has become one of the hottest food topics of 2015, particularly as 40 percent of food for human consumption is trashed, and an estimated 1 billion people go without enough food daily around the world.
Photo: Nick Fancher
Jeni Britton Bauer
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream founder Jeni Bauer faced a catastrophic situation this spring when the Nebraska Department of Agriculture found traces of listeria in its artisanal ice creams. The company was forced to shut down its Columbus, Ohio, based plants twice, and pulled thousands of pints of ice cream and sorbets from its shelves. Though no one had fallen ill from the bacteria, the move was preemptive. Three people in Kansas died from listeria linked to Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries ice cream just weeks prior to Jeni’s crisis. The outbreak cost Jeni’s an estimated $2.5 million in losses, including $200K to upgrade its facilities.
Bauer, who launched her eponymous line of gourmet ice creams in 2002, prides herself on running a socially conscious business (it’s a certified B corporation, meaning it meets certain guidelines for social impact and transparency). So with some hustle and these 10 steps she took to survive the crisis, the company emerged from the listeria scare by moving quickly and communicating openly with consumers along the way. “You learn a lot about yourself and others during times of immense pressure,” Bauer told Yahoo Food earlier this year. “The experience makes the pain worth it.” Kudos to Bauer for triumphing over disaster.
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