America's Most Successful Chefs Slideshow
Though Puck, whose name is synonymous with "California Cuisine," has worked the celebrity angle hard, his endlessly creative takes on a multitude of cuisines, from pizza to Asian food, still earn him the respect of the food world. As enterprising as they come, Puck can boast 21 fine dining restaurants around the nation, numerous cookbooks, a TV career that has included appearances on Frasier, Las Vegas, and The Simpsons as well as a cooking-show Emmy, and lines of food products, cookware, and appliances (among them a coffeemaker and the coffee pods to go with it). He has even made forays into fast(ish) food with more than 50 Wolfgang Puck Express locations in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. Just one of his enterprises, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which oversees his casual dining restaurants and food products, is estimated to be worth over $400 million, and some estimates of the total annual income generated by his various concerns reach more than twice that.
Having finally lived down the lascivious-sounding moniker “The Naked Chef” (which in fact referred to his penchant for simplicity in food, not his uniform while cooking), Oliver has become as well-known for his charity and food activism as for his stripped-down, ingredient-focused cuisine. Although Oliver has over 20 restaurants in the U.K., Dubai, and Australia, Americans are more familiar with his cooking shows and more recently his reality series about America’s child obesity rates, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. In 2011, he once again made the Sunday Times 1,000 Richest Britons list, which listed his net worth at £106 million — about $172 million.
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His countryman Joël Robuchon may be more respected by most critics as a chef, but Ducasse, who can certainly hold his own in the cooking department, operates about 30 restaurants and three hotels spanning the globe, with a total annual revenue of more than $80 million. He has made missteps (his original New York City establishment, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, closed after six years), but in both 2005 and 2010 he achieved the unparalleled distinction of having three three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the same year. Filling out his bulging portfolio are a Parisian culinary school, a number of cookbooks, and a thriving consulting business.
"The Chef of the 20th Century," as he was dubbed by the Gault/Millau guide, is making an equally strong impression in the 21st century. As big in Asia as he is in the West, Robuchon has about 20 restaurants throughout the world and more Michelin stars (26) than any other chef. He’s also the author of some 16 cookbooks and has done popular TV shows in Europe, though he hasn't yet tried the American television market.
The rise of Paula Deen — seen at left with her splendidly named husband, Michael Groover (he's the one on the right) — as the queen of fried foods has been simultaneous with a renewal of interest in Southern cooking all over the U.S. Between her appliances, foodstuffs, tools, and dinnerware plus lucrative live appearances and an estimated $9.13 million in book sales, her Food Network TV shows and two restaurants — including The Lady and Sons, her original Savannah establishment, where the Deen myth got started — seem almost an afterthought.
Nobu restaurants are getting to be like Starbucks; sometimes it seems like there's one on every corner. All right, that's an exaggeration, but Nobu Matsuhisa — who virtually reinvented Japanese food for non-Japanese diners (his black cod with miso became one of the signal dishes of the 1990's in restaurants all over the country) — does oversee, with varying degrees of personal involvement, almost 30 restaurants, three with Michelin stars, in locations ranging from Aspen to Athens, Dallas to Dubai (with three each in New York, London, and the Los Angeles area). Factor in his four cookbooks, his line of Nobu Original Dinnerware, and his premium sake and beer brands, and it's clear that he's a real contender.
The winner of Season Two of The Next Food Network Star is a powerhouse, a celebrity whose “krew” calls him ‘The Guid” (as in "guido"). The host of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and NBC’s Minute to Win It has five restaurants, two New York Times bestsellers, estimated book sales of an estimated $1.5 million, lines of apparel and products, a hectic schedule of lucrative public appearances, bodyguards who flank him at public appearances, and a hairstyle as distinctive in its own way as Donald Trump's.
A French chef who doesn’t own any restaurants in France, Boulud rose to prominence in New York City, where he runs eight establishments, including a newly opened épicerie, marking his first foray into retail (though he has long sold private-label wine, champagne, and smoked salmon). His Dinex Group also has restaurants in Miami, Palm Beach, London, Beijing, and Singapore, and his Feast and Fêtes catering company is known as one of New York's best.
