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The 2017 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink

Ntsiki Biyela. Courtesy of Wine for the World

Fortune and Time Inc. sister publication Food & Wine teamed up to bring you our fourth annual list of the women who had the most transformative impact in the last year on what we eat and drink. This group of entrepreneurs, activists, and idealists is making its mark up and down the food chain.

1. Katherine Miller, Founder of Chef Action Network

Katherine Miller. Photo by Brooks Kraft
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What happens when you combine a chef-obsessed culture with an advocacy warrior at the leading edge of food policy reform? You get the Chef Action Network, a nonprofit founded by Miller to educate chefs about everything from childhood nutrition to sustainable food systems, and in turn inspire them to mobilize and use their influence to make a difference.

Now partnering with the James Beard Foundation, Miller is building an even larger community for change. “Joining with the most respected organization in the food world, we immediately went from a network of hundreds of chefs who had gone through our policy boot camps to thousands through the reach of the foundation,” she says. These chefs are putting their training to work, showing up at congressional town halls to encourage representatives to oppose cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, taking on food-waste reduction in their communities and much more.

2. Christine Moseley, Founder and CEO of Full Harvest

Christine Moseley. Photo by Lori Sax

With limited options for selling imperfect fruits and vegetables, farmers in the U.S. are forced to leave billions of pounds of perfectly delicious produce on the field or send it to landfills every year. So in 2016 Moseley launched Full Harvest, a web-based platform that creates a market for this food by connecting growers with buyers. In addition to reducing waste, the program generates more revenue for farmers and—since ugly produce costs less than pretty produce—saves buyers money. And it all happens online, with just a few clicks.

Through July, Full Harvest already helped sell over a million pounds of imperfect produce, and Moseley expects to more than quadruple that number by year’s end. Drawing on her background in logistics, she has developed a system that is remarkably efficient. “Everything is automated to save money, time and paper, from ordering to online payments,” she says.

3. Martha Hoover, Founder of Patachou, Inc.

Martha Hoover. Photo by Taea Thale

Indianapolis entrepreneur Hoover is a pioneering force for restaurants that double as vehicles for social change. In 1989, after leaving her job as a sex crimes prosecutor, she opened her first restaurant. Today she provides health benefits to all of her employees as well as 401(k) plans with matching contributions, emergency assistance, and a clear path for advancement—and serves some 800 meals to hungry kids each week.

But you don’t need to know about her progressive mission in order to enjoy her restaurants. Hoover has a preternatural understanding of how people want to eat, whether that means a Champagne bar (Petite Chou), an artisanal pizzeria (Napolese), or a market-focused café and micro farm (Public Greens) that donates profits and crops to kids in need. She continues her revolution this year with the opening of Crispy Bird, Bar 114, and additional locations of Public Greens.

4. Nicole Bernard Dawes, Founder and CEO of Late July Snacks

Nicole Bernard Dawes. Photo by Anastasiia Sapon

Given the expanding definition of what qualifies as a snack, something 94 percent of Americans say they enjoy daily, it would seem like the perfect moment to be in the snack game, right? Well, it’s also an intensely competitive arena, so a product has to stand out. Enter Late July, a maker of snack foods that are organic, sustainable and non-GMO. “People want to support companies like ours, but that alone will never be enough,” says Late July founder Bernard Dawes. “We’re succeeding because of how we taste.” And how: The company’s annual sales are expected to hit $100 million this year, its fifth consecutive year of 40 percent growth. Furthering the feel-good snacking approach, Late July donates 10 percent of its profits to charities focused on children, hunger relief, and the environment.

5. Joy Spence, Master Blender at Appleton Estate

Joy Spence. Courtesy of Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum

As high-end rums finally garner the sort of recognition and desirability long attached to rare single-malt Scotches and ultra-añejo tequilas, there’s no one who deserves more credit than Spence. Master Blender at the 268-year-old Appleton Estate in Jamaica, she was also the first woman to hold that title at any spirits company. And she’s a rum evangelist. “I love to introduce people to rum and watch as they become fascinated,” she says. It’s a common reaction, especially when Appleton is serving her recently released “Joy” rum, the distillery’s first 25-year blend.

Spence has degrees in chemistry, and she pays forward her passion for the subject by teaching at the University of the West Indies, her alma mater, as well as other schools around the world. “I wish universities and the spirits industry would do more to encourage women to go into the field,” she says. “There are no gender barriers in the world of blending.”

