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These 15 Changemakers Are Chefs to Watch

Maggie Borden

June 06, 2018

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Chefs at the JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change
Photo: Ken Goodman Photography

On June 10, chefs from as far-flung as South Dakota, Austin, and Los Angeles will meet at the Hudson Valley’s idyllic Glynwood for the fifteenth JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. Hailing from all walks of life and from coast to coast, this coterie of changemakers will convene to learn effective advocacy skills and explore their potential power for creating progress in their communities. Learn more about our newest cohort of chef-advocates below.

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Sanaa Abourezk
Sanaa’s, Sioux Falls, SD

Sanaa Abourezk is the author of three cookbooks, and currently owns and operates a popular Middle Eastern Restaurant in Sioux Falls. She holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering, a master’s degree in nutrition, and attended cooking school in Florence, and the Cordon Bleu Baking School in Paris. Prior to opening her restaurant, Abourezk worked as a nutrition adviser for the South Dakota Department of Health.

April Anderson
Good Cakes and Bakes, Detroit

Detroit native April Anderson holds degrees from Spelman College and the University of Michigan, but knew at age nine that she wanted to be a baker. As Anderson’s curiosity grew, she began exploring more sophisticated recipes and started a home-based baking business. In 2013, Anderson opened her first bakery, in Detroit’s historic Avenue of Fashion. She has baked for Oprah, and participated on a panel with Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and president Bill Clinton.

Nyesha Arrington
Native, Santa Monica, CA

Born in Los Angeles to a multi-cultural family, Nyesha Arrington was introduced to diverse foods such as bulgogi and homemade kimchi early. By integrating flavors and techniques from around the world, she has created a style that is personal and unparalleled. Her résumé includes work with Joël Robuchon at L'Atelier and the Mansion, as well as runs on Top Chef and the Food Network’s Chef Hunter. Arrington advocates using farm-fresh, locally, and responsibly sourced ingredients.

Tavel Bristol-Joseph
Emmer & Rye, Austin

Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s aunt used baking as a form of “punishment” if he missed his curfew, but the Guyana native soon fell in love with it. After stints in New York City, and Tucson, Arizona, Bristol-Joseph helped to open Emmer & Rye with his friend Kevin Fink in Austin. Emmer & Rye features a hyper-originalist pantry expressing flavors of South Central Texas that are integrated into the restaurant’s mission to eliminate and transform waste.

Tracy Chang
Pagu, Cambridge, MA

Tracy Chang’s fondest childhood memories are from her grandmother’s Japanese restaurant. A graduate of Boston College, Chang also studied with MOF Pâtissier Nicolas Bernardé at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and cooked alongside Martín Berasategui at his Michelin three-starred restaurant in Spain. An unexpected family emergency brought Chang back to Boston. In 2012, she became a Harvard Science + Cooking program teaching fellow, and in 2016, she opened PAGU, a restaurant, café, and bakery.

Suzy De Young
La Soupe, Cincinnati

Suzy DeYoung’s father, the famed chef Pierre Adrian, died when she was just 13, but she quickly followed in his footsteps, training in top Cincinnati kitchens, before moving to France to study under some of the best chefs in Europe. She returned and opened La Petite Pierre, named in her father’s honor. In 2013, she launched La Soupe, an initiative to combat food waste that turns produce into soups to feed the hungry.

Brandon Foster
Project Angel Heart, Denver

After 11 years at Vesta Dipping Grill, chef Brandon Foster is embarking on a new adventure. Now at Project Angel Heart, a nonprofit that provides meals to clients with life-threatening illnesses, Foster will oversee the menu development, budget, and kitchen inventory management, and will lead a team of chefs and volunteers responsible for preparing meals for more than 1,100 people each day.

Mark Gandara
Guckenheimer at Twitter NYC

Mark Gandara, an alum of New York City’s Red Rooster and Union Square Café, now helms the kitchen at Twitter’s Guckenheimer in their New York office. Gandara has helped to make the kitchen a leader in JBF’s Smart Catch sustainable seafood program.

Cheetie Kumar
Garland, Raleigh, NC

As a child in India, Cheetie Kumar could often be found in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Kumar is a self-taught cook who studied recipes while pursuing a career as a guitarist. Now in Raleigh, she has embraced the area's renowned agriculture, and incorporated it into the multicultural menus at Garland. Kumar was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2017.

Patrick Mulvaney
Mulvaney’s B&L, Sacramento, CA

A leading public policy advocate on the national stage, Patrick Mulvaney is one of the people working to make Sacramento the “farm-to-fork” capital of the country. The eclectic culinary creations at Mulvaney’s B&L are a direct reflection of his diverse background, which includes a European apprenticeship and experience in top New York restaurants before falling in love with Sacramento—and its year-round growing season—when he moved there in 1991.

Mark Mason
Black Sheep Café, Provo, UT

Mark Mason started cooking professionally while living on a Navajo reservation in the 1990s. Mason incorporates what some native tribes call the “three sisters” in as many menu items as he can: corn, beans, and squash. You will not be served tacos at his restaurants without both white and blue corn tortillas, a subtle yet important injection of his Native American culture.

Judy Ni
Bāo • logy, Philadelphia

Judy Ni was into farm-to-table cuisine long before the term was buzzy. Her chemical engineer immigrant father grew hard-to-source Taiwanese vegetables in their backyard throughout her childhood. After college she spent time working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the Farm and Fisherman BYOB, before debuting bāo • logy with her husband Andy Tessier. Their majority female- and minority-owned Philly restaurant is hailed for its locally sourced Taiwanese street food and its honorable business practices.

Carlos Salazar
Rook, Indianapolis

At 10 years old, Carlos Salazar and his family moved from the Philippines to America. After high school, he attended the Chef’s Academy and worked in one of Indianapolis’s most popular restaurants, Oakleys Bistro. After stints at Tulip Noir and Pizzology, he returned to Oakleys Bistro before moving on to Rook, where he has developed a unique style and vision: redefining and elevating Asian street food to a dining experience that is creative and modern.

Jim Smith
Executive Chef of the State of Alabama, Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission

As Alabama’s state chef, Jim Smith has placed an emphasis on using the best local ingredients and has made strides to encourage support of local farmers and Alabama fishers. A Top Chef alum, Smith is also Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, and proudly participates in the great work being done to promote Alabama Seafood.

Carrie Summer
Chef Shack, Minneapolis

A lifelong student and adult leader of 4-H and FFA, Carrie Summer has a long history with small-scale agriculture, cooking, and ranching livestock. Prior to opening Chef Shack, Summer spent time in New York City studying service and back-of-house in Jean-Georges restaurants, and worked in the pastry department at Morimoto’s flagship. In 2012 Yahoo News named Chef Shack one of the “top 10 most creative food trucks in the nation.”

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

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Maggie Borden is associate editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.