Part 2: The Masters
During the last two decades of the Twentieth Century, a second generation of celebrity chefs emerged. These men were in the main highly accomplished chefs and businessmen who happened to be telegenic as well. Several of them championed causes like sustainable fishing, the need for children to eat healthier food, or supporting local producers with such dedication that they changed public perceptions. With a few exceptions, their shows were informative yet fun – not the other way round. Some of the standout figures to emerge in the 1980s and ‘90s were:
Wolfgang Puck (born Wolfgang Johannes Topfschnig on July 8, 1949) owns a food empire that encompasses fine dining restaurants, top-end catering, fast food and merchandising, and is the official caterer to the annual Oscar awards. He was born in St-Veit in the Austrian province of Carinthia, and began cooking at his mother's side as a child. She was a qualified pastry chef, and with her encouragement he became a child prodigy. When his mother remarried, he took the name of his adoptive father Josef Puck. He trained as an apprentice under Raymond Thuilier at L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux-de-Provence, at Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and at Maxim's Paris. At the age of 24, Wolfgang took the advice of a friend and left Europe for the United States.
His first job was at La Tour in Indianapolis, where he worked from 1973 to 1975. Puck moved to Los Angeles in 1975 and very quickly garnered the attention of the Hollywood elite as chef and eventually part owner of Ma Maison in West Hollywood. His gregarious personality and culinary skill made Ma Maison a magnet for the rich and famous, with Wolfgang as the star attraction. He had an innate understanding of the potential for California cuisine, and was pivotal in its rise to national attention during the late 1970s.
Following the 1981 publication of his first cookbook, Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen based on his Ma Maison recipes, Puck and Barbara Lazaroff opened the restaurant Spago on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Spago was an instant success. His early signature dishes, such as haute cuisine pizzas topped with smoked salmon and caviar, and Sonoma baby lamb with braised greens and rosemary, put him and Spago on the gourmet map, not just in Los Angeles but throughout the world. In 1997, Puck and Lazaroff relocated the restaurant to Beverly Hills. It has been recognized as one of the Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. since 2004.
His early exposure to Southern California's multicultural population inspired him to fuse the Asian flavours and products of Koreatown, Chinatown, and Thaitown with his French- and California-based cuisine in a fine dining setting. Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, which opened in 1983, brought diners a fresh and imaginative Asian-fusion menu that laid the groundwork for fusion cooking in America.
In 1989, Wolfgang opened his third restaurant, Postrio, in the Prescott Hotel off San Francisco's Union Square. Postrio also draws upon the multi-ethnic nature of its surroundings. Its contemporary American cuisine, with its emphasis on local ingredients, continues to draw rave reviews in Northern California's highly competitive culinary market. A more traditional enterprise, the steakhouse CUT, proved equally successful. Puck transplanted his Californian icons to Las Vegas in the 1990s. Today this former culinary backwater boasts eponymous offshoots of Spago, Postrio and CUT, along with Cucina by Wolfgang Puck, Lupo and the Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill.
Wolfgang and Spago earned many accolades over the years, including winning the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year twice, in 1991 and 1998, and the James Beard Foundation Award for Restaurant of the Year in 1994. Wolfgang is the only chef to have won the Outstanding Chef of the Year Award two times. Spago Beverley Hills has earned two Michelin stars, and CUT Beverley Hills one.
His success enabled him to launch a group of companies which includes over 20 fine dining restaurants in the U.S., Wolfgang Puck Catering (WPC), more than 80 Wolfgang Puck Express operations, and kitchen and food merchandise, including cookbooks and canned foods. WPC is renowned for catering such high profile events as the annual Governors Ball, the post-Academy Awards celebrity banquet (for the past 14 years), as well as the GRAMMY awards celebration, the ESPY awards, American Music Awards, presidential galas and fundraisers.
