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Famous Television Chefs of All Time Ranked

December 8, 2009

By Monsieur Anton

Recently Time Magazine, in celebration of the opening of Julie and Julia, listed what they consider to be the Top 10 TV Chefs of all time.  Of course Ms. Child claimed the crown as number one, but there were some interesting choices and rankings.

This is probably a post that should be addressed by Gusteau, and I will give him a chance to give his feedback, but you didn’t think I wouldn’t have an opinion now would you?  Lists, by their nature elicit conversation, and in my family, arguments.  To me, there are some choices in the Time Magazine list that are too Anglo-centric.  BBC makes some fine television, but to me, some of the British choices are a bit obscure on this side of the pond.

Keep in mind, this is listed in the order Time ranks the chefs.  With no further ado, on to the list with a number one choice I don’t think anyone will argue with:

  1. Julia Child One of the originals, Child brought French cuisine to the American masses.  Her quirky, endearing personality made French food accessible.  She wrote the seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is featured in the movie Julie and Julia, and her TV show, The French Chef set the standard for cooking shows to follow.

Monsieur Anton:  You didn’t think a blog authored by two guys named Anton and Gusteau could not name a chef of French food number one.  Her kitchen is on display at The Smithsonian freaking Institute!  When the likes of Dan Aykroyd and Meryl Streep play you, you have to be at the top.

Chef Gusteau: Culinary Genius. Will always be the standard by which all cooks are measured.

2. Jamie Oliver Oliver’s The Naked Chef debuted on the BBC in 1999, playing off his boyish good looks and simple recipes that eventually made its way to the US.  Has amassed a hugely successful culinary empire and gives back with a lot of charity work centering on nutrition for school children.

    Monsieur Anton:  The first of the pro-British choices on the list.  No question Oliver is a fine chef and humanitarian, but number two?  Way too high.  It was probably a female editor who put together this list, being enamored of the Naked Chef.

    Chef Gusteau: You got to be kidding me? Number 2? I appreciate the philanthropic work and such, but please…not on my top 20.

    3.  James Beard The man they named the award for culinary excellence for, has etched a place in history.  Hosted I Love to Eat and wrote the influential Hors d’Ouvre and Canapés. This early titan in the celebrity chef world formed the James Beard Cooking School.

      Monsieur Anton:  Seeing as it debuted in 1946, I never saw his cooking show, but I never saw Babe Ruth hit a baseball either.  Given his stature and the standard he set, it’s hard to keep him off this list, but I might bump him down a slot or two because this list is supposed to be about TV chefs.

      Chef Gusteau:  Not sure about TV appearances, but also a culinary genius worthy of top 15 even if he never appeared on TV.

      4. Martin Yan The fast talking and even faster knife chopping Chinese emigrant did for Chinese cuisine what Child did for French food.  Yan Can Cook, So Can You was a staple on PBS, introducing Yan’s “Nouvelle Chinese” and was one of the few ethnic cooking shows on the air at the time.

        Monsieur Anton:  Fun and likeable, I always enjoyed his show, but found him hard to take seriously. He comes across as a one trick pony to me.   I’m sure he made great food, but maybe not great enough to be this high on this list.

        Chef Gusteau:  Came as a guest chef to my culinary school…guess what, Yan can still cook, and damn his knife skills are phenomenal! Lower on the list, though…if Martin Short were to perform a comedic cooking show, it would be something like this.

        5. Dione Lucas Was on TV even before Julia Child with a show in 1942.  The basis of her show was often cooking for celebrities, and off screen she would give the same celebrities cooking lessons.  This British icon was the first woman to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

          Monsieur Anton:  No disrespect to a woman I’m sure was a wonderful chef, but who?  I just asked five people around me if they knew who Dione Lucas was, and she none of them knew.  When I heard her name I actually thought she may have played on the same line as Maurice “Rocket” Richard for the Montreal Canadiens.  New rule:  TV is a fairly modern medium, and for somebody who appeared on it before people actually had TVs in their homes, your name had better be Julia Child or James Beard or you’re out.

          Chef Gusteau: Ok…very tough one here.  Keep in mind she was the first female to appear on a cooking show, paving the way for Julia Child.  That’s impressive on many levels, especially realizing that cooking was even more dominated by men back in those days!  Spot 5 might be a bit high, though, as it was about 15 years later before Julia took the stage.

          6. Jacques Pépin One of the great chefs of all time.  In fact Julia Child called him “the greatest chef of all time.”  The great French born chef cooked with Madame Child on the PBS series Jacques and Julia:  Cooking at Home , as well as Jacques Pépin’s Kitchen. A master of French technique.

