Restaurants come and restaurants go, but the brilliant culinary minds behind them just seem to get better with age, constantly refining their art or conquering new gastronomic territory. You may never eat one of their meals, but these cooking legends have spent decades shaping America’s culinary landscape, influencing how we shop and prepare the food on our dinner tables.
Thomas Keller, 65
French and New American cuisine
Keller is primarily known for his Napa Valley destination restaurant The French Laundry, a quaint, two-story 1920s steam laundry he bought in 1994. This American mega-chef got his start in a Florida restaurant managed by his mother before expanding his culinary education in France. He was named the best chef in America in 1997 by the James Beard Foundation.
Masaharu Morimoto, 65
With training in sushi and traditional kaiseki cuisine in Japan, Morimoto opened his first restaurant in his native Hiroshima in 1980, later attracting a global following on "Iron Chef" and its American spinoffs. His original Morimoto restaurant opened in Philadelphia in 2001 with other locations following in New York, Napa Valley, Miami Beach and Las Vegas.
Dean Fearing, 66
Known as the father of Southwestern cuisine, this son of a Kentucky innkeeper graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He had 20 years of experience under his apron before opening Fearing’s in Dallas in 2007, drawing on some of his grandmother’s recipes. He’s been featured in the PBS series "Great Chefs," hosted his own show on Food Network and wrote "The Texas Food Bible."
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Susan Spicer, 66
New Southern cuisine
Susan Spicer’s culinary training began in New Orleans and continued in Paris and California before she returned to the Crescent City to open Bayona. She opened the restaurant in 1990 in the French Quarter, utilizing European, Asian, North African, and American flavors. She’s made appearances on Bravo’s "Top Chef," wrote the cookbook "Crescent City Cooking," and was the basis for the character of chef Janette Desautel on HBO’s series "Treme."
Frank Stitt, 66
After working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, Stitt traveled to France to help chef and food writer Richard Olney produce a Time-Life cooking series. He later returned to America and opened the Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1982, drawing on ingredients from his rural roots. The Southern Foodways Alliance honored him with a lifetime achievement award for his elevation of Southern cuisine.
Rick Bayless, 67
Long before establishing a string of successful Chicago restaurants — anchored by Frontera Grill and Topolobampo — Bayless grew up watching Julia Child on TV in Oklahoma City where his family ran a barbecue restaurant. The host of the PBS series "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" has cooked for U.S. presidents and recently launched a subscription YouTube cooking channel to help support his employees during the pandemic.
David Bouley, 67
After studying at the Sorbonne and working under top European chefs, Bouley spent time in American kitchens before opening his acclaimed restaurant — Bouley — in New York City (1987-2017). His Bouley at Home concept (a tasting menu restaurant and cooking school) closed in 2020 with the chef now "focused on catering events, planning virtual reality education programs, and working on a book series," Eater.com reports.
Robert Del Grande, 67
American and Southwestern cuisine
With a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Del Grande chose a culinary career after experimenting in a friend’s Houston restaurant, Cafe Annie, where he soon became executive chef and partner with his brother-in-law. Their Cafe Express concept of fast-casual, bistro-style restaurants was founded in 1984. Del Grande opened the revamped Annie Cafe & Bar with new partners in Houston in 2019.
Hubert Keller, 67
French and American cuisine
A judge on Bravo’s "Top Chef" and host of his own "Secrets of a Chef" series on PBS, this French-born chef got his start in his father’s pastry shop. He mastered his craft under noted French chefs before opening the long-running Fleur de Lys restaurant in San Francisco. He recently stepped away from his gourmet Burger Bar and Fleur restaurants at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
John Sedlar, 67
Modern Southwestern cuisine
Mixing traditional food from his childhood in New Mexico with his education in classic French cooking techniques, Sedlar developed his signature style. He had popular restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1990s before selling them to focus on building a food company. The author of several cookbooks, he returned to the kitchen in 2009, opening Rivera in Los Angeles and then Eloisa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2015.
