The culinary industry has flipped over on its head in the last 50 years. Before, the importance was placed on "who’s eating this meal?" and now the question seems to be "who made this meal?" That’s how it should be, though – the more we watch shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef, and cooking shows, the more diners appreciate what goes into a perfectly executed meal. People who sit down at the table are caring more about ingredients, proper cooking method, presentation and the pure artistry of the job. America, of course, is the country that truly pushed this trend of celebrity chefs, and here they remain, serving up powerhouse meals to powerful people. For the best celebrity chef cities in the United States, read on!
There’s about five restaurants by household names in the celebrity chef game on the Disney grounds alone: Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café in Downtown Disney, Todd English’s Bluezoo in the Dolphin Resort, first female Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Kouzzina on the Disney Boardwalk and even more. Don’t be fooled by the hokey futuristic-diner exterior of Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café – the food offers a nice selection of sushi and pizzas for picky kids, but executed to Puck standards. Plus, they serve sangria, cocktails and have a curated list of wines, so parents can go ahead and glug glug when they feel the need to. Orlando vacationers not interested in Mickey can explore with Norman’s in the Ritz-Carlton, named after Norman Van Aken, Florida’s first celebrity chef and one of the founders of what some call "New World fusion." Try his Florida-Caribbean offerings of shrimp ceviche with tomato and avocado, or creamy cracked conch chowder.
Philadelphia is buzzing with creative energy and it’s magnetizing celebrity chefs all around to come and set up shop in this sunny little corner of the world. The fact is, people who love Philly really love Philly – Chef Masaharu Morimoto, of Iron Chef fame, opened up his first independent restaurant venture on Chestnut Street in 2001 and it’s still a go-to place for upscale Philadelphians and traveling eaters. The menu at his Omakase-style Morimoto is made up of small, delicate Japanese dishes and best ordered prixe-fixe. Another Iron Chef America champion, Chef Jose Garces also opened up his flagship restaurant in Philly – Amada, a tapas restaurant serving elevated Andalusian food spread over brunch, lunch and dinner. Since opening Amada, he’s furthered his Philadelphia empire with restaurants Tinto, Distrito, Chifa,the upscale burger and bourbon bistro Village Whiskey, the Guapos Tacos food truck and more. That’s a lot of restaurant ventures, but it’s also boosts Philadelphia’s new image of a playground of taste. Look out in the coming months for Concrete Blonde, the latest creation to come out of sassy Top Chef alumni Jenny Carroll, who worked under super-chef Eric Ripert for many years at his highly respected Le Bernardin in New York.
The word in D.C. is "power". Sure, New York and LA’s got high-powered clientele but let’s be real here: White House Down is the closest that Jamie Foxx will ever get to Capitol Hill. The people whose photos fill the tabloids aren’t exactly making life or death decisions, and thank goodness for that. So these highly important and – shall we say – powerful individuals deserve some fine grubbing. For a quick bite between meetings, there’s spunky Top Chef runner-up Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery, which serves burgers and other good stuff that only place first in our hearts. After a long day in the White House, politicos get to somewhat loosen their ties and unwind with a glass of wine and classic upscale Italian plates from the kitchen of James Beard award-winning Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola. And the truly powerful keep their ties fully tied and take their significant others to any one of José Andrés’ avant garde restaurants – the Prez gets in without a reservation. His Minibar is a super-exclusive six-seater prixe fixe dinner and a culinary show with 25 heavily creative molecular gastronomical tasting dishes and wine pairings, while Zaytinya serves beautiful mezze-style Mediterranean fare for the young urban professional set. The wine is always on point, the prices are worth it and the clientele tend always to be worthy of the selection.
Not enough has been made of Chicago’s food scene. This diverse city has a plethora of delicious offerings from every neighborhood – off the beaten path family run ethnic diners, classic deep dish pies and Chicago dogs, and, yes, big celebrity restaurants abound in the windy city. The legendary molecular gastronomy chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea’s position on "Top 50 Restaurants" in the world oscillates through the years but never sinks below #15. There’s only one in the world, and Chicagoans are thrilled it’s there. Diners who are looking for something more substantial than dabs of rabbit liver on a bed of coriander foam for $200 will want to look to the upscale but dressed down elevated Southern comfort restaurant Table Fifty Two, run by Art Smith, celebrated chef and former private chef to Oprah. Fans of Top Chef will recognize the chef behind Girl & the Goat in West Loop – Stephanie Izard won the fourth season of the show and now she brings her delicate execution and favorite ingredients to her restaurant pub. Any way the wind blows, hope that it blows you into any of these restaurants.
What used to be the bastion of bohemia, a counter culture refuge for lost youths and the center of offbeat art and peaceful protests is now a somewhat expensive techy but still ultra-liberal and cool California destination. San Francisco lifers may have something to say about where the city’s gone, but it’s a good thing for the local chefs and those who appreciate fine dining and fresh fish. Restaurant Gary Danko, named after its award-winning chef, is one of the preeminent upscale restaurants in the area, often featuring caviar service in the winter and never without at least 1,500 different wines on its list. Deriving flavors from all over California, like seared Sonoma Foie Gras and pairing them with local wines, there might not be anything quite as authentically upmarket Californian as Danko.