            Monsieur Anton: One of the great chefs of all time, it’s hard to argue his inclusion on this list.  When I think of him, I think cookbooks, not TV, but I’ve seen his genial smile on the tube enough to accept his place here.

            Chef Gusteau: Great Chef and show…sheer genius on TV.  Read his book “My Life in the Kitchen” – as a young boy he was outcooking most of our best NY chefs!

            7. James Smith A United Methodist minister, Smith’s warm demeanor was well suited to Saturday morning’s on PBS.  His style made it easy to relate to the comfort food he was cooking and his show The Frugal Gourmet that began in 1988 was the most watched cooking show of its time.  What made his show unique was that he filmed all of them straight through with one take.  He wrote a couple of Frugal Gourmet cookbooks, and his popularity soared until scandal hit in 1977 when seven men sued him, claiming the minister molested him when they were children.  Charges were never filed, and the accusations were never proved, but it effectively ended the Frugal Gourmet’s career.

              Monsieur Anton:  I was a big fan of Jeff Smith’s before the scandal became public, never missing his Saturday morning show.  I still have a couple of his books, and use them often.  He was the one that made me want to cook as a kid, and his cheesecake recipe is one of my favorites to this day.  I guess the scandal lowers his rank on this list, and I accept that.

              Chef Gusteau: Embarrassed to say that I had seen his shows when I was much younger.  He was definitely instrumental in creating food TV.

              8. Delia Smith The British Ms. Smith, much like her American counterpart has no formal training, she learned her cooking through cookbooks, and wrote food columns.  She appeared on the hugely popular BBC show Delia’s How to Cook from 1998-2004.  She quit the show to purchase the Norwich Football Club (that’s soccer to us Yanks), only to return to TV in 2008 with a show of kitchen shortcuts, How to Cheat.

                Monsieur Anton:  Another Brit-centric pick by the folks at Time. Never saw her, so I have no comment other than to say that if you’re going to be a perky non-professional chef on TV you have to be cute as a button like Rachael Ray.  The picture of Smith in the article (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1915103_1915109_1915117,00.html) reveals she’s not, so off the list she goes!

                Chef Gusteau:  Not sure what to say on this one.  Clearly talented and influential, but very British and hardly a world-wide phenom.

                9. Rachael Ray Love her or hate her (and there are plenty in both camps), it’s hard to deny the popularity of the perky America’s sweetheart.  You can question her cooking skills (as many a chef has), but her folksy vernacular such as Yummo and E.V.O.O. (extra virgin olive oil), down home tips, and easy to prepare recipes honed on the Food Network’s 30 Minute Meals, made her popular with housewives across the country.  At one time it was hard to turn on the Food Network without seeing her.  She remains more omnipresent than ever with a ratings giant syndicated talk show.

                  Monsieur Anton:  Whether you find her cute as a button (I do) or insufferably irritating (I do), you cannot deny the media monster that Ray is, and despite all her detractors, she merits a spot on this list due to sheer popularity.

                  Chef Gusteau: Knew this day would come when I would have to reveal my feelings about Rachael Ray.  She has secured a powerful niche in the industry and has done exceedingly well with what little culinary talent she has (doubt this…watch her cut with those orange knives…just seconds away from skewering herself to death on TV; surprised they don’t have a “hand double” for the close ups so you can’t see her scars!).  She has helped the culinary field progress and inspired millions. OK, I said it.  Now let’s be certain that if I met her I would beat her to death with her own cheesy cookware.

                  10.   Emeril Lagasse The outgoing Cajun chef took on the monumental task of replacing legend Paul Prudhomme at the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and too off with it.  The Johnson and Wales trained chef brought his own spin to Cajun and Creole cuisine.  His Essence of Emeril and Emerile Live! Made him a mainstay on the Food Network, and its signature personality.  His loud catchphrases such as “Bam!” became crowd pleasers, and money makers for the Rhode Island native.  He became a sensation, fronting a successful restaurant group, producing his own line of culinary products, appearing in commercials, and a short lived sitcom Emeril that everyone would like to forget.

                  Monsieur Anton:  In the early stages of the Food Network, it was Lagasse that was the horse that network executive’s road.  Without Emeril, the network may never have survived, or certainly reached the heights it has attained now.  For that alone his standing on this list should be “kicked up a notch.”

                  Chef Gusteau: Rachael Ray was ahead of Emeril? I will go on record to say that no one chef has been more influential than Emeril since Julia Child.  Every cooking show today owes its existence to Emeril.  Though I agree with Anthony Bourdain…Emeril does look like a deranged smurf.

