Meet the 30 Most Influential People in Food

Who can deny that food has gone from simple sustenance to trendy to a topic that has come to dominate our lives—whether having to do with public health, personal wellness, the profession and hobby of cooking, the marketing of packaged goods and fast food, and the dissemination of content via social media and endless magazines, blogs and video channels. In this inaugural list of the 30 Most Influential People in Food, we spotlight the chefs, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, media personalities, authors, social media stars, journalists and marketers who keep us informed, entertained and fed. —Tony Case

1

Ted Allen

Host of Food Network’s Chopped and Chopped Junior, author, magazine columnist

The affable Ted Allen first came to our attention in 2003 with Bravo’s Emmy-winning makeover series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, where he showed hapless single men how to woo women with their food and wine expertise. Since 2009, he has been one of the most familiar faces on Food Network, as host of the competition series Chopped, for which he won the James Beard Award for Best Media Personality/Host in 2012. As of last year, Allen also has helmed the spinoff Chopped Junior. The two programs are among the top performers for the network, whose total viewership in the demo grew 3 percent in the first quarter. Giving Allen even more exposure and influence, the Columbus, Ohio, native has written two cookbooks (including In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks, where dishes like bruschetta with strawberry and tomato salad and scallops and cheddar grits with chorizo are on the menu) and has been a contributor to Esquire magazine for nearly 20 years. —Chris Ariens

2

Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali

Founders of the Eataly empire, TV hosts, authors

This pair is among the food world’s true superstars, having been tastemakers and influencers for decades. The Batali-Bastianich empire today spans New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Singapore and Hong Kong, the centerpiece of which is Eataly, an Italian marketplace with more outposts popping up all the time. Batali, who has authored 10 cookbooks and who was once dubbed Man of the Year by GQ, is also a two-time James Beard Award winner, taking honors for Best Chef: New York City in 2002 and Outstanding Chef of the Year in 2005. Bastianich was also presented with the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award by the James Beard Foundation and Bon Appétit in 2005. He has co-authored two books on Italian wine. The duo are also winners of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur Award. On the media front, the Crocs-clad Batali co-hosts ABC’s The Chew, while Bastianich, former judge on Fox’s MasterChef Junior and MasterChef Italia, hosts and is a producer of CNBC’s Restaurant Startup. —Christine Birkner

3

Anthony Bourdain

Host, writer of CNN's Parts Unknown

As writer and host of CNN’s Emmy Award-winning series Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain, 59, is refreshingly humble about the fortune that’s come his way. He spent 28 years as a professional cook and chef, including several years at Brasserie Les Halles (and, beginning in 1998, four years as its executive chef). Bourdain was thrust into the spotlight in 2000 with the publication of his best-selling tell-all Kitchen Confidential. Then, one opportunistic thing led to another—more best-sellers, shows on the Food Network (A Cook’s Tour) and Travel Channel (No Reservations, The Layover)—and in 2013 Bourdain settled into his current gig at CNN where each week he takes viewers on a wild culinary and cultural tour, from Montana to Manila. As always with Bourdain, there are many projects afoot. Last year, he invested in Roads & Kingdoms, a digital media company focused on writerly pieces about food, travel and culture. He also made a cameo in the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short, in which he explains big banks’ collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, by way of day-old “fish stew.” Lately, Bourdain is readying for a fall tour to support what he jokingly calls his “dysfunctional family cookbook,” Appetites (on sale Oct. 25). Bourdain also is forging ahead with ambitious plans for a a 155,000-square foot international food market on New York’s Pier 57, scheduled to open sometime next year. Adweek's interview with Bourdain can be found here.) —Lisa Granatstein

4

Anne Burrell

Chef, author, host of Food Network’s Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell

Anne Burrell is hard to miss. The chef and larger-than-life personality is all over the place, and one of the most recognized personalities in food. On the heels of her cookbook Cook Like a Rockstar, Burrell has published a new collection of recipes, Own Your Kitchen: Recipes to Inspire and Empower. A native of upstate New York, Burrell went on to study in Italy, where she worked at La Taverna del Lupo in Umbria and La Bottega del 30, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tuscany. Her personal style—spiky blonde hair and limitless energy—has remained a constant, from her beginnings in Buffalo to working for Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich and stints at some of the best-known spots in New York (including Centro Vinoteca, Felidia and Savoy). A staple of food TV, Burrell has teamed with Batali as his sous chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, joined Tyler Florence in mentoring the culinary-impaired on Worst Cooks in America, and put chefs and restaurateurs together on her own show, Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell. —Mark Joyella

