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.
Melissa Cookston is a three-time World Champion BBQ Pitmaster, the only female to have won the prestigious Memphis in May (MIM) World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. She owns and operates the Memphis Barbecue Company, a restaurant in Horn Lake, Mississippi serving her and her partners' World Championship BBQ. She is a sought-after expert in the world of grilling and barbecueing. She spends her time competing in BBQ Contests, operating the restaurant, and spreading the gospel of Memphis-style barbecue.
Sunday, May 13
I am totally stressed about this week. We own a 300-seat restaurant, Memphis Barbecue Company in Horn Lake, Mississippi -- and today is Mother's Day, one of the busiest days of the year. I am torn in that I need to be working on my Memphis in May booth, but REALLY NEED to be at the restaurant. Duty calls, so MIM will have to wait a day.
8am -8pm: We are opening at 10am for the Mother's Day crowds. Pete, my husband, will be overseeing the kitchen and I will run the floor. Mother's Day is filled with large parties, and we are full and on a wait from 10:30am until around 7:30pm.
8:00pm: Finally slowing down a little. Pete, my daughter Lauren and I sit down to get a bite to eat after a long, tiring day. So tired I'm not even hungry. I order a ribeye anyway. We use a high choice grade ribeye, and hand cut them daily. It's delicious, but I only eat a few bites.
10pm: We close for the day. It's a record sales day for a Sunday! Woo hoo! Ever since we opened the restaurant in December we have been amazed at how well the community has supported us. It truly is an amazing feeling.
Monday, May 14
6am: No rest for the weary. Pete heads to the restaurant to get a few things done while I get Lauren off to school and head that way as well. Why isn't there a Starbucks in Hernando? Starbucks, are you reading this?
7am: Finally get to Starbucks in Southaven, Mississipp. Venti White Mocha. Nectar of the Gods.
7:30am: At the restaurant finally. Go over staffing for the day and then work on getting our BBQ trailer loaded up. We just purchased a 24-foot cargo trailer with a 12 foot "porch" for our grills. Maybe this is a good time to explain that the Memphis in May World Barbecue Cooking Contest ain't no backyard barbecue! 254 teams compete in three main divisions: Ribs, Shoulders and Whole Hog. MIM is an all pork contest and literally tons of pork will be cooked during the week. It is held on the banks of the Mississippi River and is the biggest event in the area and is one of the four biggest contests in the country. However, loading in and loading out are a little frustrating due to the sheer numbers of people and teams. Many teams basically build small houses. Others, like us, bring a trailer and have a rented tent and flooring put up around it.
9am: We head to the site and drop our trailer off. We are cooking in the Whole Hog division, which is in the center of the park near the main tent. That's a good thing! The main tent is where we will turn in our "Blind Box" -- a sample of meat in an unmarked to-go box (so the judges won't know from which team it came).
11:00am: Get the rental company to start setting up the area with flooring and our main tent. Our partner in the restaurant, John Wheeler, is also entering the contest. He's entered into the Ribs division (at MIM, you may only enter one main category). We start dropping supplies off at his area as well.
4:00pm: Head back to the restaurant. Doesn't look like we got a lot done.
5:00pm: Have a group of 200 people come to the restaurant. Not a bad way to get started for Monday Dinner! We are on a wait through most of the night due to the group -- good problems for a restaurant owner.
9:00pm: Finally getting done for the day. We grab a quick bite -- I am in love with brisket, so I have a brisket sandwich. Pete and Lauren grab a couple of pulled pork sandwiches -- everything "Memphis Style" (Memphis style means pork or brisket cooked until it's tender, pork is hand pulled instead of chopped). I always think when someone chops BBQ that they are either chopping up all the fat into the meat or they didn't cook it properly so they have to chop it -- sometimes it's both reasons. Memphis style always gets some creamy cole slaw on top. Why the rest of the country doesn't understand this is perfect BBQ is beyond me, I guess I'll have to keep spreading the word!
Tuesday, May 15
Pretty much more of the same today. We run around like chickens with our heads cut off -- taking supplies to the contest, taking Lauren to school and picking her up, running errands and working at the restaurant. Tuesday is kind of the calm before the storm.
4pm: Pick up our friend Shelly Hunt at the airport. She owns Desperado's Barbecue in Buffalo, New York. She is staying with us for the week to help out and check out the scene. We go to dinner at the restaurant to show her what we have -- we order her a Baby Back Rib Combo with pulled pork, brisket, with stone ground grits and turnip greens. Cheese fritters and BBQ shrimp for an appetizer.
Wednesday, May 16
9am: Have already gotten Lauren to school and picked up my Starbucks. Thank goodness. Today really starts the contest in our eyes. Whenever we do a contest, we always make our sauces, rubs and injections on the Wednesday of the week of the contest. BBQ sauce is like a soup or stew -- it needs a couple of days to let all the flavors meld together. On tap today: 4 different sauces, our BBQ rub, our injection and a glaze. MIM also has several ancillary contests on Friday (fun contests that don't count for the overall championship). I have to also get the items for those contests and make the recipes for them as well.
I always start by making our BBQ rub. This is our main seasoning for the Whole Hog as well as our sauce. Great Memphis-style BBQ is defined by how well the sauce complements the meat -- I don't want the flavors to clash, so we use our seasoning blend as a major flavor component of the sauce.
3:00pm: Most of the sauces are done. Finishing up a pineapple chipotle glaze that I will use on my ancillaries.
