12 Superheroes of the NYC Dining Scene

These culinary all-stars are doing good things for the Big Apple
July 18, 2016
by Sara Ventiera

Superman might have saved plenty of plenty of babies and old ladies from evil villains, but he’s got nothing on these guys (and gals): Meet the Superheroes of NYC’s Dining Scene. These folks are creating jobs for disadvantaged individuals, fighting climate change and sexism, opening markets for sustainable foods and doing all kinds of revolutionary deeds. These dining do-gooders are changing the NYC restaurant game by using their positions to create a better restaurant world.

The hero: Ravi “Plantman” DeRossi
His lair: Avant Garden, Mother of Pearl, soon-to-come Ladybird
Superpower: Making delicious vegan food ubiquitous
Origin story: DeRossi was a successful restaurateur and bar owner, when his beloved cat Simon was diagnosed with a terminal illness. While at home with his ailing companion, he was hit by a revelation: DeRossi was going to convert his successful concepts into vegan havens. Earlier that year, he opened a plant-based restaurant Avant Garden to widespread acclaim, quieting the naysayers of vegetarian fare. Next up, he switched his tiki concept Mother of Pearl to animal product-free, garnering a crowd of veg-focused diners and omnivores alike. He’s now transitioning the Bourgeois Pig into vegan wine and tapas spot, Ladybird.

The hero: Amy “The Teacher” Chasan
Her lair: Sweet Generation
Superpower: Educating disadvantaged teens
Origins story: Late one night, while baking away the stress of budgetary restrictions in her nonprofit youth development and arts education job, Chasan was inspired to turn her hobby into a second business. Chasan’s Sweet Generation is now her full-time gig, but it's not your everyday bakery. She uses the proceeds to benefit arts education; additionally she mentors at-risk teens and young adults through internship programs, aimed to teach baking, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Chasan is making a difference one rose-gold cupcake at a time.

The hero: Louis “Fishman” Rozzo
His lair: F. Rozzos & Sons
Superpower: Selling sustainable seafood
Origin story: Born to a third-generation NYC seafood purveyor, Rozzo was brought to the family’s Chelsea market within weeks of being born. On that very first visit, he inherited his powers as an expert fishmonger and salesman. Rozzo was destined to take over the family business, which has grown from 40 accounts during his childhood to more than 400 including top restaurants Le Bernardin, Daniel and the Momofuku group. Rozzo’s manifesto: he wants the fish he’s selling now to be available for generations to come. He educates trend-setting chefs on seasonality and lesser-known fish, helping to create sustainable seafood menus across the U.S. If you've had local porgy in recent years, you've likely tasted Rozzo's hard work.

The hero: Amanda “Veggie Vixen” Cohen
Her lair: Dirt Candy
Superpower: Performing vegetable magic
Origin story: Cohen was a talented chef, working at the top tier of vegetarian restaurants, when she realized her ultimate career goal: She wanted to open a restaurant that serves the type of food she likes to eat, a place that focuses on vegetables (with some dairy) served in creative presentations. Dirt Candy earned a glowing two-star New York Times review, a first for a vegetarian spot. Always innovating, she reopened the concept in a much bigger space with an expanded, tip-inclusive menu (one of the first chefs in NYC to try this). Cohen’s imaginative plant-based dishes — think Korean fried broccoli and carrot sliders — kick-started the veggie-centric trend, setting the model for a new way of eating that's as eco-conscious as it is delicious.

The hero: Frank “Captain Charity “ Raffaele
His lair: Coffeed
Superpower: Supporting communities via coffee shops
Origin story: When Raffaele hung up his Wall Street trader suit in 2011, he knew he wanted to use his skills for something socially responsible. He harnessed the energy of coffee beans to fuel his charitable endeavors, debuting a chainletCoffeed, that donates 3–10% of its sales to nonprofits. Since opening, it’s raised more than $200,000 for local charities like City Growers, Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and the New York Foundling. And Raffaele is also helping sustainable businesses grow. Much of the produce is sourced from Brooklyn Grange and he always purchases fair- or direct-trade beans, which are roasted in-house.

The hero: Jorge “Farmstorm“ Gaviria
His lair: Masienda
Superpower: Creating a fair market for Mexican farmers
Origin story: NYU communications student Gaviria was lured into the food world during a semester in Spain, giving up his day-to-day routine for a life in farming and cooking. After working on an organic farm in Italy and professional kitchens (Maialino), Gaviria joined the team at Blue Hill at Stone Barns as a apprentice. There, he harnessed his own powers as a host and translator for chefs during the G9 Chefs Summit, a conference focused on the future of food. On a trip to Mexico, he was inspired by the abundance of heirloom corn, beans and chiles. Thus, his company, Masienda was born. Products are purchased from small farmers in Mexico and sold to hot restaurants in NYC (Cosme, Empellon) and across the United States, helping families and promoting agricultural biodiversity.