                  There are many chefs that come to mind that were left of the list.  Here is a list of notable names that Time didn’t see fit to include:

                  Graham Kerr, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Morimoto, Giada DeLaurentiis, Sandra Lee, Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmeren, Alton Brown, Ming Tsai, Rick Bayless, Tyler Florence, Paula Dean, Nigella Lawson, Justin Wilson.

                  Is there anybody I left off?  Please let me know.

                  Chef Gusteau:  Yes, Anton, just a few: Charlie Trotter, WolfGang Puck, Sara Moulton, Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, and me.

                  My list?  Never being short of opinions, I’ll give it a shot, as I’m sure many of you will take shots at me for my choices.

                  1. Julia Child This one’s a no doubter.
                  2. Jacques Pépin If Julia in number one, her sometime partner has to be number two.
                  3. James Beard On sheer influence alone.
                  4. Emeril Lagasse Chefs and foodies may bristle at this, but he launched a network dedicated to food.
                  5. James Smith A sentimental choice for me here.
                  6. Graham Kerr The first choice off Time’s list.  The “Galloping Gourmet” made cooking with wine (and drinking it) fun, only to be reincarnated by cooking healthy food.
                  7. Ming Tsai Made East/West fusion cool.
                  8. Bobby Flay Gusteau and the other food snobs will scream about this one, but while Lagasse launched the Food Network, Flay is its current standard bearer, and has raised the network to unforeseen heights.
                  9. Rachael Ray Let the kvetching begin!

                  10.  Mario Batali Did for Italian cooking what Lagasse did for Cajun, Child for French and Tsai for Asian.

                  10a.Justin Wilson Just couldn’t leave him off the list.  His homespun stories, thick Cajunaccent, and mouthwatering creations, paved the way for Emeril.

                  There you have it.  My list of the top 10 TV chefs of all time.  Keep in mind, that a determining factor for me was how they were on TV, not necessarily their culinary worth.  That would be a whole other list.  So, take your shots.  Who makes your list?  I can’t wait to see the comments on this!

                  Chef Gusteau’s List:

                  1. Julia Child
                  2. Emeril Lagasse
                  3. Jacques Pepin
                  4. Graham Kerr
                  5. James Beard
                  6. Gordon Ramsay (he’s what’s on now, and what people can’t stop talking about)
                  7. Bobby Flay
                  8. Dione Lucas
                  9. Rachael Ray

                  10.  Ming Tsai (Sentimental favorite; though he beat each of today’s Iron Chef’s in every cooking battle he has had with them in various forums)

                  1. Chef Gusteau – you have to trust me on this one…
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                  23 Comments leave one →
                  1. December 8, 2009 7:41 pm

                    LOL…Rachel Ray??? Cut it out! (or off) Had to post this blog on my site as the headline news…nice!

                    http://northernohio.localfoodservice.com//index.cfm

                    • Lorraine permalink
                      April 14, 2012 11:10 am

                      Rachel DOES NOT belong on this list! Insult to the others!

                  2. Jack Rakes permalink
                    December 8, 2009 8:48 pm

                    Definitely Sara Moulton should be there – part of making good food accessible to all

                  3. December 8, 2009 11:05 pm

                    Trust me, Joe, the Rachael Ray thing hurt me to admit. But anyone that can get thousands of people excited about cooking deserves some credit…man that hurt to say.

                    Jack – I am with you on Sara Moulton…which is why she was on my notables list. She is a great mix of Jacques Pepin and Alton Brown in a way. She is very talented, a great cook, and can explain the science behind cooking quite well. Problem? She wasn’t all that entertaining to the masses…classic example of high on content but low on style.

                  4. January 6, 2010 11:50 am

                    thanks for the info
                    Im gonna use this in my project as refrence..
                    happy new year btw :)

                    • January 6, 2010 11:55 am

                      Happy New Year to you too!

                      I’m glad you found the article useful. What type of project are you working on? I’d love to hear more about it.

                      Anton

                  5. January 15, 2010 3:09 pm

                    Nice!, found your page on digg.Happy I finally tested it out. Unsure if its my Explorer browser,but sometimes when I visit your site, the fonts are really small? Anyway, love your post and will return.Bye

                  6. Kim permalink
                    August 18, 2010 8:54 pm

                    Do you really think Jeff Smith’s name was James, or are you just being a jerk? His name was Jeffrey L. Smith, not a James in sight.

                  7. Jean permalink
                    March 17, 2011 6:55 pm

                    Hats off to all of them! They did their best at what they know best and great it was! Lots of enjoyable television viewing!

                  8. Alex Murphy permalink
                    July 6, 2011 9:41 pm

                    Bobby Flay needs to die.
                    He is a worthless piece if stool.

                    He can’t seem to cook anything without corn in it.

                    Whant to know why so many people hate him? Watch the Iron Chef (2 episodes) where he was a contestant.

