Stories / Impact

These 15 Chefs Want a Better Food Future

Maggie Borden

March 06, 2018


Photo: Clay Williams

On March 18, fifteen chefs from across the country gathered at the Inn at Serenbe in Chatt Hills, Georgia for the fourteenth JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. As with previous Boot Camps, our newest class hailed from restaurants and food businesses from coast to coast, all eager to learn effective advocacy skills and explore their potential power as representatives for change in their communities. Learn more about our newest cohort of chef-advocates below.


Karen Akunowicz
Myers+Chang, Boston

Chef Karen Akunowicz has been nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast for four years running. Originally from New Jersey, she has called Boston home for over a decade. Her food is as soulful, fiery, and passionate as she is, and she strives to create crave-able dishes at her funky Asian diner, Myers+Chang. Akunowicz is a Queer Femme lady who loves yoga and the lamb sandwich at Flour Bakery.

JBF Award Winner Marco Canora
Hearth, NYC

As a chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Marco Canora promotes delicious, simple, and healthful food. In 2003, he opened Hearth in Manhattan's East Village, earning a strong local following and critical acclaim for his seasonal, Italian-inflected cooking. Canora is also the founder of Brodo, a popular to-go window serving bone broths. In 2017 Canora won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City.

JBF Award Winner Maneet Chauhan
Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Nashville

Maneet Chauhan is an award-winning cookbook author, television personality, active philanthropist, and executive chef of Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Chauhan is also known for her role on the Food Network’s Chopped, where she has been a judge for over five years and won a James Beard Award for her work. She is also the author of the cookbook, Flavors of My World, has a signature spice line, and recently launched Mantra Artisan Ales, a brewery and taproom in Franklin, Tennessee. 

Christine Cikowski
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Chicago

At Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Christine Cikowski serves a menu mindful of just how comforting food can be, especially when made with high-quality ingredients sourced from local farmers. Opening the restaurant in fall 2013 served as the culmination of several elements: putting Cikowski and chef/owner Josh Kulp’s ideas into a brick-and-mortar restaurant; continuing the community they built around their Sunday Dinner Club; and creating a business at which they’d want to work, backed by business principles that embodied valuing employees.

Kelly Fields
Willa Jean, New Orleans

Kelly Fields is the chef/partner of Willa Jean in New Orleans’s Central Business District. After baking for JBF Award winner Susan Spicer and graduating from Johnson & Wales in Charleston, Fields worked as a pastry chef at Restaurant August. She eventually oversaw all of BRG Hospitality Group’s pastry programs, and in 2015, fulfilled her dream of opening a Southern-inspired restaurant and bakery, Willa Jean. Fields was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in both 2017 and 2018.

Gregory Gourdet
Departure, Portland, OR

Gregory Gourdet is the executive chef at Portland's popular pan-Asian restaurant, Departure. Gourdet was a pre-med student when he discovered a passion for cooking and changed the direction of his career, securing an internship at the prestigious Jean-Georges restaurant empire, and eventually working his way up to sous chef at Jean-Georges. Later, as chef de cuisine at Restaurant 66, Gourdet cultivated the affinity for the Asian cuisines and flavors for which he is known.

Tanya Holland
Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland, CA

Known for her inventive take on modern soul food, as well as comfort classics, Tanya Holland is the executive chef/owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen. She is also the author of the Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook and New Soul Cooking; was the host and soul food expert on the television series Melting Pot; and competed on the fifteenth season of Top Chef. Holland holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, and a Grande Diplôme from La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine.

Meherwan Irani
Chai Pani, MG Road, and Buxton Hall, Asheville, NC

In 2009, Irani quit his day job in sales to open his first restaurant: Chai Pani, an authentic Indian street food joint. With two James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef: Southeast under his belt, he's finally confident this might be working out. Not bad for a former car salesman—although his mother who still lives in India is not impressed.

Sara Kramer
Kismet, Los Angeles

Sara Kramer began cooking professionally at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and today counts Dan Barber as a major influence and mentor. Kramer moved to Los Angeles in 2015 to open Madcapra, a falafel concept in Grand Central Market with partner Sarah Hymanson. In 2016, Kramer and Hymanson opened their full-service restaurant, Kismet, in Los Feliz, highlighting vegetable-forward Middle Eastern-ish cooking. Only a few months in, their cooking earned them a spot on Food & Wine’s 2017 “Best New Chefs” list.

Edward Lee
610 Magnolia, Louiseville, KY

One part Southern soul, one part Asian spice, and one part New York attitude, chef Edward Lee is a Korean-American who grew up in Brooklyn, trained in New York City kitchens, and honed his vision at 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, KY. Lee’s innovative cuisine has earned him six James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef: Southeast. In 2017, Lee moved to Washington, D.C. to open his new flagship restaurant, Succotash.

Brian Moll
The Farmhouse at Serenbe, Chatt Hills, GA

Brian Moll is executive chef at the Farmhouse at Serenbe, one of Atlanta’s original farm-to-table restaurants. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Moll spent seven years at Fifth Group’s Ecco and La Tavola restaurants in Atlanta.

JBF Award Winner Kevin Nashan
Sidney Street Cafe and the Peacemaker, St. Louis

Kevin Nashan and his wife Mina bought Sidney Street Cafe from its previous owners in 2003, and in 2014, opened their second restaurant, the Peacemaker. Nashan seamlessly incorporates his wide variety of culinary experiences and influences into seasonal, locally sourced creations. After multiple years of being named a semifinalist and nominee for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest, Nashan claimed the title in 2017.

Roshara Sanders
Alkhemy, Bridgeport, CT

Prior to being a chef, Roshara Sanders spent several years serving her country in Iraq and Afghanistan. After finishing her obligated service contract, Sanders attended the Culinary Institute of America and graduated with a bachelor's degree in culinary arts management. Shortly after graduation, Sanders won an episode of the Food Network’s Chopped. She is a partner of Habitat for Humanity Global, has a licensing deal to create her own food products, and has started her own company, Alkhemy.

Deborah VanTrece
Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, Atlanta

Deborah VanTrece draws on a world of experience to feed people comfort food that crosses cultural divides. Known for her gourmet catering in the Atlanta area, VanTrece established Edible Art in the late 1990s. In 2014 she opened Twisted Soul Kitchen & Bar in Decatur, subsequently relocating to Midtown West Atlanta with Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours. VanTrece continues to serve the concept of global soul food: the soul food of different cultures around the globe as she has experienced them.

JBF Award Winner Greg Vernick
Vernick Food & Drink, Philadelphia

Cherry Hill, New Jersey native Greg Vernick could be found in the kitchen at an early age. In 2012, after years working in New York City as part of Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s restaurant empire, Vernick returned to Philadelphia and opened the doors to Vernick Food & Drink, where he serves an honest, no-fuss menu featuring his version of new American cooking. In May 2017, Greg Vernick was named the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation.

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


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