Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
As a result of spending his teenage years in Minnesota (the land of "white bread, white gravy, and white meat"), Karl Wilder learned to cook in self-defense. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was his best friend. He left for California at age 18 where he discovered fresh vegetables, Chinese food and wine. He attended culinary school and then traveled the world -- learning from Italian and Bulgarian grandmothers, a talented French man, Vietnamese villagers, and his brothers and sisters in Yemen and Turkey. "Show me how to make that" gave him a kitchen pass all over the world. He was the owner and Executive Chef of The Country Club in New Orleans, Fusion On The Fly Catering in New York, and recently returned from the Dominican Republic where he had the enormous pleasure of being the Executive Chef at a resort.
Recently, inspired by a meeting at the San Francisco Food Bank, he started the food stamp challenge: living and eating on a food stamp budget. What began as a one week project has turned into a two-month long commitment. Wilder calculated that a family has $1.33 to spend per meal, and decided that when using oil and seasonings, the cost would be $1.22. In total, he has less than $4 to spend on food per day. He monitors his nutrition and caloric intake on FitDay. You can read more about his daily experiences at on his blog, Fusion On The Fly.
On August 27, Wilder will be cooking 12 hours (10AM to 10PM) at St. Luke's Church in San Francisco with chefs and other celebrated guests who are dropping by to challenge him with mystery ingredients.
There are almost 46 million people on food stamps, or about 15% of the U.S. population.
Read Karl Wilder's diary below to see what happened when he evaluated McDonald's dollar menu with a store manager and what a fan bought for him in line at Trader Joe's.
Monday, August 15
7:59am: I have fed the cats, made coffee, started breakfast and am ready to sit down to a cup (black -- I can’t do cream on this budget) and check email. YEA!! Finally confirmations from both Danny Bowein (Mission Chinese) and David Lynch (sommelier at Quince). Many invited chefs are still outstanding but I am putting the schedule together and we are doing the press release today.
8:15am: More hate mail. The hate is not directed at me but rather a woman who drives a Mercedes and uses her food stamps to buy crab legs and lobster -- fiction -- however several people write of her and her variations every day to tell me how abused the food supplement program is. I no longer answer these emails.
8:30am: My breakfast is ready. I made dirty rice with chicken and fermented black beans with double fermented soy sauce. The cost was $0.92 but I only ate half the pot so with my small pot of coffee my cost was $0.76 for breakfast. I overspent a couple of days ago so I am making up a deficit now.
10:30am: My friend Sylvia called and asked if I could make a run to the health food store for her. I passed the best roast duck restaurant in San Francisco on 30th and Noriega, the smell made me weak. I stop by the produce store and look longingly at the purple basil at $1.49 a bunch. I do the calculations as to what it would cost to make a pesto and how many servings I could get, and what vegetable if any I could add to the pasta. It topped $1.50 a serving. I looked at the carrots and cabbage, both well within my budget and left without buying anything.
11:45am: I decide to pack a gym bag and eat a small serving of soba noodles so that I don’t have to come home for lunch. They have peanut sauce, scallion and shredded cabbage. Cost $0.29 per serving.
1:00pm: Met with Caroline Chen, a lovely young writer at SF Weekly and SF Foodie. We had two conversations one about the upcoming benefit for the Food Bank and one about my living on the food stamp budget. I showed her how loose my jeans were. She said that a roommate had moved out leaving food behind and she would give it to the food bank.
4:30pm: At my front door is a bag with a can of cream of chicken soup and a note from my Chinese neighbor. "This is always at the food pantry, every week so much. Make something and tell me what to do with it." I made a mock congee. Congee is a rice-thickened broth to which anything can be added. I took some chicken stock, the canned soup, chard from the garden and the leftover chicken rice from breakfast. It is actually pretty good. $0.96 with 5 cups; it comes to $0.19 a cup. I had 3 cups; I was hungry. A $0.57-cent snack. I can live with that.
