The 2010s were formative years for the food world. From Netflix documentary darlings to YouTube mega celebs, this decade brought us even more ways to consume food content and discover rising stars. As more people documented their eating with increasingly high-quality phone cameras, food social media pages gained hundreds of thousands of followers and cookbooks flew off the shelves like hit records.
But the past ten years weren’t all about rainbow bagels and cheese pulls. The United States’ population began to care more about where their food is coming from and the impact that it has on their social, political, and ecological environment. Voices advocating for change from a policy and education level gained a wider audience. Some hard losses caused the hospitality industry to look inward and fix toxic cultures.
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The 15 people below represent some of the most influential in the food world this past decade, but this list is by no means exhaustive. We are grateful for all of those who led, entertained, advocated, and educated us in the past ten years.
1. Alice Waters
Alice Waters was promoting organic, local food long before the organic section in your grocery store existed. After training and traveling in London, France, and Turkey, Waters returned to her native California and opened Chez Panisse in 1971. The restaurant quickly became known for pioneering Californian cuisine and championing organic food for both its environmental benefits and superior flavor.
In 1996, Waters founded the Chez Panisse Foundation with the goal of promoting community and education for young people by establishing the Edible Schoolyard organization. What began as a one acre plot at a middle school in Berkeley, California has since expanded massively in the last decade to over 5,500 programs in every U.S. state and 75 countries around the world.
2. Alison Roman
After working her way up steadily through the ranks to senior food editor at Bon Appétit, Alison Roman got her big break when publisher Clarkson Potter approached her to write a book. The result was the 2017 publication of her first cookbook “Dining In,” which popularized the concept of the Instagram-famous recipe. Thousands of her fans posted their pictures of her dishes, including a chocolate chip shortbread dubbed “the cookie” and a spicy coconut chickpea medley called “the stew.”
Roman’s sophomore project, “Nothing Fancy,” was published in 2019 and caused similar fervor, with fans lining up hours in advance to get a copy signed by Roman on a national book tour.
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3. Anthony Bourdain
Both Anthony Bourdain’s adventurous life and tragic death made waves in the 2010s. He started the decade by publishing “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,” a prequel to his New York Times bestseller “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” His television series “No Reservations,” “The Layover,” and “Parts Unknown” brought viewers with him to the culinary corners of the earth. His 2018 suicide started an important discussion on how to destigmatize mental illness and provide support in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
4. Antoni Porowski
Canadian Antoni Porowski is best known as the resident food and wine expert on Netflix’s 2018 Emmy-award winning reboot of “Queer Eye.” His controversial recipe for guacamole with Greek yogurt caused a media frenzy, as did his good looks, landing him the title of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Reality Star.”
Porowski continued to expand his influence with the 2019 launch of his cookbook “Antoni in the Kitchen” and the recent opening of his fast casual restaurant The Village Den in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
Antoni in the Kitchen, $15 on Amazon
Antoni Porowski's long-awaited cookbook debut lives up to the hype.
5. Chrissy Teigen
Model turned television personality Chrissy Teigen wanted to be a chef before she started modeling at a young age. Her first cookbook, “Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat” spent 31 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2016, and she launched her second cookbook along with a cookware line called “Cravings” in 2018. Although not a chef by trade, Teigen’s infectious enthusiasm for food and cooking, often shared with her 12.1 million Twitter followers, lands her on our list.
6. Danny Meyer
From the global takeover by fast casual burger concept Shake Shack to the gastronomic excellence of New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer’s restaurant expertise and leadership as the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group spans all price points and experiences. His 2006 New York Times bestseller “Setting The Table” cemented his position as a respected authority figure in the hospitality industry.
In 2015, Meyer announced USHG would be eliminating tipping at all of their restaurants in an effort to compensate all employees of the restaurant fairly. While the jury is still out on whether the concept is working, Meyer undoubtedly made a huge impact by starting the conversation.
7. David Chang
Founder of the Momofuku Group, David Chang now has 14 restaurants in 6 major cities around the world. In addition to his culinary triumphs, Chang founded Lucky Peach (sadly now defunct), a quarterly magazine with contributions from renowned chefs. In 2012, Chang hosted the first season of Emmy award-winning program “The Mind of a Chef” on PBS. In partnership with Netflix, he produced 2018 series “Ugly Delicious” and 2019 show “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” with guest stars including Seth Rogan and Kate McKinnon. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Momofuku Ssäm Suace, $7.19 on Amazon
David Chang takes Korean gochujang to the next level.
