5 Chefs that are Influencing NYC’s Culinary Scene

February 27, 2017 Antasha Durbin


Over eight million people live in New York City, and one thing they all have in common is food. With more than 24,000 restaurants to choose from, New Yorkers are constantly inundated with options.


But, not all food is equal. Nor are all establishments and the operations within them. In order to combat food waste, unequal wages, and environmental degradation, the following five chefs are stepping up and transforming the way New York City consumes food.


Danny Meyer  

Few people have shaken up the hospitality industry quite like Danny Meyer. Since 1985, when Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, he has been an advocate of delivering high-quality food, exceptional customer service, and opportunities for all of his employees.


In 2004, Meyer opened his first Shake Shack location in Madison Park. Shake Shack has since grown to more than 100 locations, with hundreds more slated to launch over the next several years. Gourmet burgers to-go, and natural, fresh ingredients have made Shake Shack wildly popular amongst tourists and locals alike.


In 2015, Meyer eliminated tipping in all of his venues, and instead replaced gratuity with living wages for all of his employees – regardless of position. He recently announced one month of full-pay parental leave for new moms and dads which will take effect this year.


Dan Barber

Dan Barber is far more than a chef – Barber is also a restaurateur, environmental activist, philanthropist, farmer and author who is changing the way consumers think about food and their relationship with it.


Barber spent a lot of his early childhood at his grandma’s farm, Blue Hill. He was raised working on and understanding the food production process. His book, The Third Plate, discusses food sustainability for the future and how consumers must adapt to nature, versus expecting nature to adapt to consumers.


In 2009, Barber was named one of Time’s most 100 influential people, and appointed to serve on President Obama’s Council of Physical Fitness.


In 2015, Barber launched wastED at his Blue Hill restaurant in New York City. For three weeks, Barber featured only would-be wasted food at his venue to raise awareness about food waste, and how consumers can re-think their food scraps. It was so successful, it is now popping up at Selfridges in London.


Barber is a leader in the conscious consumption movement, and has dedicated himself to raising consumer awareness about food production and sustainability.


Tom Colicchio

In addition to being an incredibly talented and top-rated, Emmy award-winning chef, Colicchio has been flipping the food industry on its back. In 2012 he co-founded Food Policy Action (FPA), in partnership with an array of food policy leaders. FPA was created to “highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, and uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers…” FPA works by raising awareness and holding elected officials accountable for how they vote on food-related issues.


Colicchio puts his fork where his mouth is, and runs his restaurant 'WICHCRAFT as a ‘farm-focused’ venue, specializing in sandwiches made from locally sourced, and ethically produced ingredients.


From entertainment to consumer mind, to mouth, to belly, Colicchio is a man doing it all.


Amanda Cohen

These days, New Yorkers can go anywhere in the city and enjoy vegetable-focused restaurants, but that wasn’t always the case. Chef Cohen lead the vegetable-forward restaurant movement when she opened her award winning restaurant Dirt Candy. Her menu features everything from Korean Fried Broccoli to Jalapeno Hush Puppies. Every item is aimed at showcasing how delicious vegetables can be.


Like Meyer, Cohen also recently eliminated tipping from her restaurant. Now all of her staff are paid livable, fair, hourly wages. To achieve higher wages for all staff, Cohen swapped out the tip line for a mandatory service charge.


Not only is Cohen New York City’s vegetable queen, she is also forward-thinking and an exemplary employer.


Liz Neumark

Neumark is a chef and a food revolutionary. She is the CEO and founder of Great Performances, a Zagat rated catering company focused on sustainability and ethical food sourcing. But her passion for helping others learn about how to eat healthy, nutritious meals doesn’t stop with catering. In 2006, she founded The Sylvia Center,  a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching children about healthy eating, farming and wellness.


Neumark is also a member of the New York State Food and Policy Council where she works alongside other members to make recommendations to the governor to ensure all New Yorkers – especially children, seniors and low-income residents – have access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable food year round.


The New York City food scene is evolving to include more than just delicious plates of food, it also encompasses livable staff wages, sustainability, and conscious consumption – thanks in large part to these five extraordinary chefs.


About the Author

Antasha Durbin

Antasha is an Online Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she spends her days advising restaurateurs on their point of sale systems and her nights writing hospitality-related content. A veteran bartender and server, Antasha enjoys bringing her industry experiences to life through blogging. Her three-year-old son and BFF, Elijah, is her self-proclaimed muse for all things creative.

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