6:30pm: I run out to Trader Joe’s (one of our sponsors) with some postcards about the event. I eat one tortellini at the tasting station, sauce was too sweet. I read the label, sugar added. Sugar does not belong in tomato sauce. I grab my pound of pasta and my can of clams and hit the 15 or less aisle. The guy in front of me turns around “Are you the Food Stamp guy?” I knew what he meant. He looks at me, “Wow you are really small, you look so much bigger in your pictures, I mean, you look great, I’m sorry it’s just….” He was embarrassed. I stopped him. “I know, there are only two people in the world shorter than I am, George Stephanopoulos and some woman in Japan.” He laughed. People are often surprised at my size when they see photos, hear me on the phone or on the radio I give the impression of being large. My favorite was a woman who told me “You look just like a man, only smaller." We start chatting. Just before he gets to the register he gets a look and says he forgot one thing, he runs to the back of the store and comes back just as his basket is being rung. After he pays he hands me the "one thing" he had run back for. Half and Half. “Dude, I just can’t stand that you have to drink your coffee black to stay on this budget, I admire your dedication but have some cream on me.” And the stranger walked away.
7:30pm: I came home and made dinner. I had excellent Halal Grass Fed beef I had thawed, pea shoots broccoli, fermented black beans and rice. The meal total was $1.84, but since the rest of my day was such a bargain my day came to only $3.46. My deficit almost erased.
Tuesday, August 16
9:00am: I am opening all my cupboards and checking every item in the freezer. I am hungry and want everything I don’t have. I want toasted baguette, I want fruit and I want bacon. I take a cup of coffee and begin answering my email, and reading the news. At least the coffee has cream thanks to the tall stranger at Trader Joe’s.
10:30am: I still want bacon and decide to take a walk to the local Safeway and see if they have any on sale. If I make a drive I can get cheap slab bacon at Food Co, or in Berkeley at the Grocery outlet but that is a far trip for bacon. The cost of the gas would outweigh the savings in pork candy. At Safeway I find black grapes for $0.99 per pound for the local ones. I take a choice bunch out of the pre-filled bag. I count the slices of the thick cut to see what my price per slice is, and then I count the slices of the thin. The thick has more slices for the same price? I count them again and then see that in the same brand, they have packaged the thin cut as 12 oz. And the thick at 1 pound. What I would think was the worse deal was the better deal. I find a loaf of something that resembles Italian bread on sale for $1.19.
11:30am: I finally get around to cooking breakfast. Three slices of bacon, two eggs, toast to dip in the poached eggs and a few grapes. This may not sound like an outrageous breakfast but my total is $2.24. I have almost blown my budget for the day. It is a good thing I ate late. I need to plan ahead to make sure I have a CHEAP dinner.
12:08pm: I get the link to the SF Foodie article.
1:00pm: Re-warmed the bacon fat and filtered it to save for future cooking. Bones and fat are precious in this house.
3:00pm: I realize that I have spent hours answering email and decide to head out. I go to the bank and make a stop at Guerra’s Meats. I get a piece of liver at a great price $0.57. I have not had beef liver in years.
7:30pm: I arrive home from the gym. Starving. I put water on to boil and run to the garden and fill a bowl with chard. While I slowly saute some garlic in oil, I separate the leaves from the stems and cut the stems into tiny pieces. When the garlic barely begins to turn color I add the stems, some salt and red pepper flakes. When the pasta is done I toss it with the chard leaves the garlic and oil and sit down to one of my absolute all-time favorite meals.
9:30pm: The doorbell rings. It is a friend of mine with a bottle of wine. I am so grateful, both for the company and the wine. I don’t know why I am feeling so stressed but I am. I make popcorn, which goes really well with Italian wine, it must be the butter.
Wednesday, August 16
7:00am: I make coffee and eat some grapes. These grapes are good. I toast the rest of yesterday’s bread, as I get inspired. A bacon, liver and onion sandwich? Yea! Breakfast is going to be good. The liver was rich and mild and almost melted in my mouth. It was just perfect. I total the cost $2.60; oops I did it again. I overspent on breakfast. I now get less lunch and dinner. That’s what it means to the people who live this way. $0.57 worth of liver means a sacrifice elsewhere. Tell the truth, how many of you spent more on coffee this morning than I spent on breakfast?
12:00pm: Eastern European market stop. I run into one of my neighbors, an immigrant from Yemen. He sees my light basket with lentils, cabbage, tomatoes and onions and asks if I am now a vegetarian. I gave him a postcard about the event and told him about living on the food stamp budget until that date. He sent a quick text. A few minutes later his wife came running in with a still warm loaf of circular bread crusted with sesame seeds. “I made many loaves today, I want you to have this for your dinner.” While I feel like I am cheating when people keep giving me food; could you say no to a fresh baked pide (flatbread)?
