Culture and Society

What makes a great chef?
Answered by Alessandro Stratta, Charlie Trotter and 4 others
  • Alessandro Stratta

    Alessandro Stratta

  • Charlie Trotter

    Charlie Trotter

  • Eric Ripert

    Eric Ripert

  • Thomas Keller

    Thomas Keller

  • Jose Andres

    Jose Andres

  • Patrick O'Connell

    Patrick O'Connell

  1. Alessandro Stratta Executive Chef; STRATTA at Wynn Las Vegas


    I think a great chef can be many things. I mean, as far as technically, I think a great chef has a reverence for tradition, for history, and is able to interpret it in their way, respecting the tradition, where it came from, but giving it its own accent, which is not a copied accent, which is not a contrived accent or seeking to be different just for the sake of being different -- or to be the guy who discovers something because he's apt to discover. Somebody that just discovers things, that just makes trends happen. Not the second guy on the train -- the first guy on the train.

    These guys are the ones -- and there are a few of them that are so passionate, I think they get lost in the shuffle because they're so involved with their head down and doing their thing that a few other people that are a little wiser see it and become discovered for their incredible creations, where there's just this artist somewhere that came up with this new way of cooking or new way of thinking about food. I like that. I like the basics. Having your feet well grounded in basics and fundamentals, yet your head is ready to open, and willing and able to go wherever you want with it. I think that's the mark of an artist.

    More answers from Alessandro Stratta »

  2. Charlie Trotter Executive Chef, Charlie Trotter’s


    A chef these days has to wear many, many hats. There was a time where, it's interesting, because if you were to ask the top 20 chefs in the world, "When you started cooking what was your wildest -- what would be your dream? What would have been your fantasy?" And whether you would be talking to Alain Ducasse or Daniel Boulud or Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adrià or Joaquim Splichal any of the great chefs that are practicing their craft today, they would have all said the same thing: "Gosh, maybe one day I would hope to possibly open, and own, and run my own restaurant."

    And now the opportunities are so extraordinary that it's multiple restaurants, it's television, it's cookbooks, consulting arrangements, public speaking engagements, and it's on, and on, and on. So, it's a pretty extraordinary thing. So, these days then chefs have to wear many, many hats. It used to be, "Well, if I worked at some of the great restaurants and I build up a resume and ultimately find a way to open a restaurant and I develop my repertoire of 20 dishes, this will be able sustain me."

    Now chefs have to be media-savvy. They have to be able to communicate and articulate ideas. They have to be able to be a psychologist, motivate people, write books and do multiple things. But chefs do that in different ways. Some chefs are known for their creativity, other chefs are known for their business acumen, other chefs are known for their discipline and organization in terms of running a kitchen and meeting a bottom line.

    And so all kinds of -- there is no one standard definition, and I've met many chefs that are unbelievable, but they don't really seek out the spotlight. And they work in a different way. It could be a large hotel or it could be on a cruise ship, and these guys are incredible. They're very talented, they're very organized, they know how to feed 4000 people a day. And there's an art to that. I mean, we hear about the glamorous chefs that run these high profile restaurants and that seems exciting, but there are many ways to approach this craft. 

    More answers from Charlie Trotter »

  3. Eric Ripert Chef/Co-Owner of Le Bernardin


    A great chef is someone who is inspiring his team to begin with, and a great leader in that sense, and someone who can run not only the kitchen, but make the restaurant sustainable financially, too, because if not, you're not a great chef. And a great chef is someone who is a great cook -- and someone who's creative. Creativity, it's not something that everybody has. It's a gift. So, some chefs don't have it, but they can be good chefs. But great chefs have the extra component of being creative.

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  4. Thomas Keller Chef / Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bouchon & Ad Hoc


    I think a great chef is defined by his ingredients and his team, his ability, his ability to lead, his ability to train, his ability to mentor, his ability to hire, to be able to give his team all the tools that they need to execute at a very high level because, if you have the ingredients and you have the execution, you're going to be a better chef.

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  5. Jose Andres Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup


    What a great chef is -- it's very difficult, right? Because, is the chef the businessman? You know, many times people ask me, "Jose, you are not in the restaurant and the food is good, and the other day you were in the restaurant …" The food is going to be as good if I am in the restaurant or if I am not, because the same people are cooking it. The chef is only maybe -- maybe he is at the top of the pyramid. I do have a whole bunch of people that are really the ones making it happen every day. To me it's almost insulting when someone says, "Well, the chef is not in the restaurant." It's amazing professionals, not only my restaurant group, but all across America and all across the world.

    So a great chef will be a person that -- if I was cooking every dish I serve, it would be about me, and I'm good or I'm not. Do I have the nose, do I have the palate, do I have the technique? But when you are within a team, and I don't see myself at the top of the pyramid actually; I see myself across the team. It's how I'm able to express myself through every one of those amazing individuals that work with me.

    So the great chef today will be one that is able to express himself through all this. So that means that you have to believe in your team. That means that you have to train them, to teach them spiritually as much as technically, physically. If you do both things well, you may have good restaurants. But the question of what a great chef is is very complex.

    More answers from Jose Andres »

  6. Patrick O'Connell Chef/Proprietor, The Inn at Little Washington


    A great chef is anybody he wants to be. A great chef is a tough hombre. I flashed on sort of a bullfighter. A bullfighter and a tightrope-walker and an artist, combined, would be attributes that would work well for anybody who wanted to be a chef.

    I think instead of it becoming easier it's become much harder these days, because it requires so many aspect of your personality. You have to be good at so many different things, but you have to have some sort of overwhelming desire, I think, to please people and to share food with them and to make them happy in order for it to really resonate with an audience.

    More answers from Patrick O'Connell »

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