Who are the chefs, in America and on the international scene, who are the game changers, the pioneers — the culinary standard-bearers? Which chefs most embody the pursuit — and achievement — of excellence? These are the questions The Daily Meal's editorial staff asked ourselves when we launched our inaugural Chef of the Year awards in 2011 and again the following year. While considering the world’s culinary pioneers this year, we turned to our previous honorees to ponder these questions along with us, and the results are pretty exciting.
The 2011 award for American Chef of the Year went to Chicago's Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next, and The Aviary), not only for his continually inventive cooking but also for reinventing how people looked at restaurants, reservations, and cocktails. The following year, that award was given to José Andrés for myriad reasons, among them his continued devotion to innovation and experimentation and his charitable works. These chefs' counterparts in 2011 and 2012, René Redzepi, and Massimo Bottura were honored, respectively, for securing the top spot on the World's Best Restaurant List from elBulli with Noma in Copenhagen for a second time, and for being one of the most innovative chefs in the world.
As was the case in years past, there was no dearth of possible winners in the culinary landscape. Some cook regularly in their kitchens; some dream, create, manage, and imagine. All contributed to a year of exciting new food developments. "One works to be happy and to make others happy. Prizes are nothing but a consequence of the first thing." — Albert Adrià
Towering figures of the contemporary culinary scene both storied and still relatively new were considered once again. Thomas Keller was in the running for upholding the highest standards at The French Laundry and Per Se and for leading the charge for an American chef to compete successfully in the Bocuse d’Or. David Chang and Sean Brock continue to significantly advance the culinary landscape through their endeavors. Indeed, Chang was recently named one of TIME’s 13 gods of food. Alex Stupak’s name began to bubble up as someone to watch. Stupak, long known for his skills and inventive approach to pastry while working with Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne, has in the past few years taken a surprising and very successful turn as chef-restaurateur, reinventing Mexican flavors at his two New York City Empellón restaurants. And then there’s Alice Waters, repeatedly mentioned as one of the most influential and important chef-restaurateurs of the past 40 years, who this year refurbished and reopened her iconic Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse after the restaurant’s second fire threatened to take out what many consider one of America’s greatest culinary meccas.
Ultimately, though, with guidance from our previous honorees, our choice was Dan Barber. Often hailed as one of America’s most thoughtful chefs, and one who has long been a passionate and influential advocate of responsible, farm-fresh, ingredient-driven cuisine — at both Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York's Westchester County — Dan Barber is an advocate, a teacher, and an inspiration, as well as being a very good cook. He, too, was even named a "god of food" by TIME magazine.
On the international scene there were many possibilities, too. Elena Arzak continues to lead her family restaurant Arzak, in San Sebastián, to greatness, while Alex Atala of São Paulo's D.O.M. has brought increasing attention to the ingredients and cuisine of Brazil, along the way influencing chefs far beyond its borders. Iñaki Aizpitarte continues to do inventive and intriguing things at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. And then there’s Yoshi Takazawa, the Japanese chef who, since opening Aronia de Takazawa in Tokyo in 2005, has cultivated a cuisine and an aesthetic that has made his restaurant a must-visit culinary pit stop for chefs from around the world. Again, not an easy choice. Ultimately, though, with guidance from our past honorees, we chose Albert Adrià.
Though his famous brother, Ferran, has always acknowledged Albert Adrià as his most important collaborator at elBulli and in other projects, Albert has inevitably been overshadowed by the man who might well be the world's most famous chef. In the past few years, though, Albert has emerged as a key figure in his own right, with four Barcelona restaurants in vastly different idioms, all of them full of magic and evincing Albert's fascinating visions of what and how food and restaurants should be. We have a feeling that the two Michelin stars he was awarded this year (one each for the adjacent Tickets and 41º) are just the beginning.
We’re thrilled to offer these honors to Barber and Adrià, both of whom we suspect would tell you that they don't do what they're doing for the sake of awards. We reached out to ask where they, and their cuisines, are heading, to discover in what directions we might expect these standard-bearers to lead their colleagues in 2014 — and also to find which chefs they would have nominated for the honors we gave them. In the following interviews, learn about their take on tasting menus and on whether chefs should be socially and politically active, and read their answers to a few quick, Actors Studio-type questions about, among other things, their first food memories, their heroes and villains, their favorite sandwiches, and what qualities they look for when they’re hiring a chef.
Read on to find out more about The Daily Meal's Chefs of the Year for 2013, and previous honorees.
Chefs of the Year 2013
Interview with Chef of the Year, America: Dan Barber — Chef Barber discusses whether chefs should be socially active, anticipates issues that may take center stage at the G9 summit in Brazil, the menu approaches he takes at Blue Hill New York and Stone Barns, his upcoming book, and the attempt made by the farmers at Stone Barns to create foie gras without using the controversial gavage technique.
Interview with Chef of the Year, International: Albert Adrià — Chef Adrià discusses the changes at his restaurant 41º and whether he considers it to be a continuation of the spirit of elBulli; whether he would ever open a restaurant in America; his plans to open a Mexican restaurant; and what era he’d like to visit for its food if he could time-travel.
Chefs of the Year 2012
Interview with Chef of the Year, America: José Andrés — Chef Andrés talks about tasting menus, time travel, social responsibility, working outside your comfort zone, the state of food in America, and why Spanish chefs love gin and tonic.
Interview with Chef of the Year, International: Massimo Bottura — Chef Bottura talks about the challenges of having some of the world's best ingredients, the importance of narrative, and the secret behind a successful tasting menu.
Chefs of the Year 2011
Click for 2011 Chef of the Year, America: Grant Achatz — The chef discusses whether Next is worth the work, chefs who blow him away, the possibility of a Next food truck, and reveals how Alinea might change, including the possibility of closing it in Chicago and going on the road.
Click for 2011 Chef of the Year, International: René Redzepi — The chef discusses refurbishing Noma; its homemade wine, beer, and schnapps program; weather as narrative; how to become a stagiare at Noma; and how his culinary philosophy can be applied outside Scandinavia.