The 10 Most Creative People in Food

From the farm to the table, from the slaughterhouse to the studio to the C-suite—our picks of the folks who are changing the way we eat.

1. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jean-Georges Management
The Alsace-born celebrity chef has built a multimillion-dollar, multi-Michelin-starred empire without slapping his face on a frying pan or frozen pizza. Vongerichten's unprecedented partnership with Starwood Hotels has given him license to unleash his creativity—and his take on Asian flavors—in 50 new restaurants over the next five years. "If I could have my dream," he has said, "I would open a new restaurant every month."

2. Dan Barber, Blue Hill restaurants
Barber is foodies' latest locavore darling, the driving spirit behind the two acclaimed Blue Hill restaurants, and a passionate advocate for regional farm networks. The winner of the 2009 Outstanding Chef award from the James Beard Foundation, he practices what he preaches at his family's farm and at the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

3. Will Allen, Growing Power
Since he used his life savings to buy the last working farm in Milwaukee, Allen has been dedicated to creating a more just food system. Growing Power's network of urban teaching farms raises vegetables, fish, livestock, and honeybees; supplies local restaurants; creates sustainable cafeteria programs for corporations; and distributes food to more than 100,000 families. "We're not just growing food, we're growing people too," he says.

4. Dan Cutforth and Jane Lispitz, Magical Elves Productions
Top Chef creators and executive producers Cutforth and Lispitz—"the elves," as they're known—have used reality television, of all things, to lift up serious cooking rather than reduce it to farce (we're looking at you, Gordon Ramsey). In the process, Top Chef has become a pillar of the Bravo network's urban-sophisticate strategy, spawning a popular Web site, cookbooks, and merchandise—making it an exemplar of the 21st century integrated media brand.

5. Floyd Zaiger, Zaiger Genetics
The father of the pluot, 83-year-old Zaiger has developed—by hand pollination, not genetic manipulation—some 200 new and improved fruits, from low-acid peaches to cherries that grow in warm climates to the golden red apricot-plum cross known as an aprium. "Developing a new cross takes 12 to 15 years," says Zaiger's daughter, Leith Gardner. "You need a little patience." Coming next: a blue-skinned aprium.

6. Ed Kaczmarek, Kraft
Pay for an ad? Only if it's extra cheesy. Director of innovation Kaczmarek's Kraft iFood Assistant, which offers Kraft devotees with iPhones thousands of recipes and more, proves not only that brands can create meaningful mobile experiences but also that customers will pay for them. Kraft's cooking app ($0.99) cracked the iPhone's top 100 apps list, rising at one point to the No. 2 slot in the lifestyle section, and helped the $42 billion company better understand its customers and what they're shopping for.

7. Temple Grandin, Associate professor, Colorado State University
"There are similarities between my autistic mind and animal thinking," Grandin says. The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, the title of her video bio on YouTube, has relied on that understanding to develop more humane ways of treating cattle destined for slaughter. She has no fans in the animal-rights blogosphere, but the walled, curved chutes she has designed and the handling standards she has set up for companies like Swift and McDonald's—no flapping objects, no shadows, no spraying in the face—reduce stress in the animals and improve the efficiency of the operation as well as the quality of the meat.

8. Becky Frankiewicz, VP of portfolio marketing for Frito-Lay North America
Who says good for you has to mean "tastes like cardboard"? Frankiewicz is leading the shift for Frito-Lay's Smartfood and Baked Lays brands to appeal to women, using design and taste to communicate that healthy snacking isn't an oxymoron. New packaging is more elegant, appealing, and signals health benefits, and new technology lets flavor be baked into each crisp.

9. Jeff Jordan, CEO of OpenTable
Jordan, an eBay vet, has helped make restaurant reservations fun, adding features such as detailed users reviews and clever lists to help restaurant fans make better decisions in the same place they make their reservations. Perhaps his neatest trick has been to take OpenTable public in the current market climate—and get a 1999-style response. OpenTable stock hit a high of $35.50 on its opening day in late May, a nice bump from its initial price of $20 a share.

10. David Chang, Momofuku
The intense, award-winning chef launched his quirky downtown Manhattan mini-kingdom with inventive takes on Asian noodles and pork buns. Besides producing great food, Chang hits all the stylish notes—local produce, cool staff, lots and lots of pork. Plus, his latest (and priciest) venture, Ko, is the only restaurant we know that takes reservations only online.

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6 Comments

  • Jacky Hayward

    I believe it was Luther Burbank who invented the pluot as well as introduced 700 other fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants, which makes Floyd Zaigers 200 look measly. While Zaiger has made strides in plant genetics, he started where Luther Burbank left off. Burbank was pioneering fruit genetics before Zaiger was even born. Check: http://www.chefsblade.com/news...

    In addition, Barber is a fabulous choice in my opinion, Clay. He has added a whole new meaning to the farm to table movement, taking it several steps farther than Alice Waters ever did. He has inspired many chefs just as the food movement Waters started is really taking root. For that, he deserves to be on this list.

  • Clay Dillow

    I have to speak up here. When you named Jean-Georges to the 100 Most Creative, (no disrespect meant) I took the snub of Chicago's Grant Achatz in stride. But to ignore the young prodigy who is easily more creative that Vongerichten in a list of ten, opting instead for Chang and Barber? No disrespect meant to these three chefs, but as far as pushing the creative envelope is concerned, Ferran Adria (mentioned above) is the only person who stands above Achatz, and even Adria should be watching his back.

  • Chuck Jolley

    I know Temple Grandin - one of the smartest people I've ever met and the person who singlehandedly has done the most to change the way the meat industry operates at point of harvest.