                    He is a massive whiney b1tc#. So much the Iron chef had him on again and then LET him win.

                  9. Doug permalink
                    August 16, 2011 11:45 pm

                    agree completely with both your lists’ top 5/6, and most certainly the addition of Graham Kerr, who inspired me to cook as a teen and young adult. I fact, his “Galloping Gourmet” tome was the first cookbook I bought as a 20 year-old; it weighs about five pounds [smile], and was quite expensive, about a days plus pay at the time [at least for me as a college student]. But, no question, Julia Child is number 1, with Jacques Pipen close behind.

                    Too bad about James Smith, “The Frugal Gourmet.” I always liked him and his cooking style. It’s a sad commentary on our society that unsubstantiated accusations can have the power to destroy one reputation and career. I would keep him on my top ten list.

                    Also think “America’s Test Kitchen” is the best show I ever seen that does a great job of teaching the art of cooking, eventhough, there’s really no individual chef.

                    I would included one more on the list that I don’t think you have mentioned: Lidia Bastianich of “Lidia’s Italy, et.al. Kind of an Italian version of Julia & Jacques.

                  10. Elizabeth permalink
                    August 21, 2011 9:37 am

                    Does anyone know the name of the female chef that always says “Thank you very much” to each item she uses?

                    • January 10, 2012 1:01 pm

                      You’re probably thinking of Anne Burrell. I think she say’s “thank you for coming to the party”.

                  11. January 10, 2012 1:00 pm

                    Love this list …. except maybe the inclusion of R.R., I like her and think she has gotten many people, who might not have been, into the kitchen… and after reading the title of the list I suppose she is famous, (I was thinking it was “greatest”, which she would not qualify for) I would never include Gordon Ramsey on any list … except maybe loud, offensive, a-hole. I’d much rather see Michael Symon who imo is a much better cook, a caring soul and definitely NOT an a-hole. Putting Julia at the top is obvious and deserved, and I agree that Jacques Pepin would without a doubt be my #2. The list got me thinking though, and that’s always a good thing, which reminds me, I’m glad Martha wasn’t on anyone’s list!

                  12. January 24, 2012 7:03 am

                    I like the helpful info you supply for your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and test once more right here frequently. I am reasonably certain I’ll be informed a lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the following!

                  13. jimmy kelly permalink
                    April 28, 2012 6:02 pm

                    r ray you got to be kidding ..were talking about food prepared by real chefs..not tv -hollywood promos .child keer beard are for sure the real chefs for get hollywood promos

                  14. May 24, 2012 9:09 pm

                    I believe your list has one glaring omission: Chef Tell Erhardt, who in the 1970s and 1980s had 40,000,000 TV fans watching regularly to his segments on syndicated TV shows. As many as 20,000 recipe requests came in weekly for years. He was mobbed at airports and venues where he cooked in live demonstrations. In fact, I do not know of another chef who has as much celebrity status both on TV and off. Can you think of one besides Chef Tell?

                  15. Cynthia permalink
                    August 15, 2012 11:50 am

                    Graham Kerr was my favorite. I watched him when I was very young with my mother all the time. He was a great cook and totally entertaining!

                    • August 15, 2012 12:13 pm

                      Cynthia, had you ever watched Chef Tell’s segments back then? He was the pioneer TV showman chef. His sign-off was, “I SEE YOU!”

                  16. Darlene R. Phillips permalink
                    January 16, 2013 11:23 am

                    HI…Who were those two English chefs shown weekly in the US.probably in the 80’s or 90’s.
                    One smoked, they weren’t attractive or thin,however they were very entertaining!! I need their names and where to find their CD’s..Thank you Darlene

                    • January 16, 2013 12:24 pm

                      Darlene, Graham Kerr was probably one of them. Also, have you ever heard of or watched CHEF TELL on TV from in the 1970’s – 1990’s? Check out cheftellgoodies.com to see more about him.

                  17. Dan permalink
                    August 17, 2014 7:46 pm

                    Julia Childs is incredibly overated. Just watch her old shows. She has dropped so many Chickens on the floor its not even funny. Jacques Pepin is great. Paul Prudomme and Walter Staib are also great chefs. I`m surprised you left off the Americas test kitchen chefs. That’s probably the most popular cooking show right now.

                  18. August 18, 2014 1:04 pm

                    UNASHAMED PLUG:

                    “CHEF TELL The Biography of America’s Pioneer TV Showman Chef,” forewords by TV hosts, Regis Philbin and CHEF Walter Staib, is available online everywhere and author-signed copies through:

                    http://kulebooks.myshopify.com/products/chef-tell-the-biography-of-america-s-pioneer-tv-showman-chef

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