Nancy Silverton, 67
Pastry chef, baker
Fans of sourdough bread can thank this chef who helped popularize the variety. After dropping out of college and training in Europe, she worked for Wolfgang Puck at Spago and later began experimenting with artisan bread recipes through her Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. The author of eight cookbooks was profiled in the Netflix series "Chef’s Table."
Susan Feniger, 68, and Mary Sue Milliken, 63
SoCal and Modern Mexican cuisine
After meeting in a Chicago restaurant and working (separately) in France, these longtime collaborators became known for street food-inspired Mexican cuisine through their Border Grill restaurant in Los Angeles before their starring turn in Food Network’s "Too Hot Tamale." Their latest endeavor is the California canteen and Mexican pub SOCALO in Santa Monica, California. They were the first women to win the Julia Child Award in 2018.
Sam Choy, 69
Hawaii regional cuisine
Choy went from the culinary arts program at Kapiolani Community College in Honolulu to the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and returned to the Islands to open his first restaurant, Kaloko, in 1981. A founder of Hawaii regional cuisine, combining local ingredients with world influences, he’s the author of several cookbooks.
Larry Forgione, 69
One of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement, this Culinary Institute of America graduate and protege of James Beard worked in some of the top kitchens in Europe and America before opening An American Place in 1983 in New York City. He’s referred to as the Godfather of American cuisine.
Stephen Pyles, 69
Modern Texas and Southwestern cuisines
Called the father of Modern Texas cuisine and a co-founder of Southwestern cuisine, this fifth-generation Texan worked in the kitchen of his family’s Truck Stop Cafe in Big Springs, Texas. That was followed by classic training in French cuisine, including assisting Julia Child at the Great Chefs of France Cooking School. After creating more than 25 restaurants over 30 years, he retired from restaurant ownership in January 2020.
Norman Van Aken, 70
Fusion, New World cuisine
A pioneer in fusion cuisine and the author of six books, Van Aken’s kitchen career started with a newspaper ad for a short-order cook that said "no experience necessary." It wasn’t until a few years later, while working in Key West, that he began to think of cooking "as a true craft," blending ethnic Latin, Caribbean, Asian, American, and African flavors.
Wolfgang Puck, 71
California, French, and fusion cuisine
"Spago made Wolfgang Puck the first (and maybe only) chef you and your grandma know by name," The Infatuation said in 2017. That’s still true today, nearly 40 years after Puck launched the iconic Hollywood restaurant — where you can still find his smoked salmon pizza and Austrian wienerschnitzel on the menu — at the heart of what’s become a culinary empire built on the celebrity chef’s name.
Jonathan Waxman, 71
California, American, and Italian
A former musician and a pioneer of California cuisine, Jonathan Waxman let up the New York City restaurant scene in 1984 with the opening of Waxman’s Jams. Following the creation of several other restaurants and a stint as a consultant, he returned to the kitchen in New York City’s Washington Park restaurant before opening Barbuto.
Nobu Matsuhisa, 72
After becoming a sushi master in Tokyo, Matsuhisa opened a restaurant in Peru at age 24 and began incorporating Peruvian ingredients in his Japanese dishes to develop a unique fusion style. Through he opened his Matsuhisa restaurant in Beverly Hills, he met Robert De Niro, who convinced him to open the first of his chain of Nobu restaurants in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.
Marin Yan, 72
The popular TV host’s cooking education began with his mother in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant in China and grew through formal training in Hong Kong. Later, his cooking demonstrations on a Canadian TV station caught the attention of PBS and the "Yan Can Cook" series was born. The certified Master Chef also has written dozens of cookbooks.
Ina Garten, 73
While working in the White House Office of Management and Budget in 1978, Garten decided to buy the Barefoot Contessa, a specialty food store on Long Island. The avid cook grew into a chef, developing her style over the next 18 years. The publication of her first cookbook in 1999 helped launch her career as a Food Network star.
