Table of Contents
Nothing brings us together like what we eat. Yet in a changing world, the ways in which we produce, consume, and come together over food are evolving. Meet the global culinary leaders whose great ideas and delicious dishes are creating pathways for people to rediscover one another—from a chef-turned-researcher starting conversations about the future of India’s food system to a fourth-generation Peruvian potato farmer working to preserve heirloom varieties.
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Nornie Bero, founder, Mabu Mabu
A descendant of the Komet people, one of eight Aboriginal tribes in the east Torres Strait, chef Nornie Bero grew up foraging and spearfishing with her father. After working in Japanese, Italian, and Indian restaurants throughout Australia, she dedicated her professional career to introducing Indigenous ingredients like bush raisin (which she describes as a cross between a tomato and an eggplant) to diners. In every thread of Mabu Mabu, her micro culinary empire—which includes Big Esso, an all-day kitchen and bar in Melbourne’s Federation Square and Tuck Shop, a Yarraville café known for its wattleseed lattes and housemade damper—Bero centers First Nations dishes, cooking up everything from Torres Island staples like namas (coconut-cured ocean fish) to more innovative fare such as chili crab in hot pepperberry sauce with Neptune’s beard (seaweed) and karkalla (a flowering succulent that grows in sand dunes). At the heart of it all is the belief that food is not only a great connector, but the ultimate means of brokering cross-cultural understanding. —Ashlea Halpern
Monique Fiso, head chef, Hiakai
Hiakai in Wellington is one of those restaurants that seems to unlock a whole culture through a symphony of Indigenous ingredients: tītī bird, mamaku tree fern, pickled pikopiko shoots, gorse flowers and kareao vines. Wellingtonian chef Fiso isn’t just celebrating ancient Māori foraging and cooking techniques, and the soil and sea of Aotearoa (New Zealand in Māori), but pushing the form to new heights in her seasonal set menus. “We have to strike the balance between an exceptional dining experience and representing Māori and Pasifika culture accurately and respectfully,” says Fiso, who went from making sandwiches at 14 to toiling in Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City, including The Musket Room and Ian Schrager’s Public restaurant. She returned home in 2016 to launch the Hiakai (“Hungry”) pop-up series, before moving into a cool wood-paneled space in a converted brick factory in 2018. Led by an all-female team, it’s now one of the hottest tables in New Zealand. But to Fiso, it’s about connection more than buzz. “The most satisfying encounters at the restaurant are when diners tell me that I’ve made them proud of their culture and heritage,” she says. —A.H.
Sam Elsom, CEO, Sea Forest
Buying carbon offsets for flights is nice in theory—but what would really put a dent in climate change is controlling the amount of methane released by ruminant livestock. (After electricity production, it’s the second largest culprit of greenhouse gas emissions.) This is precisely the problem apparel manufacturer turned seaweed expert Sam Elsom aims to tackle with his game-changing environmental tech company Sea Forest. Founded in Triabunna, Tasmania, in 2018, it’s the world’s first seaweed farm dedicated to reducing ozone-depleting emissions from the livestock and dairy industries by growing asparagopsis, a genus of edible red algae native to Australian waters. When fed as a supplement to cows and sheep, the carbon-absorbing seaweed eliminates up to 98 percent of methane emissions. Even better, the miracle seaweed is grown on non-invasive ropes, creating new marine habitats while simultaneously de-acidifying the water of excess carbon dioxide. In other words, a win-win for all. —A.H.
Kaviya Cherian, founder, Green Heirloom
“I’m a bit of a cliché when it comes to food. I grew up watching my grandmother cook and that’s what got me curious about how to coax flavor out of it,” says 28-year-old Kaviya Cherian while explaining how she started Green Heirloom, her anything-but-cliché cookware business. After spending a few years in Mumbai, India, working as an actuarial science professional, Cherian realized that her real passion lay in the kitchen. She moved to Kochi, Kerala, and used her numbers savvy to launch the company, which harnesses the wisdom of India’s culinary traditions, working with artisans from across South and East India to bring back traditional cooking vessels and make them accessible to an urban audience. With clay curry pots, bronze pans, cast iron skillets and soapstone mortars and pestles, Cherian is encouraging a host of young Indians to cook as their grandmothers did, with vessels made from materials that enhance the flavors of the food. Unique to Cherian’s approach is how she’s adapting India’s conventional cooking utensils to the modern kitchen: “Our old vessels were big enough to cook for 15 people,” she says. “They’re massive and tough to store. We’re working with artisans to make them smaller and lighter. We’re also pre-seasoning all utensils to save time for our consumers.” Up next: a line of traditional Kerala knives that have been re-engineered for modern-day use. —Smitha Menon
Elizabeth Yorke, founder, Saving Grains
Driven by an appetite for learning, Yorke has long been channeling her energy into cool food projects. As a student at the UN-affiliated Future Food Institute in Italy, Yorke felt far from India’s food scene; so along with fellow student Anusha Murthy, she founded Edible Issues, a collective with the goal of fostering conversation about the food system back home. Together, the two distribute a curated, food-focused newsletter, tracking stories about agriculture, policy, tech, start-ups, and more, to piece together what the future of food in India could look like. The collective—which just earned its founders a spot on the 50 Next list, a roundup of the people shaping the future of gastronomy—also runs independent research projects and organizes public programs that span everything from an interactive cookbook for the city of Bengaluru to thought experiments on what sustainability means to Indian restaurants. With her latest project, Saving Grains, Yorke is working to help upcycle spent grain from craft breweries across Bengaluru. “The craft beer capital of India, Bengaluru, has the highest number of microbreweries in the country,” she says. “Each of them uses at least 440 pounds of grain to make 3,100 gallons of beer. What happens to the grain after that? It’s a colossal waste!” To create value from this “waste,” Yorke produces low-gluten, high-fiber, and high-protein flour that restaurants and bars across the city are using for brownies, cookies, and crackers. “Why should we think of spent grains as waste? Who told us to?” —S.M.