Concurrent with his restaurant and catering operations, Puck has made a name for himself as a communicator. He has written six cookbooks and has been a regular guest on ABC's Good Morning America since 1986. His Emmy Award-winning television series, Wolfgang Puck, debuted on The Food Network in 2000 and aired for five seasons. Wolfgang also has made guest appearances on a multitude of television shows including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Ellen De Generes Show and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Wolfgang's syndicated newspaper column, Wolfgang Puck's Kitchen, appears in 30 newspapers in the United States and Canada, reaching more than 5.3 million people each week. The chef is also known to tens of thousands of television viewers who see him regularly on Home Shopping Network, where he demonstrates recipes using his growing line of Wolfgang Puck branded housewares and foods.
Wolfgang Puck has changed the way Americans cook and eat by introducing them to the concept of Fusion. He demonstrated the synergy that can be unleashed by mixing classical French techniques, Asian-influenced aesthetics and the highest quality seasonal ingredients. He has also changed the face of dining in cities throughout the nation, first in Los Angeles, then in Las Vegas, where he was the first star chef to create a contemporary fine dining restaurant, paving the way for other celebrated chefs and the city's metamorphosis into a dining destination.
Rick Stein OBE, born 4 January 1947, is a Cornish celebrity chef, restaurateur and television presenter. He is arguably the Anglo-Saxon world’s best-known seafood chef, and one of its favourite cookery writers. Stein has run The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, an award-winning restaurant with an international reputation since 1975. Today he owns an empire of food establishments in Padstow, including St Petroc’s Bistro, Rick Stein’s Café, Rick Stein’s Fish and Chips, a delicatessen, and a highly-regarded cookery school. Further afield, he is Head Chef and co-owner of Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook, New South Wales in Australia,
Prior to his studies at Oxford, Stein had partially completed a hotel management traineeship with British Transport Hotels at its Great Western Royal Hotel in Paddington. He worked there as a chef for six months until, distraught by his father's suicide, he went to Australia at the age of 19. Here he worked as a labourer in an abattoir and as a clerk in a naval dockyard. He also visited New Zealand and Mexico to "take some time out". Being on his own, he read widely, reflected on his attitude to education, and applied successfully to New College, Oxford where he earned an English degree in 1971. Shortly after that, he moved to Padstow. The rest, as they say, is history.
Stein didn't always harbour ambitions to be an award-winning chef. After graduating from Oxford, he converted a mobile disco in Padstow, which he had run as a student, into a quayside nightclub with a friend called Johnny. Fortunately for seafood lovers, the venture was not a success. The nightclub lost its licence and was closed down by the police, mainly due to frequent brawls with local fishermen. The pair still had a licence for a restaurant in another part of the building, so they continued with that to avert bankruptcy. Stein ran the kitchen, and started specialising in cooking freshly-caught local seafood, supplied by the fishermen who had once frequented his club. Eventually he converted it into a small harbour-side bistro, The Seafood Restaurant, in 1975.
Stein has become a popular television presenter on food. After appearing on Keith Floyd’s 1984 series Floyd On Fish as a guest chef, he was offered the chance to present his own series - a "travelogue" cookery show like those pioneered by Floyd – on BBC television. His shows have included Rick Stein's Taste of the Sea, Fruits of the Sea, Seafood Odyssey, Fresh Food, Seafood Lovers' Guide, Food Heroes, French Odyssey, Mediterranean Escapes, Far Eastern Odyssey, Rick Stein's Spain and Rick Stein's India. Until his death in 2007, Chalky, Stein’s Jack Russell terrier, often “co-starred” in these shows.
A book has accompanied each series, and his book English Seafood Cookery won the Glenfiddich Award for Food Book of the Year in 1989. This was followed by the coveted Glenfiddich Trophy “for his overwhelming commitment to food quality through his work as a chef, teacher, presenter and author” in 2001. In 2004 he was named BBC Food Personality of the Year for his Food Heroes series. In 2005, he won the James Beard Foundation Kitchenaid Book of the Year for Rick Stein’s Seafood. Stein was awarded the OBE in the 2003 New Year Honours list for services to tourism in Cornwall.