3:30pm: Head to Fresh Market in Memphis to pick up some supplies. Hoping they have King Salmon in stock but they don't. Grab some Sea Bass and some Atlantic Salmon. Also pick up some nice racks of lamb as well as some free range chicken for John to cook.
5:00pm: Dinner at Ciao Bella in Memphis. We always try to eat at locally owned restaurants -- food quality is much better and we know the struggles a local owner can go through competing with the chains. Nice dinner.
7:00pm: Back to the restaurant to start getting organized for tomorrow. Our Whole Hogs get delivered around 7:30. We get our hogs from Newman Farms out of Missouri -- they are one of the best. Our hogs are Berkshire free range pigs. We are cooking two for the contest -- one is 216 pounds dressed weight and one is 186 pounds. Beautiful. Pete and I start trimming them. We cook a "running-style" hog (the belly of the hog is down) whereas most people cook theirs belly-up. We think ours is better, but this is the time to see!
8:30pm: "Famous Dave" comes in for dinner with his cooking team. Very nice group. Later, 3 time World Champion Mike Mills comes in with his daughter Amy. It never gets old seeing friends.
9:30pm: Finally finishing up. Time to go home.
Thursday May 17
7:00am: Dash to the restaurant and load the catering van up with water bottles, coolers, plants and other supplies. You can only get into the park before 8:30 this morning, so we have to hustle.
8:30am: Get the van parked and head back to the site. Put down carpet and start doing the detail work in the booth. Set up small tents for a "kitchen" area and store our supplies. Like most teams, we have a catering job tonight for one of our sponsors. We are also doing the "VIPit tour" for Memphis in May -- where people get to go through some Championship teams, get a bite to eat and get an inside view of the event. If you ever plan to go to MIM, I highly recommend you get a ticket for this tour.
3:00pm: Start setting up buffet line. Tonight we are serving pulled pork, cole slaw, BBQ beans, BBQ spaghetti (think regular spaghetti with BBQ sauce and pulled pork instead of spaghetti sauce and ground beef) and fresh made banana pudding. Nothing cools you down on a hot day like banana pudding.
4:00pm: The first of the VIPit tours shows up. I give a quick 10 minute speech about our team, Memphis in May, and then answer a few questions and let them eat. These people are usually attentive and inquisitive which is much better than speaking to a group of people that don't want to be there!
9:00pm: Wrapping up the buffet and cleaning up. Other than a bite of banana pudding I have forgotten to eat today, need to fix that tomorrow. Our friend Damon Wooley arrives with his brother Jay and father Johnny. Damon came to one of our BBQ Cooking Schools last year and wanted to come see MIM. No problem, but we will work you to death while you are visiting!
Friday, May 18
Big Day -- this is the make it or break it day.
8:00am: Get down to the park at 8:00 to deliver our hogs and the meat we will be cooking for the ancillary contests.
8:30am: Get the hogs inspected. Every sample of meat has to be checked in by a MIM representative to make sure you haven't marinated or pre-seasoned it. After check in we ice the hogs down to keep them cold. Start working on setting up for the day.
11:00am: Time to get the big hog ready! We've already trimmed it so we just inject it and season it. We get the fire started -- we are starting the 216 pound hog at noon. Helpful hint for MIM -- Get your meat done! It's awfully easy to get caught up in the spectacle down here and forget about the main reason you are cooking. After we get "Sam" on, we start prepping our ancillary events. We trim and season our lamb racks and put them in a smoker at 1pm.
2:00pm: "Dave" goes on the grill. Get it, "Sam and Dave?" Meanwhile we have almost no time to finish our ancillaries. We are lightly breading our salmon and sea bass and searing it in sesame oil, then putting a light coat of the chipotle glaze on it. It tastes great, but there are 102 entries in seafood, so who knows. The lamb chops get a quick sear on a grill to get them to a perfect medium rare, then glazed and go in to their box as well.
4:00pm: One of the great things about MIM is all the great cooks that come by -- I've already seen my friends Johnny Trigg, Tuffy Stone and Pat Burke. With cooks like these competing against you, you know it's going to be a tough weekend!
10pm: IT'S VERY LOUD HERE!!! Sandwiched between 2 party teams blaring music is no fun. Pete is staying here all night to watch the hogs, so I'm going to try and sleep for a little bit.
Saturday, May 19
6:00am: Sleep doesn't come easy. It's D-day. I'm ready to get cooking!
7:00am: Arrive downtown with Starbucks and breakfast for Pete. The hogs are coming right along! That is always a good thing at a contest. Spend the next 3 hours getting the booth ready. Judges expect an immaculate booth at MIM, and we will do our best to make sure it's ready. Set up our judging table as well with plates, napkins, finger bowls, etc. No silverware though -- if you want to properly judge competition BBQ you have to feel the texture. I am a firm believer in perfect texture makes perfect BBQ.
11:00am: We start glazing our hog. Not the prettiest hog we've ever cooked, but the textures look perfect.
11:30am: We start pulling samples for our blind box. Pete pulls the samples and I go through them and build the box. The meat has a deep, rich flavor. Awesome. After arranging the box we turn it in at noon. Fingers crossed.
12:15pm: Our first on-site judge shows up. Each on-site judge gets samples from the ham, shoulder, loin and some bacon (you've never lived until you've eaten bacon from a properly cooked whole hog). The next hour is a blur of judges, cleaning between judges, and having to act as cool as a cucumber while your stomach is in knots.
