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Ranked: the 42 Secret Puppet Masters of Food
Our power list kicks off a month-long look at who impacts where and what we eat
Throughout November, we’ll be posting reported features, essays, lists, and more around our monthly theme: The Influence Appetite. This list kicks us off.
Don’t you dare for one second think that you eat the way you eat because you do the work, have made choices, and have full control of the foods you put into your body. Sorry, friends. Whether you like to admit it or not, you’re just along for the ride. The embrace of tortured chefs? Absurd tableside saucing? The complete absence of bookable reservations anywhere?
The crazy look and feel of the dining scene today didn’t come to be by accident, and today we set out to answer the question of how it did, in fact, come to be. It turns out that we’re all under the influence of these 42 and others, who get to decide everything. As we look at this list we find ourselves doing a double take. Where are all the chefs? Where are the big boy brand builders? Can this all be right? Read through and decide for yourself.
Eric Wareheim, Comedian + Cookbook Author
If you only scoped Eric Wareheim’s Instagram, you might never know that the guy’s a comedian — half of cultish and surrealist duo Tim & Eric (yes that Tim & Eric, of the Awesome Show, Great Job!). Dude loves himself some dining. There’s the bestselling cookbook, Foodheim, his wine club, the constant odes to pizza, burgers, and more wine, and his hilarious travelogs, all of which involve his constant quest for culinary discovery…a dragon he’s been chasing since his early days touring the country as a comic.
Laila Gohar, Artist
Degas had his pastels. Hitchcock his blondes. Laila Gohar, the Egyptian-born, New York-based artist, has…food. So influential are Gohar’s food installations–think marshmallow mountains and baguette chandeliers–that The New Yorker dubbed her the Bjork of Food, and big brands have come clamoring for collabs, from Prada to Hermès, Comme des Garçons to Sotheby’s. For Gohar, it’s all a family affair: alongside her sister, she creates surreal tableware for their eponymous brand, and we hear her partner (as in life, not business) ain’t too bad in the kitchen either.
Sue Chan, Care of Chan
Momofuku’s erstwhile brand director and IRL event evangelist has branched out on her own, and now counts A24, the New York Times Cooking, and Massimo Bottura among her coveted clients. In 2022, she programmed the New York Times Food Festival, and continues to kick out culinary events and content via her agency Care of Chan.
Action Bronson, Rapper + TV Host
The Queens-born chef turned rapper turned TV star dropped 160 lbs and outlived Vice, the bloated hipster media empire that more or less made him. F*ck, that is indeed delicious.
Matthew Schneier, New York Magazine
There aren’t many traditional food critic jobs that matter much anymore, but there are a few. The former Styles Section reporter picks up one of the most enviable and intimidating gigs in town: filling Adam Platt’s shoes. Judging by his recent efforts, he’s fitting in just fine.
The Ring Light
Has the invasive piece of influencer-favored tech ruined restaurants or made them go viral? Can’t both things be true?
Jeremy Allen White, “The Bear”
“Yes, Chef!” is part of the vernacular for a reason.
Rick Steves, TV Host
The cornball travel show host (slash your Minnesotan mom’s unrequited crush and unexpected cannabis champion) went from basic to badass—even punk rock—during the pandemic, encouraging everyone to get back across the pond and eat more schnitzel. Yes, Steves!
Every popular food gets its permutation, which in turn gets its time in the sun. Remember Cronuts? Well, we are now firmly in the age of smash burgers, those Midwestern-pioneered squished patties with the crispy edges now popularized by chains like Five Guys and (if you’re in NYC) 7th Street (our vote for numero uno). A craze to which we say…smash those spatulas and lock in that juice!
Gwyneth Paltrow, Skier
Forget the mind-boggling footprint of GOOP, without CEO Paltrow do we have the Almond Mom or Girl Dinner? Her reckless influence wreaks more havoc on diets than it does on ski slopes.
Chris Black + Jason Stewart, “How Long Gone ”Podcast
Natural wine, home cooking, restaurant hotspots – it’s all fair game on this duo’s acerbic and hilarious How Long Gone podcast.
Brooks Headley, Superiority Burger
We don’t listen to vegetarians unless they’re Brooks Headley. The revamped Superiority Burger is, indeed, hype – just ask Pete Wells.
