We have long honored the illustrious among us — our heroes of war and sports, our great artists, our distinguished politicians — by ensconcing them in various pantheons both formal and informal. The term "hall of fame" was first used, in its German form — Ruhmeshalle — for a literal hall, a Doric colonnade full of plaques and busts honoring prominent local figures that opened in Munich in 1853, inspired by an earlier memorial built by King Ludwig I.
It was this structure that inspired the first American interpretation of the concept, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, established in 1901 at what is now New York City's Bronx Community College. This is an outdoor sculpture gallery, restored and enlarged several times since its founding, with busts representing an initial roster of some 50 distinguished American men and women, from John and John Quincy Adams to Orville and Wilbur Wright, with the likes of Daniel Boone, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Booker T. Washington added over the years. There are now 102 honorees.
Today, there are hundreds of halls (and walls, and walks) of fame around the world, honoring luminaries from almost any field imaginable. The Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, the World Curling Federation Hall of Fame, the Insurance Hall of Fame, the Polka Hall of Fame … the list goes on and on. Oh, and, of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted its first members — including James Brown, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis — in January of 1986.
When The Daily Meal decided to create our own Hall of Fame, honoring key figures in the culinary world, we took this last institution as a loose model. We asked a nominating committee consisting of 20 writers and other non-chefs from The Daily Meal Council to come up with a short list of some 25 figures. Our aim was to identify people both living and dead — chefs, restaurateurs, cookbook authors, food producers, or anyone else in any aspect of the food trade — who have been of overriding importance to the development of cuisine and our experience of what we cook and eat. In all, there were four women and six men; four French figures, five Americans, and one Englishwoman; all but two of the honorees are deceased.
The nominees ranged from Ferran Adrià to Paula Wolfert, with names both familiar (James Beard, Thomas Jefferson) and less so (Norman Borlaug, Mary Randolph) suggested along the way.
We submitted this list of 25 to The Daily Meal Council (which now has more than 70 members); asked them to vote for 10, in order of preference; and tallied the votes of the respondents. One figure, a legendary American cookbook writer, was the overwhelming favorite for first place. In all, there were four women and six men; four French figures, five Americans, and one Englishwoman; all but two of the honorees are deceased.
Ours is not the only Hall of Fame devoted to luminaries in the food industry. There are regional versions in Arizona, central Florida, Colorado, and the Chicago area; New York's Institute of Culinary Education honors celebrated graduates, and the American Academy of Chefs does the same for retired member chefs. Then there's something called the Culinary Hall of Fame ("Honoring ALL Things Culinary"), run by Colorado-based chef Fred Roosli, which honors a miscellaneous selection of chefs (Paul Bocuse, Cat Cora), culinary schools, TV shows, restaurants, websites, charitable organizations, and even a few recipes (layered eggplants with tomato, scallops, and seafood vinaigrette; roasted beef tenderloin with yam fries and ponzu sauce).
What has not previously existed, as far as we can tell, is a Hall of Fame for important, influential chefs and others in the food world — one based on genuine accomplishments and lasting significance rather than on ephemeral "celebrity" — a Hall of Fame for the Elvis Presleys and Ray Charleses of gastronomy and the culinary arts, rather than the Tab Hunters and Ricky Nelsons. That's what The Daily Meal Hall of Fame endeavors to be.
Beginning today, we are announcing our first ten inductees into The Daily Meal Hall of Fame. One is featured here; the others will appear each weekday for nine more days, in reverse order according to the number of votes they received (the last member we reveal, that is, will be the one who won the most). Next year, we'll induct ten more.