1:43pm: I have to head back to Le Beau Market to talk to the manager but I scarf half the ring of sesame bread before I go. Man can live by bread alone (at least for one day) and there is such a thing as a free lunch.
6:30pm: Home and ravenous. I had planned ahead and quickly cooked some of the Halal beef and made it very spicy. I served it with tomatoes, onions, corn tortillas, cheese and yogurt. Sort of a Tex-Mex meets Istanbul. Great dinner, but no vegetables to speak of. I need to make that lentil and vegetable soup so I don’t slack on nutrition tomorrow. There are leftovers and I spy some leftover rice. If I do something with tonight’s leftovers and that rice I get a free meal.
8:30pm: I finally get the soup started. I use up the chicken stock I had made, add some red lentils, a head of cabbage, two tomatoes, an onion and a little garlic and decide to let it simmer and see what it turns into.
9:30pm: It turned into a soup that needed something. So I start with my something’s. First I add some ground up dried shrimp, next some sun-dried tomato bits…we’re getting there. Drop by drop I add bacon hot sauce and finally it is complete. It has a little kick; depth of flavor and every taste makes me want to take the next taste. I put it in the refrigerator. It will make several cheap and healthful meals.
Thursday, August 17
8:00am: Up. Coffee. Toast (from my gift bread) with butter and I sit down to tackle some of the email that has come in. No Internet. $0.45 breakfast; butter is expensive.
8:30am: Party to cater. Off to Sausalito to shop.
9:30am: My friend Gail and I arrive at the Farmer’s Market. It is a food paradise. The, best, freshest, most beautiful... and the prices reflect it.
12:30pm: Four stores later the shopping is finished. Before I get started I make us BLT’s with avocado. Awesome lunch! And my cost is $0.00. I do the prep work for Saturday’s party. I got the lamb marinated, the pesto made for the pasta, the twice baked baby potatoes stuffed and ready for the oven, etc. I make Gail some turkey meatballs with yellow heirloom tomato sauce for her dinner. We load the food over to the kitchen where the party will be finished and it is 7:30 before I get back to the city.
8:00pm: I unpack my bag of riches and find a stash of turkey meatballs, strawberries, apples as well as chorizo and salsa made by our friend Rick. The best salsa I have ever tasted in my life. I made more sauce and added in the leftover beef from yesterday and 3 turkey meatballs with some pasta. My cost for dinner is $1.10. I managed to respond to 3 emails out of close to 1,000. I watch part of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Kim Hunter is great.
Friday, August 18
7:30am: Wide awake, but a dreamless sleep. I feel cheated. I do feel great today. Coffee, and 6 strawberries (a gift from Gail) My cost $0.30.
8:00am: I begin to wade through the email. Press inquiries; good. Hate mail; delete. Junk mail; delete. Family and friends; answer in detail.
10:21am: STILL finishing the email. It seems never to end. Turns out the SF Food interview with me about living on the food stamp budget has gone somewhat viral. Good, I want this event to FILL the coffers at the food bank. I take a break and fry Rick’s chorizo. It is too intense by itself; I wrap it up and heat some cabbage soup. It comes to $0.24 a serving.
1:00pm: I am hungry. I debate driving all the way home and then I spy McDonald’s. I have been an open critic of McDonald’s and recently the manager of one of the local stores contacted me to tell me how good the food really was and would I please come by and taste the dollar menu. He said it was cheap and healthy. I went in determined to try what he served. He was all smiles and very happy to see me. I was asked to sit down and they would bring me a tray of a good dollar meal. On the tray were a chicken sandwich, fries and side salad with dressing in envelopes and a soda. First a french fry. How much sugar do they add to these things? It was fries as dessert. Not a winner. Deep fried chicken patty on bun…but was WAY too sweet and mushy, chicken crisp and flavorless, it could have been tofu. The side salad was limp and the dressing loaded with disgusting ingredients. No real flavor to it. I was being watched, it was like being a guest in someone’s home. What could I do, I smiled as I tossed the "food" and thanked him and got out quickly. I did not eat most of it, just a taste. It would have cost 4 bucks, essentially someone’s budget for the day. I did not calculate the calories or nutrition. I did not eat enough of it to impact my calories and I can’t imagine that it had any nutrition.