1:15pm: On-site judging is over. We have a superstition that until the finals are announced we can do no work -- don't pick up anything, don't move anything, nothing. Tough waiting.
2:05pm: A golf cart stops in front of our booth. WE MADE FINALS!!!! At MIM the top three scoring teams in each category go through another round of judging called finals where all 9 teams are visited by the same 4 judges. It is an absolute honor to make it to the finals. Shelly, Lauren and I run around setting up the booth while Pete and Damon get the hogs prepped for judging. For finals, they decide to go with "Dave," the smaller of the hogs but one we didn't use for preliminaries.
3:25pm: A crowd has assembled in front of the booth as the final judges arrive. Pete shows them the cookers and the hog, then I take them to the table and talk about our sauces and seasonings while he pulls some samples.
3:31pm: Pete brings over the samples and we start presenting them to the judges. They look incredible -- very moist, beautifully colored with smoke and spices, and the texture is perfect.
3:40pm: We wrap up our presentation. I never feel confident at a BBQ contest, but I know we couldn't have done any better. It's in the hands of the BBQ judges now.
3:42pm: Our partner John gets a golf cart too -- he finaled in Ribs! Unbelievable!
6:30pm: Awards start. The stress, heat and noise have given me a migraine and I am barely able to stay there. My stomach is screaming as I have forgotten to eat again today. Fingers crossed.
7:00pm: Whole Hog awards announced. I don't get really nervous until they announce 4th place -- I know we are at least a top 3 team. Please call our name last!
7:10pm: HOLY COW WE WIN OUR THIRD WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IN WHOLE HOG!!!!
7:15pm: The nervousness gets even greater now as they announce Rib awards. JOHN WINS RIBS!!! This is absolutely incredible. Only one award left.
7:25pm: After a misdirection backstage we finally get to our place. It's now down to us, Red Hot Smoker, who won the Shoulder Division, and our partner John Wheeler in the Ribs.
7:27pm: And the Grand Champion of the 2012 Memphis in May World Barbecue Cooking Contest is.............YAZOO'S DELTA Q!!!!!!! We won our second MIM in 3 years! I can't even make a speech. It truly is incredible!
8:30pm: The migraine has caught up with me and I leave the park. Clean up will have to wait until tomorrow. We are truly humbled that our little family team has managed to pull this off again. This whole week has been a blur -- but a very, very happy blur.
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Gregory Hall, Cider Maker
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Christophe Hille is the founder and co-owner of Northern Spy Food Co. in New York's East Village. Before opening Northern Spy, Hille was a personal chef to Annie Leibovitz and the executive chef of A16 in San Francisco. He holds an MS in Nutrition & Food Studies from New York University. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/food-informants-christophe-hill-northern-spy-sandy_n_2119497.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Christophe's diary here.</a></strong>
Steve Smith, Tea Maker
Steve Smith is one of the world's leading tea makers and entrepreneurs. In 1972, Smith was a young partner in the first natural foods store in Portland. Expanding on these roots -- and the joys of tea learned from his grandmother and time spent in Southeast Asia -- he and two partners founded the Stash Tea Company. The trio introduced herbal and specialty black teas to retail and food service accounts throughout North America, eventually growing to become one of the largest-selling food service specialty tea brands in the country. When Stash was acquired in 1993 by Yamamotoyama, the oldest tea company in Japan, Smith left to pursue a new vision, which came to be known as Tazo. Smith is credited in developing over 60 proprietary blends in multiple beverage formats -- many of which remain Tazo's top selling teas today. In January of 1999 Tazo was acquired by Starbucks, and Smith and his team continued to lead the company until January of 2006. Parting ways with Starbucks and Tazo in 2006, Smith moved to Avignon with his wife, Kim and their 10-year-old son. But after a year, the path of tea called them all back to Portland. He's now perfecting his new signature line: Steven Smith Teamaker. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/food-informants-steven-smith-tea-maker_n_2065393.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Steve's diary here.</a></strong>
Jenny McCoy, Pastry Chef
Jenny McCoy is a New York City-based professional pastry chef turned home baker. She's the co-founder of Cissé Trading Company, a cookbook author, culinary instructor and authority on all things sweet. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/food-informants-jenny-mccoy-cisse-trading_n_2009096.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Jenny's diary here.</a></strong>
Lee Schrager, New York Wine & Food Festival Founder
Lee Brian Schrager serves as the Vice President of Corporate Communications & National Events at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. He joined the company in 2000 and oversees projects for the company in all 35 states in which it does business. Most noteworthy in Schrager's resume is his creation of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2002 and the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival in 2008. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/food-informants-lee-schrager_n_1989586.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Lee's diary here.</a></strong>
David Venable, QVC Host
