A lot has changed since 2017, when Stephen Satterfield launched Whetstone as a magazine about global food origins. The motivation then, Satterfield has explained, was his disappointment with food media’s “incredibly myopic, unimaginative, and formulaic” perspective. In the years since, Whetstone has grown from one magazine into a media company, having also launched Rasa, a magazine about South Asian food culture, and a podcast network with 11 shows. In 2021, Satterfield brought his perspective to a huge audience: He hosted the Netflix docuseries High on the Hog, an exploration of African American culinary history based on the book by Jessica B. Harris.
In that time, the media landscape has changed more broadly. Instead of cooks and writers begging for magazine bylines, social media has ushered in an age of talent in which “folks have more autonomy and less friction in sharing their own stories,” Satterfield says. These days, home cooks, farmers, foragers, and all kinds of hospitality professionals can become TikTok stars who speak directly to millions of followers, bypassing the need for approval from traditional media.
To aid this shift, Whetstone announced this week that it’s launching Hone, a new culinary talent agency. “When we first came out, we were basically suggesting that we could provide improved access to stories from around the world,” Satterfield says. “And now that folks are broadcasting themselves, that’s not really what the world needs.”
Like any talent agency, Hone wants to connect people with opportunities: brand campaigns or TV projects, for example. But unlike other talent agencies, which might also oversee sports and entertainment and fashion, Hone is focusing just on food. It hopes to offer an understanding of the hospitality and restaurant world and the breadth of its potential — both in terms of who’s considered talent, and what projects they might want to pursue. It’s also “a chance for brands and talent to find campaigns and work that is meaningful and not corny,” Satterfield notes.
Making up Hone’s initial roster are Reem’s California founder Reem Assil, farmer Christa Barfield, writer and Eater contributor Alicia Kennedy, and sommelier Femi Oyediran. Hone’s intention to represent producers like farmers speaks to its mission as part of the Whetstone umbrella. “We really want to demonstrate that farmers have the same place in our food culture and community that chefs do, and that the only reason that they don’t enjoy that place is because folks have made a decision to not elevate the farmers in the same way,” Satterfield says.
According to head of talent Shanika Hillocks, “It’s less about people who love to go out to eat and create content there, but [who] have really been in environments like back of house, front of house, in wineries, on farms. That tactile, true DNA that’s within someone who experienced it versus just wants to capture it is key.”
Hillocks sees Hone’s goal as being less reactive than the traditional agency relationship: not taking a food talent and saying “This is what we think you can do,” but creating a path to the goals people already have.
What an agency can offer depends, in part, on what it knows. “We really know how to talk about food,” Satterfield says. In his experience — with his Netflix show having opened up opportunities — this isn’t always the case. “The more broad my engagement was with folks in PR, media, and TV, their food literacy was really low, which is not inherently a bad thing, but it does complicate things when you are in the business of representation: You don’t really understand the client and the world from which they come,” Satterfield says. “The subculture of so-called ‘food people’ and restaurant people and hospitality people deserve representation with that point of view.”