12 Most “To Die For” Chefs
Like many Foodies I know, I’m a bit of a chef groupie. Chefs are rock stars in my world, people who have the unique capability to masterfully craft foods, dining experiences and memories that, if I had today, I could die happy tomorrow. Here are my picks for the Top 12 “To Die For” Chefs … I hope it gets you thinking about who would be on your list. Do we share some of the same?
1. Thomas Keller
Chef Keller has had quite a year with Per Se receiving three Michelin stars and being named the Best Restaurant in NYC, unreservedly, by outgoing restaurant critic Sam Sifton and with French Laundry earning three Michelin stars. Mr. Keller was also awarded with the French Medal of Honor for his excellence in the world of French cuisine and successfully opened a French Laundry pop-up in London’s Harrods to rave reviews. I had the opportunity to dine at The French Laundry in 2006 and have enjoyed many lovely meals at Bouchon Bistro as well as treats at their Bakery … based on my experiences, Thomas Keller has to be #1 on my list!
2. Giada DeLaurentiis
Most people know Giada from her TV shows (Giada At Home, Giada’s Weekend Getaways, Everyday Italian), her plethora of cookbooks, and even her new product lines at Target. I’ve been a long-time fan and had the pleasure of interviewing her earlier this year at The Taste in Los Angeles, a huge food festival with tons of celebrity chefs. Giada was definitely the most popular there, swarmed with adoring fans. What struck me most when I spoke with her was how she focused like a laser on me, making me feel as if we’d been friends forever. Her warmth and focus while telling me what her DeathbedFood would be (Chocolate!), makes her “to die for” on my list.
3. Grant Achatz
Grant’s inspiring story, accomplishments and creative contributions to the food world landed him on my list. This year, I read his book, “Life on the Line” which details his incredible journey of finding his love for food, overcoming tongue cancer and becoming, inarguably, one of the world’s best chefs. A disciple of Thomas Keller’s, Grant wanted to explore avantgarde new ground and forged his own path in Chicago with Alinea and his ever-changing-theme NEXT restaurants. He’s also got some of the coolest videos from the chef community I’ve seen. Bravo Grant!
4. Alice Waters
Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse turned 40 this year. To say that she’s contributed to the local, sustainable food movement is a dire understatement. I respect her immensely for sticking by her values all of these years and for opening the eyes of so many people to the importance of eating locally grown, fresh food. She also deserves huge credit for establishing The Edible Schoolyard Organization to help expose children to the importance of gardens and organic food. Finally, since Jake Gyllenhaal is a friend and supporter of hers, so am I!
5. Scott Conant
Scott Conant’s on this list for two reasons: his food and his coolness. I interviewed him earlier this year at The Taste where he was Mr. Cool on the Red Carpet! He had just made a cameo appearance on “Entourage” (again, cool!) and was super warm. Later, I got the chance to try his Scarpetta Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Chef Conant had me at the bread (“Stromboli” made with mozzarella and bologne). I was just saying that the bread was so good that you could put fertilizer on it and it’d still be benchmark when the Chef himself materialized (his ears must have been burning). When he heard what I just mentioned, he gave me a big grin and said, “That’s a tweet!” Thus began what turned out to be a magnificent dining experience including the Spaghetti which definitely lived up to its reputation and a “DeathbedFood” dessert – the Vanilla Caramel Budino.
6. Jose Andres
Chef Jose Andres is the food Rockstar who put “Spanish avantgarde” cuisine on the culinary map. On a recent cover of Wine Spectator for “Seductive Flavors From A Dynamic Spanish Chef,” he runs some of the most buzzed about restaurants in Washington; the SLS Hotel’s The Bazaar in Beverly Hills; and now Jaleo in Vegas. I die over how he’s spoken at Harvard on science and cooking. Equally impressive is his stature on Twitter – he’s huge, giving his followers a first-hand glance at his experience at the holy mecca for foodies, El Bulli, which closed soon after his visit. Also placing him on the list is his support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! anti-obesity campaign (including appearing in White House video on how to cook healthy meals) and his work at D.C. Kitchen, helping them raise $3.5MM in 7 years. Finally, of course, there’s his pioneer leadership in the world of molecular gastronomy … where would we be without those science-based cocktail concoctions he makes at The Bazaar?
