Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – In the world of fine dining, where creativity and commerce intermingle heavily, power is fluid.
The ability to influence others may come from economic might, but for many, vision and innovation are what imbue people with power.
While there are numerous lists trying to pinpoint who in the industry holds sway over others, the best way to truly understand influence in American fine dining was to go directly to professionals throughout the industry and ask them what they thought.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – More than 100 people from across the restaurant world—from Michelin-starred chefs to James Beard Award-winning restaurateurs to prominent investors to media members to CEOs of restaurant tech platforms—stated who they believed were the most powerful among their peers.
Voters were encouraged to be expansive in how they thought about who held power: Perhaps it’s the chefs who most influence others creatively; the restaurateurs growing dining empires; the investors working behind the scenes to fund top talent; the real estate developers that can attract great restaurant groups; or the media figures who can drive or deter business with their opinions.
Ultimately, the goal was to know who moves the needle creatively and economically.
With those parameters in mind, each voter was allowed to select 10 people they thought held the most power in the industry.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – In the instance of a voter believing a duo or trio’s influence was inextricably linked, they were allowed to group them as one entry on their ballot.
Gender, racial, age, and geographic diversity were sought in the voting body to give the best possible snapshot of the restaurant world right now.
And despite gender parity in our voting body, perceptions of who holds power in the industry still skews male, with the number of men on the list greatly outnumbering the women.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining -But as voting continued, it was obvious that a new class of young, diverse leaders emerge, showing a bright future for fine dining.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – Thomas Keller
Thomas Keller is undoubtedly the dean of American fine dining.
He’s the only chef in the States to ever lead two Michelin three-starred restaurants.
He has won 10 James Beard Awards; French Laundry topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list twice.
His six cookbooks have more than 1.5 million copies in circulation.
But beyond the accolades, there’s the influence he has had on his peers and mentees with his exacting technique, wit, and creativity on the plate and professionalism in the kitchen.
“When Kiss got inducted into the Rock and Roll of fame years ago, Tom Morello claimed they got in on impact, influence, and awesomeness,” says James Beard Award–winning restaurateur Kevin Boehm of Boka Group.
“Restaurants Hall of Fame criteria could be similar—and French Laundry and chef Keller have killed it on all levels.
It’s influenced everyone from Corey Lee to Redzepi to Achatz, its impact can be seen in any number of menus and cookbooks across the country, and its awesomeness fills his picturesque dining room every night with guests from around the world.”
Through his restaurants, Keller trained a generation of American chefs who have raised the level of food around the country.
“You can’t go into a kitchen in Napa Valley or even beyond where if you sit there for long enough you won’t hear something about a connection to Thomas Keller,” says Samantha Rudd, vintner at Rudd Estate and owner of Michelin-Starred Press.
“Someone who can continue to motivate people to be the best version of themselves even years after not working for them—that’s remarkable.”
When he arrived in America more than 40 years ago, Daniel Boulud thought he’d only be stateside for a limited stint as an ambassador’s private chef.
After relocating from D.C. to New York, he decided to stay, eventually building one of America’s great fine-dining empires that stretches from his flagship Michelin two-starred Daniel in Manhattan to restaurants around the world.
His acolytes have spread across the country, taking what they learned under him to open outstanding restaurants of their own.
“Working for Daniel Boulud was like getting your masters at the Ivy League of restaurants,” says Aaron Bludorn, former executive chef of Café Boulud and current chef-owner of Bludorn and Navy Blue in Houston.
“He wanted all of us to be informed about our restaurant as a business and drive it with our daily decisions.
Most importantly we learned about the importance of mentoring by the way he mentored us—door always open and ready to help us tackle any issue big or small.”
And all these years in, Boulud is hardly slowing down.
He has announced that Café Boulud will return to New York this year, and he’s opening his first West Coast restaurant in Beverly Hills.
This comes on the heels of him opening the luxe Le Pavillon, which garnered him another Michelin star last year, inside the new supertall skyscraper One Vanderbilt and backing the new 18-seat sushi omakase counter Jōji, which was just awarded a star, too.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining -Dominique Crenn
In 2018, Dominique Crenn made history. When Michelin announced its Bay Area guide that year, she became the first woman in America to earn three Michelin stars when Atelier Crenn attained the honor.
But her positive influence on the industry was felt well before that.
“Dominique has been a great ambassador for American fine dining for over a decade,” says James Beard Award–winning chef Vince Nguyen of Berlu in Portland, Ore.
“She’s proven that you can have the highest culinary ambitions and still smile along the way. A true inspiration.”
Her contemporary cuisine at Atelier Crenn is driven by California ingredients, and in 2019, she bolstered her environmentalist bonafides by ditching meat from her menu in the name of sustainability.