6. Linda Appel Lipsius, Co-Founder and CEO of Teatulia

Linda Appel Lipsius Jennifer Faris Photography

As co-founder and CEO, Appel Lipsius has helped Teatulia reach a lot of firsts: The company is the first to import tea to the U.S. from Bangladesh, the first to receive USDA-certified organic status in Bangladesh, and more. Teatulia cultivated its tea garden in the country’s far north, along the border with india and at the base of the Himalayas, regenerating the land while rejuvenating the economy. They’ve also established a cooperative to provide education, health, and food programs for their employees (about 800 full-time and nearly 1,000 during harvest) as well as people in the surrounding communities.

The teas are available nationwide, including in Stop & Shop and Wegman’s and in restaurants like Jose Andres’ Beefsteak. You can also find them on a number of college campuses as many schools mandate recyclable and compostable products in their dining halls. Teatulia’s eco-canisters are recyclable, made from post-consumer waste, and use water-based inks and adhesives while the tea bags are compostable (made from corn silk or unbleached paper) and, to reduce waste, are free of unnecessary wrappers, strings or tags. Lipsius also oversees product development and has been a driving force behind the company’s new cold brews.

7. Susan Lyne, Founder of BBG Ventures

Susan Lyne. Courtesy of BBG Ventures

“We were seeing a large wave of women solving consumer problems with companies we thought had lasting value but they all had problems raising money. The VC world is still incredibly homogenous and has a narrow view of what a successful founder looks like,” says Susan Lyne, founder of BBG Ventures. So she launched an early stage consumer tech fund, in partnership with AOL, to invest $10 million in companies with at least one female founder, reviewing more than 1,600 companies before selecting 40 to invest at the seed stage. They include Full Harvest (whose founder is also on this list), Industrial Organic (working on ways to better handle organic waste) and Spoon University (an online food publication geared to college students), among others.

With BBG’s next fund Lyne hopes to double their investment. “All of these women believe they can transform some aspect of work or home or school life and create a better product or service.” Lyne says. “And we agree.”

8. Ntsiki Biyela, Winemaker and Owner of Aslina Wines

Ntsiki Biyela. Courtesy of Wine for the World

When Biyela got to South Africa’s Cape wine country in 1999, she’d never even seen a grape vine before. Now she has achieved worldwide recognition as South Africa’s first black woman winemaker, a signal achievement in a business that is still male-dominated, and in a country where more than 290,000 people work in wine, but there are still fewer than 50 black-owned wine brands.

Biyela grew up in a rural village in the KwaZulu-Natal province, but her life changed when she won a scholarship to the winemaking program at Stellenbosch University. By 2003 she was working as an assistant winemaker at Stellekaya winery; soon after that she became the family-owned company’s head winemaker, and her wines began winning international awards; and in 2009 she was named South Africa’s Woman Winemaker of the Year.

A collaboration with Napa Valley’s Helen Keplinger (Food & Wine’s 2012 Winemaker of the Year) for New York-based importer Mika Bulmash’s eco-conscious, fair-trade Wines for the World project helped her raise funds for her own venture. And in 2016 Biyela left Stellekaya to devote herself full time to running her own wine company, Aslina—which she created in part to give back to her community, by mentoring students and helping them get jobs in the wine industry.

9. April Bloomfield, Chef and Entrepreneur

April Bloomfield. Photo by Any Hou

A decade ago Bloomfield, the creative force behind New York City’s renowned Spotted Pig, was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Since then she and her business partners have opened several more restaurants, helping to launch the careers of scores of women who have passed through their kitchens. More recently, Bloomfield’s entrepreneurial drive has taken her in new directions: During the last year alone, she launched a farmhouse hotel in Cornwall and a butcher shop in New York.

For the hotel project, called Coombeshead Farm, Bloomfield collaborated with chef Tom Adams to create an idyllic space where visitors can appreciate a farm landscape and its spoils first-hand. Guests in the farmhouse’s five rooms—soon to be more—enjoy daily breakfast cooked with ingredients fresh from the farm, including the bacon. “All the pigs are produced on the farm,” says Bloomfield. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows her affinity for locally sourced foods.