2:00pm: I made a toothsome and soul-satisfying spaghetti carbonara. Three slices of bacon (American bacon), 2 eggs, 1/2 cup frozen peas, two ounces of pasta. I feel so much better. I listened to Chef Anne Burrell when she said that this pasta loves black pepper. She is right, that girl can cook. $1.87.
3:00pm: Before I head out again I send out a 411 to a headhunter. I checked my bank balance and once this event is over I am going to have to get back to work. Fast…just got an inquiry about an Italian place…would I be willing to relocate to Belarus? Sure I say, later I am going to have to find out what country I said I might move to.
7:49pm: I fry a few of the tortillas and eat them with salsa while standing at the stove. The stress has gotten to me, so I crack a second bottle of my birthday gift wine and pour a glass.
8:30pm: I made quick fried rice and beans Mexican Chinese style and had it with more tortillas. $1.21.
Saturday, August 20
9:00am: I slept a solid 10 hours. Woke up hungry. While making coffee I ate more tortilla chips. Salty and addictive. I mushed some of the rice and beans into a bowl and put cheese on top and set it in the oven to warm. I ate and had my coffee and went back to bed, just to lie down and quickly fell back asleep. Leftovers -- so cost is cheese at $0.31.
12:00pm: Gym, and home for cabbage soup before heading out to the party. $0.24.
3:30pm: Chef's jacket on and I glaze and roast a ham, pull the lamb out of the marinade and get it roasting, dish serve, dress heat, etc.
5:00pm: I take off the chef’s jacket and become a guest at the party I catered. Though I have made the transition, I still carve the meat and keep an eye on everything. There is a lot of help with drinks, service, clean up but I never take my eyes far from the kitchen or buffet.
7:00pm: I eat some ham standing up by the stove and finally accept a glass of wine. Eventually I relax and sit down to talk with friends.
11:00pm: Leftovers wrapped, kitchen clean I head home. I get home hungry and make popcorn with butter and watch part of some forgettable movie before bed.
Sunday, August 21
11:00am: I make a sandwich with ham picked from the bone and make some mayo. I put the ham bone onto simmer for a bean soup. I look at all the leftovers plus the bounty given me by my friend Cathy who visited a farm and brought food back for Sylvia and myself and feel a little guilty. I have an abundance of food I did not purchase on my food stamp budget.
After I thought I about it I decided it’s okay because I committed to living my life on this budget and this is my life. It includes friends who share and I am grateful to know so many wonderful people. Breakfast cost for me: $0.50.
12:00pm: I have tomatoes, I decide to make sauce. All of these super ripe tomatoes, Romas, heirloom, and cherry. Peels and seed and all melt into the pot with a little onion and garlic. Thirty minutes later they have melted into a delicious blend. I decide to simmer a little longer.
3:00pm: After a few hours of gardening and generally sitting around I heat a cup of the cabbage soup. Not because I have an appetite but because it is one of the more nutritious foods I have around and I wanted something good for me before I head to the gym.
5:00pm: I deal with some of the email from diva chefs who had been invited to join us on Saturday. Rather than committing, some of these folks are asking things like… “What press will be there at what time, I’d like to do it but prefer national to local…and what transport arrangements have been made? I hope we are not being asked to provide our own transport and have to deal with parking.” I sent a generic response to the whole lot of them. "If you care enough to help we would love to have you join us, the schedule is almost full but if you give a quick call I can add you to the available times." I bet I get one call.
8:00pm: It is time for a pasta. I have the rest of the turkey meatballs and some of the sauce made this morning. I have a glass of the birthday wine I had opened. I had to throw out the remainder of the soba noodles and cabbage. When I opened them it seems the cabbage had begun to ferment and not in a good way. I took $0.29 off of my food budget for waste. My first waste since July 1. Pasta costs $0.19.
