Stories / Impact

These 12 Chefs are Ready to Make a Change

Our Chefs Boot Camp came together for a weekend of change

JBF Programs Team

April 15, 2022


Group shot of our 2022 Chefs Bootcamp participants
Photo: Clay Williams

The James Beard Foundation’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change has served as a pillar of our ongoing industry advocacy work. Since its inception in 2012, the program has trained more than 400 chefs across the country to mobilize in support of policy decisions that impact our food system. Chef-advocates who have attended Boot Camp have successfully lobbied Congress to provide more nutritious school meals, protect and expand SNAP benefits, support American fisheries, reduce food waste, and fight for a safe, equitable, and sustainable food system. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many alumni have used these policy and advocacy skills to fight for pandemic relief funding for the industry, including the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, in addition to advocating for support at the local and state level. After two years of virtual boot camps, we were thrilled to host a cohort of 12 chefs on March 27 at Horse Shoe Farm in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Participants received training on food policy issues that impact the industry, as well as issues that they feel passionately about, including the Farm Bill, Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and Universal Free School Lunch; the role of the chef in policy and advocacy; and the use social media as a tool for change. They also gained skills on how to engage their networks and policy makers through policy advocacy messaging. Some key takeaways from the Boot Camp were: 

  • Chefs are trusted figures and therefore pillars in their communities, making them the perfect agents for meaningful food system change.
  • Policy matters and advocacy can happen in many different ways, including how chefs source the food they serve at their restaurants to how they show up around issues in their community, to how they offer support for legislation at the local, state, and federal levels. 
  • Chefs should use their network of influence which includes customers, employees, farmers, family and friends, and policy makers—to push for meaningful policy change.
  • Developing an impactful message is critical—a strong message can be used to advocate for policy issues that affect their community.

The participating chefs came from 11 states, representing a variety of regions across the country:

David Bancroft
Acre Restaurant,
Auburn, AL
Winner on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown, David Bancroft is a self-taught chef, farmer, and forager who showcases sustainable ingredients provided by local farmers and fisherman in Auburn, Alabama. He is the chef and partner of Acre Restaurant and holds many accolades. He is also a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: South. 

Sara Bradley
Cartel and Freight House,
Paducah, KY
A Kentucky-born and raised chef, Sara Bradley developed her skills under Michelin-starred chefs including John Fraser, David Posey, and Paul Kahan. In 2015, Sara opened Freight House to focus on and encourage agricultural sustainability in her hometown of Paducah. Driven by community, she is also a founding member of Cartel, a Western Kentucky-style barbecue team that raises capital funds for historic building restoration. 

Rohani Foulkes
Folk, Mink, and Nest Egg
, Detroit 
The managing partner of Nest Egg, Michigan’s first female hospitality company, Rohani Foulkes is leading change in the industry. Her restaurant Folk, a neighborhood spot offering equitable and non-discriminatory wages for all, was named one of the 19 Great Restaurants to Work For by Food & Wine. She teamed up with Ping Ho and Sara Welch to open Mink, a restaurant and wine bar focused on sourcing low intervention food and beverage. Rohani is a James Beard Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program alum. 

Jerome Grant
Washington, D.C.
A graduate of Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Jerome Grant was the inaugural executive chef of Sweet Home Café inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Under his tenure, the restaurant received multiple James Beard Award nominations. Grant holds many accolades himself, including 2018 StarChefs Rising Star: D.C.-Chesapeake and James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2019. He is currently the executive chef of Jackie in D.C.

Michael Kann
An industry veteran, Michael Kann holds three degrees, including his master’s in business administration from Boston College. He is currently the global culinary strategy and development lead at Google. He has worked around the country in various high-end kitchens and hotels, including The Four Seasons and Domaine Chandon. Most recently, Kann spent 15 years as the associate director of food and beverage at Boston College. 

Steven McHugh
San Antonio, TX
Steve McHugh 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. In 2014, McHugh was named a top 50 nominee for Bon Appétit’s America’s Best New Restaurants and a runner up for Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America. Steve is also a four-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Southwest, 2022 nominee for Best Chef: Texas, Smart Catch leader, and Good Food 100 activist.

Ryan Nitschke
Luna Fargo and Sol Ave. Kitchen,
Fargo, ND
2022 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Midwest, Ryan Nitschke is a homegrown Fargo, ND talent. Firmly linked to his roots and looking towards the future, he is, above all, passionate about food and his surrounding community. In 2014, Nitschke opened Luna Fargo, and after five years of growing success and developing relationships with area purveyors and farmers, he opened Sol Ave. Kitchen. 

Monica O’Connell
Happy Faces Personnel and Kinship Space Consulting,
Conyers, GA
Monica O’Connell is the former executive director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago and holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from New York University. She founded and operated 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 is currently director of training at Happy Faces Personnel and owner of Kinship Space Consulting. 

Annie Pettry
Asheville, NC
A Top Chef season 14 and 16 contestant and two-time Food & Wine “People’s Best New Chef” nominee, Annie Pettry is also an advocate for sustainability. She has become a leader in the Southern culinary scene, supporting local producers and nurturing diners with her flavorful and nuanced cuisine. She was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef in 2020 and Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program alum. 

Brit Reed 
Food Sovereignty, Tulalip, WA
Brit Reed founded Food Sovereignty is Tribal Sovereignty in 2015—a native-based group engaged in all facets of the Indigenous food revitalization movement. A graduate of Seattle Culinary Academy, her projects include creating spaces that create further solidarity between Black and Indigenous communities. Brit is part of the I-Collective, an autonomous group of chefs, activists, herbalists, and more that aim to change the narrative on Indigenous communities by promoting resilience and contributions in gastronomy, arts, and beyond. 

Kevin Scharpf
Brazen Open Kitchen, Dubuque, IA
2019 Iowa Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Kevin Scharpf prides himself on creating an progressive, yet approachable menu at Brazen Open Kitchen. 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. He is a 2022 James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Midwest.

Henry Wesley III
8UP, Louisville, KY
In 2017, Henry Wesley III joined the team at The Village Anchor as executive chef, where he earned Leo Weekly’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards: Best Restaurant in East Louisville. Noticing his talents, 8UP recruited Wesley as executive chef in 2019, where he remains today. Previously, he assisted on the opening team at Belle Noble Entertainment Group’s award-winning steakhouse, Le Moo.

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Alexina Cather is the director of programs, policy advocacy, and sustainability. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Anna Magnuson is the program coordinator 
at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram