Let's face it, we expect a lot from our favorite celebrity chefs. We want them to be comfortable in the spotlight and be able to entertain us. They should be knowledgeable, highly skilled, enterprising without coming off as greedy, and just the right mix of personable and professional. The best chefs in the world possess these traits — albeit in varying degrees — but what makes a chef influential? Culinary influence is a powerful instrument, yet it's also somewhat difficult to define. There's no question that celebrity chefs with a huge media presence bring a lot of clout to the table, so where do we draw the line between an influential chef and an influential TV personality?
When we consider the most influential celebrity chefs of all time we must also acknowledge that the culinary industry has been dominated by white men from the outset. There were almost certainly Black chefs and female chefs (or dare we say, both) who would have been hugely inspiring 50 or 60 years ago had they been given an equal platform to share their gifts. With all of this in mind, we've compiled a list of chefs whose talent, innovation, public prominence, and entrepreneurship have toppled barriers, blazed trails, and inspired countless people to love the art of food. Here they are, the 26 most influential celebrity chefs of all time.
If you're thinking, who is this guy? You're probably not alone, but the truth is Marie-Antoine Carême walked so that future celebrity chefs could run. It's unknown whether Carême was born in 1783 or 1784, but we know he came of age in Paris, and his life was rough at the start. Carême was the 16th child of poverty-stricken parents but that wouldn't stop him from striving for a more comfortable existence. His first kitchen gig was at age eight, and by 15 he'd worked his way up to a cushy apprenticeship at Patisserie de la Rue de la Paix, a prevalent pastry shop in Paris at the time. Here, he recreated towering replicas of international landmarks — the ruins of Athens and ornate Chinese fortresses — from marzipan, sugar, and pastry dough.
Carême made Napolean's wedding cake and cooked for royals in England and Russia. His cookbooks pioneered the high art of French cuisine and he popularized the French chef uniform (white double-breasted chef's coat and tall white toque) that is still seen today. Although Carême died in his 40s, his influence is long-lasting. He is considered by many as the world's first celebrity chef.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson has become a familiar fixture in cooking television. He's competed on "Iron Chef," won season two of "Top Chef All-Stars," the second season of "Chopped All-Stars," and hosted shows of his own, like "No Passport Required." And that's just Samuelsson's TV work.
Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia in 1970 and grew up in a Swedish fishing village with his adoptive parents. He uses his unique background to honor both these dual heritages to much success. Samuelsson became the executive chef at Manhattan's fine-dining Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit at 24 but later felt he needed to uplift his community in a different way. In conversation with Hospitality Design, Samuelsson recalled, "After 9/11, it was hard for New York ... I felt like I needed to do something that was bigger than serving the 1 percent of the 1 percent. That's when I moved to Harlem, and I knew I would open my own restaurant with a focus on the modern Black experience." In 2010, Samuelsson opened Red Rooster in Harlem and it became a staple of the neighborhood. He also owns restaurants in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Montréal.
In the mid-2010s, Food & Wine Magazine published the headline: "René Redzepi is the World's Most Influential Chef." When this declaration was made, it was clear that Redzepi was approaching food in a singular fashion. He opened his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen in 2003, and ushered in a renewed thought process surrounding fine dining, giving concepts like foraging, fermenting, and short seasonal menus newfangled prominence. As restaurants around the world began adopting these wholesome yet eclectic Scandi influences, Food & Wine described Redzepi's culinary influence as the "Noma-effect." Noma nabbed the top spot on "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" list five times since 2010.
When Anthony Bourdain featured Copenhagen in a 2013 episode of "Parts Unknown," the majority of his experience was centered around Noma and talking with Redzepi about his passion for local ingredients and the innovations that are possible through them. A pop-up version of Noma opened in Kyoto, Japan for a limited run in 2023, but Redzepi does not approach expansion like a typical celeb chef. Despite earning three Michelin stars, Rezepi announced that Noma will close in 2024 and become a food research laboratory.
After Carla Hall first came into public consciousness when she competed on season 5 of "Top Chef." Fans were instantly drawn to her warm, Southern hospitality, bubbly demeanor, and kooky sense of humor. She would return to the competition for "Top Chef All-Stars" three seasons later, but Hall's screentime on the popular reality show was only the start of what would become an illustrious culinary career.
A co-hosting spot on ABC's "The Chew," regular guest appearances on Food Network, a stack of cookbooks, and the launch of a new podcast are among Hall's achievements. In 2018, The Washington Post hailed her as "the most visible black person in food." Not only has Hall promoted the idealogy of "cooking with love" from the start, but she also continues to celebrate the Black community's monumental contributions to American cuisine. Hall is a culinary ambassador for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in her hometown of Washington, D.C.
Ming Tsai's introduction to the kitchen began in his parents' Dayton, Ohio restaurant Mandarin Kitchen, but the Ivy League educated Tsai defied parental expectations when he pursued cooking over engineering. His change of heart paid off. When Tsai began hosting "East Meets West" on Food Network in 1998, he and veteran chef Martin Yan were some of the only Asian chefs regularly cooking on TV. "East Meets West" brought culinary fusion mainstream and in 1999, Tsai won took home an Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show Host.
After "East Meets West" ended in 2003, PBS tapped Tsai to host "Simply Ming," now one of the longest-running cooking shows on the network. Tsai still finds time for new endeavors. He's raised over $1 million dollars for Family Reach, a charity that helps families cope with cancer, and launched Mings Bings in 2020, a vegan line of frozen food inspired by Dim Sum classics — with a fusion twist.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten has opened 50 restaurants in his 50-year career as a groundbreaking chef. Expelled from high school in the early 1970s, Vongerichten set out to make it in the fine dining arena with an apprenticeship at Auberge de l'Ill, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Alsace region of Northeastern France. He would go on to travel the world, open restaurants on several continents, and embrace unlikely high-end restaurant concepts, like the open kitchen and communal tables for guests.
His flagship restaurant Jean-Georges in Manhattan is one of his best-known eateries in the United States, but Vongerichten can do more than French food. He worked in Asia in the '70s and '80s and has restaurants in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. His vegetarian restaurant abcV won a James Beard Award — one of many for the versatile chef. Even if you've never tried Vongerichten's food, you're likely familiar with molten lava cake, which he invented.
Kristen Kish may not have a decades-long legacy (yet), but since winning season 10 of "Top Chef" in 2013, her star has been rapidly on the rise. Kish, who was adopted from Korea at four months old and raised in Michigan, has returned for guest judge appearances on "Top Chef" and hosted other shows such as "36 Hours," "Fast Foodies," "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," and "Restaurants at the End of the World," but her most icon-in-the-making turn to date has only just begun.
After it was confirmed that Padma Lakshmi would not be returning to "Top Chef" for its 21st season, immediate speculation began as to who would be able to take Lakshmi's place as host — a job she held for 17 years. Kish whose, discernment, openness, and experience was the only person production considered for the job. In many ways, Kish may be the breath of fresh air the reality cooking competition needs.
Few celebrity chefs have balanced the roles of television host, entrepreneur, and mentor with the uniqueness and precision of Christopher Kimball. As editor of Cook's Magazine in the 1980s, Kimball saw an opportunity for growth and co-founded Cook's Illustrated in 1993. Every Cook's Illustrated cover features a beautifully detailed food illustration along with recipe ideas and tricks of the trade. In 2000, Kimball brought the magazine's pages to life with his beloved how-to show, "America's Test Kitchen."
In an interview with Sky Guide, Kimball said, "We found that people, when they get in the kitchen ... they're scared. Especially if they're a beginning cook there's fear ... and so I stand up as sort of the everyman ... I stand in for the viewer to make the viewer feel comfortable." For 16 years, Kimball commanded a dedicated audience of millions, who tuned in for his insights on cooking with confidence. He left "America's Test Kitchen" and Cook's Illustrated over a contract dispute and created Milk Street, a media company that produces a magazine, podcast, and two new shows, "My Family Recipe" hosted by Kimball and "Milk Street's Cooking School."
Marco Pierre White
You didn't think Gordon Ramsay was the only foul-mouthed, Michelin-star-winning celebrity chef in the U.K., did you? No. It was Marco Pierre White, often credited as the first "rock star chef," who expertly married rebellion with classic technique at his South East London restaurant, Harveys. White opened Harveys in 1987 and led with a bit of an iron fist. He worked hard and expected nothing less from his staff — which included a precocious chef by the name of Gordon Ramsay.
Mentoring Ramsay wouldn't be Marco Pierre White's only lasting culinary deed. His autobiographical cookbook "White Heat," published in 1990, would rattle the conservatism of traditional cookbooks and pave the way for chef memoirs like Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential." White became the youngest British-born chef to be awarded three stars from the Michelin Guide. But in true rebel fashion, White stuck it to the haute cuisine industry in 1999 when he gave them all back.
When you hear the name Alice Waters, terms like "revolutionary" and "legend" are likely to follow. She was only 27 when she opened her now famous Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971 and pioneered what became known as the Slow Food Movement. At the time Waters was starting out as a chef, the idea of food sustainability in America was not the pressing issue it is today — but she sought to change that. Inspired by a 1965 trip to France, Waters returned with an ignited belief that food should be local, seasonal, and unprocessed.
Through Waters' vision, Chez Panisse was a cornerstone of the farm-to-table movement. She also feels strongly about imparting these food philosophies to kids, and established the Edible School Yard Project in 1995. Waters says of the project: "If we change the criteria for purchasing all food in public schools, and buy directly from the farmers and ranchers that are caring for the land regeneratively, we will address climate change and teach the next generation the values of nourishment, stewardship, and community."
You may know her better as The Barefoot Contessa, but Ina Garten has forged a place in chef stardom in a rather distinct way. Through "The Barefoot Contessa," Garten's Food Network cooking show that ran from 2002 to 2021, viewers at home got a sense that gourmet cooking was accessible and could be recreated with a little guidance. Garten herself is a self-taught chef whose calm demeanor, detailed presentations, and penchant for entertaining showed us that preparing anything from baking tomato tarts to whipping up some butternut squash hummus was more than possible right from your own kitchen.
Garten's method drew many big-name guests to appear in her cooking segments. Hollywood actors like Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney got in the kitchen with Garten on her show "Be My Guest." Marcus Samuelsson also popped in to hang with Garten on "Be My Guest" because he was her neighbor in the Hamptons — influential chefs stick together.
Many celebrity chefs have engaged in some form of classical education, but it's not a stone-cold requirement to be influential. A perfect example would be Rachael Ray. Before celebrity food entertainers like Guy Fieri gained a foothold on Food Network fame, charismatic cooks like Rachael Ray were changing the way cooking show fans approached food.
With her star-making "30 Minute Meals," Rachael Ray taught the public that it's not bad to cook boxed pasta you bought at Stop and Shop, actually, that's exactly what you should be doing if you want to make a quick yet tasty dinner for your family. Ray's upbeat personality was infectious (she taught us words like "yummo") and her on-screen success allowed her to expand into a line of successful products from cookware to her dog food line "Nutrish." Decades later, Ray says one of her proudest career achievements is being able to give back through the Rachael Ray Foundation.
Not-so-undercover badass Martha Stewart is old-school in all the best ways. Stewart has been a household name since before we can remember. The New Jersey native segued a career as a Wall Street stockbroker into an in-demand catering business, and eventually, a lifestyle. Her 1982 book "Entertaining" was basically a blueprint for influencer culture. Stewart's culinary savvy, good taste, and ever-so-distant personality clicked with the public. She quickly morphed her talents into a mega brand that included several more editions of "Entertaining," television shows, a home goods line, and more.
A lesser celebrity would be canceled for serving jail time, but in 2004 Stewart took her five-month prison sentence for financial crimes in stride. She willed her career to recover and maintained her presence on TV and elsewhere. Stewart is still a gal about town — she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's "Swimsuit Issue" at age 81 — and regularly shares enviable snaps of homemade food and standard-setting table spreads at her lavish dinner parties.
Giada De Laurentiis
Food Network has launched the careers of many celebrity chefs, but one of its most prolific stars is Giada De Laurentiis, who joined the channel's roster in 2003 as the host of "Everyday Italian." The unpretentious way De Laurentiis broke down classic Italian recipes made her an instant hit with viewers. "Everyday Italian" is still in production, inspired numerous spinoffs, and won De Laurentiis an Emmy. She may not be classically trained, but her cookbooks have been New York Times bestsellers thanks to her ability to maintain a huge viewership over three decades.
Giada, her first-ever restaurant, opened on the Las Vegas strip in 2014. Unlike the brooding chefs who've globetrotted their way through the restaurant industry, De Laurentiis wields her culinary influence differently. In recent years she's launched a food and lifestyle website called "Giadzy" (think Goop but the chef's version) in hopes of continuing to reach a worldwide audience.
Part of what makes a chef influential is having the courage to go out on a limb, and few have achieved this quite like Martin Yan. Born in 1948 in Guangzhou, China, Martin Yan headed to Hong Kong alone at age 13 for a restaurant job. He immigrated to Calgary, Canada where he continued to work in restaurants and teach cooking classes. His life changed forever in 1978 when he was asked to film a cooking show for Canadian TV.
By 1982, Yan was filming his show "Yan Can Cook" for PBS. Julia Child and Graham Kerr were the only other PBS chefs at the time. He was one of the first chefs to popularize home-cooked Chinese food in American kitchens and became an icon along the way. His easygoing, lively demeanor combined with a down-to-earth motto: If Yan can cook, so can you! inspired millions. Yan has filmed 3,500 episodes of his namesake show, in addition to many other TV appearances. He's taught cooking classes at universities and authored dozens of cookbooks. In 2022, Yan received the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bobby Flay is one of the most famous chefs of his generation, but his track to success wasn't immediately promising. Flay was a disinterested student who quit school, got a lowly job at a restaurant, and moved up the ranks. By 1996, Food Network had tapped Bobby Flay as its resident grill guy — a job that he accepted. "Grillin' and Chillin'" was Flay's first cooking show and morphed into spinoffs like "Hot Off the Grill" and "Boy Meets Grill." His Food Network success allowed him to show off his flair for Southwestern cuisine, but Flay became even better known through high-energy TV battle segments like "Iron Chef" — which he participated in on and off for 17 years — and "Beat Bobby Flay."
A flurry of Flay-owned restaurants has come, gone, and come again. All the while, Flay continues to be a pillar of cooking TV and an entrepreneur. In 2022, he took a cue from fellow Food Network alum Rachel Ray and branched into the pet food business. Flay's beloved cat Nacho (who happens to be a social media influencer in his own right) is the muse behind Flay's cat food "Made by Nacho," because animals deserve chef-made meals too.
Jamie Oliver's days as the cheeky young upstart on "The Naked Chef" seem like a long time ago, because well, they were, but also because of all he's accomplished since then. BBC 2's decision to air a jittery, DIY-style show featuring a 23-year-old London sous chef cooking in his flat (that's apartment to you Americans), was an interesting one — and it worked. "The Naked Chef" cookbook debuted during the show's first season and sold 1.2 million copies. Food Network began airing "The Naked Chef," cementing worldwide fame for Oliver.
Though he made a name for himself by paring down dishes and championing homestyle meals over restaurant ones, a greater social commentary was also part of Oliver's mission. He spent much of the 2000s rallying against childhood obesity with shows like "Jamie's School Dinners" and "Food Revolution." His methods didn't always win over the public, but any missteps Oliver has made in his long career haven't diminished his charm or culinary skill. Oliver continues to be a TV regular and recently launched a comprehensive online cooking class under the moniker "YesChef".
Emeril Lagasse is without a doubt one of Food Network's most popular stars of all time. It's been pointed out that when Food Network was still getting its footing on the cable television circuit, Lagasse's show "Essence of Emeril" was drawing in the viewership. In other words, Emeril Lagasse put Food Network on the map — not the other way around.
"Essence of Emeril" segued to 1997's "Emeril Live!" — which was well-deserving of the exclamation point because the show was exciting! There was a live audience and a live band. There was Emeril, the cuddly teddy bear of a chef who regaled the crowds with culinary anecdotes one minute and the next, BAM! he's aggressively zesting up the plate with hits of seasoning. Product lines, restaurants, and 19 cookbooks accompanied Lagasse's Food Network fame. Lagasse has taken a quieter stance in the media over the last few years, but he remains a bona fide legend in the celeb chef world.
Celebrity chefs don't just spend their time filming cooking shows and writing cookbooks, they also cook for ... celebrities. No chef has been as in demand by the A-list as Wolfgang Puck. The Austrian-born chef has led the culinary operations of the after-Oscars Governors Ball for 29 years and counting. But Puck's interest in food goes far beyond feeding glitzy thespians.
Puck credits his mother for igniting his passion for cooking and encouraging him in his early years. At 24 he landed in Los Angeles and felt an immediate connection to the laid-back culinary scene there, but desired to put his own spin on it as well. That's what he did in 1982 with the opening of his restaurant Spago. Spago's open kitchen — then virtually unheard of — prompted guests to interact with the chef and the lack of French food on the menu was a welcome refresher. At Spago, craft pizzas with lamb or smoked salmon and caviar were Puck's calling card. His ability to strike the mysterious chord of a highly skilled chef making seemingly casual food stretched beyond California. Puck has gone on to build a veritable restaurant empire, but it all started with Spago and Puck's belief that he had something new to offer the culinary world.
We cannot discuss the most influential chefs of all time without Alain Ducasse. He's a lesser-known name in the United States, but Ducasse has set culinary standards that will live into eternity. Like Marco Pierre White, Ducasse was a Michelin Star-winning wunderkind — both chefs amassed three stars by the age of 33. He credits his upbringing on a farm in Southwest France as the reason behind his calling. "When you grow up close to poultry and fields and gardens and open-air markets, you can't help but develop an instinct for quality food," Ducasse famously said.
He sticks to classic, artsy methods and French cuisine, but his insistence on quality and restaurant expansion has led to Ducasse own over 20 restaurants and three hotels. The well-worn legacy is firmly in place but that doesn't mean Ducasse is stuck in his ways -- he has an app! "My Culinary Encyclopedia" is one of Ducasse's newer ventures. As for future plans, Ducasse told Food & Wine Magazine, "I would love to create the first restaurant ever on Mars."
"Chef of the Century" was an accolade bestowed upon Joël Robuchon in 1990. Why? Because he led some of the best kitchens in the world. He also made mashed potatoes better than anyone else who ever lived.
Robuchon could serve the haughtiest plate of food imaginable (he held 32 Michelin stars across 13 countries for a reason), but that doesn't mean he wanted to. He shunned the plucked-to-perfection aesthetic highbrow that food critics came to expect in the later decades of the 20th century, preferring to serve straightforward meals in generous portions. Robuchon's call from the gods was his otherwordly mashed potatoes, but the world-class chef was also renowned for his simple yet perfect creamed cauliflower and ravioli. A perfectionist in the kitchen but not a hothead, Robuchon admitted that the only plate of food he ever hurled in anger was at a young Gordon Ramsay. In 2018, Robuchon died of cancer at the age of 73, leaving an unshakeable imprint in the culinary arts behind him.
Winning a James Beard Award has been a crowning achievement for several chefs on this list, but who is James Beard? To put it simply, Beard was the first person to have a cooking show on TV. "I Love to Eat" debuted in 1946 and was miles ahead of its time, just like Beard, who was basically the original foodie. His commentary on modern cookery and praise of local delicacies like Dungeness crab and oysters from the waters of Oregon — his home state — brought warmth and insight to an uncertain post-war America. Through food, he gave his audience something to enjoy and to be good at, spending the bulk of the 1970s teaching cooking classes and opening up cooking schools of his own.
