In my younger and more vulnerable years, a dear friend gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. We were aspiring novelists, enamored of Scott Fitzgerald and his generation, and probably would have been astonished to glimpse the respected food writer and literary biographer we became as adults. And yet, happily, here we are and it is now, in writing this foreword to a book devoted to chefs, that his words come back to me so meaningfully.
“Michael,” he said, as we toddled tipsily up First Avenue to an apartment we shared in Manhattan, “Don’t want to become famous. I can’t imagine anything more awful. What I want most is to be respected by my peers.”
Pretty wise for a 23-year-old ne’er-do-well (Blake Bailey would go on to write numerous award-winning books of international acclaim). He was absolutely right. He enjoys great respect among authors, though he’s not likely to be known by anyone buying books at an airport. Likewise, I am not apt to be recognized by most restaurant goers, though I’m well known in the chef world. Lack of major celebrity is a blessing that allows us to carry on with work that we happen to be good at.
Such, I daresay, is my advice to young chefs. What every talented chef-restaurateur should aspire to is to be happy in their work and have a happy and thriving customer base, and respect from one’s colleagues, not celebrity. For what does big fame bring a chef? Rocco DiSpirito became famous, even infamous, to the point that we can no longer taste the efforts of his extraordinary craftsmanship in the kitchen. Gordon Ramsay was once a great cook—and still is, no doubt—but how would anyone know?
Indeed, I’d wager that the majority of the “25 Most Influential Chefs” listed here no longer or rarely cook because of their success at cooking. This is not a judgment in any way, only an acknowledgment of the irony of the profession. I hope that they and the many like them are happy, and have made good choices with the opportunities they earned through the very hard work of restaurant cooking.
I bring up these former restaurant cooks only to draw a distinction between celebrity at large and the respect among one’s peers in the chef-restaurateur world, which is what Best Chefs America is about.
I learned in culinary school that there is no true honor in the term “chef.” Anyone can be trained to run a kitchen. But to be a great cook, that’s another thing entirely. If a chef points to a line cook and whispers to a companion, “That guy can cook like nobody’s business,” well, there’s no higher compliment in a professional kitchen.
But what about the rest of us? How are we to know who can really cook? That’s where this book comes in. Yes, it’s a compendium of talented “chefs,” but they are respected among their peers for being amazing cooks as well as for running great kitchens and devising killer menus served in rooms you feel excited to be in. That’s what we really want to know, in our hometown or in a city we happen to be visiting: Where do the best chefs like to eat? Who are their favorite cooks?
This is what Best Chefs America comprises. It is the first exhaustively researched, anonymously attributed list of nearly 4,700 chefs throughout America considered by their peers to be among the best. This book is meant to guide the consumer to those restaurants chosen by chefs in each city, rather than by food critics or Yelpers. Enormous pains were taken to make this an unbiased list. For instance, chefs couldn’t nominate themselves, and one couldn’t simply nominate a buddy without numerous others also naming him or her. Nor did any chef pay, or receive pay, to be in this book—it’s not that kind of publication.
Instead, nearly seventy thousand phone calls were made by a staff of 23 callers and data crunchers. That many more were involved with other facets of this book. Read Gabe Joseph’s introduction about the work involved—it’s astonishing what the Best Chefs America team accomplished in under a year. I toured the offices last summer and saw all the cold callers trying to reach busy chefs—and believe me, chefs are hard to reach even if they want to talk to you.
The book opens with what the staff gleaned from these tens of thousands of phone calls: the twenty-five most influential chefs in the country. “What?” I hear people crying. “Jacques Pépin? He’s no restaurant chef.” Or “Where’s Grant Achatz?” and “Thomas Keller? How did that shoemaker get on the list?!” I say let the conversations and debates begin. I expect that many gourmands, proud of their city’s restaurant scene, will tut-tut certain choices and be angered by the inevitable omissions. This book is the first of its kind and will only get better as more chefs contribute their opinions.