She did the same at her other hit restaurants as well, embracing pescatarian menus at Bar Crenn and Petit Crenn as well as her new Parisian restaurant Golden Poppy.
And her influence has grown outside of the four walls of her restaurants, too: Crenn appeared as an Iron Chef on Netflix’s reboot of the show and acted as the chief technical consultant on the 2022 horror film The Menu.
Grant Achatz is one of the most wildly inventive chefs America has produced.
His flagship restaurant, Alinea, continues to be a beacon of modernist cuisine nearly two decades after he opened it in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
“Grant’s power comes from pushing the envelope in showing the fine-dining goers that the weird and different dining can also be fine dining,” says Jin Ahn, co-owner of New York’s Noreetuh.
“He was a pioneer in this genre of fine dining and continued to evolve his operation with another genius in Nick Kokonas to push forward his vision.”
Over the years, Alinea Group has grown to encompass a host of restaurants, primarily located in the thriving culinary scene of Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood.
There’s Next, the restaurant that completely reinvents itself every few months; Aviary, the groundbreaking modernist cocktail bar; Roister, the live-fire restaurant where more rustic fare still gets Achatz’s exacting treatment; and St. Clair Supper Club, the ode to midcentury prime-rib joints.
As Achatz has grown his empire with business partner Kokonas, he has still maintained the respect of his peers. “Chef Achatz is a generational icon for many chefs,” says Aitor Zabala, chef-owner of the forthcoming Somni in Los Angeles.
“And his contributions to gastronomy are part of our industry today.”
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining -Junghyun and Ellia Park
This husband-and-wife team have had a meteoric rise since opening their Korean banchan-inspired restaurant Atoboy in New York’s NoMad neighborhood in 2016.
For chef Junghyun and restaurateur Ellia, it was only the beginning. Junghyun came to the States from Korea to cook at the New York outpost of Michelin two-starred Jungsik before setting out on his own.
After Atoboy came the couple’s big creative swing, the tasting-menu-driven Atomix, which is a loving celebration of Korean culture from the food to the ceramics to the utensils to even the staff uniforms.
Atomix has put the duo on the vanguard of a growing Korean fine-dining movement in New York, and the tasting counter shot up the World’s 50 Best list to No. 8 this year, making it the highest-ranked restaurant in America.
Last year they opened yet another acclaimed restaurant as part of the massive Rockefeller Center remodel.
Naro serves as their contemporary interpretation of traditional Korean dishes that aren’t as well known in America.
They’re highlighting more subtle fare than most diners are used to and pushing Korean cuisine forward in the U.S. yet again.
“In just a few years, this Korean dynamic duo has established itself in the top ranks of the American fine-dining scene,” says Rita Jammet, owner of La Caravelle Champagne.
“I believe their power emanates from culinary and hospitality excellence as well as the genuineness in representing their Korean identity—and telling their story through the dishes.”
José Andrés oversees a significant restaurant empire that includes his Michelin two-starred flagship in D.C., but it’s his work beyond the kitchen that has made him one of the most important figures in the culinary industry.
In 2010, the chef founded World Central Kitchen, which provides meals during humanitarian crises around the globe.
Andrés and his team have been present at some of the most catastrophic disasters in recent years, including the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria in 2017 and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
It’s this open-heartedness that has won Andrés praise from others in the industry.
“Jose Andres is like a superhero,” Caroline Styne told Robb Report. “In true superhero style, he responds to emergencies, dropping everything to run towards places and situations that are in turmoil and suffering to help provide food and support to those in need.
He is a true example of someone who uses his power for good.”
Or as Cote’s Simon Kim put it, “In an industry filled with incredible talent, not only does Chef bring one-of-a-kind dining experiences to life in the most authentic way possible.
But his work with World Central Kitchen and unwavering dedication to bettering the world and supporting communities in need is incredibly admirable, heroic, and something I feel personally drawn to.”
Few chefs are talked about in this way, and while some may be thought of as culinary heroes, Andrés’s impact reaches far beyond the restaurant world.
He exemplifies someone who uses his platform to do something bigger than himself, and he does it with humility and graciousness in spades.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – Jean-Georges Vongerichten
As the visionary behind more than 60 restaurants worldwide, Jean-Georges Vongerichten is quite literally everywhere you look in the culinary industry.
That reach, though, hasn’t diluted his quality as a chef and restaurateur. “JG’s power comes from all those who became part of his empire, lending their passion and energy to execute JG’s business acumen,” Jin Ahn told Robb Report.
“His empire grew without diminishing too much of its quality and not having to be everywhere at the same time.
His fine-dining empire is likened to those of a well-oiled multinational corporation.”
