Coté Catering/Leah Moss
• She looks like a grown-up spaghetti Western version of Shirley Temple, complete with blonde curls and dirndls, but runs her kitchen with Big Texas-style, making her own croissants and charcuterie.
• She’s not just a locavore, she’s a raging local food maniac: Nothing says “from Texas” like antelope tartare, deviled duck eggs, and goat ribs.
• She’s a Twitter fiend, dispensing her cooking advice in 140-character snippets. Lately it’s: “If your tomato sauce is bitter add a date! It’s what my grandma used to do.” And: “When rendering pork lard add a potato. It will absorb the impurities & make your lard snow white!”
• She took down Bobby Flay on the “sweet onion challenge” of Iron Chef America.
• She puts her Jewish-Argentinean roots and love of Spain to use at her funky Latin-inspired restaurants and isn’t afraid to mix genres when she wants.
• She makes fettucine carbonara with smoked bacon, jamón serrano, prosciutto, and St. André cheese.
Chef de Cuisine: 10 Arts by Eric Ripert
Home Base: Philadelphia
• She’s a tough-talking Catholic University law school drop-out whose outsize attitude is matched by a particularly delicate way with fish and seafood that caught master French chef Eric Ripert’s eye
• She hung with the boys, often out-cooking them all, on two seasons of Top Chef
• She didn’t just pack her knives and go when Padma told her to: She stuck up for herself and her dish
Executive Chef: Gautreau's
Home Base: New Orleans
• She wasn’t afraid to make friends (butting against the reality show cliché “I’m not here to make friends!”) and help out other chefs, even when it cost it her time and points, on Top Chef Masters.
• Because just weeks after she was promoted to executive chef at the storied New Orleans restaurant Gautreau’s in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the city; she stayed, painstakingly helped rebuild the restaurant, and reopened the kitchen in 2007.
• Because her menu’s brunch staple is the BLT with roasted garlic served on French toast.
Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe
• As a college dropout she petitioned star chef Joachim Splichal to give her a chance in his kitchen; he gave her two weeks to prove herself. "It was an atmosphere of militarism, aggression, abuse, yelling," she has said. But she made it.
• She left Splichal and went to France to study at the famed Troisgros, where she was the only woman of 25 kitchen apprentices. Again, she made it.
• She goes boar-hunting in Mongolia for inspiration.
• She grew up as the youngest of seven kids raised by a single mother in a South Boston housing project and found her passion in a high school home ec class.
• She went from narrowly avoiding welfare to employing more than 200 people.
• When a sous-chef screws up, she’s been known to throw a vase (and then cook at his or her wedding).
Chef: Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America; Executive Chef, Bon Appétit; Co-creator, with the Walt Disney Corporation, of Kouzzina restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk Resort; Co-creator, with Macy’s, of CCQ (Cat Cora’s Que) in California’s South Coast Plaza; author of Cat Cora’s Kitchen and Cooking from the Hip
Home Base: Santa Barbara
• Because in 2005 she became Food Network’s first — and to this day, only — female Iron Chef (and first in franchise history, including in Japan).
• Because she lives an openly-gay lifestyle with her partner and their four sons in front of millions of people and doesn’t ever make a big deal out of it.
• Because she shares a shot of ouzo with her team after every episode of Iron Chef America.
• She turned a 30-seat restaurant on a grungy block of the East Village into one of the city’s hippest dining rooms.
• “I am covered in scars” is her most repeated quote (and this includes the ritualistic body modification “slash and burn” cut she bought herself for a 35th birthday present).
• Her food is messy, lusty, and full of attitude: shrimp in anchovy butter; thick-cut pork chops with lots of fried cabbage; hunks of chocolate on the table offered with the check.
• Her original goal was to be a policewoman, but when she missed the application deadline, she went to work in a restaurant instead.
• She’s an English expat who taught scene-it-all New Yorkers how to appreciate a good bar menu.
• She's a 100 times more likely to be seen cooking on the line in her restaurants than in front of a television camera.
• She’s not afraid to put pig’s ear or peanuts fried in pork fat on the menu.
George Lewis, Jr.
• The original grande dame badass — a single mother with three kids by the age of 21, when she became the “salad girl” at one of Boston’s most venerable French restaurants, then took herself to a London cooking school, opened the Four Seasons Hotel dining room in L.A. (becoming the prestigious chain's first-ever female executive chef), then went home again to open her own joint, the award-winning BIBA.
• In 2001 she took over Locke-Ober, a Boston institution that had refused to allow women in the main dining room for more than 100 years, and became its first female chef. (She is not currently involved with the restaurant.)
• No matter what’s trendy, her food is always daring and always “big,” made with butter, cream, and offal. And her menus include “sort of burnt Maui onions” and lobster pizza.