For this year’s list, we keep our overall ranking numbers but organize everything by category.
Podcaster, Wine Educator, Video Producer, Director, Writer
“Every bottle of wine is a story. It’s a story of the people, the place, the grape, the year, the time, the weather… And by nature, I’m a storyteller. So, I became interested in the stories behind wine.” John Lenart tells his stories on the podcast The Honest Pour. “I’m a TV producer and director. The podcast is a passion project. I wanted to expand beyond just writing into electronic communication.” He’s a proselytizer. “Wine is something we need to take off the pedestal and put back down on the table. It’s just fermented grape juice, and I want people to appreciate the beauty of it without being intimidated by it, or without being snobby about it.” (Tom Keith)
Founder, Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and LTHForum.com
Most of us in the Midwest with an interest in food have benefitted in some way from Catherine Lambrecht’s efforts. Among her many projects, author, speaker and food historian Lambrecht is the founder of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and is one of the founders and currently a moderator of LTHForum.com, “Chicago’s food chat community.” And she handles programming for the Chicago Foodways Roundtable, Highland Park Historical Society and Illinois Mycological Association. Lambrecht’s newest project is researching community cookbooks in Highland Park, with the goal of creating a database that identifies both recipes and contributors, to make it easier to find treasured family recipes. “We’re working with the Illinois Museum Association and with The Sifter, an international website for food history research. It is a way of bringing these people to life.” (Cynthia Clampitt)
Influencer and Founder, Black People Eats
Jeremy Joyce is the brains behind—and the face of—Black People Eats, #blackpeopleeats on Instagram, bringing viewers to places both well-known and not-so-well-known, with a sense of sometimes-comic drama and always lots of personality. With a professional actor’s confidence, joy and enthusiasm, Joyce brings a different energy to his food-oriented feed, telling us that when he started assessing Instagram as a way to move his brand forward, “nobody really brought their full selves to the picture, the energy, engagement, excitement to every meal, consistently. I may not be the best photographer; I may not be the best videographer, but what I will be bringing that others do not bring is my personality. That’s a gift that God gave me, and my goal is to bring everybody together through food.” (David Hammond)
FEATURED MEDIA INFLUENCER
Titus Ruscitti travels around the Midwest and the world, stopping at small places many of us ignore, eating whatever looks interesting, and then publishing his photos and his judgments about what he’s just enjoyed. Wherever he goes, he focuses on the positive rather than slagging small places where he’s usually able to find something to enjoy.
Ruscitti is hard to categorize. When asked how he describes himself, he tells us, “Food-obsessed and just in love with exploring and travel. I hate the word ‘influencer,’ but I guess I am an influencer, but the opposite of many people who call themselves that; I’m an independent, so I’m an influencer but an ‘independent influencer’ in the sense that I try to send people to the little places that might not be around forever,” places, in other words, that don’t have PR representation or other ways to get the word out.
His blog—Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing with the King—is a compendium of useful intel that proves invaluable to both travelers and native Chicagoans. For instance, his latest entries include “Afghan Cuisine in Albany Park” and “Where to Eat Japanese Food in the Northwest Suburbs.”
Since Ruscitti appeared on the Big Heat listing in 2019, he has started writing regularly for Chicago magazine, and he’s working with Choose Chicago to develop pieces that will send people to the out-of-the-way places that can be so good and yet remain out of the public eye. “Writing about where I’ve been,” says Ruscitti, “is a way to bring attention to these places, but it’s also, for me, a kind of journal that helps me to remember my experiences.” (David Hammond)
Editor, Fooditor and Author
Editor of Fooditor, a weekly newsletter that emails concise appraisals of what’s happening in Chicago food culture, Michael Gebert provides a signal service to all of us who want to stay on top of how Chicago dining and drinking is evolving. “Read it,” Gebert suggests, “to learn something about the state of the restaurant business, after the pandemic.” But in addition to keeping an eye on the evolution of bar and restaurant culture in Chicago, Gebert is working on a book—tentatively titled “The Chicago Way”—for Agate Publishing that involves looking into the past and interviewing dozens of chefs and restaurateurs about how we got to the current state of food and drink in Chicago. This book seems likely to become the authoritative work on the history of restaurants and restaurant-going in our city. (David Hammond)
Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger
Food Critics, Chicago Tribune
Louisa Chu trained at the legendary restaurant El Bulli in Spain and cheffed at restaurants all over, including France and Alaska. She led Anthony Bourdain through Chicago in his “No Reservations” series. And now with Nick Kindelsperger, Chu is one-half of the restaurant-review team for the Chicago Tribune. Kindelsperger has cut his teeth at well-regarded outlets like Serious Eats and Grub Street. “We each have our areas of deep and obsessive experience,” says Chu. “Nick is best known for his ‘Taco Chronicles’; I have my area of expertise in Chinese cuisine. Historically it’s been the fancy French restaurants downtown [that got reviewed], and as much as I love the fancy French restaurants, I’ve made it a mission to bring equity into our coverage.” (Tom Keith)
Media and Influencers
The Hall of Fame
Journalist and Author
Journalist and Former Co-Creator and Executive Producer, “Check, Please!”
Associate Editorial Director, Food & Wine
Former “Check Please!” host; Owner, Alpana