What would New York City’s Eleven Madison Park be without its renowned Swiss chef Daniel Humm, who began cooking in a kitchen at 14 years old? Could three-Michelin-starred Jean-Georges operate without its celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who every day brings his "vibrant cuisine" to the table? And we can’t imagine how Momofuku Ssäm Bar, named the "most important restaurant in America" by Bon Appétit, could have gained such recognition without the kitchen skills of its chef David Chang, who delivers bold, Asian-inspired flavors to his dishes.
You may have seen The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America list, but a restaurant is nothing without a good chef. The most elegant Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-winning restaurant could never have received that recognition without the behind-the-scenes culinary master that is its chef.
The qualities that make a great chef aren’t necessarily the same across the board. Like a good restaurant, each chef is unique. Some renowned chefs, like José Andrés, are praised for their innovative use of an underrated ingredient to spice up a simple dish. Others, like Guy Savoy, are noted for their origins in foreign countries that have helped them gain an international culinary perspective. But all excellent chefs are valued for their ability to leave us with unforgettable flavors and experiences that bring us back again and again. Because all chefs are exceptional in different ways, there isn’t a simple list of criteria that we can use to rank one chef above another.
So, because a restaurant is only as good as its chef, we’ve flipped the tables and have honored the chefs from the top 60 101 Best Restaurants in America as the best chefs in America for their outstanding culinary contributions.
Haley WIllard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.