America's Most Successful Chefs of 2012
Famed for his Michelin-starred Momofuku franchise — including four in New York, one in Sydney, Australia, and four opening in Toronto — Korean-American chef David Chang is leading the restaurant renaissance for Asian-fusion food. Chang is unapologetic and unscripted, which is particularly evident in his publication Lucky Peach — a quarterly food magazine that’s equal parts poignant and profane — which was a New York Times best-seller.
His minibar in Washington, D.C., é in Las Vegas, and The Bazaar in Los Angeles and now Miami are four of America’s most exciting pilgrimage sites for serious food lovers, but this Spanish-born former protégé of Ferran Adrià has at least 10 restaurants in all, one of them a Mexican-Chinese fusion place in Las Vegas called China Poblano, and more on the way. His Think Food Group LLP now has about 800 employees and posts annual revenues of about $75 million, with a book and TV show as 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 eatery called America Eats Tavern. After winning the 2011 James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef Award and making an appearance on the 2012 Time 100 list of the most influential people, the Andrés empire appears endless.
Pablo de Loy
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 nine cookbooks, a series of cooking shows for New Orleans public television, and 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 29 countries around the world, and posts something in the neighborhood of $10 million in revenues each year.
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Vongerichten has written five cookbooks, two with Mark Bittman, 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, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Catterton Partners, he has begun opening what will eventually be as many as 50 new free-standing restaurants in Starwood properties in the next three to five years. And if endless eateries were not enough, Vongerichten also claims he invented molten chocolate cake in the late '80s. Thus, even little things like settling a $2.2 million lawsuit won by waiters over diverted tips are just a bump in the road for this empire.
Another famous potty-mouth, Anthony Bourdain has made the most out of his bad-boy persona. Bourdain branded his bad-boy image with his first book, Kitchen Confidential, exposing classified culinary chronicles. He now 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.
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, Fla., Napa Valley, Calif., 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. But all food (and drink) aside, Morimoto recently entered the acting sphere with an appearance on Hawaii Five-0 in 2011.
The winner of season two of 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 Guy's Big Bite has seven restaurants, two New York Times best-sellers, estimated book sales of $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. This fall, Fieri begins his 15th season of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and opens his New York restaurant location in Times Square: Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.
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 from the comfort of their own homes. He has become a TV star as a judge on Top Chef (he is also a producer for the show, and was a producer for one of its spinoffs, Top Chef Masters) and his celebrity has helped him expand his original Craft Restaurant in New York to a total of eight Craft-related establishments in Los Angeles, Dallas, Las Vegas, and the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Additionally, his foray into casual dining, the ‘wichcraft sandwich shops, has been wildly successful. 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. And now fans of Top Chef can get cozy with Colicchio on a Top Chef cruise, sailing from Miami to Mexico in April 2013 with prices ranging from $699 to $5,999.
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 several other restaurants including his Los Angeles debut Red O in 2010, and launched a line of Frontera products. He’s even getting into the airport act with Tortas Frontera, sandwich shops and prepared food products under the same Frontera namesake, an empire worth a reported $30 million and growing. That he was also the first winner of Top Chef Masters is just gravy.
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. Finding the West Coast a bit more welcoming, Keller is 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 (marking his highly regarded return to the Big Apple) and The French Laundry, of course, along with the three Bouchons, Ad Hoc, five Bouchon Bakery locations, speaking engagements, and book sales estimated at more than $1 million. Even Williams-Sonoma is riding the Keller coattails; they sell Ad Hoc’s famous fried chicken kit and Bouchon Bakery cookie mixes.
He's not necessarily a household name, but with help from investor Oliver Grace, Palmer has slowly but surely built an empire with 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). Most recently Palmer found himself in a Twitter tiff, which included apologizing to Ottavia Bourdain (yes, the wife of bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain) for serving her "the worst steak I’ve ever had in my life." But despite serving said steak, Palmer has home goods store Lime Stone and the Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma County to fall back on.
Though Michael Mina lacks the TV cred or multiple book deals of a Guy Fieri or a Bobby Flay, his company does run 19 restaurants. And those restaurants — all over America, in California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Detroit, D.C., and New Jersey — are no slouches. His eponymous restaurants in Las Vegas and San Francisco are Michelin-starred affairs and his other locations are consistently recognized by local and national press for excellence, as just last year Esquire named the Michael Mina San Francisco location Restaurant of the Year.
