Ruth Reichl – author and critic extraordinaire. She hasn’t written something I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. Her mother didn’t cook and Ruth turned out pretty good. There’s still hope for my kids.
Alice Waters – ’nuff said. A culinary pioneer who promotes cooking based on using the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients, which are produced sustainably and locally. “Dear Santa, please bring me 40 Years at Chez Panisse. I’ve been a good cook this year.”
Michael McCarty– who doesn’t want to be seen at the best place to be seen for power lunches in NYC, or eat in Santa Monica on the same street where Whitey Bulger hid for 20 years? The innovator behind California Cuisine. (and the reason I bought my kitchen torch.) He’s an alum from the school, where I’m the alumni director. I enjoy his passion for what he does. He says, “The main reason I decided to become a restaurateur was that I love to entertain people, to show them a wild time. And when things are going right at a party or in a restaurant—great food and great service with the right mix of people in the perfect setting—nothing beats it.” Did you know that he became a chef/restaurateur at the age of 25?!?
Mario Batali – who else wears crocs that matches his hair color? He’s a big personality. Big. Huge. He’s a legend with a successful culinary empire (with biz partner Joe Bastianich) in NY, LA, Vegas and Singapore. Babbo opened in NYC in 1998, honored as “Best New Restaurant of 1998” by The James Beard Foundation (JBF) that same year, and awarded three starts by Ruth Reichl just weeks after the JBF award. I’ve got my DVR set to record The Chew, his new show on ABC. Visiting Eataly in NYC is on my short list: a 50K sq ft destination on Fifth Avenue “to shop, taste and savor the seasonal and authentic foods of Italy.” Hey, it’s easier to get to NYC than Rome. Can you believe he withdrew from Le Cordon Bleu for lack of interest? He apprenticed with London’s legendary chef Marco Pierre White (I know, a legendary chef in London?) and in a tiny village in Northern Italy (I enjoyed reading Bill Buford’s passages in Heat about his own internships with Mario, and his own following of Mario’s training).
Jamie Oliver – I applaud his efforts in addressing obesity and reforming the American school lunch. Really Lunch Lady (or men) Leaders – funnel cake is not an option. Bring back Home Ec, not only to high schools, but start in elementary schools. The rise in American children obesity is alarming.
Dan Barber– sometimes his menu items seem more like a dare than expected fare. While I can’t stomach all of his creations du jour, I envy his passion for sustainability and doing it in the core of the Big Apple. He’s the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns; has received the James Beard awards for Best Chef: New York City (2006) and for Outstanding Chef (2009). In 2009 he was named one of the world’s most influential people in Time’s annual “Time 100”. He was also appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Dan says, “It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of good farming for safe and nutritious food.”
Giada De Laurentis – I can’t apologize for enjoying how flirty she is with her food. I’m flirty with my food too. She studied for a different career path but couldn’t help get back to family roots. My family roots aren’t as tasty. (Norway – not that I’m bashing Norwegian cooking…but compared to Italian? Pickled herring vs. grilled Tuscan steak. Just sayin’.)
David Lebovitz – literally living the sweet life in Paris. That particular book is a staple in my library. I’m envious of those who have the courage to live abroad and what better city than Paris?
Food Republic – Clever writing; always makes me smile. Especially when one of the writers was a high school student where I worked before my current position.