1. Mario Batali
Home base: New York, N.Y.
Noted for: Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Del Posto, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
Cause: Hunger relief
How he’s changing America: With a slew of Manhattan restaurants, regular television appearances and famous friends like Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Batali is hands down one of America’s most visible chefs. But behind the scenes, the man in the orange Crocs is equally hard at work at the Mario Batali Foundation, which has taught low-income families about nutrition and healthy food preparation since 2008. Batali has also raised nearly $8 million in the last decade for the Food Bank for New York City, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization where he serves on the board of directors. In 2013, the Mario Batali Foundation partnered with the Food Bank for New York City to create the Community CookShop, a program that has taught more than 1,400 people at 24 food pantries and soup kitchens how to maximize their food budgets and cook nutritious meals.
2. José Andrés
Home base: Washington, D.C.
Noted for: Jaleo, Zaytinya, Minibar by José Andrés
Causes: Hunger relief, culinary training
How he’s changing America: When José Andrés moved to Washington, D.C., one of the first people he met was Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger in the nation’s capital. Humbled by the group’s efforts, Andrés began helping on a number of their initiatives, including a culinary training program that teaches homeless vets and former prisoners food preparation and cooking skills so they can find jobs in the restaurant industry. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, which aims to replicate the success of DC Central Kitchen on an international scale by teaching vulnerable citizens how they can grow, cook and preserve their own food and become self-sustaining communities. “As chefs, we are in a position to influence how people eat and how they think about food,” Andrés says. “Yes, we cook for the few in our restaurants, but we have the power and knowledge to cook for and feed the many.”
3. Cat Cora
Home base: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Noted for: Kouzzina by Cat Cora, Cat Cora’s Kitchen
Cause: Hunger relief
How she’s changing America: In 2005, Cat Cora made history by becoming the Food Network’s first and only female Iron Chef. And yet the Mississippi-bred chef may be best known for her work as president and founder of Chefs for Humanity, an organization that aims to provide nutrition education and hunger relief around the world by rallying culinary experts to raise money for disaster-affected populations and to teach low-income communities about healthy eating habits. In 2005, Cora and fellow chefs worked with the American Red Cross to help feed victims and volunteers of Hurricane Katrina, which left a trail of destruction in her home state of Mississippi. More recently, Cora has partnered with Michelle Obama on the first lady’s Chefs Move to Schools program, which invites chefs to help eradicate the childhood obesity epidemic by creating healthy meals and menus.
4. Bill Yosses
Home base: Washington, D.C.
Noted for: White House executive pastry chef
Cause: Food literacy
How he’s changing America: Many chefs would consider a tenure in the White House to be the gig of a lifetime. Bill Yosses can claim that honor twice, as he has whipped up delicious desserts for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the White House executive pastry chef. This summer, Yosses will depart 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for New York City, where he plans to form a foundation to promote healthy eating habits for adults and kids alike. “There’s much talk about STEM in schools — science, technology, engineering and math,” Yosses told The New York Times. “Food knowledge should be part of a complete curriculum.” And while the White House kitchen will no longer be his domain, its hallowed halls won’t be far from his mind. Yosses’ plans are reportedly inspired in part by Michelle Obama and her White House garden, which provided ingredients for healthier desserts during his stint.
5. Michel Nischan
Home base: Fairfield, Conn.
Noted for: Wholesome Wave
Cause: Sustainable farming
How he’s changing America: Though he grew up in the Chicago suburbs, Michel Nischan spent the summers of his formative years on his grandfather’s farm in Missouri. There, he learned how to raise animals, can veggies and drive tractors. “It’s where my passion for food comes from,” Nischan says. “It’s also where I learned about the role and importance of people who produce that food.”
In 2007, Nischan co-founded Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that partners with farmers across the country to provide underserved communities with better access to locally grown foods. Wholesome Wave is perhaps most famous for its double- value coupon program: Food stamp recipients get double the value of their government-issued food dollars if they shop at participating farmers’ markets rather than traditional grocery stores. In 2011, in an effort to lower obesity and boost health, Wholesome Wave launched its fruit and vegetable prescription program, in which doctors write patients “prescriptions” for fruits and vegetables that can be cashed in at farmers’ markets. The program was introduced in Massachusetts, Maine, California and Rhode Island (New York City adopted it in 2013).
6. Ann Cooper
Home base: Boston, Mass.