See previous Food Informants below:
Geoff Bartakovics, 34, is the co-founder and CEO of Tasting Table, the free daily email publication all about food & drink culture. Before starting Tasting Table, Geoff was a business manager in asset-backed finance at UBS Investment Bank, where he coordinated business activities among the fixed income trading desk and the bank's middle- and back-office functions. Geoff was formerly a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting. He attended The University of Chicago, from which he graduated with honors in English. He was a Fulbright Scholar in comparative literature and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. He's an obsessive dinner party entertainer and a serious home cook. Read Geoff's diary here.
Elizabeth Laseter, an aspiring food journalist, is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and lives in Washington, D.C. She received her diploma in Writing and Art History and is now pursuing a Culinary Arts Degree at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. The one-year program includes six months of learning techniques in the classroom and six months at an externship in a D.C. fine dining restaurant. Elizabeth documents her food adventures through two blogs, The Baltimore Food Rag and The D.C. Food Rag. She decided to attend culinary school after interning at Baltimore magazine and working with the food editor. Read Elizabeth's full diary here.
Jane and Terry Levan operate a 20-acre pastured poultry farm outside of Lexington, Texas called Dewberry Hills Farm, after the dewberry vines that grow wild on their land. They raise antibiotic- and hormone-free meat chickens for sale. Their chickens mostly live outdoors. The Devans call themselves "omnivores with a conscience;" Jane won't eat any meat unless she personally knowns who raised it and how it was processed. Jane and Terry began farming in 2003, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The pair had always wanted to farm, but they didn't want to follow the industrial agricultural model. Jane and Terry built a processing building on-site and became state certified so they could sell their birds commercially in May 2008. Read Jane's diary here.
"James" is an Apple employee. He works at Caffe Macs, the on-site cafeteria of Apple's campus in Cupertino, Ca. Reminiscent of Google's epic food offerings, Caffe Macs is pretty much a corporate food court dream-come-true. Read James' diary here.
Brooklyn-based Aaron Lefkove used to work in book publishing and as a freelance writer. After his office re-located to New Jersey, Lefkove decided he didn't want to do the commute. Lefkove and his business partner, Andy Curtin, had the idea for a Cape Cod-style seafood joint for awhile. One day at a barbecue, they decided to commit to opening a restaurant, Littleneck, Brooklyn's first and only classic New England-style beach side seafood shack. Besides working in restaurants growing up, Lefkove had no experience as a restaurateur. He acknowledges that the process has been a major learning curve, but so far, there haven't been any obstacles they couldn't get around. At first, he thought opening up a clam shack would be easier than finding a new job but it turns it that it is actually "WAY WAY WAY harder." Despite this being the "hardest, most stressful, most frustrating, most time consuming, most ambitious thing" he has ever done, it isn't nearly as hard as he thought it would be. Plus, he says he loves working for himself, working toward something he has "always dreamed about," and building something really exciting. Read Aaron Lefkove's diary here.
Jonathan Stich, 29, is a third generation farmer from Burlington, Wisconsin. He grew weary of the corporate world, went traveling and decided to become a farmer. After reading about how heirloom tomato grower Tim Stark in Pennsylvania sells his products to New York restaurants, Stich made the decision to spend a night in restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago asking if they'd be interesting in buying local produce. Read more about Jonathan Stich's week here.
Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada are the owners, managers and butchers in chief of LA's artisanal butcher shop Lindy and Grundy. (Erika is Grundy and Amelia is Lindy.) The two, who also live together and are a couple, opened their store on Fairfax last spring (profiled on HuffPost Food). Lindy and Grundy has already been feted as one of the most best butchers in Southern California -- and quite possibly its most sustainable. Read about a week in the life of Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada's here.
Recently, inspired by a meeting at the San Francisco Food Bank, chef Karl Wilder started the food stamp challenge: living and eating on a food stamp budget. What began as a one week project has turned into a two-month long commitment. Wilder calculated that a family has $1.33 to spend per meal, and decided that when using oil and seasonings, the cost would be $1.22. In total, he has less than $4 to spend on food per day. He monitors his nutrition and caloric intake on FitDay. You can read more about his daily experiences at on his blog, Fusion On The Fly. Read about a week in the life of Karl Wilder here.
