The Daring 25: Food Pioneers

Produced with  Bon Appetit

Cadillac is passionate about innovations that drive us forward, so we partnered with five Conde Nast publications to discover individuals who use their talents to do the same. We asked the editors of Vanity Fair, Wired, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit and GQ who they found most daring in 2016.

The Daring 25 are innovators, creators and pioneers who are trailblazing in their fields. These impressive individuals and companies stand out in the industries of entertainment, technology, design, food, and style, and represent the best of those who challenge the status quo.

These five honorees work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the food industry.

ONE: SEAN BARRETT

FISHERMAN AND ENVIRONMENTALIST/REDEFINING THE ECONOMY OF THE SEAS VIA A SUSTAINABLE, ECO-FRIENDLY FISHING COOPERATIVE 

A trip to Spain forced Long Island fisherman Sean Barrett to think about his profession differently. On the shores of Montauk, Barrett spent his youth witnessing the industrialization of his fishing community. Modern-day supply chains dictate that a piece of fish caught at sea will likely pass through several processors—even countries—before it reaches the consumer’s plate.

But while fishing in Spain’s Basque region, Barrett witnessed a return to the old ways of line-to-table fish sourcing. “I saw these fishermen come to the docks and drop their fish at the restaurants. Moments later, I saw the waiters wipe their board and write what the fishermen had brought from the docks to add to the menu,” Barrett says. “It was a circuit board connector moment for me.”

Energized, Barrett returned to Montauk and in 2012 created Dock to Dish, a CSA-style fishing consortium assembling local fishermen to provide fresh-caught, locally sourced seafood directly to restaurants and individuals. The organization, now in place in a half-dozen locations, has turned the current fish sourcing model on its head and encouraged a more sustainable and localized way to source seafood.

 

“There’s a lot of deep breaths and pounding hearts when you’re in the daring category.”
Sean Barrett

“We’re a small, bootstrap start-up from Long Island that’s changing large industrial practices,” says Barrett. With plans to continue growth internationally, Dock to Dish could significantly help reduce the amount of overfishing of certain species of fish by encouraging locally sourced alternatives to be consumed.

Supermarkets are legally obligated to first sell consumers the oldest fish they have on stock, not the freshest, a stock rotation policy called the first-in-first-out rule. Comparatively, members of Dock to Dish receive local fish and seafood delivered within 24 hours of when the fish leaves the dock from which it came.

Local catch like dogfish, tilefish, or sea bream come from the waters across the mid-Atlantic and are served to Dock to Dish customers, versus the more commonplace—and commonly imported or farmed—salmon or halibut. Members cannot request fish on demand, another part of Barrett’s sustainable business model. “When people sign up, they get a set weight of whatever comes off the dock,” he says. “You can’t say, ‘I want swordfish,’ then apply that pressure to the ecosystem.”

 

The organization has altered the current fish sourcing model and encouraged a more sustainable and localized way to source seafood.

His approach has struck a chord—memberships for the last three years have sold out quickly, and the ranks include top chefs Mario Batali, Dan Barber, and Eric Ripert. Dock to Dish has expanded to Vancouver and California, and in June Barrett introduced his concept to Costa Rica, where he’s partnered with five-star eco-resort chain Cayuga Collection. At the end of July, he will launch Dock to Dish in San Francisco in partnership with Thomas Keller at his restaurant, The French Laundry. Barrett is also eyeing programs in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Brazil, Palau, and Chile.

Despite challenges including climate, fishing methods, and infrastructure issues—he recently pulled plans to expand to London after the Brexit vote made it hard to work with fishery managers—Barrett says the bigger cause propels him to keep pushing. “We have these OMG moments where we’re like, ‘Whoa, we’re out on a limb.’ I guess that’s where change happens. There’s a lot of deep breaths and pounding hearts when you’re in the daring category,” says Barrett.

TWO: FLAVIA CABRAL

ACTIVIST/ FAST-FOOD EMPLOYEE LEADING THE CHARGE TO INCREASE MINIMUM WAGE TO $15 

Flavia Cabral wears many hats: She’s the breadwinner of her household in the Bronx, a mother of two children, and an employee of both a Manhattan McDonald’s and a shipping company. She’s also the loudest voice—and the cocreator—of the Fight for $15, a driving force in the quest to bring attention to the low wages of fast-food workers.