Noted for: The Lunch Box
Cause: Healthy school lunches
How she’s changing America: Ann Cooper realized there was a problem with our food culture when her own niece informed her that strawberries were grown on trees, not bushes. Since then, Cooper has become an advocate for childhood nutrition, a fight she’s led for more than 20 years. “So many of our kids don’t know where real food comes from — that it doesn’t come in plastic wrap in a box,” Cooper says. The Boston-based chef has been dubbed the “Renegade Lunch Lady” for her efforts to bring healthier foods to the public school system, having launched several nonprofits and websites in support of these initiatives, including The Lunch Box, an open-source community that provides free recipes, video cooking tutorials and other tools to families who want to eat better. In 2010, Cooper also teamed up with Michelle Obama to start Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an effort to bring 6,000 salad bars to school cafeterias across the country.
7. Christina Tosi
Home base: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Noted for: Momofuku Milk Bar
How she’s changing America: One of Christina Tosi’s earliest dreams was to own a bakery. In 2011, she checked that item off the bucket list when she became chef, owner and founder of Momofuku Milk Bar, the dessert branch of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group. It’s only fitting, then, that her philanthropic efforts are with an organization that also loves baking: Tosi serves on the board of Hot Bread Kitchen, a Spanish Harlem-based nonprofit that trains low-income, immigrant women in artisanal baking skills, which can help them secure management jobs within bakeries, where minority women are particularly underrepresented. (In New York City alone, just 500 of the area’s 6,000 bakers are minority women.) Founded in 2007, Hot Bread Kitchen has already helped 12 of its 39 trainees find full-time work as bakery shift managers, with plans to train 30 new participants this year.
8. David James Robinson
Home base: Columbia County, N.Y.
Noted for: “Learn How to Cook (and Eat Your Mistakes)!” DVD program
Cause: Job training for veterans
How he’s changing America: Having cooked for more than 35,000 guests in his career, including presidents, Academy Award winners and professional athletes, chef David James Robinson has a wealth of culinary knowledge to share. His DVD program “Learn How to Cook (and Eat Your Mistakes)!” offers beginner chefs lessons from food prep to chopping. A spin-off, called Culinary Command Training, is a 45-day program for vets and select active-duty soldiers eager to learn skills that would prepare them for a culinary career. The program, which takes place twice a year in Chatham, N.Y., is free for military participants and funded by donations.
9. Hugh Acheson
Home base: Athens, Ga.
Noted for: Five & Ten, The National
Cause: Food security
How he’s changing America: Hugh Acheson lives in Athens, Ga., about an hour’s drive from Atlanta, where more than half a million people live in food “deserts” —communities where citizens, the great majority of whom receive benefits from the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store.
Acheson has been one of the loudest advocates for those living on SNAP, donating money to organizations that help underserved communities access nutritious foods and running cooking demos for low-income citizens who want to learn how to make the most of their food stamps. “People forget that SNAP is supposed to supplement — not serve as 100 percent of anyone’s food budget,” says Acheson, whose demos focus on how to make sustainable meals from vegetables and grains, which are considerably cheaper than meat. “I don’t want to raise a bunch of chefs in America,” he says. “I just want to raise a bunch of people with basic cooking skills so they can feed themselves.”
10. Rick Bayless
Home base: Chicago, Ill.
Noted for: Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco
Cause: Local farmers
How he’s changing America: With multiple restaurants, cookbooks and even his own PBS show dedicated to Mexican cuisine, it’s no wonder that Rick Bayless was invited by the Obamas to be the guest chef at an official state dinner in 2010 for Felipe Calderon, then president of Mexico. But he’s not letting that national attention get to his head. For decades, Bayless has helped out small farmers who supplied food to his restaurants, and in 2003 he founded the Frontera Farmer Foundation to support local Chicago farmers through grants for capital improvements; to date, the foundation has given $1.2 million to 71 farms. “They’d tell us they needed a little help with this project, with that project, and we wanted to see them thrive — not the least bit because we wanted to continue getting product from them — so we’d help them out whenever we could,” Bayless says. “And eventually we thought, ‘Hey, this is part of our mission, it’s part of what we
do, we should just make it official.’” But for Bayless, the decision to support farmers goes beyond his three Chicago restaurants. “I just didn’t want to see our food systems go completely corporate and globalized,” he says. “I wanted to eat food that was grown in the Midwest, the same way people in Mexico eat food that was grown just a few miles away…the same way we all used to do that. It’s about health, it’s about the planet’s health, it’s about flavor, it’s about stories and it’s very much about people, the farmers who make their living growing food for us to eat.”
Editors’ note: Since the original publication of this story, Michel Nischan, CEO of Wholsome Wave, has become a NationSwell Council member.