The portraits on Todd English's web site look more like a would-be soap star's portfolio than documentation of a working chef, and English has had his share of problems lately — among other things, he was deposed last month for reportedly failing to pay $80,000 rent on a SoHo loft, a waiter is said to have stolen $91,000 from one of his restaurants, and Boston magazine recently told him to take a hike — but English oversees a roster of restaurants nationwide (the number seems to fluctuate frequently), and his Olive Group reported earnings of $53 million last year. Cookbooks, a popular TV show, and his own branded cookware and olive oil help fill the coffers.
“Are you ready for a throwdown?” You'd better be if you’re going to mess with the finances of this Iron Chef. He has six TV shows (at last count), five sit-down restaurants across the U.S. and one in the Bahamas, five burger joints, and nine cookbooks. With all the TV appearances, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Flay built everything on his reputation for good cooking. The king of the Food Network was the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1993, just two years after opening his first restaurant, Mesa Grill on New York City's Fifth Avenue.
Michael Mina may not have the TV cred or multiple book deals of a Guy Fieri or a Bobby Flay, but his company does run 18 restaurants. And those restaurants — all over America, in California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Detroit, D.C., and New Jersey — are no slouches. His eponymous flagship in Las Vegas is a Michelin-starred affair, RN74 in San Francisco was a James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant finalist last year, and his other locations are consistently recognized by local and national press for excellence.
He's not a household name, but with help from investor Oliver Grace, Palmer has slowly but surely built an empire with an annual revenue estimated at more than $30 million. After a stint at the River Café in Brooklyn, Palmer gained fame as chef-proprietor of the original Aureole in Manhattan (once given four stars by The New York Times). Aureole still exists in another New York location (there is also one in Las Vegas), but today Palmer's holdings also include nine other restaurants (three of them dubbed Charlie Palmer Steak), the home goods store Lime Stone, and the Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma County; he also designs menus for Seabourn Cruises.
Widely accepted as one of America’s best chefs, Thomas Keller hasn’t done too poorly for himself since leaving New York City after the failure of his first restaurant there, Rakel. Now, he’s the only American-born chef with two three Michelin-starred restaurants. He shouldn’t have to worry about money much for the rest of his life either. There’s Per Se and The French Laundry, of course, along with the three Bouchons, Ad Hoc, four Bouchon Bakery locations, speaking engagements, and book sales estimated at more than $1 million.
Although a respected chef (he was co-founder of Manhattan's award-winning Gramercy Tavern and cooked there for years), Tom Colicchio is known to the general public today mostly from the comfort of their own homes. He has become a TV star as a judge on Top Chef, and has also been a producer of that insanely popular Bravo series and one of its spinoffs, Top Chef Masters. His celebrity has helped him expand his original Craft Restaurant in New York to a total of eight Craft-related establishments in L.A., Dallas, Las Vegas, and the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. In addition, his foray into casual dining, the ‘wichcraft sandwich shops, has been wildly successful, and he has just debuted Riverpark, in Manhattan's Kips Bay neighborhood. Less successful, at least from a branding point of view, were his ballyhooed Diet Coke ads — but he is still said to command $80,000 for public appearances.
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This former head chef for Nobu was an Iron Chef in both Japan and America, and went on to open successful mega-restaurants in Philadelphia and New York City. Today his far-flung domain includes restaurants in Boca Raton, the Napa Valley, Hawaii, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Mumbai — and to wash it all down with, he has also developed a series of Japanese-inspired beers for Oregon's Rogue Ales.
The Batali-verse is ever-expanding. Though best-known as an Italian chef, the Seattle-born Batali has interests ranging from NASCAR to Spanish cuisine to a foundation whose mission is "to educate, empower and encourage children." The diversity of both his restaurant catalogue (pizza, tapas, gastro-pub fare, trattoria food, high-class Italian, etc.) and his media presence reveal a multi-talented chef with a multi-faceted personality. He and partner Joe Bastianich have opened more than 15 restaurants, among them the elegant Del Posto, the only Italian restaurant to earn four stars from The New York Times, and the first American branch of the Italian restaurant–market complex called Eataly (a second one is reportedly in the works).