David Venable is the host of the popular QVC program "In The Kitchen With David" which airs every Wednesday at 9pm and Sundays at noon. David Venable joined QVC as a program host in 1993 and has since helped establish and build the multimedia retailer's gourmet food business. Venable also serves as a primary host for other QVC programming. Prior to joining QVC, Venable was an anchor/reporter for WOAY -- TV in Oak Hill, W. Va., and CBS-affiliate WTAJ -- TV in Altoona, Pa., where he hosted its weekly public affairs talk show "Action Newsmakers." He also hosted the Children's Miracle Network telethon for four years. Venable earned his bachelor's degree in radio, television and motion pictures from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. He just released his debut cookbook which has been flying off the shelves. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/david-venable-food-informants_n_1959484.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read David's diary here.</a></strong>
Kareem Hajjar, Restaurant Lawyer
Kareem T. Hajjar's bar and restaurant law practice includes the representation of approximately 400 bars and restaurants located throughout Texas and includes the formation of corporate entities, real estate acquisition and leasing, zoning and other land use and municipal issues, trademark acquisitions, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit acquisition, employment agreements, mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations to private offerings of debt and equity securities, venture capital transactions and contract negotiations. Kareem has served on the Board of Directors of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce, the Advisory Council for the Texas Wine and Food Festival, the Leadership Council for the Ronald McDonald House of Austin, the Board of Directors for FloralBurst, the Membership Committee of the Texas Food and Wine Foundation, and the Bulletproof Committee for the Lone Star of Texas Rodeo. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/food-informants-restaurant-lawyer_n_1933294.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Kareem's diary here.</a></strong>
Carolyn Ottenheimer, Kettle Brand Chip's Chief Flavor Architect
Carolyn Ottenheimer is the Chief Flavor Architect for Kettle Brand Chips in Salem, Oregon. She's responsible for developing and defining the flavor and quality attributes of all Kettle Brand products -- the base snack and the seasoning blends that are applied to the various flavors. She also defines the quality standards of all of the products and ensures that the process facilities have tools with which to monitor chip quality. She confirms that all of the products meet the claims that are being made on the packaging -- like "gluten free." Finally, she checks that production facilities have food safety programs. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/food-informants-carolyn-ottenheimer_n_1911190.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Carolyn's diary here.</a></strong>
Emil Grosso, Balducci's Food Buyer
As Vice President of Business Development for Balducci's, Emil Grosso is in charge of scouring and searching for the purveyors of quality available across the U.S. and around the world. From farms to fields to forests, he selects foods for Balducci's markets and catering services -- handpicking the best coffee beans, artisan breads and produce. Now, Emil is also sourcing quality ingredients for Balducci's Gourmet on the Go Café, the latest Balducci's food destination in New York City. The Café opened this past March, and it marked the return of Balducci's gourmet foods to Manhattan and was conceptualized and realized by Emil over the past two years. The new Café, located in the Hearst Tower on the corner of 56th Street and Eighth Avenue, serves an array of foods, made with locally sourced produce from New York City urban farmers and features breads and pastries from the city's best bakeries. Emil is constantly on the road, meeting new people in the food world and taking a lot of trips to find the best-of-the-best throughout the country to bring back to NYC. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/food-informants-emil-grosso_n_1861861.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Emil's diary here.</a></strong>
Eric Brenner, Gluten-Free Chef
Chef Eric Brenner has multiple food allergies in his family and years of experience cooking for food-sensitive restaurant customers. Named the 2008 Top Chef and Chef of the Year by multiple publications in St. Louis for his former restaurant MOXY Contemporary Bistro, he has now brought his culinary style to BOLD Organics, a line of gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free, casein-free, whey-free, egg-free, peanut-free and tree nut-free frozen pizzas that contain no GMOs, preservatives, nitrites, nitrates or trans-fats. Working together with 21-year-old company founder Aaron Greenwald, Brenner has created a new line of gluten- and allergen-free products that meet the dietary restrictions of the tens of millions who suffer with food sensitivities. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/food-informants-eric-brenner-gluten-free_n_1846865.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Eric's diary here.</a></strong>
Rudy Marchesi, Biodynamic Wine Maker
Rudy Marchesi assumed ownership of Montinore Estates in 2006, but has had a hand in the estate since 1992 when he lead the fine wine department of the distribution house of Allied Beverage. In 1998, he began consulting on Montinore's vineyard management, winemaking and marketing. He became Vice President of Operations in 2001 and President in 2003. Marchesi obtained the Demeter Biodynamic certificate in 2008, which certifies wines based on the strict principles of biodynamic farming. This process involves an organic approach that treats the soil with fermented manure, minerals and herbs.