Beard's more than 20 cookbooks read like a celebratory encyclopedia of American food — something of a mysterious beast back then. Another of his lasting contributions was the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City, where he was an original consultant. The sprawling space, open from 1959 until 2019, was a Manhattan landmark serving an upscale style of food that would later be dubbed "New American," a cuisine Beard inadvertently invented.
When Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in June 2018 he was one of the most beloved chefs in his field. The 61-year-old was like no one else on television, an affable gourmet tour guide whose biting wit could render a smirk out of just about anyone. Part of what made Bourdain's death so heartbreaking was that he clearly loved people as much as he loved food. He was as comfortable on a plastic stool in a Vietnamese noodle shop as he was at the velvet-trimmed booth of a 100-year-old Parisian bistro. His curiosity to hear strangers' stories and partake in their experiences was what made his shows "Parts Unknown" and "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" great.
Bourdain had the discerning palate of a top chef but lived his life as a man of the people. He was complicated, confrontational, and authentic. Bourdain's firecracker of a read "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" was published in 2000 and put the established yet unfamous New York City chef into a global spotlight. For the next two decades, Bourdain crisscrossed the globe to teach us about food but more than anything, he taught us about life.
International treasure Jacques Pépin may be in his late 80s, but the man is as in touch as any celebrity chef today. Pépin regularly posts on social media, moonlights as a painter, and attends high-profile culinary events, but most importantly — he still cooks!
As a young chef in France, Pépin cooked at the highest level, serving as a personal chef to Charles De Gaulle and other heads of state. He immigrated to New York in 1959, working in restaurants and releasing cookbooks, but didn't become a household name until his PBS series "Everyday Cooking" premiered in 1982. Like his collaborator and friend Julia Child, Pépin possessed an innate ability to debunk the preconceived notion that French cuisine was too complicated for a home cook to take on. To this day, he is a role model to the biggest names in food and the unofficial guest of honor pretty much everywhere he goes.
Characterized by his bombastic outbursts as much as his food, Gordon Ramsay's influence as a celebrity chef can't possibly be overlooked. Ramsay is a driving force of culinary reality TV, a medium he's worked in since the late 1990s when his maniacal determination to earn Michelin Stars was the center of the British docuseries "Boiling Point." Ramsay seemed like an unlikely celebrity, but he trademarked his hair-trigger demeanor into a string of massively successful shows, where Ramsay routinely scares aspiring chefs into believing they can be better. This approach isn't pretty, and it's drawn some understandable criticism, but Ramsay's immense success as a chef is perhaps what speaks loudest of all.
Ramsay is the owner of 58 restaurants and shows no signs of slowing his television career. His most recent turns as the host of "Next Level Chef" and "Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars" play less into the 56 year old's taskmaster reputation, choosing to highlight his talents as a mentor to a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs.
When we talk about icons, it's difficult to say something that has not already been said, and this is certainly true of Julia Child. Although boundary-pushing women like Irma S. Rombauer, whose 1931 tome "Joy of Cooking" has sold 18 million copies and Buwei Yang Chao's "How to Cook and Eat in Chinese" from 1945 hugely advanced female contributions to the culinary industry, Child's visibility was unprecedented. When "The French Chef" debuted in 1963, Julia Child became the first woman to host a televised cooking program.
While promoting her 1961 book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Child made an omelette on live TV. Her imposing stature (she was 6'2") and cooing, sing-song voice captivated viewers immediately. Producers at the public network WGBH believed she could carry her own show. And carry she did. Child's earnest segments encouraged people to tackle French cuisine and her popularity paved the way for fellow public TV greats like Jacques Pépin. Child is an undisputed lightning rod of celebrity chef culture. She was pushing 90 when she filmed 22 episodes of "Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home". Child passed away two days shy of her 92nd birthday.
Read the original article on Mashed.