There has never been a greater time in America to be a cook and chef, and for that reason there has also never been a better time to head out to local restaurants as they blossom in big cities and small towns as never before. This book makes it a helluva lot more easy and exciting to do so.
Chefs know best. Better than food writers, or any type of Internet survey, chefs know who are the “best chefs” in their hardworking, demanding, and creative profession. With this in mind, we set out to call chefs across the United States, and conduct thousands of one-on-one confidential interviews to find out who chefs considered to be the “best” among their peers. To be considered the “best” is the highest honor any professional, including chefs, can receive and those included in this book should be very proud to have their work acknowledged by their fellow chefs. Less than 1% of all chefs and professional cooks in America made it into our book!
The magnitude of this undertaking was staggering – to personally conduct thousands of detailed chef interviews, each taking upwards of 30 minutes each, with busy chefs who had never heard of our new organization. But we achieved it. Our dedicated staff worked day and night to interview over 5,000 chefs in all US States and Territories.
Our approach required a complex computerized telephone system to handle the sheer call volume and to record calls for accuracy. Proprietary software helped us aggregate and sort through the enormous amount of data we collected throughout the course of our interviews, and aided us in determining who should be included as a “Best Chef in America.”
Predictably, the responses we got from chefs ranged from skepticism to whole-hearted enthusiasm for what we were attempting to do. Fortunately, most chefs were excited to speak with us, embracing ours as a forum where they could give a true appraisal of their peers, confidentially and with no strings attached. It became even clearer as we got further along in our interviews that the chef world has been ready for us for a long time.
My sincere thanks go out to each and every chef, all 5,114 of them, who took valuable time out of their busy day to be interviewed by our callers. We are gratified not only by the sheer number of chefs who agreed to be interviewed, but also by their enthusiasm for our undertaking. Many of the chefs inside this year’s volume work incredibly hard and in relative obscurity practicing and perfecting their craft. It is with great pleasure we publically and formally recognize all of these accomplished chefs who were selected by their peers to be included in this inaugural edition of Best Chefs America.
Bill Blalock, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Best Chefs America, LLC
After months of interviews with over 5,000 chefs, the results are in! We’ve now spoken to thousands of chefs across the country to congratulate them on their inclusion in the hotly-anticipated, inaugural edition of Best Chefs America. They are seeing the innovative value of our book—a peer-reviewed guide to chefs — and their excitement is palpable.
We have received such positive feedback from chefs and culinary professionals that we thought we’d share some of what they are saying:
“Finally to have a compendium of such detail and depth is a testament to the work that went into this: a thoroughly well-researched and well-documented addition to the world of cuisine.”
- Paul Liebrandt, Executive Chef/Owner of Corton, New York, NY
“I am honored to be a part of this great tome of my peers. Tres bien!”
- Michel Richard, Executive Chef/Owner of Central Michel Richard, Washington, DC
“This book is an incredible reference from people who know where to go: a great insight into the world of chefs and how they decide where to eat.”
- Donald Link, Executive Chef/Owner of Herbsaint, New Orleans, LA
“For the first time, we have a true compendium of chefs from around the country who have been setting culinary standards for years. They are finally being recognized. Thank you Best Chefs America for making this book a reality.”
- Vitaly Paley, Executive Chef/Owner of Paley’s Place, Portland, OR
“I find it exciting and refreshing, with all the information out there, to get a glimpse of what other chefs are thinking. It gives a new perspective that isn’t readily available in the market.”
- Jason Vincent, Executive Chef of Nightwood, Chicago, IL
“This is it: no nonsense, no fluff, nothing to sugarcoat. Just an honest, peer-reviewed catalogue of the chefs that are making a difference in this wonderful and vast landscape of American cuisine. These names will rewrite culinary history!”
- Edward Lee, Executive Chef/Owner of 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY
“Best Chefs America serves as an insider’s peek into one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs around. Chefs have a reputation for being tough, and certainly one of the places this shows the most is in critiquing their peers. Best Chefs America serves as a resource guide for people who want to be in the know!”
