If you’ve ever looked at Le Chef’s top 100 chefs in the world and wondered who would feature on a list of home-grown American talent, take a look at our ultimate list of the US chefs everybody is talking about.
Top 10 most famous US female chefs
French-born Dominique Crenn is the first female chef in the USA to hold three Michelin stars, which she was awarded for her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn in 2019. Known for her French inspired food and seasonal menus, Crenn is also the proprietor of the one Michelin starred Bar Crenn, an elegant Parisian-style wine bar serving small plates, and Petit Crenn, a French-style bistro. Crenn is committed to sustainable cuisine, removing land-based meat from all her restaurants in 2019, and sourcing the majority of her ingredients from her own farm. When the Michelin Guide introduced the green star in 2020, both Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn were among the first establishments to be recognized.
Alice Waters is chef patron of Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse, the birthplace of California cuisine. Opened in 1971, at a time when US cuisine was characterised by convenience and exaggerated technique, the simple, sustainable fare at Chez Panisse radically broke the mould. From the outset, Waters demanded local, seasonal ingredients that were organically and sustainably grown, and the influence of these principles can be seen in the work of America’s leading chefs today. Waters is also a national public policy advocate for school lunch reform and universal access to healthy, organic foods. She created the Edible Schoolyard program in 1995 and the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996.
Carla Hall is a familiar face in American households from her many TV appearances. Her first big break came in 2008, when she was selected as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef. She ended the series as runner up, but not before impressing the judges and public alike. More TV work followed, including Top Chef: All Stars in 2010, and as co-presenter of Emmy-Award-Winning cooking-themed chat show The Chew. Hall is currently co-host of Worst Cooks in America and is a host and judge on Best Baker in America.
Catherine Ann Cora
Catherine Ann ‘Cat’ Cora will be best known to millions of Americans for her role on Food Network’s Iron Chef of America, where she served as the show’s only female Iron Chef for ten series from 2005. She was also co-host of Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates, and owns multiple restaurants in the US and abroad, including the award-winning Ocean by Cat Cora, Kouzzina by Cat Cora at Disney World, CCQ at Macy’s, Postino in San Francisco’s East Bay, Mesa Burger in Santa Barbara, Cat Cora’s Taproom in the Detroit Metro Airport and Cat Cora’s Kitchen in various airport locations throughout the US, as well as Olilo by Cat Cora and Wicked Eats by Cat Cora, with over 500 pop-ups across the country.
Almost fifteen years after her death, multi-award-winning chef and author Edna Lewis remains a key influence on the way we understand Southern and African-American cuisine today. She wrote and co-wrote four books on the subject, and is particularly well-known for her 1976 book The Taste of Country Cooking, which contains both recipes and reminiscences about her childhood growing up in a small Virginia Piedmont farming community of freed slaves. With an emphasis on living with the seasons, the book was ahead of its time in many ways, and enjoyed a surge in popularity in 2017 after it was featured in an episode of Top Chef.
Michelin-starred chef and artisan baker Nancy Silverton owns the Mozza restaurant group, which includes various branches of Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, gourmet takeout Mozza2Go and Chi Spacca. Her flagship LA branch of Osteria Mozza has held one Michelin star since 2008. She rose to fame in the 1990s as co-owner and pastry chef at La Brea bakery, where she helped popularise artisan bread in the United States with her hand-shaped, double-proved bread.
Chef and civil rights campaigner Leah Chase, known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, was chef-proprietor of New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase’s, an important meeting place for Civil Rights activists in the 60s. Chase has won numerous awards for her cooking, including a James Beard Lifetime Achievement award, while Dooky Chase’s was named one of the 40 most important restaurants of the past 40 years by Food & Wine.
Gabrielle Hamilton is chef-proprietor of New York restaurant Prune, a favourite with both customers and critics for its simple, bistro-style menu, and legendary brunches. She is also author of Blood, Bones, & Butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef, which was described by Anthony Bourdain as ‘simply the best memoir by a chef ever’. She has been the recipient of four James Beard Awards, including Outstanding Chef in 2018, and was featured in the PBS show Mind of a Chef in 2015.
Often heralded as America’s first celebrity chef, Julia Child popularised French cuisine in the US with her 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and numerous TV shows. From her first TV appearance in 1962, Child won viewers’ hearts with her authentic and approachable style, and was rarely absent from the nation’s television screens from then until her death in 2004. Her impact on American culture is so great that her kitchen can now be found on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Lidia Bastianich is an Italian-American TV chef, author, and restaurateur. She owns several Italian restaurants with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali and her son, Joe Bastianich, and has appeared in numerous cooking shows since 1998, including Lidia's Italian Table, Lidia's Family Table, Lidia's Italy, Lidia's Italy in America, and Lidia's Kitchen. The Bastianich family was honoured by NOIAW in 2010 for their outstanding contributions to Italian culture in America.
Although the US culinary scene is still to some extent a male-dominated industry, perhaps especially in terms of Michelin-star awards, the number of talented female chefs making it to the top suggests this is slowly beginning to change. And it seems that this pattern is repeating itself in countries around the world, with more and more women joining the ranks of the world’s best chefs. If you want to find out more about women in international cuisine, check out our article on Latin America’s female chefs.
