Stories / Impact

These 16 Chefs Are Pushing for a Better Food System

Maggie Borden

March 06, 2020


Boot Camp chefs learning about the farm bill photo by Clay Williams
Photo: Clay Williams
Update: After careful consideration of the health of our chefs, staff, and venue employees, the 20th Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change has been postponed for the time being.

On March 15, sixteen chefs from across the U.S. will come together at the Horseshoe Farm in Henderson, North Carolina for the twentieth JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. As with our previous Boot Camp groups, this latest class hails from restaurants and food businesses from coast to coast, all eager to learn effective advocacy skills and explore the power of their voices as vehicles for change in their communities. Learn more about our newest cohort of chef-advocates below.


David Bancroft
Acre, Auburn, AL
David Bancroft is executive chef/partner of Acre Restaurant and Bow & Arrow BBQ. Born in Alabama but raised in San Antonio, Texas, Bancroft’s passion for cooking began at an early age, smoking brisket and making barbecue. Bancroft is a self-taught chef, farmer, and forager who showcases the sustainable ingredients provided by local farmers and fisherman in Alabama. A four-time nominee for Best Chef: South, Bancroft is also the founder the “Alabama Oyster Social”, whose primary goal is to raise funds for Alabama oyster farmers.

Sara Bradley
Freight House, Paducah, KY

Sara Bradley was born and raised in Western Kentucky. Bradley developed her skillset under Michelin-starred chefs John Fraser, David Posey, and Paul Kahan. After careful consideration, Bradley opted to open Freight House to focus on and encourage agricultural sustainability in her hometown of Paducah. She’s also involved in charitable and philanthropic endeavors within the community, including being a founding member of Cartel, a Western Kentucky–style pit barbecue team that raises capital funds for historic building restoration. Bradley was the runner-up on the 16th season of Top Chef.

Mandy Dixon
La Baleine Café and Within the Wild, Homer, AK

Mandy Dixon is Within the Wild Adventure Company’s executive chef and chef/owner of La Baleine Café. She is the co-author of the award–winning The Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook and the upcoming Living Within the Wild cookbook (October 2020) with her mother chef Kirsten Dixon. Dixon grew up at the lodges her family owns and operates. She trained at Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America. During school and following graduation, she worked as a pastry chef for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, before returning to the family business in Alaska.

Rohani Foulkes
Nest Egg LLC, Detroit

Rohani Foulkes is managing partner of Nest Egg, Michigan’s first female hospitality company. In 2016, Foulkes and Kiki Louya opened The Farmer’s Hand, a gourmet grocer sourcing primarily Michigan made and grown provisions. In 2018 they opened Folk, a neighborhood restaurant offering equitable and non-discriminatory wages for all. In 2019 the duo paired up with wine purveyor Ping Ho and chef Sarah Welch to open Mink, an intimate gathering place focused on sourcing low intervention food and beverage. Foulkes also runs a solo event service, Nomadic Detroit.

Jerome Grant
Sweet Home Café, Washington, D.C.

Jerome Grant is the executive chef of Sweet Home Café inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture. A graduate of Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Grant his early career in Saint Croix, before returning to the United States to help open Urbana Restaurant in the Hotel Palomar in Washington, D.C. After stints at Mitsitam Cafe as sous chef and executive chef, Grant was named inaugural executive chef of the Sweet Home Café. Under Grant’s tenure, Sweet Home Café has received multiple James Beard Award nominations.

Steve McHugh
Cured, San Antonio

Steve McHugh, four-time James Beard Award nominee, Smart Catch leader, and Good Food 100 activist, opened Cured with a new lease on life after beating Lymphoma. McHugh’s cuisine relies on the purity of natural regional ingredients and a hands-on approach. Cured was named a top 50 nominee for Bon Appétit’s “America’s Best New Restaurants 2014”, a runner up for Esquire’s “Best New Restaurants in America 2014”, and one of Eater’s list of “38 Essential Texas Restaurants” in 2018.

Ryan Nitschke
Luna Fargo, Fargo, ND; and Sol Ave. Kitchen, Moorhead, MN

James Beard Award nominee Ryan Nitschke is a homegrown Fargo talent. Firmly linked to his roots and looking towards the future, he is, above all, passionate about food and his surrounding community. In 2014, Ryan opened Luna Fargo in the heart of Mid-Town Fargo. After five years of growing success and developing relationships with area purveyors and farmers, he opened his second restaurant, Sol Ave. Kitchen, boasting worldly street food with a Midwest touch and ties to the community offerings.