- Naomi Pomeroy, Executive Chef/Owner of Beast, Portland, OR
“The book looks great! What a fantastic compilation and reference guide!”
- Karen Small, Executive Chef/Owner of Flying Fig, Cleveland, OH
“Best Chefs America is great. Having peers recommend others anonymously speaks volumes. It is a true representation of the talent in our field. It is an honor to be a part of the process.”
- Jamie Bissonnette, Executive Chef/Owner of Toro, Boston, MA
“Best Chefs America is a compendium that will be the standard bearer of culinary peer-review for years to come.”
- Phil Colicchio, attorney and consultant representing chefs, wine and spirit professionals, and restaurateurs
“This list is absolutely great. It’s a divine feeling to know it is done anonymously. I am honored and humbled to know that peers think enough of me to recommend me for inclusion on this list.”
- Christiane Gehami, Chef/Owner of Arugula Bistro, West Hartford, CT
“I am very honored to have been selected for this distinctive recognition among the many talented chefs in the US. This recognition, after many years of hard work and sacrifice, helps to further validate my work and encourages me to maintain my steadfast quest for continuing excellence.”
- Antonio Morichini, Executive Chef of Bevacco, Brooklyn, NY
Get a sneak peak of the book under “Amuse-bouche,” and preorder your copy today!
When I first learned about Best Chefs America from its President, Brad W. Norton, my mind went into overdrive. A peer reviewed chef’s guide to chefs? I knew immediately that this idea was big-time and told Brad that I didn’t mean to be rude, but I needed a few minutes to actually let it sink in. What would a publication like this mean? What would it accomplish, not to mention how to accomplish it? Why hadn’t this been done before? Would it make the other guidebooks not on chefs, but restaurants, irrelevant? What about those famous awards too? From a media standpoint, what would this document mean to the world of everything food that I’m so familiar with and fond of? This could create quite an impact. Think about it.
So, when the Best Chefs team asked us to design their brand identity, we were thrilled and jumped at the chance. A few months later I had the privilege of visiting the Best Chefs offices. There, I was able to witness the magnitude of this undertaking; a large, incredibly patient, headsetted team of analysts tasked with navigating the odd schedules, time zones, moods, and in some cases, teams of publicists, just to interview a nominee. At the time of my visit, this tireless staff had made 40,000 calls. 40,000 calls! And they were still going. It’s now well over 55k to date.
As the head of a small media firm with a heavy focus on the food world, I start and finish my day perusing the better food blogs and editorials. They are comprised of delicious offerings via seasoned food writers, home cooks and enthusiasts like myself, chefs and, in some cases, food critics. We all ask ourselves, “What makes a great chef?” I typically use words like touch or detail to describe a skilled chef, and recall a superb episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain and Jose Andres were enjoying a meal together and speaking on this same subject prior to visiting El Bulli. “This is very important, Tony”, said Jose, “the true ingredient that everyone misses when they criticize [critique] is finesse.” I’m paraphrasing here, but Bourdain, in true form replied, “So finesse translates to truly giving a shit.” They couldn’t have articulated it any better. We all have an opinion, but at the end of the day who, more so than any food critic, writer, editor, blogger or publicist, should have the final say on who truly possesses that certain “finesse” or firsthand knowledge of those who truly “give a shit” more than the chefs themselves. The chefs, surprisingly, had no forum or outlet to collectively express and determine for the rest of us who the best chefs are – until now!
I could have gone on and on in my mind thinking of BCA’s potential that day I learned of it from Brad. I did and still do. It is going to shake the food world’s foundation, which is certainly going to be fun to witness.
Submitted by Warren Johnson @taste5media
Warren Johnson is the president of Taste 5 Media LLC, a firm dedicated to the worlds of food, drink, travel, design and lifestyle brands and initiatives.