Matteo Lane, Comedian
Keep your Stanley Tucci. We’ve got mustachioed stand up Matteo Lane, who–when he’s not lighting up TikTok and comedy clubs with his confessional bits–is busy cooking pasta like his Sicilian ancestors made it (just don’t get him started on the authenticity debate around fettuccine alfredo).
Ashley Rath, former Chef at Saint Theo’s
There’s a reason Saint Theo’s went viral among the insufferable, vocal fry TikTok set…Chef Ashley Rath’s Ricotta pasta with Calabrian chili oil (that’s no knock on Rath, an alum of Dirty French and The Grill, and now of Twenty Three Grand). However simple the dish, there was something oddly satisfying about seeing the oil drench the pasta in a vertical, brightly lit video. But was it the oil itself or the decanter-like device from whence it came that made the dish go gangbusters? Perhaps there is no answer to this chicken-egg riddle.
Brian Koppelman, “Billions”
The writer and showrunner of Showtime’s “Billions'“ has made New York City restaurants part of the series’ DNA. Rao’s makes numerous appearances, and folks like Missy Robbins and Nick Morgenstern cameo.
Phil Rosenthal, “Somebody Feed Phil”
Even if Nobody loves Raymond anymore, we’ll gladly watch creator Phil Rosenthal schlep around the world “one plate at a time” for his Netflix travelog series, “Somebody Feed Phil.” Though we do miss the endearing hook of him calling his parents at the end of each episode to tell them what he ate — RIP Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal.
Cugine, TikTok Star 🤌
The Staten Island native burst onto the TikTok and Insta scene sometime during the deep pandemic. There was the flowing hair and suspect goatee. The even more suspect sister jokes, though they were always tempered by the endearing sign off: “take care, brush your hair.” Whether by car or street corner, and always with a Diet Coke (“DC”) in hand, Cugine reviewed NYC’s (and often deep borough’s) unsung heroes — butchers, bodegas and the like, eating all manner of sandwiches, from breakfast to Italian, with some pizza and pastries thrown in for good measure, and reviewing each one with his personal Madones™ scale. New York Nico, the city’s unofficial documentarian, discovered Cugine, and now he’s the world’s to enjoy…or at least his over two million TikTok followers.
Kareem Rahma, Comedian + TikTok “TV” Host
Do you miss Anthony Bourdain? Rahma’s TikTok series “Keep the Meter Running”–in which the comedian asks cab drivers to take him to their favorite hyperlocal restaurant for an interview over a fragrant meal–is the closest we’ve got to “No Reservations” since the icon’s untimely death.
Andrea Hernández, Snaxshot
The trend forecaster/CPG soothsayer has captured Millennial and Gen-Z’s cravings for snacks—those things are parents warned us would spoil our “real” meals—with her newsletter, amazing memes, and devoted online community, where self-proclaimed “Snaxbois” reign supreme.
Judy Thelen + Elliot Frost, co-founders of Beli
We all suffer from app fatigue (but for real go download Blackbird). So when one comes along with a value prop (and UX) good enough to seduce us? That’s saying something. Enter: Beli, the social app for tracking and sharing your favorite restaurants. It’s the app that everyone has always thought would someday be the killer restaurant discover app, but no one could ever figure out how to build. Somehow Thelen and Frost actually cracked the code.
Jimmy Donaldson, aka Mr. Beast
Is he stunty? Yes. Manipulative? Maybe. Was his namesake Mr. Beast Burger a failure that exposed the limitations of virtual kitchens? Sure. But first it ignited the virtual restaurant game and the industry hasn’t looked back.
Alex Delany, Writer/Influencer/Creator
The Bon App alum–who survived the magazine’s reckoning, though not completely unscathed–has emerged from the pandemic as arguably social’s most affable and informative tastemaker in the restaurant/restaurant adjacent space, educating his followers on natural wine, craft beer, restaurants, and–in his boldest move–entire neighborhoods (see his “Everything Good” Google Docs) in a way that never feels pedantic. He’s also one heck of a DJ.