Neither was the launch of White Gold, the artisanal butcher shop she opened last October on the Upper West Side. There, customers can purchase everything from freshly cut pastured beef to air-chilled poultry and pork terrine—then grab a hunk of cheese to go—all sourced from area farms. “It’s very important to me that we know which farms we’re buying from and how they treat their animals and what they’re fed,” Bloomfield says.

10. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Galit Laibow, Co-Founders of Foodstirs

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Galit Laibow. Photo by Gretchen Easton

Foodstirs founders Laibow and Gellar love to bake with their kids. “That’s what inspired us to create our line of kits and mixes,” Laibow says. “We wanted something convenient, affordable, and better for you. When we’d go to the store and look at our options, none of them spoke to us as parents.”

Those mixes, first launched in 2015 and tested and perfected in their own kitchens, are available online and are now in more than 7,000 stores across the country as well, including Whole Foods, Target, and Kroger, among others. They’re made with ethically sourced ingredients including Equal Exchange fair-trade cocoa and unbleached heirloom flour. “We spent a week in Peru recently to find the best chocolate. It’s important for us to see the factories we work with and ensure that the farmers are treated fairly and ethically,” Gellar says.

Foodstirs regularly posts helpful recipes and fun projects online and gives customers a chance to show off their creations. “A big part of this was about building community, not just a product, and with social media people are able to engage with us and show us what they’re making,” says Gellar. The team is now taking on breakfast with a new pancake mix.

11. Daina Trout, Co-Founder of Health-Ade Kombucha

Daina Trout. Courtesy of Health-Ade

Health-Ade Kombucha went from a homemade beverage—quite literally concocted in its founders’ teeny-tiny Los Angeles kitchen and sold at local farmers markets—to a household brand sold in more than 6,000 stores and restaurants nationwide, all in a mere five years. But ask co-founder and creator Trout if she was surprised by the spritzy, funky brew’s success, and Trout will tell you the thought that Health-Ade Kombucha wouldn’t be a big success never even occurred to her. “I always had a grand vision of success—from the very beginning, I had a picture of Oprah on my desk,” she says.

And yet, despite the brand’s growth, the brew itself hasn’t changed much from the humble recipe made in Trout’s kitchen. “Health-Ade makes kombucha the real way, with the most real, palatable ingredients,” says Trout, who believes it’s a perfect gateway option for those looking to dip their toes–or tongues, rather–into the gut revolution. “It’s easy, you can trust it, and it tastes the best.”

12. Karissa Kruse, President of Sonoma Winegrowers

Karissa Kruse. Photo by George Rose

As President of Sonoma Winegrowers Kruse is guiding a wine industry toward a completely sustainable future, not just in terms of farming practices but also for what it means to take care of a community and its people. In 2014 the organization pledged to be 100% sustainable within five years, and three years later it’s 85% of the way to that goal.

As Kruse worked on outreach and held local meetings to assess the challenges the community was facing, affordable housing and work force development quickly rose to the top. “If we’re leaders in sustainability, the part that matters most is the people. If we’re not taking care of them nothing else matters,” she says. “The workforce here used to be transient but now about 88% of them live in Sonoma and 75% have families.” Representatives from local and county government, health and human services organizations and non-profits all showed up to meetings she organized. “Most of the grape growers are from families that have been farming for generations. They’re already stewards of the land and they take care of their employees, so working with the community was a natural progression,” she says.

Kruse is particularly proud of the progress the growers have made when it comes to housing. Getting residential permits in the area can be problematic, so a group of growers has pooled funding to work with a single architect and engineer on plans to build homes on their properties. And in September, Kruse announced the creation of the Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability, a hybrid think-tank and fellowship that will bring experts from different industries together in Sonoma for bi-yearly sessions on the challenges facing agriculture and wine in the region—essentially applying “Silicon Valley thinking and planning” to the issues, as she puts it.

13. Liz Muller, Senior Vice President of Starbucks’ Creative Global Design

Liz Muller. Courtesy of Starbucks

You may have noticed that while every Starbucks serves a mean macchiato, no two stores ever look precisely the same. That’s thanks to Muller, the head of the coffee behemoth’s creative design team, whose mission is to create stores that think globally—bringing the story of coffee to life no matter the store’s zip code—but also act locally.