Gabriella D’Cruz, founder, The Good Ocean
The Goan native’s mission is to change the world through a humble and seemingly unlikely medium: seaweed. Through her start-up The Good Ocean, D’Cruz, who has a master’s in biodiversity conservation from Oxford, has set up India’s first two native seaweed farms in Goa and Kumta, in the neighboring state of Karnataka. Her aim is to boost marine biodiversity while providing a nutritious and sustainable foodstuff. Although other commercial seaweed farms exist in India, none cultivates any of the 850 varieties that grow freely off the country’s coastline. So far, D’Cruz’s seaweed has featured on menus across India’s sunshine state, and she’s in talks with gin makers, chocolatiers, brewers and restaurateurs to create a larger market. Her dream product? “Seaweed salt. India has one of the world’s youngest populations and, unfortunately, a vast number of young people in the country are iodine deficient,” she says. “We have an opportunity to move the iodine and nutrition that’s sitting on our coastline to the people who need it the most. Who wouldn’t want that?” —S.M.
Manuel Choqque, farmer and beverage creator
Having grown up on a high-altitude farm in Peru’s Cusco region, Choqque has been studying the country’s 6,400 native potato varieties since his father showed him how to hand-pollinate in a bid to improve tuber genetics. “We had 380 types in our collection, entering them in competitions in hopes of winning a tractor,” he says. After earning his degree in agronomy, Choqque left a job at Peru’s agricultural institute to continue researching the crop in Huatata, his home village. His violet-hued papas nativas, which contain 10 times more antioxidants than blueberries, caught the attention of Peru’s superstar culinary couple Virgilio Martínez and Pía León. Besides supplying their Andean restaurant Mil, Choqque also donated 55 potato varieties to their experimental farm in an effort to rescue heirloom varieties. The farmer’s latest venture radically changes the common perception of oca, his favorite tuber, which he ferments to create Miskioca, a line of red, white, rosé, and orange potato wines. Used at Mil, it’s just another example of how the most humble ingredient can be a vessel for inspiration. —Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Selassie Atadika, chef and founder, Midunu and The Midunu Institute
Food can be an important vehicle for change—an idea embodied by Accra-born, New York-raised Atadika. She started her career as a humanitarian response worker for UNICEF, and her travels across 40 African countries brought her to food. “It wasn’t just tasting flavors I’d forgotten I’d known, but seeing the enormous role that food plays in society,” she says. So she went back to study at the Culinary Institute of America, before founding the monthly pop-up Trio Toque in Dakar, Senegal. Then, in 2014, she moved to Accra’s Tesano neighborhood to open Midunu, a restaurant, chocolatier, and one-acre oasis of produce. In 2019 it grew to become The Midunu Institute, a non-profit aimed at encouraging more thoughtful local production in a place that is still a net exporter of crops and importer of food. Midunu, which hosts training residencies for chefs, is also a place to eat well. Tasting menus showcase dishes like egusi-seed ravioli, while the in-demand chocolate range includes truffles made with Maghrebi mint tea. —S.M.W.