Another celebrity hotspot, Miami serves up its fair share of celebrity prepared food – even if they’re not immediately recognizable names, Miami has both rising stars and hidden Michelin ones. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink is totally local and organic and its burger has been one of the best on the Miami scene since the restaurant opened in 2007. And then there’s the 2013 James Beard nominated José Mendin’s Pubelly, a casual tapas place with much love for the noble pig. Their pork belly and scallion dumplings, BBQ pork wings, short rib tartares and other porky plates suggests that our delicious friends have much more to offer than just bacon – even though their bacon-wrapped dates with chorizo is pretty damn good too.
New Orleans has a hard-won and distinctive culture of food, so it’s no surprise that some of the best in the celebrity chef business are drawn to the Big Easy to continue the tradition of Creole cuisine. Louisiana Creole blends French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, African and Southern influences with local ingredients and seafood to create totally unique classics like Jambalaya, Oysters Rockefeller, Crawfish, Shrimp Creole and other regional dishes. The obvious choice for celeb-chef tasting is at any of Emeril Lagasse’s three restaurants: Emeril’s New Orleans, Emeril’s Delmonico and NOLA, each located in various places around town. Twenty years ago, the native Massachusetts talent brought the concept of "New New Orleans" to the spotlight, infusing flavors of other regional ingredients and tastes into the tradition of old-style Creole cookery. Bayona, the creation of James Beard award-winning Susan Spicer (who also inspired the character Ms. Desautel in the acclaimed show Treme), serves inventive plates out of their 200-hundred-year-old French Quarter cottage. Her influences draw from the Mediterranean, Asia, North Africa, France, Spain, Italy and various areas in the United States but her soul is all New Orleans, and so are the ingredients. John Besh, another local cuisine hero, is a native son of southern Louisiana, who championed his way into the "Top 10 Best New Chefs in America" list by Food and Wine as well as a James Beard Award. He has nine restaurants in his pocket, but his flagship in New Orleans, August, hints at where his heart lies. August specializes in contemporary upscale French cuisine using local ingredients, drawing from Besh’s knowledge of New Orleans produce and offerings from the sea and also from his classical training in Europe.
In Los Angeles, celebrities aren’t just eating the meals, they’re making it as well. And all the regular players are there: Chopped winner Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in the Montage Beverly Hills brings all the emaciated starlettes to his gluten-free pastas, Gordon Ramsay’s sitting pretty with French, British and Japanese food in the elegant London West Hollywood, up-and-coming dude food chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook are serving up unreal platters and winning the hearts of everyone from LA Weekly to the Wall Street Journal, and José Andrés is just doing José Andrés at his truly bizarre Bazaar in the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills. In Los Angeles, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and if you know any of these guys, you’ll be in good company. That is, if you know them well enough to secure a reservation.
New York didn’t get to become The Big Apple without knowing what to do with apples. By sheer population and economy, it should come as absolutely zero surprise that the city’s hopping with celebrity chefs – it’s simply hopping with celebrities (even Michael Jordan owns a steakhouse). Chefs start their empires in NYC, but even when they’ve expanded to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and beyond, they never forget their home town. There are the classics: Le Cirque, an upscale favorite since 1974, legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, consistent Michelin favorite Jean Georges Restaurant, and Le Bernardin, a classic that everybody knows about before they even really know about it. And those are just the grandaddies of celebrity eateries. The Food TV set can really dine out on names (and not necessarily expensively!) like Tom Colicchio, who has his flagship Craft as well as the more casual Craftbar and Colicchio and Sons in the Meatpacking District. Hungry for batali? He’s got mid-range Italian trattorias like Lupa and Otto, and even an indoor gourmet market, Eataly. For new players on the public dining arena to old faithful names, New York has got your stomach (and wallet) settled.
From Ramsay to Robuchon, Batali to Bouchon, and all the names in between, everybody who is anybody in the American culinary scene wants to set up shop in Las Vegas. With this many famous names around town, it isn’t surprising to see so many of them on the covers of menus. There’s decadent nouvelle cuisine at Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace, exclusive dinner theater with the master of molecular gastronomy at é by José Andrés, twisted French fusion at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist, American French revival at Bouchon Bistro, the Frenchest of the French fine dining at Joël Robuchon, and steakhouses numbering in the double digits branded with names like Ramsay, Batali, Puck, Colicchio, Michael Mina and more, all competing for the best wine list in the city. And those are just the places on the Strip. DTLV is a foodie’s dream with unassuming hidden charms, and some of the most surprising James Beard winners are hiding in stripmalls all over the city. For diners less adventurous, there’s also Nobu, Le Cirque and all the other standard upscale go-tos.
Don't miss Hopper's article on the five best celebrity chef restaurants in Las Vegas to learn more about the celeb chef scene in the city