10 Most Influential Chefs Part 1.

This is a ranking of the chefs I feel have had the greatest influence on the American culinary scene.  When the idea of ranking the 10 most influential chefs originally came to me the first thing I had to do was set out a criteria for my ranking.  Here’s what I asked myself:

  • Have they influenced younger chefs?
  • Have they had an influence on the American table?
  • Have they influenced the US dining scene?
  • Have they influenced home cooks?
  • Have they influenced me?

As with any of these types of lists debate will rage.  I invite, nay!  I implore you to use the comments section to offer your own critiques and substitutions.  Let’s get started shall we?

Michael Symon10. Michael Symon (Lola, Lolita, Bar Symon and The B Spot all in Ohio and Roast in Detroit).  The first controversial entry?  Before you go off thinking I’m nuts check this out.  In 2006 Symon opened Parea next door to Gramercy Tavern in New York City.  Though professional critics liked it (Bruni gave it 2 stars) the cynical New York diners said that Symon wasn’t ready for New York so it closed a year later.  The reality isn’t that Symon wasn’t ready for New York but rather New York wasn’t ready for Symon.  Right now virtually every New York restaurant is exploring the pig – pigs feet, pork belly, chocolate covered bacon – all of it is thanks to Chef Michael Symon.  Read my exclusive interview with Chef Symon HERE.

James Beard9. James Beard (Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc. catering in New York, Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés, Running Press). Julia Child dubbed Beard the “Dean of American Gastronomy” for introducing traditional French cuisine to a post WWII America.  He is the namesake of the James Beard Foundation as well as the first celebrity chef having hosted the first cooking show in television history.  Beard established and taught at The James Beard Cooking School (New York City and Seaside, Oregon) and he, more than anyone else, is responsible for creating the New York fine dining scene.  Frankly, Chef James Beard should be much higher on this list.  Even though professionals grasp his importance, unfortunately most home cooks are unaware of his place in culinary history.  Chef Beard left us in 1985 but his mark is firmly affixed to every great meal in America.  Beard’s grounding breaking 1940 cookbook Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés is still available at amazon.com.

Graham Kerr8. Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet, The Graham Kerr Show and countless other TV shows and cookbooks).  Kerr was the third celebrity chef in American history following chronologically behind James Beard and Julia Child but at his peek he was more famous than his contemporaries by a country mile.  His story is interesting, a Scot cooking French cuisine who became famous in New Zealand before coming to the New World to become a star (read more HERE).  Kerr’s jovial personality made him the perfect cooking show host because you didn’t have to care about food to be entertained.  Weight Watchers, in an amazing stroke of hypocrisy, once proclaimed Kerr “public enemy number one” for his high fat, high calorie French cuisine.  Today Chef Graham Kerr is known for reinventing his cooking style with his Mini-Max approach – minimize the fat and calories and maximize the flavor while Weight Watchers is the poster child for overly processed Frakenfoods.

Bobby Flay7. Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, New York City, and in The Bahamas; Bar Americain in New York City and Uncasville, Connecticut; Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Bobby’s Burger Palace – a regional chain).  Another controversial pick?  Hardly.  Whether you like Bobby Flay or hate him you know who he is and what he does.  He was one of the first Food Network hires.  He was the executive chef of a popular NYC restaurant at age 19.  He was the top graduate in the first class ever at New York’s esteemed French Culinary Institute.  He pioneered the Spanish/tapas craze.  All noteworthy credentials but he makes the list because Flay has done more with Southwestern cuisine than anyone else.  Quite honestly Southwestern maybe the culmination of 230+ years of American food.  It employees the techniques of French cuisine with Southern and Tex-Mex along with a strong native American influence as well.  It’s bold, innovative flavors are the very embodiment of the American spirit and there is no finer practitioner than Chef Bobby Flay.  For more on Flay check out my exclusive interview done in 2007.

Emeril Legasse6. Emeril Legasse (Emeril’s Chop House and BAM in Bethlehem, PA, Emeril’s in Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami Beach and New Orleans, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop in Orlando, NOLA in New Orleans,  Delmonico in New Orleans and Las Vegas, Table 10 and Lagasse’s Stadium in Las Vegas).  Legasse has his fair share of haters and people who believe that he is more character than chef.  However, Emeril is as beloved a chef as this nation has ever seen.  He has set the standard for how a cheflebrity should conduct business, fair but firm.  He takes care of his people ( check out his post-Katrina efforts sometime) and he truly is an amazing chef.  Keep in mind that he convinced the famed Brannan family of New Orleans to turn over the reigns of the Commander’s Palace after Paul Prudhomme left to open K-Paul’s to an unknown Yankee chef from Fall River, MA.  That turned out OK didn’t it?  But the main reason that Emeril makes the cut is because of his TV work.  To put it bluntly the success of Food Network is solely attributed to Legasse’s show Emeril Live which literally put the network on the national radar.  It made the network and his work on the show turned a generation of drive-thru devotees into home cooks.  That is substantial by anyone’s criteria.  Without Chef Emeril Legasse there might not be a Food Network today.

There’s the first half of my list of the 10 Most Influential Chefs.  Check HERE for the top 5 chefs.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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