Changing the Food Landscape

Food Landscape

Meet three women making an impact: Sara Brito, Charleen Badman and Danielle Leoni

By Savannah Huls

Sara Brito and the Inspiration behind the Good Food 100 Restaurants

After years of working in the food industry and witnessing the lack of transparency when it came to fast food restaurants, Sara Brito decided to ditch the corporate America lifestyle and integrate her experience in business with her passion for food. She launched the Good Food Media Network.

The Good Food Media Network is a nonprofit educational organization that aims to inspire eaters by “cultivating a conversation and community around the people and businesses changing the food system for good.”

Brito was inspired to launch the nonprofit after she realized the lack of transparency in the food industry during her time watching the behind-the-scenes of the food world. She had years of experience as a consultant, successfully helping transform brands and businesses. Four of her clients were named to Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies list: The Kitchen, Big Green, Domino’s and Vail Resorts (EpicMix).

Development of Good Food 100

It was through working on an economic impact analysis for seven Denver restaurants that Brito developed the idea for the Good Food 100 Restaurants; she had observed how hard it was for chefs to “do the right thing” in the food business. When she realized that there was no type of recognition or media attention for those restaurants and chefs that were choosing to do the right thing, she wanted to change that. The only systems she saw were ones that were rating restaurants on food, service and ambiance, and ignoring the whole back of the house and the workers.

She began to realize that customers were not getting the entire story regarding the food that they were eating, but only the partial pieces—leaving people unable to be fulfilled, in her opinion. She saw how good food includes so much more than just taste, and questioned, “Why up until now have we stopped the story at taste?”

Brito wanted to help people care more about the complete story of food, including everything that goes into what happens before and after the food is tasted. She wanted more people to see that they can live a more fulfilling life simply by eating good and whole food.

Alignment with “Me Too”

Around the same time the idea of the Good Food 100 was being launched, the “Me Too” movement was beginning. Although it was completely disconnected from what she was doing, it helped add momentum and affirmed to her that people were going to start to care more about transparency in every aspect of life. It added to her inspiration because, “Making transparency mainstream in the culinary industry is at the heart of everything we do,” says Brito.

So, with the support from mentors and past partners, she launched the Good Food 100 Restaurants.

The Good Food 100 Restaurants is an annually published list of restaurants, including fast-casual, fine dining and food service businesses, that have a mission to “redefine how chefs, restaurants, and food service businesses are viewed and valued.”

The Good Food 100 Qualifications

The Good Food 100 qualifications are constantly evolving and improving every year, just as thinking and standards continue to change. The list was strategically created to be objective and based on the quantitative measurement of chefs’ purchasing practices. The restaurants are rated and ranked based on what percentage of their food budget they are allocating towards purchasing “good food”—food that supports local, regional and national good food cultivators including farmers, ranchers, fishermen and purveyors. The rankings range from 2 to 6 links. The restaurants or chefs allocating the highest percentage of their food budget to good food are awarded with the highest rating, which is 6 links.

Along with purchasing practices, a report about the business and labor practices is also created and published. The report includes other aspects, such as how well the workers are paid and treated, recycling and composting practices, cleaning practices, where supplies are sourced, and the overall care that goes into the other components of a restaurant. All these factors are what embody what Brito refers to as “the whole story of food.”

James Beard Foundation

Brito is so passionate about the whole story because “when you don’t give the story of food, we as humans intuitively know that we are being disconnected with the story of humanity,” she says.

Brito explains that the first step in changing something is to know where you are on a scale or rating, so the Good Food 100 list was created to be the reference or benchmark for chefs to help change the food system for good.

Earlier this year, the Good Food 100 Restaurants partnered with the James Beard Foundation to further the importance of transparency in the culinary industry and continue to build a more sustainable food system. Brito explains that the alignment with the Foundation is just the beginning of some significant shifts in the food industry, incorporating both fast-casual and catering businesses into the picture. She believes that in order to change the culinary industry for good, all types of restaurants and chefs must be included, since fine dining restaurants are only one aspect of the industry.

“I see our alignment with the James Beard Foundation like a path to having a greater impact,” she explains.

Why Stop at 100?

The list was never created to stop at only 100 restaurants, but Brito hopes in the next few years it will continue to expand and there will eventually be thousands showcased–though it will still spotlight the top 100 as highly esteemed.

“My deepest desire is to change the world for good, and you can’t change the world with just 100 chefs,” Brito says.

In 2018, The Good Food 100 list represented 125 restaurants and food service businesses in 23 states across all eight regions of the United States.

Arizona currently has three restaurants on the Good Food 100 list, including Snooze: An AM Eatery, Breadfruit & Rum Bar and FnB. Breadfruit & Rum Bar and FnB were both launched in, and are local to, Arizona.—Savannah Huls

Chef Charleen Badman From FnB Keeps it Local

Charleen Badman is the chef and co-owner of FnB in Scottsdale. She’s also the recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest 2019. Badman and her business partner, Pavle Milic, have created an award-winning restaurant, with a globally inspired, seasonal menu that features sustainable local foods and wines.

“I have a passion and drive to showcase what’s here in Arizona and that evolves as our farmers do. We are always challenging ourselves,” says Badman.

She grew up in Tucson and learned early on that it was difficult to move up as a female in the kitchen—but that didn’t deter her. She climbed the ranks and was hired at Café Terra Cotta. When Badman was 20, she was promoted to sous chef, and a few years later, she bought a one-way ticket to New York with a potential job waiting for her.