Chris Cosentino is the executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto, an offal-heavy (not sure what offal is? Check out our Whole Animal Guide here) rustic Italian restaurant located in San Francisco. While encouraging patrons to try different cuts of meat, Cosentino also champions eating locally. He's previously cooked at such renowned restaurants as Kinkead's and Chez Panisse, and cites Jean-Louis Palladin as a big influence on his cooking style. He also co-owns Boccalone, which sells various cured meats and house-made salami. To learn more about Cosentino, check out his website, Offal Good. Read about a week in the life of Chris Cosentino here.
"Jane," 24, has been working for Trader Joe's since 2007, though in 2009 she left for over a year to go work for Whole Foods. She did not like it there and returned to TJ's. At Trader Joe's, every employee does a range of tasks, but Jane's speciality is dairy. Below is her explanation of the pros and cons of the job: I like working for Trader Joe's because they pay me well and offer great benefits. They also respect me as an employee and make me feel like I'm useful and needed and not just another part-time employee that can be replaced (which has been the case at other retail jobs I've had). Trader Joe's is really good at hiring great people and I'm lucky to have so many wonderful co-workers. I don't like working at Trader Joe's because the work can be strenuous on my back and wrists. Being on a register for several hours at a time is tiring and somewhat soul crushing due to ignorant people who feel the need to be condescending to me because I work at a grocery store. I also feel that the company is becoming more and more corporate as it grows and it is beginning to have an impact on the enjoyability of being a part-time "crew member." I also work in a very busy store which causes the managers to stress out a lot and I don't enjoy being surrounded by it. Read about a week in the life of a Trader Joe's employee here.
Chef Nate Appleman is the Culinary Manager at Chipotle. This involves a range of tasks including developing new menu items, opening ShopHouse (Chipotle's upcoming Asian fast-casual chain) and furthering Chipotle's commitment to sustainable sourcing. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Appleman was previously executive chef and co-owner of San Francisco's super popular Italian restaurants A16 and SPQR. Appleman moved to New York in 2010 to open Pulino's. After leaving, Appleman took his current position at Chipotle. He has received a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef, been anointed Best New Chef by Food & Wine and is the champion of Food Network's Chopped All-Stars. Read about a week in the life of Nate Appleman here.
Freeganism is a lifestyle in which one employs "alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." Gio Andollo is a writer, artist, musician and freegan. Andollo became a freegan when he realized that artists don't get paid much, but he didn't like the idea of working a "crappy, part-time job" to pay the bills. So he found another way. Andollo performs on the subway for about 20 hours a week, typically in two-hour intervals. He makes $10 to $50 per shift and has a love/hate relationship with busking. Andollo will buy food, but very rarely. The majority of his food comes from trash touring, or dumpster diving. He's become increasingly concerned with the abuses inherent in current economic systems: waste of resources, exploitation of people, degradation of the environment, calloused treatment of animals, commodification of time, labor, even war (thus human life in wholesale). In addition to busking part-time, he writes songs, blogs and books about these issues. Read about a week in the life of Gio Andollo here.
Captain Jason Joyce is an eighth-generation resident of Swan's Island, Maine. He is a Coast Guard Licensed Captain and a registered Maine Tidewater Guide. He has done lobster and fish research with the University of Maine, the University of Massachusetts, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Lobster Institute. Joyce is currently doing a lot of work with the Penobscot East Resource Center, which works to secure a viable future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine. Each week, he records HD video of lobstering that he gives to restaurants to educate customers about sustainable lobster fisheries in Maine. Captain Joyce is married to his high school sweetheart and they have four children. Learn more about Captain Jason Joyce here. Read about a week in the life of Jason Joyce here.
Martin Kastner is a serviceware designer extraordinaire/jack-of-all-design-trades for Grant Achatz's Alinea, Next and The Aviary. Kastner creates custom pieces that work with Achatz's elaborate and intricate food. Born in the Czech Republic, Kastner trained as a blacksmith and received an MFA in sculpture. (His thesis was about air). He met his American wife in Prague and moved to the US in 1998. In 2003, Kastner received an unexpected email from Grant Achatz, who had emailed a host of designers. Kastner was the only one to respond. They've partnered not only on serviceware, but also on web design, video and the Alinea cookbook. Kastner's other clients include L20 (an upscale, seafood-focused Chicago restaurant), Le Bernardin (Eric Ripert's homage to seafood) and Empellon (Alex Stupak's new Mexican restaurant in New York). Read about a week in the life of Martin Kastner here.