To accomplish this feat, Muller works with local craftsmen and artists to create relevant pieces of furniture, lighting, artwork—everything down to the doorknobs. Why? Because, “in addition to honoring our coffee craft in our store design, we also want to be sure that the experience reflects the country and community it is serving,” Muller explains. “For example, in Asia, customers use our Starbucks stores very differently than in the U.S. There is more community gathering, and that influences how we create space.”

It’s rewarding work. “My favorite part of the design process is creating a layering effect in a space, where the more time you spend in the store, the more you discover,” she says. “The impact it has on the customer is a ‘wow’ moment in which they’re excited by all of their senses but also get a sense of warmth and sophistication.”

14. Vivian Howard, Chef, host of A Chef’s Life, and author of Deep Run Roots

Vivian Howard. Photo by Stacey Van Berkel

Imagine winning an Emmy. And a James Beard Award. Add a Peabody Award. Plus a Cookbook of the Year Award and a Julia Child First Book Award. Throw in a few more that are too long to mention here, and you’ve got the very impressive list of awards that have been heaped upon Howard, the chef and restaurateur turned television personality and author. But she wants more. “Unfortunately, I am one of those people who thinks about the awards I didn’t win,” she humbly jokes.

In sincerity, however, her most recent awards—those she snagged for her first book, Deep Run Roots, which hit bookshelves in the fall of 2016, mean more to her than she can express. “I wrote the whole book without collaborating with anyone because I was afraid they would tell me it was horrible,” she says. “So to have people respond to it in a positive way was incredibly validating and affirming.”

Now, she’s working on the concept of her second book—and while we have to wait for that, we won’t have to wait long for the next season of her PBS show A Chef’s Life, which Howard says will take a different approach. “Historically, our stories have been told from North Carolina,” Howard says. “But in this season of the show, I go on a nine-week book tour where we take a food truck around the Southeast,” parking in Nashville, Louisville, Atlanta, and more. The first episode airs on October 5.

15. Isabelle Legeron, Founder of Raw Wine

Isabelle Legeron. Courtesy of RAW WINE

One of just 343 Masters of Wine in the world, Legeron is the only woman in France to have earned the prestigious title. Legeron is also the founder of Raw Wine, an influential wine fair that celebrates natural and organic wines and advocates for greater transparency across the entire industry. It launched in New York last year, and this year will come to Los Angeles for a two-day gathering of growers, producers, importers, and even amateur wine lovers. “Some people have said Los Angeles is a bit of a weird choice,” Legeron says of the fair’s new addition. “But we felt that Los Angeles has tremendous potential. The scene is very nascent, but it’s changing really quickly.”

Between the two events—held from November 5 to 6 in New York and November 12 to 13 in Los Angeles—Legeron is also encouraging industry insiders in other cities to host their own events. Bringing more transparency to winemaking and encouraging drinkers to spend more on wines that are naturally produced is an uphill battle, but it’s one she’s prepared to fight. “When you pick up a bottle of wine, you actually have no idea what you’re drinking,” she says. “I pay a lot of attention to what I eat and drink so I know what goes into my body. I feel we should have the same choice with our alcoholic drinks.”

16. Chloe Epstein, Founder of Chloe’s Soft Serve and Pops

Chloe Epstein. Courtesy of Chloe's Fruit

Epstein stole the hearts of children and grownups alike with her chain of eponymous New York-based shops selling irresistible soft-serve and frozen treats made only with fruit, water, and a bit of organic cane sugar. Thanks to her success, Epstein was able last year to launch a line of frozen popsicles that are now sold in nearly 12,000 stores across the country. “We attribute our growth to customers’ mindfulness around quality, clean snacking,” says Epstein. “We are all more educated and aware of what is in our food, and we all want options free of the artificial stuff.”

That said, Epstein—who was serving as an assistant district attorney when she began whipping up the treats in her home—admits she never expected success of this level. “I never thought that when we were experimenting in our kitchens in 2009 that we would be where we are today,” she says. “It’s amazing to be able to share the experience with my kids and watch them take it all in.” This year, she also launched a blog on her website. Dubbed “Brain Freeze,” the blog is meant for and written by moms who want to talk about the challenges of parenting. “While the questions and issues we cover may cause a momentary Brain Freeze, we hope these shared experiences will help parents to respond to them with confidence, sensitivity, possibly humor, and hopefully grace,” she says. “That just seemed like a natural extension of our brand.”