In between two jobs and raising a family, she’s helped galvanize a movement to increase pay among fast-food and minimum wage workers across the country, some of whom are paid as little as $7.25 an hour. Cabral, 53, has participated in nearly a dozen strikes on behalf of the activist group, which is now in over 300 cities in six continents. She’s also helped rally support from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Hillary Clinton.

Her efforts paid off big in April, when New York was the first state to commit to raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, boosting incomes for an estimated 2 million New Yorkers. Cabral is quick to share the credit with her coworkers. “The first time I went to work at McDonald’s, one of my coworkers said, ‘We’ve been fighting for better wages and to be in the union,’” she explains. “So she talked to me about it and I said, ‘Fine, I will fight too, because getting the kind of low wages we’re getting, no one can survive.’”

“We aren’t asking to be rich. We just ask for a decent salary, so we can survive, so we can feed our family.””
Flavia Cabral

Cabral has been a member of the National Organizing Committee, has testified in front of the Wage Board, and has served as a mouthpiece for the cause. “I’m the one bringing all my coworkers out and saying they can fight for $15. That’s what I’ve been doing during the two years,” she says.

She’s also seen real change through her organization’s efforts, with the Fight for $15 winning $15 an hour across New York, California, and Seattle and seeing significant raises in cities like Chicago and Portland, Oregon. These efforts will all be put into place in the next few years, and the Fight for $15 will continue to argue for union rights.

“I went inside Cuomo’s office and I talked to him face to face and told him, ‘You know, all of those people outside screaming and yelling and taking off time from work to be here? All of those people want to work,’” Cabral says. “We’re paying taxes. We don’t do this because we want to do it. We are workers. Hard workers. We aren’t asking to be rich. We just ask for a decent salary, so we can survive, so we can feed our family.”

Cabral’s specific focus is on higher education, a hope she has for her own children. “So many mothers don’t have any savings to send their children to college, because with minimum wage, it’s not enough,” she says. “Right now, we’re getting paid check by check. With the minimum wage we get, we can only pay rent and food and bills.”

While Cabral serves as an inspirational voice to many, she says the Fight for $15 looks to another motivational leader: Martin Luther King, Jr. “He did so many things for black people and the community, so we follow him step by step,” she says. “We’re doing almost the same thing as what he was doing. Right now, we don’t have a hero anymore. I don’t see anybody being a hero for anyone.”

But when she looks around her, she sees heroes in her coworkers and those fighting alongside her. “We use the word unstoppable, because we are unstoppable. No man can stop us until we get what we need. Because this is what we need, not what we want. It’s what we need to survive.”

THREE: JESSICA KOSLOW

CHEF/ ESTABLISHING A WEST COAST CULINARY ENTERPRISE BASED ON THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY: BREAKFAST 

A few years back, Jessica Koslow was working as a television producer on shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. But her own dreams had nothing to do with wanting to belt out cover versions in front of Simon Cowell. “Starting [my restaurant] Sqirl was the most daring thing I could have done,” Koslow, 35, says. “I left a desk job to go back to a career in an industry where I trusted my internal voice and risked everything I had—relationships, money, well-being—because I believed in what I was doing.”

The risk has paid off—Koslow’s restaurant is one of the most popular in Los Angeles, and the chef is now known as the woman who brought the sexy back to breakfast (assuming breakfast was ever considered sexy to begin with). Sqirl’s Instagram-worthy servings of jam-smothered toasts and vegetable-filled rice bowls have the West Coast’s green-juice-and-granola set flocking. Soon, she’ll expand her empire to conquer dinner—and bookshelves, too.

After graduating from Brandeis University and getting a master’s degree from Georgetown, Koslow began a career in the food industry at an Atlanta-based restaurant called Bacchanalia. But she left to work at Fox Broadcasting Company in New York City and eventually relocated to Los Angeles. Then the market tanked and she lost her job, forcing her to “challenge the notion” of what she wanted to do.

“No one had really been doing breakfast and lunch in Los Angeles at the quality level we have been doing at Sqirl.”
Jessica Koslow

“That’s why the self-reflection happened,” she explains. The result was Koslow returning to her first love: food.