Zach Zamboni, Anthony Bourdain's Cinematographer
Zach Zamboni is a cinematographer. Logging more than 10,000 hours of camera work throughout the world, Zach has been awarded two Emmy's for Non-Fiction Cinematography (2009, 2011), and is nominated for a third. He's shot more than 70 episodes of the highly successful travel series "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," and "The Layover." Between shooting documentaries and features, he's finishing a screenplay about the spooky side of traveling. Follow his adventures on Twitter @zachzamboni. Find him at www.zachzamboni.com. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/zach-zamboni-food-informants_n_1765003.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Zach's diary here.</a></strong>
Matt Cohen, Food Truck Organizer
Originally from Denver, Matt Cohen moved to Japan and became obsessed with ramen and classic Asian night markets. When he returned to the States, he settled in the Bay Area and founded Tabe, a late-night ramen cart. In 2010, Matt founded <a href="http://offthegridsf.com/" target="_hplink">Off the Grid</a>, a network of street food vendors, effectively bringing much of the feeling of an Asian night market state-side. He does everything from recruiting and approving new vendors, to dealing with the intricate process of acquiring permits and clearance for the growing number of weekly markets. At the heart of Off the Grid is a genuine love for the concept of bringing people together in a social urban environment and providing fledgling operations a jumping-off place for their endeavors. In a week, Off the Grid works with upwards of 100 small businesses, and with 18 weekly markets and growing, that constructive interaction is only bound to grow. Matt's most recent endeavor is The <a href="http://www.sffoodlab.com/" target="_hplink">SF Food Lab</a>, a business launched with two other industry veterans. The Food Lab offers a test kitchen space and dining are for entrepreneurs and small businesses to develop their products and cuisine, with all the tools necessary. That said, quickly approaching Off the Grid's second anniversary, Matt hasn't lost his love for street food -- you can usually find him at one of his markets every night of the week. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/food-informants-off-the-grid_n_1759442.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Matt's diary here.</a></strong>
Adam Keough, Chef Preparing For A James Beard Dinner
Since taking the reins as Executive Chef at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in late 2010, Chef Adam Keough has garnered a three-star review and inclusion in the 2011 and 2012 "Top-100 Bay Area Restaurants" list from the San Francisco Chronicle, a first for the restaurant since opening in 1998. A Boston native and Michael Mina Group vet, Keough has years of fine dining experience in restaurants across the country. He is also a two-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for national "Rising-Star Chef of the Year," in 2007 and 2008. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/adam-keough-food-informants_n_1710342.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Adam's diary here.</a></strong>
Ashley Archer, Culinary Producer Of 'The Chew'
Ashley Archer has 10 years of restaurant experience including three years at Prune in New York City. She was a Senior Culinary Producer at Food Network, where she worked on shows including Iron Chef America, Next Iron Chef, Tyler's Ultimate, Guy's Big Bite and more. She was also a food stylist for Emeril Live, Essence of Emeril, Next Food Network Star, Rachael Ray and more. Now, she's the Culinary Producer at The Chew and the co-editor of the new Chew cookbook, which debuts September 25. Archer lives in Washington Heights with her husband and two-year-old daughter. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/25/food-informants-the-chew_n_1689537.html?utm_hp_ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Ashley's diary here.</a></strong>
Shawn Askinosie, Chocolate Maker On A Trip To Africa
Shawn Askinosie is the founder and chocolate maker of Askinosie Chocolate. Since founding Askinosie Chocolate after working in criminal law for 20 years, Shawn's social business model has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and numerous other publications. Shawn sells his chocolate throughout the U.S. and exports to stores around the world. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Affairs degree in May 2012 to "recognize his contributions as a community leader, an entrepreneur, a role model and an inspiration to students and others." <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/food-informants-shawn-askinosie_n_1668658.html?utm_hp_ref=food" target="_hplink">Read Shawn's diary here.</a></strong>
Andrew Zimmern is a James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, food writer, teacher and is widely regarded as one of the most versatile and knowledgeable personalities in the food world. As the creator, host and co-executive producer of Travel Channel's hit series, "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," "Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre World," and his new series, "Bizarre Foods America," he travels the globe, exploring food in its own terroir. Zimmern is a contributing editor at Food & Wine, an award-winning monthly columnist at Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and a senior editor at Delta's Sky Magazine. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife Rishia, son Noah and several un-eaten pets. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/food-informants-andrew-zimmern_n_1654620.html?utm_hp_ref=food" target="_hplink">Read Andrew's diary here.</a></strong>
Anthony Butler, Soup Kitchen Director
In June of 2005, Anthony Butler took the position as Executive Director at St. John's Bread and Life. During his tenure there, he has worked to meet the growing need of emergency food in the community, provide those services with the greatest dignity and develop strategies to reduce individuals and families need for emergency food. In June of 2008, Bread and Life moved into a new $8,000,000 state-of-the-art facility; featuring expanded space, a digital choice food pantry, medical offices, a library, a non-denominational chapel, classroom, demonstration kitchen, and proper space to meet the increased demand of Bread and Life's guest, fully paperless data collection, and swipe card system for hot meals. Throughout this, Bread and Life has grown to a $3,000,000 annual budget and has served over 500,000 meals annually. As part of Bread and Life's commitment to providing nutritious food, it has grown its partnership with the sustainable food community. Over the past two years Bread and Life has brought over $200,000 worth of sustainably grown New York State products into the community. It continues to partner with the Brooklyn and New York food community to address the issues of Hunger and poverty. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/food-informants-soup-kitchen_n_1643465.html?utm_hp_ref=food" target="_hplink">Read Anthony's diary here.</a></strong>
Jeni Britton Bauer, Ice Cream Maker