5

David Chang

Chef and founder of Momofuku

David Chang might have been a professional golfer if his swing were any good (it wasn’t), and he might have had a successful finance career had he liked numbers (he didn’t). The one thing that did speak to Chang was ramen, and his belief that the humble, versatile Japanese staple deserved a higher place in the American culinary scene. In 2004, with borrowed money, long odds and a lease in New York’s East Village, Chang cut the ribbon on Momofuku—and an empire was born. “I just wanted to open up a noodle bar,” Chang told Adweek for the cover story of our Food Issue in 2012. “I didn’t care that it wasn’t sexy.” And the place wasn’t—but its food was cheap, daring and porkalicious. “This is Japanese ramen by way of a Carolina whole-hog barbecue,” as New York magazine put it. Then, the starred reviews came, as did the long lines, and today Momofuku boasts 15 outposts from New York to Sydney. Chang has also become a brand pitchman, for Audi, and launched a food-delivery service in New York called Ando. —Robert Klara

6

Roy Choi

Chef, author, godfather of the food truck movement 

The next time you score a surprisingly good lobster roll, pizza or pupusa from a food truck, you may want to thank Roy Choi. It was Choi who, in spite of a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and pedigree from New York’s famed Le Bernardin, opened a Korean-Mexican fusion barbecue truck in Los Angeles in 2008 (an idea that hit him after a night of drinking). By 2010, his Kogi truck would be pulling down $2 million a year. Choi is widely credited with leading the transformation of American street food into an $800 million industry that’s now taken seriously by critics and consumers alike. But Choi’s contribution to the culinary landscape goes far beyond just rolling restaurants. He also pioneered the use of Twitter, to let fans know which L.A. street corner they could find his kimchi quesadillas on any given evening, demonstrating that social media could be an integral part of a restaurant’s marketing plan—just like he proved that delicious food could be enjoyed next to a lamppost. Choi, who appeared on the cover of Adweek’s Food Issue two years ago, can be seen in the current campaign for Discover Los Angeles. He’s also done brand tie-ins with the likes of Oreo and Google and was the inspiration for the Jon Favreau film Chef. —R.K.

7

Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi

Co-hosts, Bravo’s Top Chef

Production has just begun on Season 14 of Bravo’s highly influential competition series Top Chef, which has the power to make or break budding chefs and has made household names of its contestants and judges alike. For its latest outing, co-hosts Colicchio and Lakshmi have set up shop in Charleston, S.C. (Colicchio has a home on nearby Kiawah Island), where they will put another crop of rivals through the grueling culinary competition to debut in the fall. Away from Top Chef, Colicchio’s preparing for a summer opening of his newest restaurant, Fowler and Wells, in New York’s Beekman Hotel. His Crafted Hospitality will also operate the hotel’s bar and private dining for the hotel. Lakshmi, meanwhile, has debuted her home decor line, The Padma Collection, at Bloomingdale’s, which includes dishware, stemware and hand-blown glass decor. She also created Padma’s Easy Exotic, a collection of frozen organic foods, fine teas and natural spice blends—a nod to her Indian roots. Her memoir, The New York Times best-seller Love, Loss, and What We Ate, came out in March. —M.J.

8

Graham Elliot

Top Chef judge, restaurateur, author

As he sheds weight (150 pounds at last count), the spectacled, tattooed Graham Elliot continues to expand his food empire. The former MasterChef and MasterChef Jr. regular is moving to Bravo’s Top Chef as a judge for its next iteration, which will be set in Charleston, S.C. Elliot’s eponymous eatery in Chicago remains one of only 15 restaurants in the U.S. to be awarded two Michelin stars. Named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2004, Elliot is also the face of Walmart Canada’s Fresh Food campaign and, in partnership with American Airlines, is a Culinary Captain. He is author of Cooking Like a Master Chef: 100 Recipes to Make the Everyday Extraordinary. —C.A.

9

Tyler Florence

Chef, restaurateur, entrepreneur, TV host, author

A fixture of the Food Network for 17 years, Florence was nominated for a James Beard Award last year (his second nomination in two years) in the category Best Chef: West. The West is where Florence opened his first restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, in San Francisco, followed by El Paseo in nearby Mill Valley. Best known for hosting Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, Florence has also written a collection of cookbooks. He’s expanded his empire to include a line of award-winning wines, a kitchen wares retailer and Sprout, an organic baby food company. Florence also recently launched an app, Yumavore, described as “an ingredient-to-plate social-networking app designed to meet the needs of the home chef in search of an innovative recipe publishing, discovery and shopping tool.” —M.J.

