20 People Who Are Changing New York City's Food Scene

eddie huang holding food

Photo: AP Images

New York City is known as one of the world’s most prolific foodie hot spots. From food trucks to haute cuisine, you can find it in New York.As of April 2010, the city boasted 23,499 restaurants, and that’s not counting the food trucks, artisanal food vendors and pop-up markets the city has to offer.

We wanted to get to know some of the folks who are changing up the city’s food scene in the most interesting ways. 

Click through to get to know 20 culinary game-changers in New York City.

Chris Woehrle and Robert Stout are making an American staple fancy at Kings County Jerky Co.

Partners Woehrle and Stout are taking America's favourite road trip snack and making it fancy.

Woehrle and Stout, neighbours who often cooked together, decided to go into business for themselves in 2010 after becoming burnt out with their former careers as an art director in the music business and a photographer, respectively.

'I was kind of always a cooking nerd,' Woehrle said.

The pair got the idea to create artisanal beef jerky during a road trip where they purchased subpar jerky from a country butcher.

'It was pretty disappointing,' Woehrle said. 'And that's when the light went off.'

From there, they started experimenting with different spices and cooking methods, which involved using a fan and air conditioner filters to prepare the snack.

The brand took off when they entered The Next BIG Small Brand competition, where they ultimately won second place.

'We had the most popular stand,' Woehrle said.

From there, Woehrle and Stout had to find a kitchen, and the funding to pay for it. After a deal with an investor fell through and they couldn't get a loan, the two turned to friends and family.

'And then the mums and grandmas started stepping up,' Woehrle said.

The purity of their product -- it's made solely from grass-fed beef and natural spices, in Brooklyn -- sets Kings County Jerky apart from competitors, as does the company's attention to detail.

'We always wanted to make our product ourselves,' Woehrle said.

At Do or Dine, Justin Warner and George McNeese prove that crazier is actually better.

Warner and McNeese proved you don't need chef experience to open a hit restaurant.

The two opened in 2011 Do or Dine, the eclectic Bed-Stuy eatery -- it serves a waffle pumped full of organs -- because they were tired of eating bodega sandwiches.

New York Times critic Ligaya Mishan fawned over the eclectic food offerings, included E666s, deviled eggs, and said that while the scene might seem too hipster to be good, it's actually charming.

In her review, Mishan praises the fact that only men run the restaurant, giving it its unorthodox feel.

'Only dudes could have dreamed up the mochi shish kebab, mango mochi balls stuffed with mango ice cream, impaled on chopsticks, and dusted with hickory smoked salt ($7),' she wrote. 'Born of cravings at midnight, it would be as quickly devoured at noon, or anytime. Props, dudes.'

By forgoing reservations, Warner and McNeese are opening creative, well-conceived food up to the general populace and proving a popular restaurant doesn't have to be snooty.

Jessica and Joshua Applestone are reinventing the art of butchery.

'We are an old-fashioned butcher shop, which is very New York,' said Jessica Applestone, who opened the shop in 2004 with her husband Joshua.

Joshua's family first opened Fleisher's as a kosher butcher shop in 1901 in Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn.

But the original Fleisher's ended with Joshua's grandmother. Joshua and Jessica decided to restart the tradition about eight years ago when they opened Fleisher's Grassfed and Organic Meats.

'We sort of restarted a butcher shop using the original name but not the original idea,' Jessica said. 'We sort have a newfangled twist to us.'

That twist includes promoting sustainability and familiarity with the meat on your plate. Fleisher's only takes in whole carcasses so the butchers can inspect the animals from the inside out.

They also teach people how to cook their meat, and, in some cases, how to butcher it. Through their butchering classes, the couple helped mould Tom Mylan of The Meat Hook and the man behind Harlem Shambles.

'We call it our army of butchers,' Jessica said.

Maxwell Brittenn wants New Yorkers to realise absinthe isn't about green fairies.

Maison Premiere, one of Williamsburg's newest hotspots, combines cocktails and oysters to reflect the culture found in New York, Paris, and New Orleans

And bartender Britten has the distinction of being named Eater NY's Bartender of the Year. While he's known for all of his specialty cocktails, what really stands out is his experimentation with absinthe.

Find.Eat.Drink. sat down with the celebrated bartender to talk about his work with an extensive list of the liquor.

For absinthe novices, Britten suggests starting off with milder versions of the strong alcohol and easing yourself into drinking the typical dark green version.

He told The Village Voice his inspiration comes from the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, citing the absinthe fountain that sits in the middle of his Brooklyn restaurant.

'Making absinthe drinks can be very ceremonial,' he told the Voice.

His experimentation with absinthe is so well known that CBS New York named Maison Premiere one of 2011's best cocktail bar openings.

Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Bastianich created a food temple that transcends a simple restaurant or grocery store.

The cavernous Italian specialty food store-cum-eatery space encompasses several restaurants, a cheese station, a panini bar, and a trendy rooftop bar.

Batali, who created the iconic supermarket with the Bastianichs and Farinetti, called his creation a 'grocery store with tasting rooms.'