Mark Miller, 73
Lydia Shire, 73
After attending London’s Cordon Bleu Cooking School, Shire returned to Boston’s Maison Robert where she’d been a "salad girl" and went from line cook to head chef in three years. Shire later found success leading kitchens in her own restaurants such as Seasons, BIBA ("Back in Boston Again"), Pignoli, Excelsior, and Scampo.
Lidia Bastianich, 74
A fixture on public television cooking shows since 1998 when PBS launched "Lidia’s Italian Table," Bastianich is the chef and owner of restaurants in New York City, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Las Vegas. The Emmy Award winner also owns a food and entertainment business, and is the author of 13 cookbooks.
Patrick O’Connell, 75
This James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award winner opened a catering business in the Shenandoah Valley in 1972 before rocketing to fame in 1978 as chef and owner of The Inn at Little Washington. "I’m living proof you can hide out in a mountain village and still be discovered and recognized by your peers," O’Connell said in 2019. "The power of good food should never be underestimated."
Marcel Desaulniers, 76
American cuisine, chocolate
The self-described "Guru of Ganache" and host of two TV shows, Desaulniers owned and operated the award-winning Trellis restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia, for 29 years and gained widespread fame with his 1992 book "Death by Chocolate." Among his many honors is the lifetime achievement award from his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, in 1996.
Alice Waters, 76
Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 in Berkeley, California and became an important contributor to the California cuisine movement that utilized fresh, locally available foods. Her dedication to organic food also can be seen in the Edible Schoolyard program at a Berkeley middle school, which boasts a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom.
Nora Pouillon, 77
Disappointed with the quality of produce available at American supermarkets, this Austrian-born chef turned to organic meat and vegetables, an interest that eventually led to the opening of the first certified organic restaurant in the U.S. Her Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C. (1979-2017), featured healthful, European-influenced American organic cooking. Pouillon also is a founding member of Chefs Collaborative, which is dedicated to sustainable food practices.
Jeremiah Tower, 79
A wildly successful chef with no formal culinary background (but an architecture degree from Harvard), Tower was a pioneer of the California cuisine style (Alice Waters gave him his first job). "The approach … was that you don’t have a menu in your head until you’ve found the ingredients," he told NOLA. "That’s the difference." His Stars restaurant was the place to be seen in ’80s San Francisco.
Joyce Goldstein, 85
Jewish and Mediterranean
Chef and owner of San Francisco’s Square One restaurant (1984-96), Goldstein was the founder and director of California Street Cooking School, the city’s first international cooking center. She’s written numerous cookbooks including "The Mediterranean Kitchen" and "Back to Square One: Old World Food in a New World Kitchen" and continues to lecture and work as a consultant to the restaurant and food industries.
Jacques Pépin, 85
Trained in his native France, Pépin was the personal chef for three French heads of state before coming to America in 1959. He became lifelong friends with Julia Child and worked with her on the PBS series "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home." The author of more than 30 cookbooks, his foundation supports community kitchens that offer free culinary training to adults with high barriers to employment.
Norma Frances "Tootsie" Tomanetz, 86
Hill Country barbecue
Dubbed the dean of Texas pitmasters by Texas Monthly magazine, "Miss Tootsie" works her magic Saturdays at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas. She fires up the barbecue pits at 2 a.m., crowds pour in the door at 8 a.m., and the restaurant closes when the food is gone. You may have seen this Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee in the Netflix series "Chef’s Table: BBQ."
André Soltner, 89
Known as America’s first superstar chef, Soltner honed his skills in Paris before coming to New York City in 1961 to work at the restaurant Lutèce. "He didn’t just serve some of the world’s finest French cuisine, he elevated it to a high art," notes GreatChefs. He was the restaurant’s sole owner from 1972 to 1994 before joining The French Culinary Institute as a dean.