10

Ina Garten

Host of Food Network’s The Barefoot Contessa, author, entrepreneur

Known as the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten made the move into food from an unlikely—yet famous—spot: The White House. She was working on nuclear energy policy in the late ’70s when she found herself yearning for something more. Garten found a specialty food store for sale in the Hamptons, called the Barefoot Contessa, and a food empire was born. While the original store closed in 2003, the show of the same name has become a fixture on Food Network, and the Barefoot Contessa name can today be found on a collection of baking mixes, sauces and eight cookbooks. This fall, Garten will publish her latest book, Cooking for Jeffrey. She describes it as “my most personal cookbook yet,” since it focuses on the food she has made for her husband of 48 years. She’ll take it on the road, doing a series of on-stage interviews around the country, including audience Q&A’s and signings. —M.J.

11

Christina Grdovic and Nilou Motamed

Vp, publisher and editor in chief, Food & Wine

As the publisher of Food & Wine since 2007 and with the magazine for 20 years, Christina Grdovic has overseen the brand’s growth into a culinary powerhouse that encompasses print (franchises like Best New Chefs), digital (including millennial-focused spinoff site FWx), live events (most notably the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., the country’s preeminent food event), TV partnerships (a long-standing relationship with Bravo’s Top Chef) and more. Earlier this year, she was joined by Nilou Motamed, the magazine’s new editor. With a resumé that includes years of experience at sister title Travel + Leisure, the stewardship of Condé Nast’s Epicurious and a role as director of inspiration at Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Motamed is primed to lead a new era for the already vibrant media brand. —Emma Bazilian

12

Vani Hari

Activist, Instagram food influencer

As the “Food Babe,” Vani Hari has been a vocal critic of the food industry, using her Instagram presence to warn about the hazards of pesticides and processed foods. And while the author and activist’s feed isn’t always visually appealing like other influencers, the messages focus on the power of words to explain how to cook healthy food at home. Last year, Time magazine named her one of the 30 most influential people on the internet. And while she has successfully fought to get brands like Kraft and Subway to stop using artificial colors and additives, some say she promotes pseudoscience while fostering unfounded fears. One thing is undeniable, though: Hari continues to have a real impact on how food is marketed and the food we eat. —Marty Swant

13

Hannah Hart

YouTube star, creator of My Drunk Kitchen

With 2.5 million YouTube subscribers, Hannah Hart has made a career of mashing up comedy and food through her My Drunk Kitchen video series. The weekly show follows Hart as she cooks dishes like eggs Benedict and taco-filled baked potatoes while she’s intoxicated, often with her friends and other YouTube stars. Hart is regularly pitched to advertisers as one of YouTube’s top creators, and she starred in a national campaign for the video site last year, including out-of-home and TV ads. —Lauren Johnson

14

J. Kenji López-Alt

Managing culinary director of Serious Eats

When J. Kenji López-Alt last year published his first cookbook, a 900-page best-seller called The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, The New York Times dubbed him “the nerd king of internet cooking.” Backed with an architecture degree from MIT, López-Alt adds a scientific twist to food by regularly breaking down questions for foodies like what kind of salt is best to cook with or how to care for a cast-iron pan. López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the site’s James Beard Award-nominated column, called The Food Lab. The San Francisco-based chef and former Cook’s Illustrated editor, he also hosts an online video series that explains the science behind food. —L.J.

15

Pamela Drucker Mann and Adam Rapoport

Publisher and editor in chief of Bon Appétit and Epicurious

Under the guidance of this dynamic duo, Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit has been transformed from a reliably good food magazine into a must-read. Their successes have led to larger roles within the publishing company, with Rapoport adding editorial oversight of the beloved recipe database Epicurious and, on the business side, Drucker Mann combining the two properties into the Food Innovation Group. Since its launch 18 months ago, the aptly acronymed FIG has seen its audience grow a whopping 617 percent, while revenue is up 467 percent. The annual event Vegas Uncork’d this year celebrated its 10th anniversary. Meanwhile, Rapoport continues to make Bon Appétit a smart, lush and vital print product (the magazine has won 22 National Magazine Awards to date) as he makes regular appearances on national media from the Today show to NPR. —E.B.

