Long gone are the days when becoming a chef was something only the misfits and drop-outs did – these days, the rise in the popularity of the Food Network has created a whole new group of celebrity chefs who seem to be TV personality first and cook second. But while some of them don't seem to have much more than a pretty face and a way with a skillet, many of them come from a legitimate cooking background – including being the executive chef or owner of their own restaurants.
Since we've all got a little bit of the fanboy/fangirl in us, we thought it would be fun to check out where some of TV's most famous chefs once worked their magic. As you can imagine, lots of them are in New York – but some of the other locations may surprise you. And we can think of far worse themes for a trip than the restaurants of famous chefs.
Start the fast now, folks, you're not even going to have room for a mint after this tour.
Emeril Legasse is arguably one of the pioneers of the TV chef movement. Yes, there were TV chefs before him, but his show "Emeril Live" helped to bring cooking shows out of the public television doldrums and into the limelight. These days, he may be better known for yelling, "BAM!" when he adds spices to dishes than for anything he actually cooks, but Emeril's got a real chef's background – and a long list of successful restaurants, as well. He's got restaurants in Gulfport (Emeril's Golf Coast Fish House), Orlando (Emeril's Tchoup Chop), Las Vegas (Table 10, Emeril's New Orleans Fish House, & Delmonico Steakhouse), and New Orleans (NOLA Restaurant & Emeril's Delmonico). He's also got a chain called Emeril's, which you'll find in Miami Beach, Orlando, and New Orleans. But if none of those locations is far enough off the beaten track for your tastes, keep in mind that Emeril has also provided some recipes to NASA for use on the International Space Station.
Everyone's favorite snarky chef-turned-traveler, Anthony Bourdain isn't filmed much anymore in an actual kitchen. Instead, his "Cook's Tour" and "No Reservations" shows concentrate on him eating his way around the world, usually in odd places or eating odd things (or some combination thereof). In fact, I can only remember a couple of times on his TV shows when he's even cooked anything – he's always letting other people cook for him these days. But despite his newfound fame as a travel writer and eater, he retains the official title of "Honorary Chef-at-Large" at the New York restaurant where he once worked his culinary magic – Brasserie Les Halles. What the heck an Honorary Chef-at-Large is, I have no idea. One suspects that giving him such a title allows Les Halles to continue to lure patrons in with his name and image, but maybe I'm just being cynical…
Sometimes known as "The Naked Chef," British chef Jamie Oliver got his start in London's famous River Cafe. He was discovered when a TV producer was filming a program at the River Cafe, and the rest (as they say) is history. He's got several best-selling cookbooks and well-received cooking shows under his belt, as well as a few of his own restaurants. His style is decidedly un-fussy, and he's a major proponent of using fresh, organic, and local ingredients. Perhaps his most interesting undertaking, however, is his charity/restaurant called "Fifteen," in which he trains 15 wayward kids – the kind who might have ended up on welfare or worse – to cook and run restaurants. The original Fifteen restaurant is in London, but more have followed, with Fifteens now in Cornwall, Newquay, Amsterdam, and even Melbourne. And for a peek at where Jamie got his inspiration, check out his dad's pub/restaurant in Clavering – The Cricketers.
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Mr. "Hell's Kitchen" himself, Gordon Ramsay may be the chef everyone loves to hate most – but although he's probably more well-known nowadays for his prolific use of profanity in the kitchen and his no-apologies chef boot camp style, his pre-TV resume glows with Michelin stars. The list of restaurants under the "Gordon Ramsay Group" umbrella is extensive and covers a good number of cities around the world. Many of them contain his name in the title, making it blindingly obvious who's in charge – but Gordon himself isn't actually working as a chef in any of his establishments anymore. If you want to dine in the places where he once screamed obscenities at the kitchen staff, however, head for Aubergine in London or Amaryllis in Glasgow. He's listed as the "Chef Patron" at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, and Petrus (all in London), among others. But if all of these are too rich for your blood, or you can't get reservations while you're in London, then check out Gordon Ramsay Plane Food in Heathrow's Terminal 5. Not in the UK? That's okay, too – the Ramsay empire extends to Dubai, New York, Tokyo, Florida, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Amsterdam, Hollywood, and Singapore.