Will Guidara, Author + Former GM/Co-Owner of EMP
Though he bowed out as GM/Co-Owner of Eleven Madison Park (and, we’d argue, the restaurant has lost a bit of its step as a result), Guidara remains a guiding light in this fickle business, most notably with his bestseller Unreasonable Hospitality–chock full of wisdom on how every brand is in the business of hospitality–proving his realm of influence has expanded far beyond restaurants.
Emily Mariko, TikTok Star
Social media stokes our anxiety. But not Emily Mariko’s recipe videos, like her genius leftover hacks, which feel downright therapeutic.
Pierce Abernathy, Chef + Digital Creator
It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Abernathy as yet another downtown scenester (the hair and fit god has modeled for J.Crew and Highsnobiety) if it weren’t for the fact that the recipe-developer and chef with some 240K TikTok followers is influencing legions of kids on what to eat, how to make it, and where to source it without going over budget. Check out his smoooooth (thanks to a little help from Bobby Caldwell) TiKTok on how to make celeriac—aka celery root—plant-based patties.
Mixie + Munchie, “2girls1bottl3” on TikTok
Mixie + Munchie, the pixieish performance artists from London—collectively known to TikTokers as 2girls1bottl3—crept onto the viral scene late in 2022 with their oddly mesmerizing, NPC-esque videos. Their schtick? Mixing elaborate and ginormous cocktails in fast food restaurants, all while blankly staring into the camera. They’ve since amassed nearly one million followers, been given The Face profile treatment (penned by Take Me to Your Spot alum Nicolaia Ripps), and eviscerated any image we clung to of the waxed mustachiod mixologist of yesteryear.
Forget AI taking your job, it’s too busy scooping up restaurant reservations so that scalpers like Appointment Trader can sell them to you at a significant mark up. Can someone please develop a Turing Test for these pesky reservation hawkers? Here we are in late 2023, and shit is still out of hand…
Tim Hollingsworth + BJ Novak, Chain
What do you get when you combine an alum of NBC’s The Office and an alum of The French Laundry? Apparently, Chain, the duo’s occasionally-IRL LA ode to/revival of the fast food of our collective 1980s and ‘90s childhoods. Everything is lovingly done, from the packaging to the decor (they enlisted Hollywood set designers) to, of course, the food, which includes elevated takes on caloric icons like Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme, the McDonald’s McRib, and Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion. Chain Fest, coming to LA in December, is somehow making even Red Robin sizzle.
Chintan Pandya + Roni Mazumdar, Unapologetic Foods
As far as NYC’s dining scene goes, there was a before Unapologetic Foods, and an after. The before: great Indian spots, but largely homogenous — think curry, with an aftertaste of colonization. Now the after chef Pandya and partner Mazumdar teamed up is where it gets good — menus rich and diverse with regional Indian cuisine, and five hype spots in Adda, Semma, Masalawala & Sons, Rowdy Rooster, and flagship Dhamaka.
Ali Hooke, Tinned Fish Enthusiast
Finally in your tinned fish era despite the fact that your Sicilian grandfather has been swearing by the stuff since the Godfather II? Cool story, bro. You can thank 32-year old Seattle mom slash TikTok’r Ali Hooke for that.
25% Tipping Prompts
Tipping fatigue, we’ve all felt it. You’re on your third coffee of the day, with breakfast and lunch already in the bag, and maybe a cookie in your future, and yet again Toast or whatever POS system the place uses is prompting you for a tip, with suggested percentages that nearly double the bill, all while the underpaid staff look at you with beseeching puppy dog eyes. We get it, it’s well intentioned, and yet these tipping prompts are actually having the opposite effect on the service industry, with tipping rates declining in Q2 of 2023 across the U.S.
Selena Gomez, Entrepreneur etc.
From Barney & Friends to Food Network superstar…what a world. As far as side hustles go, and with everything else going on in her life—from movies to music to social media to beauty mogul—Gomez’s cooking shows, well, show that there’s not much the entertainment and entrepreneurial polymath can’t do, and no audience she can’t influence.
Alison Roman, Cookbook Author
The culinary resume (Quince, Milk Bar, Pighs ‘n Thighs). The media resume (Bon App, Buzzfeed, the New York Times, CNN). The bestselling cookbooks, and some controversy, too. All of that is well and good, but what marks her true culinary ascendancy is the simple fact that her recipes have been anointed with hashtags (ahem, remember #TheCookies?).