The New York Restaurant

Eventually, she opened her own restaurant in New York. The butcher a few doors down and the farmers who sold goods on the sidewalk were her introduction to the importance of buying local.

“Relationships are very important to me, and that includes the people growing the food. It makes you realize how important the food is and how hard it can be to grow it,” she says.

Badman ran her restaurant for six years, closing her doors in 2007 when the lease was up.

“Rent is out of control in New York, and I’ve had a lot of friends go out of business because of it. I decided I was going to move back here,” explains Badman.

California Wine

One fortuitous night, she was back at work at Rancho Pinot, and Milic came in to help for the evening. They had been longtime friends since before her time in New York. She was living in the Valley, and he had returned from the California wine country. They exchanged numbers and before long, they were working on ideas for FnB. This year, they’re celebrating the Scottsdale restaurant’s 10th anniversary.

Four years ago, Badman attended a boot camp through the James Beard Foundation, and the discussions about ecological practices helped shape their operation.

“I remember years ago running a block of shrimp under water instead of letting it thaw in the fridge,” she says.

Today, she watches everything, down to the paper straws they use. They wash and reuse zip lock bags if they didn’t hold a protein. They pickle and juice foods, so they won’t go to waste. And they’ll offer food to staff who take it away in reusable containers.

“It’s not because I’m cheap,” she teases. “We are here every day, and if 24 people were using plastic cups five times a week, that’s a lot of garbage.”

Sustainability Initiatives

Many of the local farmers will reuse their boxes. One of Badman’s servers collects and recycles cans. And they compost through a local company called Recycle City, who will take everything off the plates but fats.

“This way we can recycle it back into our soil.”

She also pays close attention to sustainable foods. She recently learned that Stone Crab claws have been added to the red list. They’re endangered.

“I’ve been serving them every New Year’s Eve, but I won’t be this year. I’m training myself and my staff and explaining this to guests as to why we don’t always have everything. I don’t want to be that generation that took everything and left nothing,” she explains. “We don’t have to look that far to be sustainable and enjoy the bounty that we have.”

—Michelle Guerrero

The Breadfruit and Rum Bar: An Eco-Friendly Restaurant With A Tropical Twist

Danielle Leoni is the chef and co-owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, located in downtown Phoenix. She and her co-founder, Dwayne Allen, created the restaurant as an answer to one of their never-ending questions.

“Where should we eat? We wanted flavorful, tropical food that made us excited to eat out. We’re fans of DIY projects, so naturally opening a restaurant was the solution to our dining woes,” Leoni says.

Their doors opened in 2008 and they offer sustainable seafood, rum cocktails, and fine cigars. Leoni describes their location as a living work of art.

The Shape of the Menu

“We have designed, built and shaped our restaurant over the past decade. The food you find on our menu is what I’ve dreamt up or came to me as an epiphany.”

Currently, her favorite on the menu is the Arizona Desert Sweet Shrimp Sausage and Manila Clams. They make a savory spicy sausage out of shrimp, then sauté it with garlic and thyme. They steam the clams with sausage in a creamy potato shellfish sauce, then top it with fresh diced banana, guava and kelp.

“We only serve the best seafood, and to us that means it’s delicious and does you more good than harm by eating it. That’s sustainable seafood. It’s eating in such a way that we leave enough in the ocean so we can have more next season,” she explains.

Seafood Standards

All their seafood is in season and green rated by Seafood Watch or Marine Stewardship Council certified. Their produce is from Maya’s Farm and McClendon’s Select. Their chicken is from Two Wash Ranch, and they get their pork and beef from The Meat Shop. Most of their products are local and delivered, but Leoni enjoys going to the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market as well.

“I go nearly every Saturday morning to pick up something for my house and inevitably bring back some gem for the restaurant. I love seeing and smelling the bounty and meeting so many incredible people every week,” she says.

Leoni was in her early 20s when she began thinking about food and the world around her. She stumbled on PETA videos, and they inspired her to become vegan.

“I thought at least I could stop contributing to the awful treatment of animals, but didn’t consider how factory farming was also hurting the planet. Once we opened our restaurant, I met farmers, ranchers and people who were helping to strengthen our good food system and working to rectify the harm we’ve done to our planet. Now I understand that there is no such thing as passive participation,” she explains.

Eco-friendly Kitchen

Leoni’s tips to keeping an eco-friendly kitchen include using beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap, washing and reusing plastic bags, and recycling them at recycling stations. Also, avoiding things wrapped in plastic and buying products that make a commitment to sustainability. 

“Figure out how to generate less trash, use what you buy, and support purveyors who are trying to run their businesses in a sustainable way,” she says. “I urge people to join in, take action, become a part of something bigger than all of us, do it for your own reasons and together we do it for all of the right reasons.”

—Michelle Guerrero 

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Savannah Huls is an Arizona-raised writer, traveler and outdoor-enthusiast. She is in the process of completing her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and plans on continuing on to receive her master’s in global journalism. She hopes to one day be able to travel the world and collect stories in order to pursue her passion for writing. Michelle Guerrero is a freelance writer who graduated from Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. She’s currently working on several books and can be found writing barefoot in the pines, feeding feisty chickens, or chasing her kids and pups around the ranch.

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