16

Ashley McCollum

General manager of Tasty

Ten years ago, BuzzFeed pioneered viral news by analyzing Facebook’s algorithm to determine how to get its content in front of millions of consumers. Today, the site is using the same playbook to build a food empire with its Tasty brand, and McCollum is leading the charge there. Over the past year, Tasty has amassed nearly 57 million Facebook likes and 360 million unique monthly visitors by cranking out daily, minute-long recipe videos that are made with quick cuts and a first-person perspective. The team has also expanded internationally, spinning off Spanish, French and British franchises. And of course, there are opportunities to create branded content so that recipes are made with advertisers’ products. To continue that growth, McCollum recently moved from her role as BuzzFeed’s chief of staff to run Tasty’s brand’s positioning and global positioning as general manager. —L.J.

17

Alexa Mehraban

Instagram star 

In January 2014, Alexa Mehraban was a New York-based food writer who decided to start the EatingNYC Instagram account as a way to share pictures and reviews. Two years later, she’s amassed 188,000 followers and is among a group of photographers that regularly get thousands of likes and comments from snapping stylized shots of pizza and ice cream. Her work on the app has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan and Refinery29, and brands like Kellogg’s have worked with her to create sponsored content. —L.J.

18

Jamie Oliver

Chef, TV host, author, activist

English chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver has been food famous long before there was such a thing as internet famous. (His appearance in a documentary about his River Café led to his first show nearly 20 years ago, The Naked Chef, which then led to a highly successful series of TV programs and books.) But today, the 40-year-old is also a major food force in social media. With 2.8 million followers on Instagram, 2.4 million subscribers on YouTube and 5.2 million followers on Twitter, he uses the platforms for sharing what he’s cooking and which fellow celebrity chefs he’s hanging with, as well as raising awareness about children’s health. A decade ago, his Feed Me Better campaign to improve the quality of school lunches in the U.K. spurred real change. And just last month, Oliver announced that he wants to use his social channels to fight fast-food and junk-food companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola from sponsoring the Summer Olympics. —M.S.

19

Tom Paine

Creative director of Y&R New Zealand

Tom Paine bravely attempted to broker a détente in one of the greatest battles of our time: the Burger Wars. It was all part of one of Burger King’s boldest campaigns to date, “The McWhopper,” which Paine oversaw as creative director at Y&R New Zealand. In the summer of 2015, Burger King took out full-page ads in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune appealing to rival McDonald’s to create, for charity, the McWhopper, a fast-food monstrosity combining the Big Mac and the Whopper. Though McDonald’s would end up turning down the proposal, the campaign was a big, fat hit for Burger King and the agency, which won the Grandy for the pitch at the 52nd annual International Andy Awards in April. After the win, Y&R employees from around the world appeared in a video in which they all celebrated by chowing down on McWhoppers. —C.B.

20

Rosanna Pansino

YouTube star, creator of Nerdy Nummies, author 

With equal passion for science fiction, video games and baking, Rosanna Pansino has found her sweet spot on YouTube as one of the site’s most successful food creators. The Seattle native’s popular Nerdy Nummies series has helped Pansino amass more than 6.1 million followers and 1.4 billion video views from fans who tune in every week to watch her whip up geek-inspired treats including emoji-shaped cookies or miniature cakes that look like Star Wars characters. (Other favorites include Apple Pi Pie and Moon Phase Macarons.) After building a sizable online following, Pansino most recently made the leap into publishing with The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us, which features 400 photos based on the series. —Christopher Heine 

21

Gordon Ramsay

Host of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef and MasterChef Jr., restaurateur, author 

Fox’s tyrannical culinary master is back this summer, and for the foreseeable future. Gordon Ramsay has returned as host of MasterChef and this fall he will return to the show that made him a household name, Hell’s Kitchen. And there are still more TV projects in the wings. In the spring of 2017, he will host yet another season of MasterChef Jr. In between his busy duties as a global television personality, the multi-Michelin-star-earning chef oversees restaurants stretching from Las Vegas to Hong Kong to Qatar, with more than a dozen outposts in London alone. (That’s where Ramsay got his start, working with another temperamental chef, Marco Pierre White, who hosted the U.K. version of Hell’s Kitchen.) Ramsay has also authored many books (including his best-selling autobiography, Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen), has a partnership with the producer of the Waterford, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands, and runs a foundation with his wife, Tana. And as if all that weren’t enough, the native Scot received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth. —C.A.

