Trying to name just five celebrity chefs in Chicago is like trying to pick the best deep dish pizza locale- it’s just not possible. So in the spirit of friendly debate, let’s agree to potentially disagree as these are my picks for most celebrated Chicago chefs of all time, with strong honorable mention to many others (Jimmy Bannos Jr. and Sr., Marcus Samuelsson, Dirk Flanigan, Ryan Poli, Brian Huston, and many more). Long live Chicago’s rich culinary landscape, I am humbled to be in the presence of such greatness.
1 Rick Bayless
The award-winning chef-restaurateur of Frontera Grill and Tobolobampo (a favorite of President Obama), six time cookbook author, and television personality Rick Bayless has done more than any other culinary star to introduce Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine. His show, “Mexico—One Plate at a Time” is currently in its fifth season on PBS, giving him the title of original chef-reality star.
2 Grant Achatz
Chef and Owner of Alinea, one of the most celebrated restaurants in America, Time magazine has recently profiled Achatz as “the Miracle Worker,” for his amazing accomplishment of obtaining three Michelin stars for his molecular gastronomic journey even after tongue cancer nearly destroyed his sense of taste.
3 Stephanie Izard
Winner of Top Chef Chicago, Izard’s Girl and the Goat was one of the most happening and talked about locales of 2010. On top of her game, Izard is still in front of the open kitchen every night and completely down to earth, meeting people and making sure they enjoy their meal.
4 Graham Elliot Bowles
It’s hard to miss playful, tatted up Bowles around town. Looking more like a biker than an award-winning Chef, don’t let appearances fool you. Having made his mark on seasons 1 and 2 of Top Chef Masters, judging Fox’s Master Chef and in his new role as culinary ambassador to Lollapalooza, GEB is a foodie jack of all trades.
5 Tony Mantuano
Cooking for Obama’s Presidential victory is no small feat to claim, but Mantuano did it with a smile and was honored with the keys to San Martino (the ancestral home of Cathy Mantuano). Chef and Partner of Spiaggia, the only four-star Italian restaurant in Chicago, Mantuano is the 2005 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef, Midwest, cookbook author and is a frequent contributor to local Chicago television and radio stations.