For New Yorkers, Eataly is something completely new: an emporium devoted to consuming Italian delicacies in a variety of ways, under one roof.

It's also become a major tourist destination, with tour buses pulling up all outside all day long.

Greg Morabito started as an intern and is now running New York's most popular food blog.

Eddie Huang serves up Asian food with a side of snark.

A prolific, and often snarky, blogger, Huang has been dubbed the new Anthony Bourdain.

'We're both about not sugarcoating,' Huang told Page Six Magazine.

The rebel chefs are both open about their drug use and their tendency to break the rules. Case in point: the Four Loko raid on Huang's restaurant Xiao Ye.

Chow.com named him one of their Chow 13, a list honouring social media savvy chefs.

'On his blog, Fresh Off the Boat, the 29-year-old restaurant owner posts raw-edged, expletive-spiked revelations about being Asian in America, with a street-level take on New York's food life,' Chow.com said of Huang's blog.

He is also an accomplished restaurateur, despite coming under fire from former New York Times food critic Sam Sifton.

Huang's restaurant Xiao Ye went out of business after being panned by Sifton, but Huang, a former lawyer, quickly bounced back and opened Baohaus.

The ethnic restaurant endeavours to change the way people think about Taiwanese-Chinese food, offering everything from the Chairman Bao to the Uncle Jesse.

Christina Tosi is elevating childhood favourites to the level of haute cuisine.

Tosi is bringing the childhood sweet tooth back into New York's desserts with her creations at David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar.

She's created everything from cereal milk--milk sweetened with cereal dregs--to crack pie, a concoction that's so sugary it is practically addictive.

'Too much is never too much, and no idea is a bad idea,' Alex Witchel of The New York Times said of Tosi's creations. 'It's high-toned bake sale grub for artists and stoners alike. '

Working with restaurateur David Chang, who isn't often known for his sweets, Tosi's Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar has wowed critics and patrons alike. Her creations are so renowned she was nominated as one of Eater NY's Chefs of the Year.

She's also been nominated in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category for the 2011 James Beard Awards.

In an interview with New York Magazine, Tosi, who rarely eats what she calls 'regular' food, deemed her bakery 'Dairy Queen with pork buns.'

Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone create delectable Italian fare using homegrown ingredients.

First, Torrisi and Carbone struck gold with Torrisi Italian Specialties in SoHo.

Gayot called the restaurant 'above-average Italian-American fare,' a rarity in Little Italy.

The reviewer claimed Torrisi and Carbone's fare, which uses only ingredients from America, was 'at least two or three notches above the other restaurants that flank Mulberry Street.'

And then they followed up their success with their second project, Parm.

They turned Torrisi Italian Specialties into a tasting-menus-only restaurant and moved the more casual operation next door.

The two are reinventing Italian, using only domestic ingredients and putting their own spin on Italian classics.

Christa Ackerman turned ABC Kitchen into an eco-conscious haven.

After stints at vegan-friendly restaurants, Ackerman helped open ABC Kitchen, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's farm-to-table food mecca near Union Square.

The service manager can be credited with turning the popular eatery into an eco-friendly hot spot, leading Zagat to include her in its 30 Under 30 New York list.

The restaurant cooks with pesticide-free produce, locally sourced meat, fish, and dairy, and organic beverages.

Julie Lerner and Jason Miller are filling a void in the culinary job market search.

A former New York State Restaurant Association employee, Lerner said she saw a need for a service that helped restaurants find qualified applicants to fill open positions.

Earlier this year, she and partner Jason Miller launched EatDrinkJobs, a job board for restaurants.

While Craigslist, which Lerner calls 'the big monster in the industry,' lists jobs, it doesn't screen applicants.

'We are hoping to just focus on the qualified applicants,' she said.

The way she does that is by requiring potential hires to include recommendations in their EatDrinkJobs profile. When restaurant hopefuls create an employee profile, there is a questionnaire they send to former employers and colleagues, asking those contacts to evaluate them. That evaluation is then attached to their EatDrinkJobs profile.

'You are creating a fuller picture of your work history,' Lerner said.

Despite the fact that her site is only about five weeks old, Lerner said she has received positive feedback from industry insiders.

'People are excited about it,' she said. 'We just need to get much, much bigger.'

Maine Luke Holden and partner Ben Conniff couldn't stand New York's subpar lobster rolls any longer.

While working at boutique investment firm Cohen & Steers Capital Advisors in 2009, Holden became fed up with the quality of the lobster rolls offered in the city.

Holden, a Maine native, and his partner Conniff decided to go into business with Holden's dad, who owns a seafood processing company in Maine

Luke's Lobster, which has expanded to five brick-and-mortar locations and one food truck, was one of the first companies to bring fresh lobster to the streets of New York.

Rebecca Goldfarb wants New Yorkers to connect over homecooked meals, not the take-out container.

Goldfarb's highly-rated cooking classes at The Social Table are revolutionizing the New York food world by inspiring New Yorkers to cook, rather than dine in restaurants or order in.

She teaches nightly classes in a rented kitchen in Midtown East, offering a range of menus as well as private parties to groups of eight.