Jeni Britton Bauer has created ice cream for more than 15 years. Drawing from her traditional pastry training and a pantry of exceptional ingredients, the Columbus resident continues to perfect the frozen desserts for which her company, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, is known. Jeni first discovered her love for dessert while working at La Chatelaine bakery in Columbus, Ohio. Her passion for ice cream eventually led to the opening of her first ice cream shop, Scream, in 1996 in Columbus' North Market. With the help of her business partner and husband Charly, she founded Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in November 2002 in the same market where she operated her first scoop. Now, Bauer is the owner and creative director of eight elegant scoop shops in central Ohio, one in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and one in Nashville, Tennessee, with individual pints available online and in freezer aisles throughout the United States. Her ice cream has been praised by Time magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today and countless other media outlets throughout the country. In June 2011, Artisan Books published "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home." Now in its sixth printing, The New York Times best-selling cookbook has been dubbed "the homemade-ice cream-making Bible" by The Wall Street Journal, while The Washington Post proclaimed Jeni "an ice cream wizard." In May 2012, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home won a James Beard Media Award in the "Cookbook: Baking & Desserts" category. When Jeni isn't developing new flavors, she devotes time to Local Matters (the Columbus-based, fresh-food-for-all non-profit she co-founded), as well as reading, painting at her kitchen table, sewing, drinking wine, cooking and making big messes with her husband and two children at their home in Columbus. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/food-informants-jenis-splendid_n_1616712.html" target="_hplink">Read Jeni's diary here.</a></strong>
Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, Food 52 Founders
Amanda Hesser is an entrepreneur, best-selling author and has been named one of the 50 most influential women in food by Gourmet. As a longtime staffer at the New York Times, Hesser wrote more than 750 stories and was the food editor at the Times Magazine. She has written the award-winning books "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Cook and the Gardener," and edited the essay collection "Eat, Memory." Her last book, a Times bestseller and the winner of a James Beard award, is The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Hesser is a trustee of Awesome Food, and is an adviser to the Spence Foundation, Real Time Farms and Fondu. Merrill Stubbs grew up in New York City and after graduating from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Literature, she honed her cooking skills at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Later, she interned in the test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated and was a private chef and cooking instructor. While she was in Boston, she also worked with Joanne Chang at Flour Bakery + Café. Merrill met her Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser when she signed on to help research and test recipes for The Essential New York Times Cookbook. She has written for T Living, Edible Brooklyn and Body+Soul, and she was the food editor at Herb Quarterly. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their 4-month-old daughter. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/food-informants-food52_n_1586150.html?" target="_hplink">Read Amanda and Merrill's diary here.</a></strong>
Emiliano Lee, Cheesemonger
Emiliano Lee comes from a long line of grocers and his passion for cheese dates back to his childhood in Oakland, where he could be found stealing bites of Rouge et Noir brie from the wheel in his father's desk drawer and spending his allowance at the 6th Avenue Cheese Shop in San Francisco. After working as a cheesemonger throughout the country, Lee is now the Artisan Market Manager for Farmshop in Los Angeles. Since 2009, Lee has served as a judge for the American Cheese Society, affording him the opportunity to taste thousands of cheeses from hundreds of North American producers, and provide them with valuable aesthetic feedback. Additionally, Lee participated in the 2010 Cheesemonger Invitational, served as a panelist at the 2011 Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference, and most recently was a panel moderator at the 2011 American Cheese Society Conference. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/food-informants-cheesemonger_n_1567473.html?" target="_hplink">Read Emiliano's diary here.</a></strong>
Melissa Cookston, BBQ Champion
Melissa Cookston is a three-time World Champion BBQ Pitmaster, the only female to have won the prestigious Memphis in May (MIM) World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest. She owns and operates the Memphis Barbecue Company, a restaurant in Horn Lake, Mississippi serving her and her partners' World Championship BBQ. She is a sought-after expert in the world of grilling and barbecueing. She spends her time competing in BBQ Contests, operating the restaurant, and spreading the gospel of Memphis-style barbecue. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/melissa-cookston_n_1545450.html" target="_hplink">Read Melissa's diary here.</a></strong>
Dave Arnold, Culinary Science Expert
Dave Arnold is the Director of Culinary Technology at The International Culinary Center. He began tinkering with restaurant equipment after earning his MFA from Columbia University's School of the Arts. For an art project that required a 360-degree view of the inside of an oven, he re-fabricated a traditional range with glass walls. After meeting Chef Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, Dave became even more passionate about culinary sciences and focused his inventive skills on professional and home cooking. In 2005 The French Culinary Institute tapped him to head its new Culinary Technology Department. As director, Dave is dedicated to helping chefs achieve their most ambitious goals using new technologies, techniques, and ingredients. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/dave-arnold-food-informants_n_1540743.html?ref=food" target="_hplink">Read Dave's diary here.</a> </strong>
Rachel Ayotte And Meredith Vachon, Food Publicists
Meredith Vachon and Rachel Ayotte met in Los Angeles in 2002 when Rachel was hired to join Meredith's team at a hospitality PR firm. As two Southerners (Rachel is from Arkansas and Meredith is from Texas) new to the City of Angels, they instantly connected over their shared love of good food, big laughs and chilled wine. After leaving the firm to explore separate avenues, one of which led Meredith to Austin, they found themselves at career crossroads with daily discussions about ways they could work together doing what they loved most--spreading the word about great food. <a href="http://www.breadandbutterpr.com/" target="_hplink">Bread & Butter Public Relations</a> opened in March 2007 with two clients and two home offices (dining room tables). Today, the company has over 50 clients, offices in Austin, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco (real offices), and a steadily expanding team of employees. The good food, big laughs and chilled wine are now considered everyday perks of the job. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/food-publicists_n_1510762.html?" target="_hplink">Read their full diary here.</a></strong>