8. Hamdi Ulukaya
Though Turkish entrepreneur Hamdi Ulukaya was born to a dairy-farming family, he did not have any experience with crafting yogurt when he purchased an inoperative yogurt factory in upstate New York and founded Chobani in 2005. By 2011, Chobani was the #1-selling Greek yogurt brand in the United States.
Ulukaya’s business savvy alone could earn him a spot on our list, but his outspoken philanthropic and socially conscious practices that have made the biggest impact. Now a self-made billionaire, Ulukaya pledged to donate the majority of his wealth to refugee causes around the world. In 2016, he launched the Chobani Incubator, a mentoring arm of Chobani to help grow the next generation of socially and environmentally conscious packaged food brands.
9. Hannah Hart
The 2010s saw the rise of the YouTube megastar, with Hannah Hart at the helm of the online cooking genre. Her series “My Drunk Kitchen,” launched in 2011, earned her a YouTube partnership and numerous nominations and wins from the Streamy Awards and Shorty Awards. Her book “My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut” debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and her YouTube channel currently has over 2.4 million subscribers.
My Drunk Kitchen Holidays, $19.69 on Amazon
Ideas to celebrate all year long.
10. Jamie Oliver
When British chef Jamie Oliver was working as a sous-chef in London’s famous River Cafe, he was discovered by a television executive who then cast him in the titular role of the 1999 BBC show “The Naked Chef.” He soon became one of England’s most recognizable media faces, hosting many more cooking shows and doing several guest appearances on international programs.
Using his platform to advocate for reforming childhood nutrition, his 2010 TED Talk titled “Teach Every Child About Food” won the 2010 TED Prize. His first foray into American television, ABC’s “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” won an Emmy award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2010 and brought pink slime to public consciousness.
11. José Andrés
Spanish American chef José Andrés’ culinary achievements are numerous, from receiving two Michelin stars for his experimental small plates restaurant minibar in Washington, D.C., to being named “Chef of the Year” by both Bon Appetit and GQ. But the list of awards and accolades for his humanitarian work is even longer.
Andrés founded World Central Kitchen in response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, providing healthy warm meals to those affected by natural disasters. Since its inception, the organization has set up shop in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Peru, Cuba, Uganda, Cambodia and Puerto Rico, earning him a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
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12. Marcus Samuelsson
Ethiopian Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson became the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star review from The New York Times at the age of 24 while at the helm of Nordic restaurant Aquavit. In 2011, a year after opening his Harlem eatery Red Rooster, Samuelsson hosted a $30,800-per-plate fundraising dinner for the Democratic National Convention attended by President Obama.
At the same time, he became a recognizable face on television, winning Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and becoming a regular on Food Network shows “Chopped,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Iron Chef,” and more. And his bestselling 2012 memoir “Yes, Chef” won the James Beard award for Writing and Literature.
13. Massimo Bottura
Chef Massimo Bottura’s three Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana, located in Modena, Italy, has been in the top 5 for S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards since 2010, making it one of the most decorated restaurants of the decade.
In 2015, Bottura drew attention to the issues of food waste and social inequality by taking all of the leftovers from Milan’s EXPO food conference and turning them into a free three-course meal for the city’s underprivileged. He continued this work by founding Food for Soul, a nonprofit that advocates for an equitable food system by opening more locations for those in need to receive a high-quality meal in a welcoming community space.
14. Michelle Obama
When Michelle Obama moved into the White House in 2009, she immediately got to work on planting an expansive organic vegetable garden. In 2010, she announced her biggest policy initiative titled “Let’s Move!,” a multi-pronged approach to tackling childhood obesity. While exercise played a role (and we are still jealous of Michelle’s toned arms), Obama also focused on revamping nutritional guidelines and school food through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. By teaming up with her husband and his administration, this legislation provided funding for healthy alternatives like fruit and granola bars for millions of public-school children in the United States.
15. Samin Nosrat
Chef Samin Nosrat fell in love with food after eating at fellow listee Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse. Nosrat’s 2017 New York Times bestselling cookbook “Salt Fat Acid Heat” won nearly all the important cookbook awards, including “Food Book of the Year” by The Times of London, the 2018 James Beard Award for “Best General Cookbook,” and the International Association of Culinary Professionals “Julia Child First Book Award.”
In 2018, Nosrat served as host and executive producer of the critically acclaimed Netflix docu-series by the same name as her book. Her conversational style and warm, relatable nature made her a favorite in the food world this decade.
Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, $20.99 on Amazon
This should be on everyone's bookcase.
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Isaac Brekken