Rich Torrisi, Partner Major Food Group
Can’t recreate the past? Nobody told Major Food Group co-Don Rich Torrisi that, who not only revived his namesake restaurant across the street from its original location—expanding it from the shoebox sandwich shop and restaurant into a 75-seat hot spot—but he sees people paying as much as $500 per person (up front!) just for the privilege of dining there.
Kwame Onwuachi, Chef/Owner of Tatiana
The memoirs. The media accolades. The hero’s journey backstory. Chef Kwame Onwuachi has already led a life worthy of a biopic. But, as with any chef, it all comes down to the restaurant and the food on the plate. Well, Kwame’s Tatiana is nothing short of dazzling — cuisine rooted in his roots (Caribbean, African, and Black American cooking all gets thrown into the blender to beautiful results), and it’s served in a space grand and happening enough to remind us that dining is the main event. The Age of Onwuachi is just getting started.
Neil Vogel, CEO of Dot Dash Meredith
Media—both digital and print—is a tricky business, especially in less deft hands. Post Meredith acquisition, a surprising move to some, Vogel has steered the DDM ship to profitable (as in very profitable) waters, making the publisher— formerly known for less than blue chip titles like About.com—bigger than Hearst and Condé Nast…combined. And with one of the publisher’s biggest categories being food, with titles like Food & Wine, Serious Eats, and Allrecipes.com (plus Travel + Leisure, Martha Stewart, Real Simple etc.), that means Vogel and his vision have a lot do with your dining habits.
Jason McGowan, Co-Founder + CEO of Crumbl
Those humongous Levain cookiebombs of the early 21st century have ceded control of the cookie game to Crumbl. Now cookies are ordered via app from a rotating weekly menu, thanks to Jason McGowan and his rocket ship of a brand. It’s grown to more than 800 outlets in less than six years, and whatever McGowan decides cookies should taste like, well, that is what they’ll taste like.
Pete Wells, the New York Times
12 years into the gig and the Times restaurant critic has still got it — proving a review penned by him and appearing in the Gray Lady is enough to put any spot on the map, and butts in seats. There was his list of New York’s 100 Best Restaurants that dropped this spring and instantaneously became gospel (sure, staples like Le Bernardin still flew high, but they had to make room for places like slice joint Scarr’s), and then there was his ability to still sniff out gems like Vietnamese #iykyk spot Mắm, where the booze is byob and the chairs made of plastic.
Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, CEO, Novo Nordisk, Makers of Ozempic
Ahhh, Ozempic, the most zeitgeisty of zeitgeisty…diabetes drugs? Yes, a medication that was developed to treat diabetes can actually have a profound affect on weight loss, too. By imitating the hormone peptide-1, Ozempic makes you feel full, thus curbing appetite, and everyone from celebrities to moguls to UES moms are looking lean thanks to one weekly shot of the stuff. And these folks are not going to restaurants like they used to. In other words, sometimes you’re influenced to go out and eat. Sometimes you’re influenced to not go out and eat. Ozempic does the latter.
Dave Portnoy, Barstool Sports Owner + Pizza Reviewer
Yes, to many Barstool’s Portnoy is problematic. And we’re not about to wander into the middle of that debate. But from one-bite pizza reviews to social media feuds to jam-packed festivals, there’s no denying the loudmouth’s influence on making or breaking independent restaurants and riling up his legions of Stoolies to patronize or pan a place.
Taylor Swift, Billionaire
The newly minted billionaire and die hard Chiefs fan certainly gets around NYC restaurants, enough to inspire this “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”-worthy Vulture piece, and people are booking spots just to say they dined where Tay Tay dined, and perhaps even sat where she sat.
Keith Lee, TikTok Star
The former MMA fighter turned family man is one of TikTok’s biggest restaurant reviewers, and also one of its least gimmicky. Lee, who resides in Las Vegas, operates under a simple premise — reviewing restaurants under the guise of the everyman and not a social influencer with some 14 million followers. To do so, he has friends and family secure him tables, thus never leveraging his name and clout for preferred treatment…and we’re all the wiser for it. For further evidence see the commotion his recent trip to Atlanta caused when he called out local restaurants for bad service (even Cardi B got involved).