Carrie Megginson, Sustainable Pig Farmer
January 2010 found Dan Earnest and Carrie Megginson moving in to their picturesque farmhouse in the beautiful South Central Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. In the spring, they acquired their first Tamworth cross piglets and began dedicating their time to raising the happiest, pastured, heritage-breed pigs in the region. Their passion for great pork, ethically produced, has been an unbelievable learning experience -- as well as a source of pride and joy. And no, neither Carrie nor Dan had farmed before they chose to jump in at the deep end of sustainable agriculture. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/food-informants-pig-farmer_n_1468614.html" target="_hplink">Read Carrie's diary here.</a></strong>
Debra Music, Vice President, Theo Chocolate
Deb Music comes by her role at Theo having been a serious chocolate devotee since a young age. After many years spent juggling various passions and honing her marketing acumen in a variety of roles, Deb took a 3,000 mile leap of faith in 2004 and moved from her home in the northeast clear across the country to Seattle, to help her ex-husband fulfill his dream of building the first organic and fair trade certified chocolate factory in the United States, as chief sales and marketing guru. Seven years later, she continues to ensure that Theo Chocolate is firmly rooted in its commitment to organic, fair trade chocolate while creating a model for sustainable business. Deb lives in Bellevue, Washington with her husband, a Microsoft geek, and her son, a budding musician. She continues to eat chocolate (and kale) every single day. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/food-informants-theo-chocolate_n_1459068.html" target="_hplink">Read Deb's diary here.</a></strong>
Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA
As president of Slow Food USA, Josh Viertel is working to create a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the planet, and good for the people who grow, pick and prepare it - good, clean and fair food. Josh previously co-founded and co-directed the Yale Sustainable Food Project at Yale University. The project transformed the University's cafeteria to a menu based on sustainable, local foods, built an organic farm on campus, and developed food and agriculture curriculum and programs for undergraduates. Prior to his work at Yale, Josh started Mamabrook Farm, a small organic vegetable farm that provided food to local restaurants and farmers' markets. Josh graduated from Harvard University with degrees in Philosophy and Literature. In 2010, he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Josh is dedicated to building a social movement that can transform our relationship to food and farming. He may be reached via <a href="mailto:Josh@SlowFoodUSA.org" target="_hplink">email</a> or <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/JoshViertel" target="_hplink">Twitter</a>. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/slow-food-president_n_1441797.html?1335565421" target="_hplink">Read Josh's diary here</a>.</strong>
Adam Pearson, Food Stylist
Adam Pearson is a food stylist from Los Angeles. With a variety of editorial and advertising clients, Adam creates the beautiful food seen in catalogs, magazines and cookbooks. He lives with his partner, a food photographer, and their 3 dogs. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/adam-pearson-food-stylist_n_1417478.html" target="_hplink">Read Adam's diary here.</a></strong>
Pam & Rich Green, Maple Syrup Producers
Pam and Rich Green are maple sugarmakers and owners of Green's Sugarhouse in Poultney, Vermont. They make pure Vermont maple syrup and related products, including maple cream spread, maple sugar candies and granulated maple sugar. Rich learned maple sugaring from his grandfather. Pam, on the other hand, married into it, 42 years ago. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/maple-syrup-producers_n_1397600.html" target="_hplink">Read Pam's diary here.</a></strong> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tavallai/4536294812/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr</a>
David Wondrich, Cocktail Guru
David Wondrich was educated -- in between stints as boatyard worker, bass player, process server and a dozen other things -- at New York University, where he earned a Doctorate in Comparative Literature in 1997. After a brief career as a Shakespeare professor and a briefer one as a jazz critic, he fell into a job writing about drinks for Esquire magazine, an occupation he has happily persevered in ever since. Widely acknowledged as the world's foremost expert on the history of the cocktail, Dr. Wondrich is the author of countless newspaper and magazine articles and five books, including 2007's Imbibe! (which won a James Beard award) and Punch, which was released to wide acclaim in late 2010. He frequently lectures on drinks and their curious history and is a founding partner in Beverage Alcohol Resource, the nation's leading training program for bartenders and other mixologists and a member in satisfactory standing of the Yerba Buena No. 1 chapter of E Clampus Vitus. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/david-wondrich_n_1373090.html" target="_hplink">Read David's diary here.</a></strong>
Daniel Klein, Founder Of 'Perennial Plate'
After learning to cook at his mother's bed and breakfast, Daniel Klein went on to work and train at many of the world's top restaurants. His culinary education brought him to Spain, France, England, India and New York, where he has worked and trained at top Michelin starred restaurants including The Fat Duck (Heston Blumenthal), St. John (Fergus Henderson), Mugaritz (Andoni Luis Aduriz), Bouchon (Thomas Keller), Applewood (David Shea) and Craft (Tom Collichio). After graduating from NYU, Daniel also pursued a career in film. He has directed, filmed, edited and produced projects on various issues including the development industry in Africa and oil politics. Currently, Daniel Klein produces The Perennial Plate, an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. You can find his weekly videos right here on HuffPost Food. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/daniel-klein-perennial-plate_n_1364613.html?ref=food" target="_hplink">Read Daniel Klein's diary here.</a></strong>
Stewart Hawthorn, Craft Salmon Farmer