She saved up enough money to open a storefront and debuted Sqirl in 2012, and stared making homemade jam and selling her creations at local farmers markets. Then, she started serving her jams at Sqirl with ricotta and oversized slices of toasted brioche. She had identified a gap in the market: “No one had really been doing breakfast and lunch in Los Angeles at the quality level we have been doing at Sqirl.”

Swapping out traditional dishes like eggs Benedict for a sorrel pesto rice bowl (the most popular dish at Sqirl and one that “has no reference at all as American breakfast”), Koslow offered diners a fresh, new take on a traditional meal. “It created a buzz, for sure,” she says. She hasn’t completely abandoned the entertainment industry. The same type of L.A. power brokers she used to work with head to her award-winning restaurant for early morning breakfast meetings. She’s also parlayed the knowledge she gained as a producer—“understanding the number of people who need to be involved, the types of people, the personalities, and [how to] really make a band play the right notes”—into skills she can utilize to run her thriving food business.

Koslow’s success with the early hours (“at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, my restaurant has a line out the door and around the corner,” she says) has her thinking bigger and later. Though she was once cautious about offering dinner—“I made jam, so it didn’t seem cohesive”—she will open her second restaurant next year with just that aim. The 8,000-square-foot dining establishment will include a quick-service restaurant and a built-in catering operation.

She’ll also add an all-takeout section next door to Sqirl, aptly called Sqirl Away, sometime in 2017. She plans to serve customers with what she calls “more Sqirl food on the fly.”

Her immediate next venture is the publication of her debut cookbook in October, entitled Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking. The collection of recipes and ideas will be an approachable take on what Koslow does on a daily basis: “I think after almost five years, you have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.”

FOUR: THE PERENNIAL

RESTAURANT/FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE AND IMPROVING THE INDUSTRIAL FOOD SYSTEM ONE DISH AT A TIME

A child can change everything—just ask The Perennial co-owners Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz. “When we had our daughter, Aviva, in 2012, that focused our thoughts on the future,” says Leibowitz.

Myint and Leibowitz were already luminaries of the San Francisco food scene, having founded critic-friendly restaurants Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and Lt. Waffles. Now they started thinking about their larger impact on food and the environment. “We wanted to embody our hopes for the future in our work in the restaurant world, so that gave rise to a greater commitment to the environment in general,” Leibowitz says. And so The Perennial, a restaurant experimenting with a new food system that could ultimately begin reversing climate change, was born.

The Perennial, which the couple runs along with chef Chris Kiyuna, is the most ambitious and expensive project they’ve undertaken. In fact, it’s probably the most ambitious effort any restaurant has taken to operate in a sustainable manner—every aspect, from its vendors to its farming techniques to the reclaimed wood used for its furniture and dining areas, is environmentally friendly.

“The most daring thing about the restaurant is to ask diners to think about food in a different way.”
Karen Leibowitz

If The Perennial succeeds in its mission, it could revolutionize how people consume and produce food on a global level. “The most daring thing about the restaurant is to ask diners to think about food in a different way,” says Leibowitz. “Fundamentally, we’re trying to create an environment that isn’t only about pleasure but also doing good.”

Menu items at The Perennial that both taste good and do good include its house-made Kernza bread, made from a perennial grain that promotes healthy soil and is an alternative to wheat, and beef tartare, sourced from large cuts of beef and served with edible nasturtium flowers grown on The Perennial’s roof garden. Kiyuna acknowledges that because the narrative of climate change can get “a little heavy,” there are times they hear complaints. “[People ask] ‘Why aren’t you just a restaurant?’ ‘Why are my portions the way that they are?’ ‘Why are you using food by-product instead of the actual popular ingredient?’”

 

The pair believes food provides an optimistic entry point into climate change.

But, argues Myint, “Food provides a fun and optimistic entry point into climate change.” The trio educate their guests on food-system passion points such as meat production, cooking lower on the food chain, and soil replenishing. “I know people don’t want to go out to eat and hear a lecture on science, but a lot of modes of production we’re championing at the restaurant are pretty new.” For example, soil science is an emerging and important field. “Five or 10 years ago, people didn’t understand a lot of the things they do today about soil carbon,” says Myint.