Monica O'Connell
Curtis & Cake, Fort Atkinson, WI

Monica Hairston O’Connell is the owner/founder of Curtis & Cake, an independent, small-batch cake and sweets studio inspired by the tastes of the American South and the women who created them. She specializes in design- and flavor-forward celebration cakes and one-of-a-kind wedding cakes, but also makes a range of baked goods and confections. O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology and served as executive director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago.

Orchid Paulmeier
One Hot Mama's, Bluffton, SC

Orchid Paulmeier is the chef/owner of One Hot Mama’s on Hilton Head Island. Paulmeier’s parents immigrated from the Philippines in the 70’s and raised her with a passion for entrepreneurship and a love of Filipino cooking. After moving to Hilton Head Island, Paulmeier opened One Hot Mama’s in 2003, creating all of the recipes and signature barbecue herself. Paulmeier and her comfort food have been featured on Next Food Network Star, Bite Club, and Great American Food Truck Race.

Annie Pettry (Alum)
Decca, Louisville, KY

As an advocate for sustainability and the Louisville community, Annie Pettry is a leader in the renaissance of Louisville’s culinary scene. Pettry’s childhood in Asheville, North Carolina was steeped in influential food experiences including foraging for mushrooms. After graduating from the International Culinary Center in New York City, she worked alongside renowned chefs before moving to Louisville to become chef/owner of Decca in 2012. A Top Chef season 14 contestant and two-time Food & Wine “People’s Best New Chef” nominee, Pettry is also a James Beard Foundation Smart Catch leader and a 2020 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast.

Brit Reed
I-Collective, Tulalip, WA

While working in her family's camp kitchen, Brit Reed (Choctaw) began learning the importance of cooking for The People in a good way. In 2015, she founded Food Sovereignty is Tribal Sovereignty—a native-based group engaged in all facets of the Indigenous Food Revitalization Movement. She graduated from Seattle Culinary Academy in 2018 and is now working with the Tulalip Health Clinic's Diabetes Program teaching healthy cooking classes. Her current projects include creating spaces that create further solidarity between black and native communities.

Kevin Sharpf
Brazen Open Kitchen, Dubuque, IA

Chef Kevin Scharpf prides himself on creating an authentic, progressive, yet approachable menu. Born and raised in Galena, Illinois, Scharpf attended the Le Cordon Bleu of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis. His past culinary experience includes the Hotel Sofitel's fine dining restaurant, La Fougasse, the acclaimed Restaurant Daniel in New York City, and a six-year stint as the executive sous of Diamond Jo. Scharpf competed in season 16 of Bravo's Top Chef, and has also been awarded the 2019 Iowa Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year.

Jody Williams
Buvette, I Sodi, Pisellino, and Via Carota, NYC

Raised in San Francisco, Jody Williams came to appreciate food service by assisting customers at her father's hot dog stand in Fisherman's Wharf. After relocating to New York City at age 24, Williams traveled with chef Kathy Casey to cook American cuisine in Italy. After she returned to the U.S., she became the chef of the now-closed Italian restaurant Tappo, followed by stints at Morandi and Gottino before opening Buvette in 2011. Her restaurants with partner Rita Sodia, Via Carota, I Sodi, and Pisellino followed, and in 2019, Williams and Sodi won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City.

Stephen Williams
Bouquet, Covington, KY

Stephen Williams is the chef/owner of Bouquet Restaurant. As a child, Williams developed a love for food watching his Nana fry up bacon at her restaurant in Eastern Kentucky. A graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State, Williams opened Bouquet beneath his apartment in the Covington, Kentucky in 2007. In the 12 years since opening Bouquet, Williams’s commitment to farm-to-table dining has garnered accolades from top publications, fellow chefs, and diners alike. In 2019, Bouquet was named one of the Good Food 100 Restaurants.

Henry Wesley
8UP Elevated Drinkery and Kitchen, Louisville, KY

At 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen, executive chef Henry Wesley III crafts elevated New American cuisine. In high school, Wesley received an Air Force ROTC scholarship to pursue his dream of being a pilot before shifting gears and entering the hospitality industry. In 2015, Welsey assisted on the opening team at Belle Noble Entertainment Group’s award-winning steakhouse, Le Moo. Two years later, he joined the team at sister concept The Village Anchor as executive chef. Noticing his talents, 8UP recruited Wesley as executive chef in 2019.

Learn more about the JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change and other Impact programs.


Maggie Borden is content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.