Stewart Hawthorn is the the principal farmer for all of Skuna Bay's salmon farming activities. He began farming salmon on the west coast of Scotland almost 25 years ago, first on the Isle of Skye, and later at Loch Sunart and Loch Diabeg. After gaining experience in Europe, North America called and life found Stewart working at Limekiln Bay on the eastern coast of Canada. New Zealand was his next stop, raising salmon in the Marlborough Sounds and savoring the region's wines. In the early 1990s, Stewart took a sabbatical from salmon farming and spent several years in rural Papua New Guinea, where he worked to implement sustainable freshwater carp pond farming at the village level. Now at Skuna Bay, Stewart believes that by farming salmon, he helps to reduce the influence of invasive practices of large scale fishing companies and the pressure on wild salmon populations. When Stewart isn't busy crafting salmon, or caring for his extensive family, he can still be found along the water swimming in lakes and rivers. He also plays squash, and enjoys hiking and running. He is a member of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, and sits as a Board Member at Vancouver Island University. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/stewart-hawthorn-craft-salmon-farmer_n_1332226.html" target="_hplink">Read Stewart's diary here.</a></strong>
Amy Bandolik, Food Tour Director
Amy didn't dream of a career in the food industry. She spent 12 years as a Career Counselor and by 32 she was working at New York University teaching seminars such as Don't Quit Your Day Job and The Quarter-Life Career Crisis. That is, until she had a (slightly delayed) quarter-life crisis of her own. After a series of single-girl-in-the-city heartbreaks and with a family history rooted deeply in New York mom & pop shops, she redirected her energy and dove headfirst into being a NYC tour guide for a Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour company. In 2008, Amy officially quit her day job and began working full time (behind the scenes). Amy is the Director of Operations for Foods of New York Tours. The company offers food tours seven days a week, 360 days a year. Amy supervises a troupe of 14 tour guides and maintains relationships with the staffs of the 50 plus restaurants and food shops in the five Manhattan neighborhoods that the Foods of New York Tours highlights. She walks the streets of NYC to find the best food and the most interesting off-the-beaten path sites in order to create new (and enhance current) Food Tours. And since Amy has to eat out A LOT for her job, she is also a proud Weight Watchers member as well. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/amy-bandolik-food-tour-director_n_1314921.html" target="_hplink">Read Amy's diary here.</a></strong>
Aldo Sohm, Le Bernardin's Wine Director
Aldo Sohm is the Wine Director of the acclaimed New York restaurant Le Bernardin. His wine career began in Austria and he won the title of "Best Sommelier of Austria 2002." He upheld this title for four consecutive years, a feat never before or since accomplished. Sohm relocated to the United States in July 2004 and worked as the wine director at Wallsé, Blaue Gans and Café Sabarsky. He was voted "Best Sommelier in New York" in 2006 by New York Magazine. The following year, Sohm competed for and won the title of "Best Sommelier in America 2007." In May 2007, Sohm joined Le Bernardin, New York's longest rated four-star restaurant. As wine director, he oversees a wine collection consisting of 15,000 bottles made up of 900 wine selections from 12 countries with vintages that date back to 1945. He also trains the sommeliers to offer guests enticing food and wine pairings that range from classic to daring. His favorite pairing at Le Bernardin is scallops with morels and Chablis ler Cru Vaillon, Defaix 2000. Sohm reached the pinnacle of wine competitions when he was awarded the highly-coveted title, "Best Sommelier in the World 2008," by the World Sommelier Association. He is the first representative of America to win this title. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/aldo-sohm-le-bernardin_n_1308019.html?ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Aldo's diary here.</a></strong>
Gail Simmons is a trained culinary expert, food writer and dynamic television personality. Since the show's inception, she has lent her expertise as a permanent judge on BRAVO's 2010 Emmy-winning hit series "Top Chef," and is host of "Top Chef: Just Desserts," its pastry- focused spin-off, which just completed its second successful season. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/gail-simmons_n_1282836.html" target="_hplink">Read Gail's diary here.</a></strong>
Bob Tuschman, Food Network Senior Vice President
Bob Tuschman is the general manager/SVP of the Food Network. He previously served as senior vice president, programming and production for Food Network, heading up all programming aspects for the network. He was instrumental in discovering, developing and producing many of the network's biggest stars including Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis and Guy Fieri, and led the network to record viewership levels. Prior to joining the Food Network, Tuschman worked at ABC News as a producer for Good Morning America, as well as on specials and numerous pilots. He also produced pilot, series and documentary projects for HBO, ABC, American Movie Classics and CNBC. Tuschman is a graduate of Princeton University and currently lives in New York City. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/bob-tuschman-food-network_n_1248073.html?ref=food-informants" target="_hplink">Read Bob Tuschman's diary here.</a></strong>
Taylor Cocalis & Dorothy Neagle, Founders Of Good Food Jobs
Dorothy Neagle and Taylor Cocalis met while attending Cornell University in 2004, and immediately bonded over food -- namely, ice cream cones. While Taylor's studies eventually took her to Italy for a Master's degree in Food Culture, and Dorothy's work as an interior designer led her to New York City, they stayed in touch and eventually became neighbors in New York once again. Taylor was running the classroom at Murray's Cheese shop with unbridled enthusiasm when Dorothy discovered that her passion for environmentalism was stirring up an interest in food and agriculture. It didn't take long for the two of them to brainstorm an idea that would satisfy their interests in sustainability, food culture, and making a difference in other people's livelihoods. Good Food Jobs launched in October 2010. As of January 2012 the site has amassed over 16,000 registered followers and posted over 3,000 jobs. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/good-food-jobs-founders_n_1231612.html" target="_hplink">Read Taylor and Dorothy's diary here.</a></strong>
Drew Robinson & Tory McPhail, Chefs
One of the biggest college football games of the year was the BCS National Championship. Louisiana State University (ranked number 1) was pitted against rival University of Alabama (number 2), a match-up that also occurred earlier in the season, resulting in LSU's win. But for the championship round, things ended up a little differently. The competition wasn't just between Alabama and LSU though -- chefs had their reputations at stake as well. The Boudin vs. BBQ tailgate pitted Drew Robinson of Jim 'N Nick's Bar-BQ in Alabama against Chris Barbato's Café Adelaide in New Orleans. The diary chronicles Chef Drew Robinson from Jim 'N Nick's, he details how one preps for such a big barbecue feast on someone else's turf. At the same time as Drew was preparing his porky goodness, Tory McPhail, executive chef of Commander's Palace, one of New Orlean's most institutional fine dining restaurants, was preparing for an influx of guests in town for the game. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/chef-drew-robinson-tory-mcphail_n_1202349.html" target="_hplink">Read Drew and Tory's diary here.</a></strong>