Vongerichten has, according to some, revolutionized the way we eat by finessing a type of cuisine that turns away from the traditional heaviness of butter and cream and toward lighter ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs that retain the same depth of flavor.
While his namesake New York City restaurant may have been downgraded from three Michelin stars to two in 2017, it’s still a feat that someone so prolific can churn out food of the highest quality—not just at one restaurant, but at many.
And after all these decades in the business, he pulled off one of his biggest culinary flexes just last year. Inside the restored historic Tin Building on Manhattan’s Seaport Vongerichten has built a massive food hall where he operates retail, fine dining, and fast casual alike.
And right after he opened that project, he inked a deal for a two-story restaurant inside a gleaming Park Avenue office tower.
This new restaurant and the Tin Building show that major N.Y.C. developers still look to him to anchor their ambitious projects.
Eric Ripert has been at the top of the culinary world for almost three decades.
And staying power hasn’t relied on spreading a massive culinary empire around the globe but instead on a devotion to a handful of restaurants with the perennial dining institution Le Bernardin at the core.
“Ripert’s Le Bernardin is still to this date relevant through his uncanny ability to maintain the highest level of consistency in quality,” Noreetuh’s Jin Ahn told Robb Report.
“It has captured New Yorkers’ hearts and wallets for decades without losing relevance.”
Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze opened the restaurant in Paris in 1972 before moving it to New York City in 1986.
Ripert joined in 1991 and took over the kitchen after Gilbert died of a heart attack. In 1995, when he was just 29, Ripert was honored with a four-star rating in The New York Times, and he received that ranking four more times over the course of 20 years, plus another rave from Pete Wells in February.
As such, Le Bernardin is the only restaurant to receive the paper of record’s highest rating for that stretch of time, without ever losing a star.
The influential seafood restaurant has racked up plenty of other accolades along the way, maintaining its Michelin three-starred status since 2005, ranking No. 44 on this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and slotting in at No. 1, once again, on La Liste’s global ranking of restaurants.
Most Powerful Chefs in Fine Dining – Daniel Humm
In the two-decade history of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, only two establishments on American soil have topped the list: Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park (E.M.P.).
When Danny Meyer originally opened E.M.P., it was a bustling 400-person-a-night French-American brasserie.
After Humm and Will Guidara purchased the eatery, they transformed it into a temple of gastronomy and a global culinary destination.
While also running the nearby NoMad, the duo pushed E.M.P. to three Michelin stars and earned the title of World’s Best Restaurant in 2017.
In the wake of the honor, they spread NoMad to Los Angeles and Las Vegas while getting into fast-casual restaurants with Made Nice.
But in 2019, that fruitful partnership ended, with Guidara and Humm splitting and the chef taking the restaurants with him. He has since broken up with NoMad, too, and shuttered Made Nice. Humm turned his full attention to E.M.P.—where he showed he can still make a big splash.
After shutting down briefly during the pandemic, EMP reopened with a plant-based menu.
This was one of the first tasting-menu restaurants at a three-star level to do so.
Retaining a $335-per-person price tag, Humm challenged diners to see vegetable-forward meals as worth the same cost and care as omnivorous ones, and as a more sustainable alternative to Americans’ meat-heavy diet.
While the revamped menu was not universally beloved by critics, Humm has been able to retain the restaurant’s highest Michelin honors.
And while he focuses on EMP, many alums of the restaurant have gone on to run their own acclaimed spots, from James Kent to Kwame Onwuachi to Lee Wolen.
In an era when chefs ascended as the leading stars of the restaurant industry, restaurateur Danny Meyer still managed to shine brighter than most.
The founder of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, when he was just 27.
From there, the hits kept coming with restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, and Manhatta.
And although it’s not fine dining, Shake Shack was also Meyer’s brainchild.
Through it all, the restaurateur and his USHG have won a whopping 28 James Beard Awards over the years.
His approach to service and building a business was codified in the best-selling book Setting the Table, which became a bible to aspiring restaurateurs and also leaders outside the industry.
Throughout his career, Meyer has emphasized the well-being of his employees and his customers, promoting a sense of what he calls “enlightened hospitality.”
And he has been unafraid to buck conventional wisdom in the industry, like when he instituted a groundbreaking no-tipping policy that was ultimately undone during the pandemic.
Although he has stepped down as CEO of USHG, other restaurateurs still look to him as a leader.
“Danny Meyer has been influential on so many levels, from pioneering a style of service and hospitality that changed the face of fine dining in New York to inspiring a new kind of corporate leadership focused on employee well-being,” restaurateur Caroline Styne told Robb Report.
“He is the rare kind of person who can be innovative and hugely successful while also being warm and compassionate.”