With the holidays fast approaching, our calendars will soon be filled with parties and social gatherings, from formal dinners to casual drop-ins. I never like to show up to a party empty-handed, but I often find my budget breaking under the weight of so many gifts to purchase. A homemade food gift is a great way to take the pressure off your bank account and add a little homemade love to your gift-giving.
Almost any recipe can be turned into a gift item, but I have a few that have proven to be holiday hits among my family and friends.
The first time I made this recipe, I gave one of the mini pound cakes to my husband’s grandmother, who declared it to be the best pound cake she had ever tasted. Coming from a true Southern woman, what a compliment!
Mini Honey-Vanilla Pound Cakes
One of my favorite homemade food gifts are Mini Honey-Vanilla Pound Cakes. The pound cakes take some time to prepare and bake, but are a sweet treat that everyone will enjoy.
This recipe makes five mini pound cakes using 6 x 4 inch aluminum loaf pans, which are available in most grocery stores:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
5 5¾ x 3¾ inch aluminum loaf pans
Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; mix with a whisk, and set aside. Put sugar, butter, vanilla and honey in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and milk to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Finally, fold sour cream into finished mixture, making sure to combine well, but not over-mix.
Spoon batter into the five small loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for ten minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans, and cool completely on a wire rack.
Just package this sweet, savory, smoky jam in small mason jars with a note attached offering serving suggestions, such as spreading over creamy goat cheese on pieces of sliced baguette, or to replace the bacon in a classic bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast.
Bourbon-Bacon Jam is another great gift idea, although it takes some planning ahead—the prep time is short, but then it cooks low and slow for about four hours in a slow cooker. The idea for this recipe came from a local restaurant here in Charleston. I had bacon jam atop a cheeseburger and I was hooked after one bite. I had to try my hand at it at home, and made a few alterations along the way, including the addition of bourbon. The combination of bacon, onions, brown sugar, pure maple syrup and bourbon creates a heavenly aroma, and taste to match.
This recipe makes approximately three cups of bacon jam. You can double or even triple the recipe if you plan to prepare several jars for gifts:
1 1/2 pounds hickory-smoked bacon, such as Heritage or Benton’s, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
2 medium yellow onions, diced small
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup packed dark-brown sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup Kentucky bourbon
In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but one tablespoon fat from skillet; add onions and garlic to the skillet, and cook until onions are tender and translucent, about five minutes. Add cider vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup and bourbon. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about two minutes. Add bacon and stir to combine.
Transfer mixture to a slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid reduces to a thick, syrup-like consistency, roughly four hours. Transfer the now thick, gooey mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. If you feel that the consistency is a bit too thick, you can loosen it by adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a splash of syrup, and continue to process. Let cool, and then package in small mason jars or other air-tight containers.
Mulling spices are perhaps the easiest and quickest option for gift-giving. This festive spice blend usually consists of whole cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice, orange peel and cardamom, and is steeped in either red wine or apple cider for a delicious holiday beverage that will warm you from head to toe. What makes this gift so easy is that there is no set recipe–you can adjust the amount of each ingredient according to your tastes. While most mulling spices are sold in individual sachets, I recommend packaging the whole spices in small jars (go ahead and assemble several jars and keep them on hand for when you need to grab a gift as you run out the door!) Simply warm the loose spices in a saucepan with red wine or apple cider for twenty minutes and drain before serving. Adding a cinnamon stick to your glass makes a perfect garnish, and continues to add more flavor as you enjoy this classic cold-weather beverage. A splash of bourbon or brandy doesn’t hurt either!
If you’re feeling especially generous, wrap any of these delicious treats in a holiday-inspired dish towel and tie with a piece of jute. You can be sure your gift will be one that is not soon forgotten. Keep in mind that homemade gifts can have a shorter shelf life than the commercially packaged versions, but when the recipient sees the time and love you put into it, the gift won’t last long anyway!
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Elizabeth Fishburne is a graduate of the College of Charleston and an Analyst at Best Chefs America. Elizabeth loves cooking at home with her husband, feels most at peace in the grocery store and has yet to meet a French fry she didn’t like.