Michael Mina Group
"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 hosted a whopping seven TV shows on Food Network, has five sit-down restaurants across the U.S. and one in the Bahamas, 11 burger joints (and counting), and 10 cookbooks. With all the TV appearances, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Flay built his reputation because of good cooking, and all without a high school diploma. The king of 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.
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 Épicerie Boulud, which marks 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, among other places, and his Feast and Fêtes catering company is known as one of New York's best.
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 1990s 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, Colo., to Athens and from Dallas to Dubai. Then, factor in his four cookbooks, his line of Nobu Matsuhisa Original Dinnerware, his premium sake and beer brands, not to mention his hotel opening in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace soon and it's obvious why his presence seems ubiquitous. With all that said, his close friendship with Robert De Niro is priceless.
Emeril is the Cher of chefs, comparable for his exuberant (on stage at least) personality and because the whole world seems to know him by his first name alone. 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 14 restaurants, including the flagship Emeril’s New Orleans and four Las Vegas outposts, securing his celebrity chef status.
The portraits on Todd English's website 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, in May 2012 he reopened his Olives restaurant in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood after a grease fire ceased operation in 2010, while his Kingfish seafood restaurant in Boston’s Faneuil Hall recently shut its doors, facing a lawsuit alleging English owed more than $1 million in rent — but he oversees a roster of restaurants nationwide (the number seems to fluctuate frequently, obviously), and his Olive Group thrives despite said setbacks. English’s most recent moneymaker involved selling his culinary services via Groupon for $25,000. All that said, his cookbooks, a popular TV show, and his own branded cookware and olive oil help fill the coffers.
"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. Though he recently closed his only New York restaurant location in the Four Seasons Hotel, Robuchon’s not hurting. 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.
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 almost 30 restaurants and three hotels across 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 résumé are a Parisian culinary school, countless cookbooks, and a thriving consulting company.
A 30-pound slimmer Paula Deen still reigns as the queen of fried foods, but with portion control. Between her appliances, foodstuffs, tools, and dinnerware, plus lucrative live appearances and an estimated $4.5 million in book sales, her Food Network TV shows and two restaurants — including The Lady and Sons, her original Savannah, Ga., establishment — seem almost an afterthought. And of course, one can only wonder how much the butter-loving belle pockets for endorsing Novo Nordisk’s type 2 diabetes drug.
The Batali-verse is ever expanding. Though best-known as a shorts-and-orange Crocs-wearing 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 first Italian restaurant to earn four stars from The New York Times since 1974, and the first American branch of the Italian restaurant–market complex called Eataly, with (many) more to come. In the latest edition of Lucky Peach — David Chang's quarterly food magazine — Batali boasts that the empire built by he and Bastianich is worth $200 million.
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 coffee maker and the coffee pods to go with it). Puck appeared more recently on Keeping Up with the Kardashians as the chef at the nuptials of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, which spoiled before the roasted chicken, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and summer truffles he served. Puck has even made forays into fast(ish) food with more than 50 Wolfgang Puck Express locations in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, which now even appear in airport terminals. Just one of his enterprises, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which oversees his casual dining restaurants and food products, is estimated to be worth more than $400 million, and some estimates of the total annual income generated by his various concerns reach more than twice that.
The protégé of daytime talk-show doyenne Oprah Winfrey, Ray has become quite a force herself. As the matriarch of financially conscious families and hurried home cooks, Ray made a name for herself with Food Network hits like $40 a Day and 30 Minute Meals. Following in Winfrey’s footsteps, Ray now has her own magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and a daytime talk show, The Rachael Ray Show, promoting carpe diem, can-do attitudes — a worthy outlet for the charismatic chef. Though she is one of the few on this list who does not own her own restaurant — as everything would have to be out in 30 minutes or less — Ray reportedly sits on a fortune that would make Momma Winfrey proud.
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 more than 30 restaurants in the U.K., Dubai, and Australia, Americans are more familiar with his cooking shows and his reality series about America’s child obesity rates, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. During his crusade to eradicate the consumption of junk food, Oliver most recently shocked audiences by praising the menace to health-conscious Americans, McDonald’s, and its endorsement of a healthy-eating agenda. In 2012, he once again made The Sunday Times' "Rich List," which listed his net worth (as opposed to his annual income) at £150 million — about $237 million.
This sordid Scot is known best 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 is an excellent chef who has garnered a total of 13 Michelin stars and currently holds 12. 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. Though Ramsay still calls London home (often neglecting his $2 million Los Angeles estate), Forbesnamed him the top-earning chef in the United States in 2012.