Classes begin with a rundown of the menu and a knife skills lesson, and then participants are set dicing, slicing and sauteeing for about two hours before sitting down and enjoying a family-style meal. Participation isn't required, but Goldfarb is like a cheerleader in the kitchen--it's hard not to get involved.

Her classes, such as the Simple Supper lesson, teach easy, approachable recipes while reminding New Yorkers what it's like to connect over a good meal.

Viraj Puri, Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin are using a Brooklyn rooftop to keep New York flush with produce.

Gotham Greens was founded in 2008 by two friends -- Viraj, who has an environmental engineering background, and Eric Haley, who heads up the business side. Jennifer Nelkin, who runs the greenhouse, joined a year later.

The business, located on a rooftop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, aims to put farm fresh greens in the mouths of New Yorkers within 24 hours of harvesting.

And they're trying to do so with a focus on the environment. The greenhouse is powered by 55-kilowatt solar panels, and the hydroponic system uses one-twentieth the land and one-tenth the water of a conventional farm.

The company harvested the first of its veggies in May and they're already selling out at upscale Manhattan grocers like Whole Foods and Mario Batali's Eataly.

Click here for a tour >

Brooklyn Flea creators Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler want New Yorkers to connect with their food.

Mexico City-native Chef Julian Medina is adding a little flavour to Jewish cuisine.

Medina's five-restaurant empire, which includes three Toloache locations and Coppelia, is changing the way people think about Mexican food.

He mixes and matches from different cultures, focusing heavily on the Jewish culture, into which he married.

When Metromix New York asked Medina to define himself in terms of food, it's no surprise he answered with a fusion disk.

'I think the truffle quesadilla,' he told Metromix reporter Alexis Loinaz. 'Because I'm mixing the Mexican roots of a quesadilla with Old World truffles--something decadent and flavorful in one bite.'

His biggest fusion was melding Jewish holidays with traditional Mexican fare.

After converting to Judaism, he started combining the two cultures, resulting in potato jalapenoño latkes being served with Mexican dipping sauces and the brisket taco.

He also mixes guacamole, the staple of all Mexican food, into his wife's religion with his smoked white fish guacamole.

Jesse Schenker completely bypassed the concept of courses.

Schenker is going head to head with the traditional idea of ordering one dish per course.

Recette, which opened in the West Village in early 2010, lets diners 'order just as they please,' according to the eatery's website.

The restaurant, which started as a private dining company called Recette Private Dining, serves what it calls snacks and plates -- smaller dishes that allow diners to sample pretty much anything on the menu.

New York Magazine nominated him as one of the magazine's best new chefs, with Adam Platt writing, 'While most of his colleagues are dabbling with burgers and fried chicken, this classically trained young chef isn't afraid to take high-end risks.'

Forbes, which named him to its 30 Under 30: Food And Wine, noted Schenker's fusion of French techniques with modern American dishes.

Recette has received rave reviews from both New York Magazine and The New York Times.

David Weber is going up against the administration to create an even playing field for food trucks.

Weber and many of his fellow food truck operators are banding together to improve the industry.

'New York City has a very rich history in terms of street vending,' said Weber, the association's president and one of the owners of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar.

And in order to preserve that history, Weber said the association the first of its kind in the city--is fighting for fairer, more consistent regulations.

'The most important part of what we do is we're an advocacy group,' he said.

Last year, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favour of enforcing a 1965 law that prohibits vending merchandise from metered parking spots.

Since food trucks already can't vend in front of a fire hydrant, in a residential neighbourhood, or in no parking spots, among others, the latest ruling really limits their business, Weber said.

He also debates the fact that food is considered merchandise, since merchandise is often sold and resold, a concept that doesn't apply to food.

Weber and the rest of the association are working with the city government to rewrite food truck regulation.

'From the administration itself, they see the traction that we have with New Yorkers and they see that we're willing to follow the rules, we just want fair rules to follow,' Weber said.

Weber recently wrote a book about the topic, walking prospective food truck owners through the process.

Laura Maniec's love of wine led her to create a restaurant, wine bar, and classroom, all in one.

The youngest Master Sommelier in the world, Maniec founded Corkbuzz Wine Studio to make wine accessible for everyone.

Corkbuzz is not only a wine-centric restaurant: it's a wine bar and a space for wine education that hosts classes to help even the most uninformed wine drinker become familiar with the industry.

Julia Moskin, a critic for The New York Times, called Maniec's first solo venture 'a destination for grown-ups,' in the middle of the student-centric Union Square, praising the wine bar's 'lofty goals, ambitious food and prices to match.'

Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow keep things simple and sustainable by focusing on a classic dish.

Holzman and Chernow are bringing New York back to the basics with The Meatball Shop. Their simple, sustainable meatballs come in multiple forms and with multiple sauces.

Plus, the meat is ground in-house and the pair is very open about where the food comes from.

The Meatball Shop opened to rave reviews and now serves up more than 2,000 meatballs per day. Oh, and their ice cream sandwiches -- made with freshly baked cookies -- aren't bad either.

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