22

Jay Russell

Chief creative officer, GSD&M

In the world of food advertising, Jay Russell has created some of the quirkiest and most memorable campaigns in recent years. In 2015, his agency’s Avocados From Mexico spot in the Super Bowl tracing the origin of Mexican avocados as a first-round pick in a draft event hosted by a bearded, God-like figure was one of the buzziest commercials of the telecast. Russell’s team followed up this year with an equally wacky Avocados From Mexico spot featuring aliens explaining human artifacts from the past, including Scott Baio. Russell also helped launch Chipotle’s Taste Invaders, a video game billed as “a galactic battle against artificial ingredients.” When he’s not busy working on GSD&M’s other food accounts, which include the likes of Popeyes, Whole Foods, Sysco and Blue Bunny Ice Cream, Russell is prepping the launch of a sparkling water brand, Rambler, with other entrepreneurs in the agency’s hometown of Austin, Texas. —C.B.

23

Marcus Samuelsson

Chef, restaurateur, TV host

Many chefs like to talk about cuisine influenced by multiple cultures. But Marcus Samuelsson actually helped to pioneer the concept—and it didn’t hurt that he lived it, too. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, where he learned to love fresh seafood as well as myriad spices. After his mother died of tuberculosis, a young Swedish couple adopted Samuelsson and took him back to Gothenburg, where his grandmother Helga, a chef, taught him about pickling, smoking and other essentials of Scandinavian cooking. After culinary school, Samuelsson apprenticed in Switzerland, followed by France and New York—where he landed with arguably the most diverse culinary palate any 22-year-old had ever had. A year after arriving in America and having risen to executive chef at the famed Aquavit, Samuelsson snared three stars from The New York Times. He hasn’t looked back. Today, his restaurant empire includes a burger joint in Chicago, a rotisserie in Harlem and a taqueria in Malmo, Sweden. Indeed, Samuelsson’s brand has many manifestations—cookbooks, consumer products, media appearances (Top Chef, Iron Chef, Chopped)—each demonstrating his philosophy that boundaries are made to be broken and the broadest influences make for the best eating. —R.K.

24

Gail Simmons

Permanent judge on Top Chef, author, special projects director of Food & Wine

Since 2004, Gail Simmons has been associated with Food & Wine, where she directs special projects and continues to have a leading role in the magazine’s epic Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Prior to joining the publication, the Toronto native was the special events manager for chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire, trained in the kitchens of the famed New York restaurants Le Cirque and Vong, and was assistant to Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. Simmons became a household name as judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, on which she has appeared since its debut in 2006. She is also a regular on network TV, with regular appearances on NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America and the Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends. In 2013, Simmons was appointed entrepreneur in residence at Babson College, a mentoring role in which she works with student entrepreneurs. Her memoir, Talking With My Mouth Full, was published in 2012. —M.J.

25

Susan Ungaro

President, James Beard Foundation

While she may not boast the name recognition of the A-list chefs whose reputations she has helped build, Susan Ungaro is indisputably one of the most powerful people in food. As president of the James Beard Foundation, she oversees an organization that hands out the most sought-after awards in the restaurant business. In addition, Ungaro and the JBF are instrumental in supporting up-and-coming chefs, spurring national conversations around food, and educating the public about issues like sustainability. She was also behind the relocation of the JBF’s annual awards ceremony last month to Chicago after more than 20 years in New York following a pitch by Windy City Mayor Rahm Emanuel —after the city pledged to raise $1.7 million for the foundation, as Fortune reported. Prior to joining the JBF, Ungaro was editor in chief of Family Circle magazine for 11 years and celebrated her 25th anniversary at the legendary women’s service title in 2001. During her tenure at Family Circle, the magazine received numerous honors, including the National Magazine Award. —E.B.

26

Andrew Zimmern

Host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, culinary daredevil

Anybody who’s caught Andrew Zimmern’s series Bizarre Foods on Travel Channel (and that’s a lot of us—the shows can be seen in 68 countries) knows he’s not afraid to eat anything. In fact, Zimmern has fashioned an entire media empire out of the fact that he’ll happily scarf down delicacies from any far-flung place, be it iguana in Trinidad, bats in Thailand or a Philippine street-corner treat called “balut” (steamed duck embryos). But the influence of Zimmern (a three-time James Beard Award winner) actually runs deeper than his daredevil approach to eating. Besides being a contributing editor to Food & Wine magazine, last year he launched his own production company, Intuitive Content, which specializes in the creation of branded content. (Zimmern has produced content for companies including Renaissance Hotels, General Mills and Toyota.) His online series, the Toyota-sponsored Appetite for Life, won an Effie. Then, there’s his activism. “It’s more dangerous to eat the boneless, skinless chicken breast from the store down the street than it is to eat water buffalo meat in a jungle in Vietnam,” he once said. The message: Diversity in the diet is good for Americans and for the planet we so often take for granted. —C.B., R.K.


This story first appeared in the June 6, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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