17. Lori Silverbush, Director-Activist

Lori Silverbush. Photo by Melanie Dunea

When Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson hosted screenings of their powerful documentary, A Place At the Table, which looks at hunger in America, people often approached them afterwards with the same question. “They’d ask how they can be part of what we’re doing. So once the film was made we had to ask ourselves ‘what are we doing?’” Silverbush says. So she began to think about how to reach an even bigger audience. “We needed to go wider so the public understands how food insecurity impacts them personally and how it’s holding our country back,” she says.

A strategy began to crystallize when she was approached by Tim and Kristen Castree. “Because they worked with so many media partners, they were able to help connect us with companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo to see if they would donate prime media to help tell our story and debunk so many of the misconceptions about hunger in this country. They’ve helped us reach a broader audience and mobilize people to get their voices heard.”

Silverbush recently launched foodisfuel.org to help people stay on top of what’s happening, find opportunities to help and provide ways to communicate with elected officials to hold them accountable for food and nutrition policy. “People believe we can fix the problem through charity, and I shared that misconception too—until I learned that even if we doubled our charity response overnight, we’d only serve 10 percent more people. We need broader systems changes.”

18. Rosio Sánchez, Chef

Rosio Sánchez. Photo by Kyle John

Sánchez is putting Mexican food in the spotlight—in Copenhagen of all places. A classically trained pastry chef, Sánchez launched a taqueria, Hija de Sanchez, in 2015 in a city that had, quite honestly, never seen a good taco. Now, its citizens know where to go when they want authentic Mexican food. Sánchez imports many of the ingredients used in the dishes from Mexico, including spices, chilies, and corn, the key, she says, to a good-tasting taco. “I feel really proud to be making all this effort,” she says. “The reality is a lot of people here don’t understand how to eat a taco or even what it is, and that there can be Mexican food of great quality.”

She took this idea of cross-cultural sharing and experimentation with regional ingredients to the next level when she worked with Copenhagen chef René Redzepi on his recent pop-up of acclaimed restaurant, Noma, in Tulum, Mexico. She spent six weeks sourcing global ingredients for the project, then cooked alongside its staff for the pop-up’s seven-week run.

19. Veronique Drouhin-Boss, Winemaker at Domaine Drouhin

Veronique Drouhin-Boss. Photo by Serge Chapius

When Drouhin-Boss talks about wine, the word that she seems to say most often is “we.” That’s because she always presents her achievements, which are legion, within the context of the history and legacy of her family, one of the greatest names in Burgundy. And yet, as director of winemaking for the family’s estates, Drouhin-Boss is herself, as her father once called her, “the guardian of the Drouhin style.” A member of the fourth generation of the family, Drouhin-Boss is the only winemaker, and inarguably among the most significant winemakers in the world.

Keeping a vigilant eye on a reputation for making great wine that spans 130 years is a formidable enough task, and the fact that she does this on two continents—in Burgundy and in the Willamette Valley—is all the more impressive. She was instrumental in establishing the reputation of the family’s Oregon property, Domaine Drouhin, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, and is by no means slowing down. Most recently she expanded her responsibilities with her oversight of the family’s new Roserock property in Oregon, a 279-acre addition to their already substantial holdings, the first wines from which were released last year.

20. Angela Garbacz, Founder of Goldenrod Pastries

Angela Garbacz. Photo by Daniel Muller

Walk into Angela Garbacz’s Lincoln, Nebraska bakery, Goldenrod Pastries, and you might pick up something other than the sweet smell of fresh coffee cake and fudgy brownies—you might notice that the shop is staffed entirely by women. Garbacz is not against hiring men—that would be discrimination—but she is into the idea of creating an “environment of female empowerment,” as she explains. “I believe that by having the opportunity to employ a team of strong women—and seeing them work together cohesively—sends a message to all women: We are building each other up and creating an environment of female empowerment,” Garbacz explains. What’s more, “I hope we can show other women that the competition is not between each other,” she says. “When we learn to work well together, that sends out a ripple effect to those who interact with us. And I hope it sends a great message that women really are stronger when we are working together.”

Garbacz focuses on at least one more mission in the bakery, though: making sweet treats accessible to people with dietary restrictions. Her creations include a selection of dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan pastries. “If we can make delicious food that serves many diets, why wouldn’t we?” she says. “It makes sense to us and allows our space to be more inclusive.”

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