Douglas McMaster, chef and owner, Silo
Some say that in the coming decades, zero-waste eating will be the new locavorism (the latter should simply be the norm in good restaurants). One of the movement’s leaders is the U.K.-based McMaster, who opened Silo in Brighton, England, in 2014 with plates made from recycled plastic bags and tables from industrial floor tiles, composting wasted food to grow new ingredients, and often using self-milled flour. Having decamped to London’s Hackney Wick in 2019, the chef doubled down on the waste-not ethos, with lampshades crafted from the mycellium grown on brewing grains. Despite McMaster describing himself as “an architect as much as a chef,” most of the food is either foraged or sourced from farmers practicing regenerative agriculture. Some set menus slyly increase awareness, like a recent series of invasive species dinners that sold out in two hours, with diners tempted by jellyfish and Japanese knotweed. “We made köfta from the devastating, forest-destroying grey squirrel,” says McMaster. “It tastes like gamey chicken and was delicious with our black garlic and apple ketchup.” Demand for such menus tends to be sky high, partly because the team only open for five sittings a week. Why? Because staff have lives, and part of the Silo philosophy—as laid out in a manifesto-like 2019 hardback book—is that even time shouldn’t be wasted. —S.M.W.
Mark Emil Hermansen, co-founder, Empirical
What do you get if you take two senior Noma alumni chasing “the goosebump moment” and put them in a formerly derelict Copenhagen shipyard? The answer is Empirical, which sits somewhere between drinks brand and scientific experiment into double fermentation and low-temperature vacuum distillation. Hermansen and his business partner Lars Williams describe it as a flavor company built around “liquid ideas.” Its core products include freeform spirits such as the earthy, smoky Ayuuk—Pasilla Mixe chili peppers sourced from Oaxacan farmers, macerated in a spirit made from Danish heirloom purple wheat and pilsner malt, then rested for up to five weeks in sherry casks. Using a growing collection of around 4,000 yeast cultures, the duo also makes experimental beers, sauces, pastes, elixirs, and cocktails—the latest being F**k Putin and His Stupid F**king War. “We don’t want to create chaos, but a novel experience that has complexity,” says Hermansen. “The end result has to taste good.” —S.M.W.
Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli, co-owners, Legs
Rome’s blessing is also its curse—a food tradition so rich that messing with its scriptures can seem sacrilegious. Which is why this couple, who call themselves the Fooders, have always felt different. They started off as the Gastronauts, DJing and doing cutlery-free live cooking in clubs around Europe. In 2013, they opened Mazzo, a 10-seat restaurant in Centocelle that became a hit for its irreverent spin on Roman food—from spaghetti with cod to trippa fritta, fried tripe served with tomato and mint chutney. “We’ve never been against tradition,” says Barreca. “But we do want to challenge people to try new things.” When the restaurant closed in 2019, the couple went on a world cooking tour, before returning to Rome to open Legs, their spin on fried chicken and craft beer. Now plans are afoot to reopen Mazzo in a new location later this year. And the trippa fritta will still be on the menu—proof that some traditions stand the test of time. —Eva Sandoval
Opas Chantkam, founder, FV
Creative director Opas Chantkam has an eye for the unwanted. After returning to his native Bangkok following stints in London and New York, he found Thailand’s agricultural landscape crushed by GMOs and mono-crops. Thai tastebuds were conditioned to covet flawless, highly modified fruits, while many native crops had fallen out of favor. With FV (Fruits and Vegetables), his juice bar on the edge of Bangkok’s Chinatown, he aims to change that. Using unsellable blemished fruits from small-scale organic farms and near-extinct Thai crops (red tamarind, langsat fruit) he revived with the help of agro-research labs, he blends pulpy drinks and elixirs that bring out the fruits’ uncompromised flavors. His research also uncovered the little-known remedial properties of some of Thailand’s 400-something weeds, including oft-exterminated varieties like yanang and maiyarab (also known as shameplant or touch-me-nots). FV uses them in juices and somniferous herbal tea blends, which he sells alongside wildflower honey infused with edible essential oils and traditional khanom (Thai sweets) made following traditional recipes. But Chantkam’s no-waste ethos extends far beyond the blender: he has also devised a way to turn leftover rice husks into glassware and now sells these curvy, bubbled rice-glasses and bottles in Sweden and Japan. And with a downtown retail space and restaurant with a rotating roster of emerging chefs in the works, his counter-call is only set to grow louder. —Chris Schalkx
Clara Diez, owner, Formaje
Cheese has been many things, but is rarely considered a political vehicle. Which is where Madrid-based Diez comes in, even if her self-styled moniker as a “cheese activist” has just a touch of sly irony about it. In many ways, she is a very Gen-Z creation—which other dairy enthusiast wears a Rouje trenchcoat on farm visits, or has collaborated with the designer Emily Levine on a limited-edition bag using muslin cloth? But her message is very real—that we should be rejecting industrial dairy farming in favor of artisanal production—as is Formaje, the gallery-like cheese shop she runs with her husband Adrián Pellejo in Madrid’s Chamberí neighborhood. Here, regional Divirins, Morbiers and Gamoneu del Puertos are presented like the most beautiful still lifes, while talks and events spread the gospel of environmentally friendly cheese-making. “It’s not common to see young people commit to cheese,” says Diez. “But there was just this strong force that connected me with producers—their commitment, the beauty of the process, and the idea that animal products can still be ethical and sustainable if they’re produced the right way.” —Paula Movil
Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, co-founders, Mak-‘amham
Former teachers Medina and Trevino met at a conference on Native American languages, and learning about their shared culture as members of the Indigenous Ohlone tribe was a central part of their love story. The tribe was declared anthropologically extinct in 1925, but in 2018 the pair decided food might be a way to bring its culture back to the fore. They started Cafe Ohlone, or Mak-’amham (“our food” in Chochenyo Ohlone), as a pop-up at the back of a bookshop at the University of California, Berkeley—interspersing meals of amaranth and foraged berries with prayers and tales of their ancestors. This summer, Cafe Ohlone is movbg to the symbolic location of the terrace of an anthropology museum behind Kroeber Hall. The roving experience involves Indigenous gardens and singers, and passing Native American murals before a seafood-heavy meal at redwood tables under a singing tree. “We had no tangible reminders of our culture outside home,” says Medina. “The restaurant is a chance to fight that invisibility.” —Eve Batey
Dominic Saningo Koya, head chef, Mara Nyika Camp by Great Plains Conservation
Visitors to Kenya’s pristine Naboisho Conservancy expect to see lions, cheetahs, and hippos in their natural habitat; what most don’t expect to find is world-class cuisine. But that’s just what Dominic Saningo Koya, head chef at Mara Nyika Camp by Great Plains Conservation, has been serving up since the camp opened two years ago. Working out of a modestly sized kitchen run entirely off the grid, Koya assembles inventive fare mere miles from the Masai village where he was born. Passionate about cooking from an early age, Koya honed his talents at the nearby Karen Blixen Cooking School, a program run with help from the Danish embassy, where he picked up the Scandinavian sensibilities that continue to permeate his cooking—think veggie-forward preparations presented with a Nordic simplicity. Dishes are supplied by a garden adjacent to the camp’s kitchen, where he grows everything from okra to bell peppers, to garlic and ramps, all of it following the seasons of the African savannah—perfectly in harmony with the life that surrounds it. —Brad Japhe
Dieuveil Malonga, founder, Chefs in Africa
“My culinary identity is Afro-Fusion,” says Dieuveil Malonga. “And Africa is the garden of the world.” The Congolese restaurateur behind Meza Malonga in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, which showcases ingredients like njangsa seeds from Cameroon and cacao oil from Ghana, cut his teeth in some of Germany’s leading kitchens—and even appeared on the French version of Top Chef—before returning to Africa in 2015 with a mission to learn about the continent’s food. He traveled to more than 48 countries, visiting farmers and collecting hitherto unwritten recipes, an experience that inspired him to start Chefs in Africa. The project not only connects farmers with would-be chefs and celebrates culinary talent across the continent, but advocates for equitable recognition on the global stage, including Africa’s first Michelin Guide. In 2020, Malonga opened Meza Malonga in Kigali, with ingredients on his 10-course menu sourced from across Africa. “We have this incredible food culture,” he says. “But we need to learn how to tell the world.” —B.J.
Brian Hirata, founder and head chef, Na`au
In 2019, Hirata realized that young chefs in Hawai’i were “hiding behind too much imported caviar, Santa Barbara scallops, and Hokkaido uni.” The culinary school instructor found that his students, many of whom were Native Hawaiian, had never heard of the ingredients he grew up hunting and foraging for. “We’re getting away from Hawai’i’s food identity,” he says. Hirata left his job and started Na`au (“guts” in Hawaiian), a pop-up restaurant where he teaches young cooks about local produce, including limu ‘ele‘ele, a feathery seaweed he makes into chips; and kamanu, or Hawaiian salmon, which he cures and serves with pickled popolo berries. Every element is a way to share Hawaii’s history—from hapu‘u (tree fern), once a famine food for ancient people, to octopus, caught using a traditional lure involving a tiger cowrie shell. By serving them as part of a multi-course tasting menu, he’s showing his cooks that “these are ingredients we can celebrate.” —Martha Cheng
Marsia Taha Mohamed, founder, Sabores Silvestres
When chef Mohamed took the reins at Gustu, La Paz’s most celebrated restaurant, in 2017, adding her own secret sauce to recipes wasn’t her only aim. The Bulgarian-born, Bolivian-raised chef wanted to delve into research around Pre-Columbian ingredients, many of which are on the brink of extinction. In 2018 she launched Sabores Silvestres with the Wildlife Conservation Society, a project involving journeys to remote communities to help preserve ancestral cooking skills. At Gustu, Mohamed now recreates techniques she learned such as dunucubi, an Amazonian method in which palm leaf-wrapped meat is cooked in the fire. To help diners better understand the products and processes, they’re shown the raw ingredients and briefed on the cooking techniques behind each dish. “We want to explain the history,” she says. “That it’s about more than just a plate of food.” —Mary Holland
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.