About three years ago, it became apparent that a handful of celebrity chefs — those hosting TV shows, hawking kitchen wares, touring for their latest cookbook, showing up at the major food festivals, and opening locations around the globe — rarely, if ever, actually spent time in their own kitchens anymore. The culinary duty was being left to a celeb chef's experienced right-hand-man (or woman), and diners, for the most part, didn't seem to be bothered that the person whose name lit up the establishment wasn't sweating through another 200-cover Saturday night.
It's not like Mario Batali hasn't put in enough time on the line. No one is saying he should be expected to be in the kitchen at Babbo sending out orders of Mint Love Letters with a last flourish of garnish, wiping the edge of the plate, and telling servers to bid diners, "Bon Appeti-TO." But the celebrity chef thing became a bit much with Tom Tuesday Dinner, when it was a big deal that Colicchio was actually cooking in his restaurant. What a concept!
Just as in the fashion world, where it's understood that Ralph Lauren isn't sewing your necktie anymore, this notion has become, for better or worse, accepted by the paying public. But there is a solid set of blue-collar chefs who have mass appeal and continue to oversee their own kitchens. For some, it's because they haven't (or don't want to) turned themselves into a brand. For few others it's because, as they achieve more success, they want to still do what they set out to do from the beginning — cook.
Some chefs do that in an open kitchen, like Wylie Dufresne, who you can see peering out into his dining room at WD-50. Others toil behind the scenes. And some come out to personally "plate" dessert as Grant Achatz does at Alinea. Whatever the case, if you're in search of an authentic meal that's being created by a pro at the top of their game, check out this list.