10 Most Influential Chefs

10 Most Influential Chefs Part 2.

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 start with a review of Chefs 10 – 6:

10. Michael Symon
9. James Beard
8. Graham Kerr
7. Bobby Flay
6. Emeril Legasse

If you are interested in reading my justifications or reasons for ranking who I did, where I did then read Part 1 HERE.  Now let’s proceed with the top 5:

Julia Child5. Julia Child (author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a dozen more cookbooks and host of The French Chef and numerous other TV series).  Ah Julia.  You can find people who dislike Emeril and Bobby and Graham and even those who hate on Jacques Pepin, but everyone loves Julia.  Thankfully those who did not grow up watching her cooking on TV got a chance to know her in last year’s hit film Julie & Julia.  Julia left us in 2004 but her influence on the way home cooks cook is apparent even today.  Sure Beard was first and Kerr the most famous but Julia transcends time.  She taught Americans that not only is it good to dream big but also to fail big.  She made great food accessible to the everyday person and removed the bourgeoisie tethers from French cuisine.  She returned it to the commoner.  I am lucky enough to own a first edition copy of Julia’s second book, the companion to her hit series, The French Chef. It was a gift from one of my own chef groupies and it is the star of my cookbook collection.  I do not cook from it, I cherish it.  Just as we all cherished Chef Julia Child.

Thomas Keller4. Thomas Keller (The French Laundry and ad hoc in Yountville, California, Bouchon in Yountville, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas, Bouchon Bakery in Las Vegas, Yountville and New York City, Per Se in New York City).  Do you know why you have heard of Yountville, California?  Because of Thomas Keller.  Before Keller opened his first eatery, The French Laundry, Yountville was just another spot on the map.  Now it is the heart of the Napa Vally wine country.  Many have proclaimed Chef Thomas Keller the best chef in the world.  Of course there is no way to quantify such an accolade.  The kicker for me of Keller’s genius was on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s short-lived Food Network series, A Cook’s Tour where Bourdain and some friends were treated to a Keller tasting menu at The French Laundry and midway through the six hour eat-a-thon Keller had made a course specifically for the chain-smoking Bourdain – a Marlboro Red infused custard.  According to Anthony, “this is like driving a Rolls Royce naked in mink underpants.”  You can watch the entire French Laundry Experience HERE.

Daniel Boulud3. Daniel Boulud (Daniel, Bar Boulud, Cafe Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, DBGB Kitchen & Bar and Bar Pleiades in New York, DB Bistro Moderne in Miami, Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, DB Bistro Moderne and Lumiere in Vancouver, Bar Boulud in London and Maison Boulud in Beijing).  Boulud is very talented.  He has a devotion to wowing diners and has maintained that reputation for going on three decades.  His restaurants can be found all over the globe ( four countries on three continents) but with Daniel it’s all about disciples.  Boulud has mentored more big name chefs than anyone since Escoffier.  The list of names is ridiculous.  Boulud also starred as the host of a show about the truly extravagant side of dinner parties on the now-defunct HD network MOJO called After Hours with Daniel Boulud.  It was unequivocally the best food porn I have ever seen.  You can watch every episode for free at Hulu.com.  You can’t really call yourself a foodie if you don’t.

Ferran Adrià2. Ferran Adrià (El Bulli restaurant in Roses on the Costa Brava, Spain).  You had to see this one coming.  I mean this guy is on everyone’s list and for good reason he created a cuisine.  Although Adrià balks at such talk and even declines to call what he does molecular gastronomy but that is a good description.  Adrià’s unique vision and creativity have produced the bulk of the world’s food trends for the past four or five years – foams, caviars and all manners of deceptive looking morsels.  He has made a small Catalonia village over looking the Atlantic ocean one of the must-see locals on earth.  They flock there for a meal at the current best restaurant on earth.  And they have a sense of urgency about it.  El Bulli is closing its doors in 2014 so that Chef Ferran can work on other projects.  It’s a shame really because if you don’t have reservations already then chances are you may never get to try it.   Chef Gordan Ramsay describes Adrià’s cooking as, “. . .  cooking 20 years ahead of its time.”  Adrià’s disciples are as numerous as his accolades and they spread from Barcelona to LA and beyond.  You could easily make the case for Adrià to be #1 and get few arguments, after all the guy did invent a whole new cuisine.  How do you top that?

With one spot left to go I’m sure people are already making a list of chefs they think belong on this list more than others.  You’d be hard pressed to find fault with any top 10 chef’s list that included the likes of David Chang, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Laurent Tourondel, Larry Forgione, Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa or Alice Waters.  If fact if you asked me to do this again in six months chances are you’d find one or more of them on that list.  By mentioning that I have just given you a clue that none of them are my #1 most influential chef.  That goes to . . .

Wolfgang Puck1. Wolfgang Puck (Spago in LA, Chinois in Santa Monica, Postrio in LA and Las Vegas, CUT in LA and Las Vegas, Trattoria del Lupo and Springs Preserve Café in Las Vegas, Five-Sixty in Dallas, The Source in Washington DC, Wolfgang Puck B&G and WP24 in LA, Wolfgang Puck in Orlando, Wolfgang Puck Grille in Detroit, 20.21 in Minneapolis, countless cookbooks and official caterer for the Academy Awards Governor’s Ball).  Puck’s career has been ridiculous.  Many consider him the first rock star/chef because he was the first chef (sans TV) that people actually knew about.  He was the first chef to have people show up at his restaurant just to get a glimpse of him.  His gig catering the Governor’s Ball at the Oscars was the catalyst to it all and it is something he still does to this day.  He was really the first chef to build an empire of multiple restaurants.  Puck is responsible for introducing two cooking styles – Fusion and California Cuisine.  He has an impressive list of disciples.  He pioneered branding for chefs and has also done a number of hit TV shows.  Most importantly, if you ask many of the other great chefs discussed here they’ll tell you that their number one influence is Puck.  To any who have read much of my writing you may have noticed that I usually refer to him as “the incomparable  Wolfgang Puck.”  From where I sit that is the best way to describe him, incomparable.  Though numbers ten through two may change for me depending on the barometric pressure or what color socks I’m wearing Puck will always be #1.

Alright there’s my list.  Rip me apart in the comments if you like.  It’s all good.

El Bulli restaurant in Roses on the Costa Brava, Spain.

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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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