7. Tyler Florence
I first met Tyler in 2006 at The Inn At Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. He was giving a cooking demonstration to a small group of us and could not have been more fun to watch or gracious as he prepared dishes from his Southern roots. Since then, he’s of course captured the culinary world’s attention with appearances on the TODAY Show, The Tonight Show, Oprah, Good Morning America … cookbook library … and restaurants (Wayfare Tavern, El Paseo in Mill Valley and Tyler Florence Rotisserie & Wine in Napa). Then, just this past October, he gave another demonstration – this time at LA Food & Wine where he whipped up a squab fall dish for the crowd. Tyler definitely still has the magical, showman touch.
8. Ashley James
Chef Ashley James created The Four Seasons Los Angeles’ “StrEAT Food” menu which is truly a culmination of his global culinary experience. British-born, he’s worked in France, England, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico before coming to the U.S six year ago. Chef Ashley has created one of the best global fusion menus I’ve seen. He also has a really fun show on PBS called “Cuisine Culture” where he cooks with world-class chefs around the globe including Guy Savoy, Josiah Citrin and Daniel Boulud.
9. Chocolate Power Couple Madame Chocolate & Jacques Torres
Jacques Torres is a legend. Known as Mr. Chocolate, he opened his first chocolate factory in the US in 2000 and became a pioneer in the world of artisanal chocolate. Meantime, his wife, Hasty Torres (aka Madame Chocolate) is also a chocolate force of nature. Originally in Finance, she quit to go to culinary school and study pastry. Interning with Jacques (and falling in love with both him and chocolate), she now has her “Madame Chocolate” store in Beverly Hills while he has several locations in NYC.
10. Asian Trend Setters Jet Tila, Roy Choi & Sang Yoon
While at The Taste this Summer, I saw a fascinating roundtable discussion called “Food City: The New Language of L.A.” The panelists included Roy Choi (Kogi food truck, A-Frame and the newly opened Sunny Spot), Sang Yoon (Father’s Office and Lukshon) and Jet Tila (the award-winning Wazuzu at the Encore in Las Vegas). What struck me about all three was how they are pioneers in leveraging their French culinary training with their own ethnic backgrounds to create truly groundbreaking new versions of Asian cuisines. Their contributions are truly paving the way for LA to become a true culinary leader in innovative, ethnic-based cuisine.
11. Steve Samson & Zach Pollack
Sotto opened this year in LA to tons of buzz. I’ve dined there several times and, each time, Chefs Steve and Zach kill it. While they’re both young, they somehow have the wisdom to create authentic, regionally-inspired Southern Italian dishes. Their “Casarecce” Pasta which is braised lamb ragu with egg and pecorino cheese. It’s a gourmet mac & cheese … comfort food with depth of flavor unlike no other – true DeathbedFood. Any chance I get, I’m eating at Sotto.
12. Ricardo Zarate
Directly above Sotto (literally upstairs) is Ricardo Zarate’s restaurant that opened earlier this year, Picca. Ricardo’s genius has resulted in, deservedly, huge buzz in LA with his inspired interpretation of Peruvian food. Among my favorite dishes was the Branzino which we could see being grilled over an open flame in front of us. Seasoned like no other I’ve had, it has set the bar for Branzino perfection. I love Kevin Eats’ summary of Picca’s food (wonderful photos!) including the churros with their DULCE DE LECHE filling and incredible dipping sauces. As I do for Sotto, I’m a Foodie Evangelist for Picca telling anyone in LA who’ll listen they must get over there – soon.
So, what would I like for Christmas this year? How about a big holiday feast with Chef Keller, Giada, Grant, Alice, Scott, Jose, Tyler, Ashley, Mr. & Madame Chocolat, Jet, Roy, Sang, Steve & Zach, and Ricardo? Everyone, including myself, could bring their signature dish. While I don’t cook, I do make a pretty mean Red Velvet Cake. Among the group, I think every food category would be more than covered, don’t you agree? Plus, can you imagine the conversation? THAT would be the best holiday treat ever!
Featured image courtesy of arnold | inuyaki