This potty-mouthed Scot is better known in America for his restaurant-based reality shows — among them, FOX Network’s Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares — than for the reality of his restaurants, but he can be an excellent chef and has garnered a total of 12 Michelin stars. It is unclear how much involvement he still has with his Los Angeles and New York eateries, but his 11 London establishments surely keep him busy. However, he hasn’t made the Sunday Times list of Richest Britons since 2008, when his fortune was valued at £50 million ($81 million), and his recent financial and legal woes have been much publicized — most recently, a labor lawsuit being brought against him by his mother-in-law.
Another famous potty-mouth, Anthony Bourdain has made the most out of his bad-boy persona. He maintains a tenuous link to the Les Halles restaurants as "Chef-at-Large" (the New York outpost has an estimated $3.7 million in annual sales), but the majority of his income is derived from his book sales, many live appearances (each of which earns him $50,000), his Travel Channel TV show, No Reservations, and other gigs like his writing stint for HBO’s Treme.
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On a first-name basis with the world, Emeril has the marketing smarts of an MBA graduate but the ebullient personality of a court jester. After gaining many devoted fans through his show Emeril Live — he actually trademarked his familiar exhortation “BAM!,” and used the word on his many product lines — he sold his brand to Martha Stewart Omnimedia in 2008, along with the rights to all of his cookbooks and TV shows, for a reported $50 million. He still runs 13 restaurants, including the flagship Emeril’s New Orleans and four Las Vegas outposts.
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Vongerichten has written four cookbooks, and runs more than 20 restaurants in America and abroad — including the Michelin three-star Jean-Georges in Manhattan — under the umbrella of his restaurant groups Culinary Concepts and Jean-Georges Enterprises. But that's apparently just the beginning: In partnership with restaurateur Phil Suarez and Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Catterton Partners, he has begun opening what will eventually be as many as 50 new freestanding restaurants in Starwood properties in the next three to five years. Even little things like settling a $2.2 million lawsuit won by waiters over diverted tips are just bumps in the road to empire.
He may currently have only one restaurant, the celebrated K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, but this Cajun legend, who first gained fame as executive chef at Commander’s Palace, has had customers literally lining up outside for years. His other enterprises include 11 books, a series of cooking shows for New Orleans public television, and most of all the seasoning company he launched in 1983. Magic Seasoning Blends has now grown to fill a 125,000-square-foot plant that ships the chef’s dry spice blends, rubs, bottled sauces, and marinades across the U.S. and to 27 countries around the world, and posts something in the neighborhood of $10 million in revenues each year.
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A fourth-generation Oklahoman isn't the obvious choice to have become an ambassador for authentic Mexican cuisine in America, but a stint in Mexico with his wife after doing doctoral work in anthropological linguistics eventually led Bayless from one Mexican-flavored culinary success to another. First there was his book Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico and his initial Chicago restaurant, the successful Frontera Grill. Since then he has published five more books, opened six other restaurants, and launched a line of Frontera products. He’s even getting into the airport act with Tortas Frontera sandwich shops. That he was also the first winner of Top Chef Masters is just gravy.
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His minibar in Washington, D.C. and Bazaar in Los Angles are two of America’s most exciting pilgrimage sites for serious food-lovers, but this Spanish-born former protégé of Ferran Adrià has at least ten restaurants in all, including two new ones (one of them a Mexican-Chinese fusion place in Las Vegas called ChinaPoblano), and more on the way. His Think Food Group LLP now has about 800 employees and posts annual revenues of about $75 million. A book and a TV show are part of the mix. Recently, Andrés announced that he was temporarily converting Café Atlántico, his D.C. "nuevo latino" establishment, into a pop-up American place.
This native of South Boston parlayed her 1998 award as one of Food & Wine's Ten Best New Chefs in America into her own first restaurant in Boston, No. 9 Park. Since then, doing business as Barbara Lynch Gruppo, she has since opened four acclaimed restaurants, a wine bar/butcher shop, a successful catering company, and one of the city’s trendiest new bars.
He may not get the same attention as he used to, and his gourmet cake pops don’t seem so innovative now that there are even renditions of them in Starbucks, but Burke has done relatively well for himself over the years. Selling Himalayan sea salt, cake pops, and flavor sprays, doesn’t make him the most successful chef on this list, but he does have five restaurants in the tri-state area and another in Chicago.