Food

Who are the most powerful people in food? Hint: Not the chefs

Jan. 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM ET

Courtesy The Daily Meal /
Google's Bernardo Hernandez, left, and Jack Menzel, right, were named the most powerful people in food by website The Daily Meal.

While the rest of the world is musing over Hollywood awards season, Colman Andrews and his team over at The Daily Meal announced their own annual honors, the 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2013. These industry insiders are shaping how we eat today – and those who topped the list might come as a bit of a surprise.

It's not a restaurateur or even a chef. Rather, the most powerful team according to the folks at the Meal are the food gurus at Google: Bernardo Hernandez, director of product management and managing director at Zagat (now owned by Google), and Jack Menzel, product managing director.

 “Our criteria for who the powerful people were was to think about who changes the dialogue in America, who affects what we eat, how we get what we eat, how we prepare what we eat,” said Andrews, who himself is a recipient of eight James Beard Awards. “This leaves us open to a large range of people.”

The top 10, in fact, is filled with people in politics, policy and agriculture – many of whom are quite polarizing. Hugh Grant, president, and CEO of The Monsanto Company, which is known for selling the highly controversial genetically modified seeds that are used in U.S. commodity farming, comes in at No. 2. Mike Duke (president and CEO of Walmart), Indra Nooyi (chairman and CEO at PepsiCo) and Donald Thompson (vice chairman and CEO at McDonald’s) also come in high on the list. That should come as no surprise, really, considering that the majority of Americans are affected by these companies.

What is surprising is that only a handful of chefs and restaurateurs made the list, with the highest ranking being Jose Andres, at No. 18. Whole foods champion Alice Waters, chef and restaurateur at Chez Panisse and founder of Edible Schoolyard, comes in at No. 30.

And Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic who became a national sensation for his snarky review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant, landed at number 14, massively trumping Fieri himself, who came in at No. 43.

Andrews says that compared to large corporations, chefs have relatively little impact on food trends.

“The handful we singled out have made specific contributions to the field – [Thomas] Keller by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of quality and integrity and thus inspiring a generation of other chefs; [Wolfgang Puck] through his countless innovations…”

And as for the choice of Fieri, Andrews shied away from the review kerfuffle.

“Fieri [was chosen] very specifically because of that one show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which, as we say, shines the spotlight on a whole segment of American eating places that usually don't get much attention nationally," Andrews explained.

And pulling in at No. 50 is the American farmer. Turns out nice guys really do finish last. 

Click here to check out the full list.

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