For many people, food is just food, something that they consume every day that can be a source of entertainment, perhaps even an occasional hobby, but nothing that moves into the territory of a defining passion. With the modern-day nomadic quality of people’s lives and the increasing globalization of the world, many of the nuances of cuisine that were previously unfamiliar have been made more accessible; the Internet and the rise of the food blogger have also worked to make food and a curiosity in it trendier than ever. But beyond the newness of trend lies the passion of the true chefs, those who have altered the idea of what it means to dine and have reached beyond the possibilities of what cuisine and food can be. Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has managed to change the familiar concept of how food is presented and understood through deconstruction, while culinary pop fixture Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, has given food the ultimate in rock-star status, utilizing his irreverent, no-holds barred personality to lend credence to his passion. With so many outstanding chefs in the world, the following five have not only been responsible for creating some great dishes and a reputation that looms larger than the restaurants they’ve made famous, they have sharpened their knives on the tricks of the trade and changed the future of cuisine with what they’ve brought to the table.
5. Charlie Trotter
Born on September 8, 1959 in the small town of Winnetka, Illinois, Trotter didn’t make his foray into the world of professional cooking until earning his degree in political science, but after finishing school and working in more than 40 restaurants throughout Europe and the United States he decided to open his own restaurant. Inspired by the quality of Frédy Girardet’s restaurant in Lausanne, Switzerland, Trotter came back to the United States with a vision of completely revamping the American restaurant experience. With financial help from his father, Trotter opened his aptly named restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s, in 1987. Devising the idea of using locally sourced food long before it became the gold standard it is today, Charlie Trotter’s was one of few restaurants in Chicago to be noted in the Michelin guide and was responsible for making the city a destination for food. While the legacy of Charlie Trotter’s had paled in the last few years and it was closed in 2012 so Trotter could focus on travelling and education, his untimely death in 2013 left behind the legacy of a true and temperamental chef who brought the elegance of dining to the city of Chicago.
4. Julia Child
She may have only put on an apron at the age of 32, but Julia Child managed to become an iconic American chef who made the world of fine cuisine a little more straightforward for the every day woman. Born in 1912 in Pasadena, California as Julia McWilliams, Child initially went to school for History and worked as a copywriter in New York City before she started working at the Office of Strategic Services. It was while working in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, that she met her future husband, Paul Cushing Child, who would dramatically shift the outcome of her life. When Paul’s job brought the couple to Paris in 1948, the interest in food that Paul had instilled in Julia inspired her to take classes at Le Cordon Bleu, a famous cooking school in France. Julia soon became something of a fixture in Paris’s culinary scene and after returning to the United States in 1961, she released her first book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Almost singularly responsible for popularizing French cuisine in the United States and making it accessible to the masses, Child passed away on August 13, 2004 but persists as a chef who dazzled her fans and friends with her charm and became an influential icon.
3. Anthony Bourdain
Known as something of a hellion in the culinary world, Bourdain was born on June 25, 1956 in New York City and has contributed to the cool quotient of exploring new food. Bourdain developed his initial love for food upon trying an oyster in France while on a family vacation and went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America after dropping out of college. It was while working as a cook in Provincetown, MA that Bourdain decided what he wanted to be, and in 1988, after working at a variety of restaurants, he became the executive chef at the bistro Brasserie Les Halles. Nevertheless, it was not cooking but the chronicles of Bourdain’s life in the kitchen as documented in “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”, released in 2000, that made him a star for his swear-swaddled honesty and candid opinions on food. Since then, Bourdain has become a fixture on the Food Network with his shows “No Reservations” and “The Layover,” and continues to give uncommon food culture a popular new appeal.
2. Ferran Adrià
While the ideas that Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has brought upon the world of food gastronomy have not been popular with everyone, his restaurant, el Bulli, is one of the most highly regarded in the world. Born in Spain’s Catalonia region in 1962, Adrià started out as a dishwasher before trying his hand at cooking, working in a variety of restaurants and was even employed as a military cook for a time. At the young age of 22, Adrià was hired at el Bulli in Roses, Spain where he soon became the head chef. It was at el Bulli that Adrià revolutionized the traditional idea of cooking using deconstruction, taking all the elements of a dish and modifying them so that the texture and appearance were notably altered, in the hopes of creating an entirely unique dining experience. While el Bulli closed in 2011, it has been voted the best restaurant in the world for a total of five years since 2002 and Adrià’s influence remains as one of the world’s most inventive chefs.
1. Thomas Keller
Born in Oceanside, California in 1955, Thomas Keller is one of the most decorated chefs in American history and has revolutionized the art of French cooking stateside. Starting out in his mother’s kitchen, Keller discovered his true love for food when he started working at the Palm Beach Yacht Club after a family move. It was while cooking in Rhode Island during the summer that Keller was discovered by chef Roland Henin who taught him the fine art of French cooking. While Keller worked at a variety of restaurants both regionally and internationally, it was after the late 1980’s flop of his restaurant Rakel in New York City that Keller found a new start. Happing upon an old laundry building in Yountville, California, Keller lobbied friends and relatives to come up with the money to purchase it before opening The French Laundry restaurant in 1994. Featuring a nine-course tasting menu, The French Laundry earned numerous accolades upon its opening, stacking up 3 Michelin stars and winning Keller the Best American Chef award by the James Beard Foundation in 1996. While Keller has taken a step back in the kitchen in recent years to focus on mentoring the next generation of chefs, he remains the only American chef to have 3 Michelin stars for two different restaurants.
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