My Favorite Nine Famous Chefs

Hey everybody!   One of the questions asked of the chefs more often than any other is, “So, you must watch alot of food network, who is your favorite chef.” or “Are you like Ramsay, yelling and swearing and stuff?” or the classier, “Which chefs do you cite as inspiration?”.   I am going to attempt to answer these and more questions in this week’s “Top some number of some things”-list! (that name is going to catch on!)

My considerations when making this list were mostly about where I look to for inspiration.  So, this list is comprised of the the celebrity chefs I admire or respect for one reason or another.  Some are recipe scholars who’s work was the spark to some of favorite  creations.  Activists, entrepeneurs, and legitimate, old-school, bad-asses are other entries.  In no particular order..


1) Jacques Pepin and Julia Child – The Master of technique and the Matriarch of modern french cooking.  I remember watching Jacques and Julia on PBS at a young age and just being enthralled.  As I’ve worked on this craft, Chef Pepin has been a great influence.  His dedication to technique and you can always tell he is doing what he loves puts him high on my list.  In the last year, I was lucky enough to meet Chef Pepin.  He spoke for a bit to my students and myself.  “If you want to last in this work,” he began, “you need to have passion.  If you don’t have the love for food you will not succeed.”  So basic a thought, but it suddenly meant so much more.


2)Yotam Ottolenghi – Chef Ottolenghi is a cutting edge chef in London.  He and Sami Tammi own and operate Ottolenghi delis in the London area.  He is the author of Plenty and co-author of Ottolenghi, two favorites in my collection.  What draws me to Chef Ottolenghi is the seamless fusion he creates when writing a recipe.   Middle eastern, European, and Mediterranean influences combined with his love for vegetarian dishes result in some amazing creations such as the roasted aubergine with turmeric yogurt and pomegranate seeds.  He is also a respected academic and writer earning a masters degree before even starting a cooking career.

3)Anthony Bourdain – Kitchen Confidential is one of my favorite books because I am just old enough to have worked with some the chef types he talks about in the book.  He makes chef look like rock stars and scum of earth at the same time.  He was the balance to the world FoodTV created.  Not all of us were Emeril and some of the folks on this list, there was a seedy underbelly to the industry and Bourdain helped “normal” folk understand this side of our world.


4)Thomas Keller – One source stated “A relatively unknown chef until opening French Laundry, has never looked back”.  I was lucky enough to visit Bouchon bakery in NYC a couple years ago.  That is but a symbol of what Keller is and left an indelible mark on me.  He has been a long time advocate of local ingredients, takes more pride in the service side of his businesses than many chefs, and has just a ridiculous obsession with every minute detail.  Chefs are notorious for this, but Chef Keller takes it to staggering levels.

5)Jaime Oliver – The Naked Chef and marauder at the door of the school meal system.  The guy always seems cracked out, but he is just so passionate.  Another guy raised by chef/restauranteur parents and totally embraced the lifestyle.  Early on he inspired me because of his focus on simplicity and local, natural ingredients.  Later on he came back with his assault on educational food service, part of the reason I am doing what I am with the school districts.

6)Dan Barber – Chef Barber is freaking amazing!  We were fortunate to have dined at Blue Hill in NYC.  It stands to date as the greatest meal I have experienced.  Nearly everything on the menu is raised on his own farm in  upstate NY.  The produce, the piq(oh my goodness, the pig!!!!), I even had a clear whiskey distilled on the same land!  Barber is an activist for local, responsible food use.  If you have time he has two fantastic TED Talks videos.  One about a new foie gras farmer doing things in a new way, and another about the dilemma of serving fish in restaurants these days.


7)Gordon Ramsay – Everyone knows who he is but few know the reasons I admire him.   He is a natural leader and contrary to the character he is on TV, a great mentor and manager.  I read an article where someone asked him what he does to relax after a stressful stand in the kitchen.  His response was about taking a 12 mile run!  Are you kidding me!  I remember days I could barely get to my car, much less run.  So I tried it and I’ll be damned that it works!  Ramsay was a professional soccer player before a knee injury sent him to the kitchen.  Finally, he is another one of these chefs that grows a large garden at home, including livestock, and is pushing the “fresher is better” ideal.

8)Ming Tsai – Television chef and owner of Blue Ginger Restaurant.  Ming also has an engineering degree and takes part in design and testing of all his products.  What drew me to him, initially, is how simple fusion became in his recipes.  His blend of European/American and Asian concepts defined fusion and started me on the road to do the same.

9)Ferran Adria – The founder of El Bulli in Spain and basically the granddaddy of molecular gastronomy.  He showed that not only can we think outside the box, but damn the box all together.  He greyed the line between food and art and is greatly respected for it.  His inspiration lives on in chefs like Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next in Chicago.

That’s it!  Let me know what you think.  I’m sure some of you all disagree or feel I missed someone so let us know in the comments!  Talk with you again, soon!



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