This commitment to sustainability and environmental rightness may seem like quite the jump from the trendiness of Mission Chinese Food and its ilk, but it’s not as far of a reach as it seems. At Mission, Myint and Leibowitz began donating some of the proceeds to local food pantries, and a charitable component, usually in the form of a percentage of the menu price, has been part of every San Francisco business of theirs since. “We got a lot of practice explaining what we were doing and using restaurants as a vehicle for innovation and community building, so I think that was good preparation for what we’re doing now,” says Leibowitz.

The Perennial is still in its infancy, having not yet been open for a year, and is still evolving. Myint is looking forward to what the future holds. “Five years from now, we’ll look back and actually influence the way people think, or the way chefs think, or the ways restaurants operate,” he says hopefully.

FIVE: NICOLAS JAMMET

RESTAURATEUR/PUTTING A HEALTHY SPIN ON FAST-FOOD WITH A CHAIN OF FARM-FRESH CASUAL RESTAURANTS 

A typical desk job was never in the cards for Nicolas Jammet, one of three cofounders of the Washington, D.C.–based hip and healthy salad chain Sweetgreen. “I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment with my parents,” says Jammet, referring to André and Rita Jammet, who owned the legendary New York restaurant La Caravelle and still run La Caravelle Champagnes. “I knew I wanted to be part of something that created change.”

His own creation, Sweetgreen, was born in 2007 when Jammet and his two partners, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru, graduated from Georgetown and decided to take a risk by making a go of their idea for a local farm-to-table salad chain.

But Sweetgreen had a broader goal than merely satisfying its founders’ entrepreneurial jones: Jammet and his partners recognized a need for a healthier way to serve food to people quickly and conveniently. “I knew this was the kind of food people wanted to connect with and saw an opportunity to start to create some change in the food system.” Indeed, Sweetgreen is on its way to becoming the health-conscious fast-food chain for the masses—serving a locally sourced menu in six states and the District of Columbia and on target to expand exponentially in the next few years.

Jammet says he and his business partners—who started Sweetgreen with a small group of investors, all friends and family—had many mentors and advisors. For Jammet, one of the most important was New York City restaurateur and CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group Danny Meyer, whom Jammet interned with when he was younger: “I watched as he redefined hospitality for not just the industry but the whole country.”

“We’re on this path of trying to feed more people better food in this country .”
Nicholas Jammet

The idea of a healthier way to eat has been a fashionable but necessary trend in kitchens across America. “There’s an incredible change happening in food and we want to be one of the people that help push that change along, from the way people think about food to the way they eat it, the way they have access, the way it’s grown, and the way supply chains are built,” says Jammet.

It’s also a concept that’s on-brand with who Jammet and his partners are as individuals, describing themselves as “health-conscious” and personally opting for salads over burgers. “A burger every now and then is good, too, but I’ve always been very connected to eating real food and lots of plants,” he says.

Sweetgreen serves up custom salads and healthy fare that’s locally sourced and organic. It touts its local purveyors via a chalkboard posted in each store that lists its menu ingredients and the local farms from which they were sourced. Its roster of greens and grain-based dishes—including the “Rad Thai” (a Vietnamese-inspired salad with citrus shrimp, sprouts, cabbage, and cashew dressing) and the fish- and avocado-packed “OMG Omega”—draws hoards of loyal customers and profits.

In nine years, Jammet’s creation has grown from a D.C.–area salad spot to a national chain with more than 40 locations nationwide. Its revenues are estimated to hover around $50 million—though the company does not disclose revenue numbers—and Sweetgreen has also secured nearly $95 million in funding from investors including AOL co-founder Steve Case and restaurateurs Meyer, Momofuku founder David Chang, and Daniel Boulud. Stacking green isn’t Sweetgreen’s only business—a percentage of sales within their Sweetgreen app is donated toward its Sweetgreen in Schools program and partners to provide nutrition education and access to healthy food for kids.

As for the future of Sweetgreen, Jammet says they’re “big believers in constant evolution and innovation,” but don’t expect them to stray too far from their core. “We’re on this path of trying to feed more people better food in this country and we’re going to continue that mission.”

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