11 Chefs Changing the Food System

Each of these 11 chefs is a pioneer in the sustainability movement. Let their food philosophies serve as an inspiration for your own Independence Day festivities!
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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25: Chef/author Alice Waters speaks during the 15th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA on April 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25: Chef/author Alice Waters speaks during the 15th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA on April 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

In the United States, everyone becomes a chef on the Fourth of July.

Whether hosting a backyard barbeque or an elegant brunch, Independence Day is as much about sharing a meal with family and friends as it as about observing the nation's birthday. While preparing your own culinary feats for the Fourth, it's never a bad idea to take tips from the professionals.

In the restaurant world, using local and sustainable ingredients is becoming more and more prevalent. Chefs are now seen as arbiters of change - they can introduce their patrons to local farms, local ingredients and fresh, sustainable food. Many have also done work out of the kitchen through foundations that provide access to good food to school children and other members of their communities.

I had the pleasure of talking to Chef Josh Kroner of Terrapin Restaurant in New York's Hudson Valley. He says that when he first moved to the Valley the "idea of using local products was almost foreign" and that most restaurants "had no connection to local farms." But Kroner has had the opportunity over the last decade to develop relationships with farmers and farmers' market and highlight the flavors of food that is grown locally.

1. Chef José Andrés - Andrés is chef at Jaleo in Washington, D.C. and founder of ThinkFoodGroup, which oversees all of his projects, including cookbooks, TV shows, consulting, and non-profits. Andrés is a contributing voice in the discussions surrounding how food can impact the world. He is a speaker this year at the World Economic Forum's Annual Conference, and has collaborated on food security projects in developing countries, including Haiti.

2. Chef Dan Barber - Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, New York, and the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Barber has worked to "create a consciousness around our everyday food choices." He educates his patrons about where their food comes from and the good agricultural practices it takes to grow the food he serves.

3. Chef Rick Bayless - Chicago chef Rick Bayless created the Frontera Farmer Foundation, which awards capital development grants to small farms in the Chicago area that are working to promote sustainable practices.

4. Chef Ann Cooper - Known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, Cooper has worked as an advocate for feeding children better school lunches. She has been successful in bringing fresh, local food into school lunch systems in the Berkeley and Boulder areas, and promotes the return to cooking from scratch in school cafeterias.

5. Chef Jose Garces - In addition to acting as the chef and owner of several Philadelphia-area restaurants, Garces maintains a 40-acre sustainable and organic farm, Luna Farms, which supplies food to his restaurants and serves as a tool for educating area children about sustainable and healthy eating.

6. Chef Sam Kass - The Assistant Chef at the White House and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, Chef Kass has been instrumental in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to help stop childhood obesity. He has also worked to create and maintain the White House vegetable garden and beehives, which have fed the First Family, White House staff and guests, as well as provided donations to local food shelters.

7. Chef Jamie Oliver - As founder of the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Oliver has been a pioneer of the sustainable food movement with a variety of projects. He works toward better school lunch programs, reduction of food waste, increasing the amount of time families spend in the kitchen, and the promotion of eating fresh, wholesome foods.

8. Chef Barton Seaver - Washington, D.C.-based Seaver has been instrumental in teaching his patrons about the relationship between seafood and sustainability. His focus has centered on the preservation of local and global fish supplies, and issues surrounding over-fished and destructively-fished species. He has partnered with National Geographic to create a sustainable Seafood Decision Guide.

9. Chef Bill Telepan - New York City chef Bill Telepan opened his Upper West Side restaurant in order to showcase seasonal, greenmarket ingredients. Additionally, Chef Telepan works with New York City schools in order to try to reform their cafeterias, and also works with Taste of Greenmarket, an annual event promoting New York farmers and local food purveyors.

10. Chef Alice Waters - Waters founded her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, which focuses on promoting a "good, clean and fair" food economy by using the finest and freshest of organic seasonal ingredients. She also launched The Edible Schoolyard in the Bay area, an initiative that actively engages children in all aspects of the food cycle. The project started as a one-acre garden, and then developed into a kitchen-classroom. It now designs food-based curriculum for multiple schools.

11. Chef Marc Vetri - Vetri is responsible for launching not only some of the highest-regarded restaurants in Philadelphia, including Vetri Ristorante, but also the Vetri Foundation for Children, whose mission it is to educate Philadelphia-area children about the importance of healthy eating through teaching and social interaction. Vetri's foundation has reformed school lunches in several Philadelphia-area schools.

This list could have included dozens more chefs and includes many of your suggestions from Facebook and Twitter. A few other notable suggestions from readers include the following: Joseph Decuis' restaurant in Roanoke, Indiana; Janos Wilder's restaurant in Tucson, AZ; Tom Colicchio; Jeremy C Barlow, Nashville, TN; Lenny Russo, St. Paul, MN; Tony Maws, Cambridge, MA; Josh Lewin, Boston, MA; and many, many more.

Who would you add to this list? Please feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

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