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The name "Mario Batali" doesn't sound like it comes from the great state of Washington, but it does. Well, at least he does. Mario's background and upbringing are all Italian, though, and his restaurants reflect that. He's also still very much involved in many of his restaurants, even though he's got a relatively successful career as a TV chef on the side. If you get lucky, you may still find him at Babbo, Lupa, Esca, Casa Mono, or Bar Jamon (all in New York). Mario's restaurant empire also includes places in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and if you're headed to Italy you can check out the region that inspires him most – the Emilia-Romagna. And for those of you in the Seattle area, Mario's father is the guy behind Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, which is a favorite even among chefs whose last name isn't Batali – but be warned, the lunchtime line often extends down the block.
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Fans of the Food Network see Bobby Flay so often that they probably have to change the channel periodically to prevent his face from becoming burned into their TV screens even when the set is turned off. It seems they’ve yet to create a show that he won’t appear on, so it’s surprising he has enough time to actually run several of his own successful restaurants. As the network's resident grilling expert, it shouldn't be a surprise that three of Flay's restaurants have the word "grill" in it, and yet another is called "Steak." So, vegetarians beware – Bobby's got a penchant for meat. You can sample his cookery at Bar Americain in New York, Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, and any of the three Mesa Grill locations (New York, Bahamas and Las Vegas). If you actually see him at any of these restaurants have a look around for the cameras because you are probably being filmed and he might be about to challenge you to a cook-off.
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Listening to Paula Deen talk on her cooking shows, all I can think about is sipping a mint julep on a big veranda. And since Paula's cooking is heavily southern-influenced, she'd probably approve of that image. The picturesque city of Savannah, Georgia is the home of Paula's first restaurant, The Lady & Sons, which she runs with her two sons and which specializes in good old fashioned American comfort foods like mac & cheese and fried chicken, and you can even find fried Twinkies on the menu. (I don't know how they'd taste with a mint julep, but I'd be willing to give it a go.) She's also opened a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina called Uncle Bubba's Oyster House with someone called, appropriately, Uncle Bubba.
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The Japanese "Iron Chef" show may have been good for as many kitschy laughs as it was for cooking tips, but it made a star out of Masaharu Morimoto. Off the screen, he honed his cooking skills at the famous Japanese restaurant Nobu in their New York location before opening his own restaurant, Morimoto, in Philadelphia. He has since branched out, opening Morimoto restaurants in New York and Boca Raton. (If you're thinking he chooses odd spots for his restaurants – Philadelphia? Boca Raton? – you're not alone. I'm right there with you.) He's only listed as the Executive Chef at the New York location of Morimoto, but one assumes he's had a hand in creating the menu at the others. Another place where Masaharu's listed as the Executive Chef is Wasabi by Morimoto, which is in Mumbai and New Delhi.
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While Thomas Keller hasn't had a TV show of his own, you may have seen his food stylings on the big screen anyway. And plus, he's a legend in the foodie community, so I couldn't not include him here. His restaurants include the famous French Laundry in Yountville, California, which is notoriously hard to get into (if you can't get a table when you're passing through, or you can't imagine paying that much for a meal, then check out one of his other Yountville places, Bouchon), and Per Se in New York City. He's also one of the many personality chefs with a restaurant in Las Vegas, although you'll forget you're in Vegas when you set foot inside the Bouchon in the Venetian. It's a little bit of Paris, inside a Venice-themed hotel, in that craziest of American cities. Oh, and if you're wondering how he's influenced Hollywood, you need look no further than the animated film "Ratatouille" to see what effect having the movie's producer intern at the French Laundry had on the film's design. Too abstract for you? Okay, he also taught Adam Sandler how to make "the world's greatest sandwich" for "Spanglish."
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