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Who's changing food as we know it

No movement advances without the efforts of visionaries, risk-takers, and supremely talented individuals. This is especially true in food where the landscape is ever-changing as chefs struggle to reinvent what we eat and how we eat it with every new menu, season and restaurant. Despite the work of so many to make food better, nine great culinarians had a national, lasting influence in 2013.

Cooks who shaped how we looked at food in 2013

The past few years have witnessed a wealth of culinary innovation from a revitalization of local cuisine to the transformation of bacon from breakfast food to an essential at every meal. In 2013, we continued to see changes in how we eat as more people chose to cook, consumers demanded healthier choices, food became hyperlocal and we found new ways to enjoy the same old meals. Still, among the great eaters, chefs, writers and food philosophers, these few stand out as perhaps the most influential of the year.

Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan

It's a little cliché to put these two men on a list of influential cooks, especially since the focus is supposed to be cooks who changed the way we think about food in 2013. How to Cook Everything and The Omnivore's Dilemma (Bittman's and Pollan's books, respectively) came out years ago. However, every day these men continue find new ways to teach us to love food, cook well, eat healthy and care for our food and the world. So, just because they started years ago, doesn't mean they're not important today.

Jamie Oliver

Oliver is another chef who began his food quest before 2013, but continues to change minds about food. Oliver's personal quest is getting processed, unhealthy foods out of school lunch programs. To this end, he has been traveling the world, showing how nutritious meals can be bought and served on a school cafeteria's budget. It's a not a change he can bring overnight, but he's well on his way.

John Besh

Chef John Besh is an amazing chef and a much, much better human being. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he kept a lot of food talent in New Orleans and has helped revitalize the area's food industry (and, in doing so, its culture and tourism). After an oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico endangered sea life throughout the area, Besh again acted to make sure chefs knew where to find good, American shrimp, which keeps the food supply safer and the region's fisheries in business.

Christine Ha

An uplifting story, Ha won Master Chef Season 3, which is no mean feat by itself. However, what has made her such an inspiration is that she did it and she is legally blind. Able to compete with only the barest of help from an assistant, she overpowered the competition and now tours the country promoting her cookbook. While her Asian-influenced comfort food is delicious, her greatest contribution to food is showing that good cooking comes from the heart and that anyone can overcome obstacles to make a great meal.

Chef Dominique Ansel prepares a tray of cornets at Dominique Ansel Bakery on June 10, 2013 in New York City
Chef Dominique Ansel prepares a tray of cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, June 10, 2013, in New York City.

Dominique Ansel

Chef Ansel is the inventor of 2013's "it" food: the cronut. Part croissant, part doughnut, part frosting, it's everything you need for a heart attack on a plate. It also happens to have diners lining up around the corner near Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York's SoHo district. This award-winning pastry chef will also have a cookbook out in 2014 (which you can preorder now), which may land him on this list next year.

Darren MacLean and Harold Dieterle

Unless you're from San Francisco, you've likely not heard of Darren MacLean of Downtownfood. If you're a fan of Top Chef, then you probably remember Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle of The Marrow. Whether you know them or not, both of these men are two faces on the trend of keeping food very local, very fresh and very sustainable, sometimes called hyperlocal cuisine. At MacLean's restaurant, he only serves food grown within 30 miles, which includes a bounty from his rooftop garden. On the other hand, Dieterle sometimes employs foraging for ingredients. He will go out and find wild foods and put them on his menu.

Paula Deen

Paula Deen's name has been synonymous with controversy for the past several years. However, before allegations of misconduct and racism arose, the queen of butter lost more than 40 pounds and showed the positive effect healthy choices can make after a diabetes diagnosis. For better or worse, she's also taught us that no matter our celebrity status or skill at the stove, sometimes there's more to life.

Honorable mention: You and your friends on Pinterest

That's right. You deserve a round of applause for what you are doing with food. Interest in home cooking and recipe sharing via sites like Facebook and Pinterest is at an all-time high. It's definitely possible that in the coming years you and your friends will lead the next food revolution. Here's to hoping it's as healthy as Jamie Oliver's no-processed-food meals and as delicious as a cronut with extra icing!

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Photo credit: Getty Images


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