The hero: Lynette “Superwoman“ Marrero
Her lair: LUPEC NYC, Speedrack
Superpower: Promoting female mixologists
Origin story: Marrero’s powers really came to fruition at New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktails in 2008, when she met the women of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails). She started researching the organization and was entranced by its cocktail- and female-focused mantra. Marrero, an alumnus of Julie Reiner’s Flatiron Lounge, decided to create a New York chapter to help promote women in the bar industry. This led her to meet mixologist Ivy Mix, and they decided to join forces to establish Speed Rack, a cocktail competition for female bartenders that raises funds for charities dedicated to fighting breast cancer.

The hero: Jessamyn “Agent Wheat” Rodriguez
Her lair: Hot Bread Kitchen
Superpower: Offering opportunities to disadvantaged women
Origin story: While interviewing for a job at a microfinance organization, Rodriguez came up with the idea for an international women’s baking collective. In her home kitchen, she  launched Hot Bread Kitchen’s Bakers in Training, a paid bread-baking program for low-income, minority and immigrant women. Graduates have landed jobs at Whole Foods, Amy’s Bread and Sadelle’s. Hot Bread Kitchen offers multi-ethnic, artisan breads inspired by the diverse women in its program. Since its inception, the company has moved to a commercial space, hired full-time employees (some of whom are male) and has branched out with an additional program open to both women and men. HBK Incubates offers business support programs through its shared commercial kitchen, helping to grow more than 120 small businesses.

The hero: Jimmy “Mister Social Entrepreneur” Carbone
His lair: Jimmy’s No. 43
Superpower: Leading locavores
Origin story: Carbone’s powers were passed down through his DNA. His grandfather from Campania, Italy, fed him foraged wild mushrooms, garden-grown veggies and homemade sausages as a kid. When he came to NYC at age 18, he was shocked he couldn’t find a decent lunch. He made it his mission to seek out and promote good, local food, eventually opening his popular East Village restaurant and bar. In 2009, Carbone helped launch the Good Beer Seal, which identifies bars with intriguing brew lists and a commitment to the beer community (he also hosts a popular podcast, Beer Sessions Radio). Two years later, he founded Food Karma Projects, a food event production company dedicated to showcasing local food, chefs, beer and wine while benefiting worthy nonprofits — some of which raise funds for two NYC public schools. Carbone also serves as a member of FCAC Advisory Board of Grow NYC Greenmarkets. It's no surprise he's been honored twice with the NYC Arts’ “Local Hero” title.

The hero: Yusha “The Transporter” Hu
Her lair: Local Bushel
Superpower: Fighting climate change through local distribution
Origin story: Early one morning at the Union Square Greenmarket, Hu saw something that would rock her world: two chefs in whites lugging 10 pound of produce down to the subway platform. Like a bolt of lightning, Hu had the thought that local produce could be as easily distributed as commercial agricultural products. Her company, Local Bushel, emerged soon after. The online marketplace provides chefs with freshly harvested products, delivered straight to their doors. The company provides farmers with transportation and access to the New York City market, many of whom are awaiting space in the green market system. It's a win for everyone.

The hero: Ryan “Lionfish Hunter” Chadwick
His lair: Norman’s Cay
Superpower: Ridding the oceans of invasive lionfish
Origin story: Two years ago on a trip home in the Bahamas, Chadwick became aware of the problems created by lionfish, which wreaks havoc on native species, destroying the ecosystem. Since then, he's made it his mission to vanquish the species: Professional divers do the dirty work y spearing it, and at Norman’s Cay, it's served whole, broiled, fried, as ceviche and in tacos. He's recently created a wholesale and retail distribution company Norman’s Lionfish, which uses teams of divers around Florida to create a consistent supply of the delicious but deleterious fish. Check out our video on Ryan's work here.

The hero: Ian “The Grower” Rothman
His lair: Olmsted
Superpower: Growing food in NYC
Origin story: Rothman first realized the extend of his green thumb, when he brought a back a plant with sentimental value back from near death. He dedicated himself to Plant and Soils Science, cultivating a life dedicated to growing food. In 2010, Rothman moved to NYC, establishing himself as a restaurant horticulturalist at the acclaimed Atera. Now, in the backyard of Brooklyn's Olmsted, he grows a wide selection of produce that’s used on the restaurant’s seasonal menu. 

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