Top 10 most famous US male chefs
Thomas Keller is the USA’s most decorated chef, with a current total of seven Michelin stars. He is best known for his legendary Bay Area restaurant, The French Laundry, which serves classical French-style cooking with a lighthearted American twist. The French Laundry was named Best Restaurant in The World by Restaurant Magazine for two years running, in 2003 and 2004, and was awarded three Michelin stars in 2007. Its New York sister restaurant, Per Se, has held a further three stars since 2005, making Keller the only US chef to own two three-star restaurants at the same time. His final star is courtesy of French-style bistro, Bouchon, located just along the street from The French Laundry.
For many, Chinese-American chef and author Ken Hom is the ultimate authority on Chinese cookery. He has written 36 books, many of which have been translated into over 16 languages, and has appeared in various cookery shows on the BBC, as well as a documentary on the history of the noodle for KBS, which sold in 23 countries and won the Peabody award in 2010. He has also won numerous awards, worked as a consultant for hotels and restaurants and cooked personally for presidents, celebrities and royalty.
Swiss-born Daniel Humm is chef-proprietor of the multi-award-winning New York Restaurant Eleven Madison Park, which holds three Michelin stars, and came top of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017. Known for his focus on simplicity, purity, and seasonal flavours, Humm was awarded his first Michelin star at the age of just 24, and has also totalled five James Beard awards, among other accolades. He also runs Davies and Brook, in London’s historic Claridges hotel, which has earned him yet another Michelin star.
Wolfgang Puck is a familiar face in American households from his numerous appearances on cookery shows such as Cooking Class with Wolfgang Puck and Iron Chef of America: Battle of the Masters, as well as cameo appearances on American Idol, Frasier, and Tales from the Crypt. He operates several restaurant chains, with branches in the United States and overseas, including his flagship California cuisine concept Spago, Asian fusion restaurants Chinois on Main in Santa Monica and re/Asian Cuisine in Bahrain Bay, luxury steak chain CUT and Las Vegas Italian restaurant Lupo, as well as relaxed dining venues Wolfgang Puck Kitchen and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. Puck currently holds two Michelin stars, one each for CUT, Beverly Hills, and CUT, Singapore.
Jean Georges Vongerichten
French-born chef Jean Georges Vongerichten owns restaurants around the world, with 14 restaurants in his adopted home, New York, including his first restaurant, Jojo, and his two-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant Jean-Georges. Vongerichten is known for its innovative interpretation of classical French cuisine, which inspired a generation of young chefs and led to a uniquely American form of nouvelle cuisine. New York wrote that in the past two decades, no single chef has had more influence on the way New Yorkers dine out, or on the way other chefs cook and other restaurants look.
Grant Achatz is known for his innovative molecular cuisine and interactive, theatrical presentation, including his iconic Tabletop Dessert. His flagship Chicago restaurant, Alinea has three Michelin stars, and has appeared in multiple ‘Best Restaurant’ lists, topping Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World for 6 years running, from 2011-2016. Achatz holds another Michelin star for his ever-changing themed restaurant, Next, also located in Chicago. His high- concept cocktail bars, The Aviary and The Office, currently have locations in both Chicago and New York.
French-born Daniel Boulud has restaurants located throughout the world, but is best known for his flagship New York restaurant Daniel, which holds two Michelin stars and was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame in 2013. He has published several cookbooks and made multiple TV appearances, including as host of After Hours with Daniel. He is also on the board of directors of the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation, which is responsible for selecting the USA’s entrants for the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition.
A unique and much-missed voice in the culinary world, Anthony Bourdain was a chef, writer and travel documentarian. Throughout his work - which includes three bestselling books and several award-winning documentaries - there is a focus on exploring other cultures, cuisines, and the human condition. He was known for his willingness to try unusual local dishes, and was outspoken against Westerners who dismiss or moralise against the culinary traditions of other cultures. Three years after his tragic death, Bourdain’s influence lives on. His final book, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide was completed by his longtime assistant Laurie Woolever and published in October 2020, while a documentary about his life is due to be released on 16 July 2021. He will be remembered for his intellectual curiosity and humanity, and his legacy is to have forever changed our understanding of, and willingness to interact with, cultures other than our own.
David Chang is the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, including New York’s Momofuku Ko, which currently holds two Michelin stars, and was featured in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018. He is also the presenter of the critically acclaimed Netflix Original documentary series Ugly Delicious, which was nominated for an Emmy award. With his unpretentious, flavour-forward fusion dishes, Chang has been instrumental in reimagining modern Asian cuisine, and his impact on the culinary world has been such that he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010.
Known as ‘The Dean of American Cuisine,’ James Beard was a chef, author of over twenty cookbooks, teacher, and one of the first TV chefs. An early pioneer of television cooking shows, he first appeared on the nation’s screens in 1946, and soon became a figurehead for the emerging idea of a uniquely American cuisine. In 1955, he founded the James Beard Cooking School, and spent the next three decades teaching the nation to cook, both at his own school and at women's clubs, other cooking schools, and civic groups around the country. After his death in 1985, The James Beard Foundation was created in his honour to provide scholarships for young chefs. The foundation also holds an annual awards ceremony to celebrate the best of the culinary world, and to this day, a James Beard award is one of the most sought-after accolades in the industry.