Idea Conference Speaker Bios

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Grant Achatz

Born in Michigan in 1974, Grant Achatz grew up in the restaurant industry, literally, his parents and grandparents being restaurateurs. Naturally curious and always driven, he could be found in the kitchen by his twelfth birthday and over the coming years spent most of his free time there, learning the basics and developing the skills that would allow him to become one of the foremost innovators in the field. Early on he realized he wanted to be a chef, and upon graduating from high school immediately enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.

Excelling at the C.I.A., Achatz graduated and ascended the culinary ladder at several prestigious restaurants, including the acclaimed French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Working closely with Thomas Keller, Achatz thrived in this highly creative and dedicated environment, and after two years became sous chef to Keller. After four years at the French Laundry, Achatz chose to broaden his knowledge and worked as an assistant winemaker at La Jota Vineyards. In 2001, he accepted the Executive Chef position at the four-star Trio (Evanston, Il.).

Achatz flourished at Trio, garnering accolades including being named the "Rising Star Chef in America," James Beard Foundation, 2003 and one of ten "Best New Chefs in America," Food & Wine, 2002. Under Achatz' lead, Trio received four stars from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago magazine and garnered five stars from the celebrated Mobil Travel Guide in 2004. Known worldwide in culinary circles as one of the leaders in the forward-thinking movement, Achatz realized a lifelong dream by opening Alinea in Chicago in May 2005. The restaurant received extraordinary attention from day one, and was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the Best New Restaurant in America that same year.

Under Chef Achatz' leadership, Alinea has received worldwide attention for its hypermodern, emotional approach to dining. Alinea has received four stars from both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago magazine, Achatz was named the "next great American chef" by The New York Times (September 2005) and in October, 2006 Alinea received Five Diamonds from AAA and Ruth Reichl of Gourmet magazine declared Alinea the "Best Restaurant in America" in its twice-per-decade list of America's Top 50 Restaurants. Chef Achatz has appeared on the Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, The Food Network, The Discovery Channel and PBS, and has been featured in dozens of periodicals around the US and from as far away as Sweden, Finland, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, the Philippines, and France.


Nicholas Negroponte
Founder and Chairman
One Laptop Per Child

Nicholas Negroponte is founder and chairman of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit association. He is currently on leave from MIT, where he was co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory, and the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Technology. A graduate of MIT, Negroponte was a pioneer in the field of computer-aided design, and has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1966. Conceived in 1980, the Media Laboratory opened its doors in 1985. He is also author of the 1995 best seller, Being Digital, which has been translated into more than 40 languages. In the private sector, Nicholas Negroponte serves on the board of directors for Motorola, Inc. and as general partner in a venture capital firm specializing in digital technologies for information and entertainment. He has provided start-up funds for more than 40 companies, including Wired magazine.


Charles Renfro
Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Charles Renfro was born in Baytown Texas in 1964. He is a practicing architect and has been based in New York City since 1989. He joined Diller + Scofidio in 1997 and was promoted to partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) in 2004. DS+R is an interdisciplinary studio that fuses architecture, the visual arts and the performing arts while investigating issues of contemporary culture such as the spatial conventions of the everyday, the influence of media technologies on architecture, the changing definitions of domesticity, and the institution in the public realm. As a collaborator with Diller+Scofidio, he served as Project Leader on Brasserie, Eyebeam, the BAM Cultural District master plan (with Rem Koolhaas/OMA), Blur, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, and the redesign and expansion of the Juilliard School and Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts among other projects. DS+R was awarded the National Design Award in Architecture from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 2006. Renfro's work with DS+R has been exhibited worldwide at many museums and institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Centre Pompidou. Prior to joining DS+R, Renfro was an associate at Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects and Ralph Appelbaum Associates, both based in New York. He was a founding partner of Department of Design in Brooklyn. His independent art and architectural work has been exhibited in several galleries nationwide including the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. His writing has been published in Bomb and A+U magazines. He lectures frequently both in the United States and abroad and has participated in symposia at the University of Virginia, Cornell, and Harvard GSD among others. Renfro is a graduate of Rice University and holds a Master's degree from Columbia University's GSAPP. He has been on the faculty of Columbia since 2000 and was the Cullinan Visiting Professor at Rice University in 2006.


Eric Ryan
Brand Architect + Co-founder

Eric makes soap. Really nice smelling soap that's non-toxic and good for the planet. Soap that's really beautiful, too, that makes people want to clean. He started Method in 2001 with his high school buddy Adam and has since built Method into a $100 million brand at retail — a brand that was ranked the 16th most innovative company in the world by Fast Company in 2008, and the 7th fastest growing company in America by Inc. Magazine in 2006. Today, Method has over 100 planet friendly cleaning products that can be found in stores across America, Canada and the UK. He's been named an eco-leader by Vanity Fair, a Food & Wine Tastemaker, an eco-revolutionary by Time Magazine, PETA's Person of the Year, and one of People Magazine's Sexiest People Alive. Okay, that last one's not true, but the others are. Eric lives in Marin with his wife Ingrid and two year-old daughter Anya, whose current favorite color is yellow.


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