Stein spends part of the year in Padstow, and part in Sydney with his second wife, Sarah and her two children. He has three sons from his first marriage to his business partner, Jill Stein (née Newstead) whom he divorced in 2007. The food business built up by Stein and his former wife is currently valued at £32 million and employs approximately 450 people in Padstow alone. No wonder the town is often referred to as “Padstein”!
Rick Stein has many critics, many of whom poke fun at his gushing, melodramatic style as a TV presenter. Call me gullible, but I find him sincere and passionate about his subjects and full of empathy for the farmers and fishermen who toil to put delicacies on our dinner tables.
Raymond Blanc OBE was born on 19 November 1949 near Besançon, the capital of the Franche-Comté region in eastern France, between Burgundy and the Alps. He is one of Britain's best-loved and most respected chefs. Blanc is the owner and chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, a hotel-restaurant in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. The restaurant has two Michelin stars and scored 9/10 in the Good Food Guide. He is entirely self-taught, but has himself taught or employed other chefs including Heston Blumenthal, John Burton-Race and Marco Pierre White.
While his two sisters were taught to cook by the influential Maman Blanc, his father taught young Raymond and his two brothers to work in the kitchen garden. His father gave him a colander and foraging map for his 10th birthday, and his mother taught him to cook what he collected. Training as a waiter, Blanc worked at the Michelin-starred Le Palais de la Bière in Besançon. In 1972 he was fired for upsetting the head chef - Blanc had offered him advice on how to cook! Fortunately the manager found him a job in England, even though Blanc couldn’t speak English well enough to survive without a notepad. Undaunted, he reported for duty as head waiter at The Rose Revived in Newbridge, Oxfordshire three days later. One day soon afterwards, the chef was ill and Raymond took over the kitchen. His heroics that day were to be the start of an illustrious career.
Before striking out on his own, Blanc worked for a time under chef patron André Chavagnon, at his French restaurant, La Sorbonne, in Oxford High Street. In 1977, the Blancs opened Les Quat' Saisons in a row of modern shops in Oxford. Says Blanc: "We mortgaged the house, owed 18 further people, and opened in a corridor between a lingerie shop and the Oxfam offices”. The restaurant was an overnight success; he won the Egon Ronay Guide’s Restaurant of the Year award, two Michelin stars and a host of other distinctions in no time. In 1981, Blanc opened La Maison Blanc, a chain of boulangeries and pâtisseries that also contain cafès. There are 14 branches of Maison Blanc across England, including several in London and one in Oxford.
In 1983, Blanc purchased a manor-house in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton, where he opened Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, a country house hotel and double Michelin-starred restaurant. Awarded five AA stars and with a score of 19/20 from respected French guide Gault Millau, Le Manoir describes itself as "one of the ultimate gastronomic destinations in the country". Le Manoir combines magnificent surroundings with gastronomic excellence. It is the only UK country house hotel to have retained two Michelin stars for over 30 years. Its eleven stunning gardens, including the vast kitchen gardens, are the envy of botanists worldwide.
Blanc opened Le Petit Blanc, the first of a chain of smaller restaurants, in Oxford in June 1996. Blanc's stated aim with these was to bring the French philosophy of "good food being central to good living" to the United Kingdom. The chain, which now includes more than twenty outlets, was renamed Brasseries Blanc in 2006. The brasseries offer French classics and modern dishes, all made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Each of the brasseries is a place to relax, and enjoy 'real French food, close to home' at affordable prices.
Blanc has made numerous appearances on many major television shows in the UK. These include his own series Food & Drink in 1987, Take Six Cooks in 1986 and Masterchef in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1998, as well as The Restaurant, a BBC 2 series hosted by Blanc where nine couples competed to win their own restaurant. Blanc was also a featured chef on Great Chefs of the World.
On January 2007, he appeared in the Omelette Challenge on Saturday Kitchen. He was initially placed last because he took the longest to cook an omelette. James Martin, the adjudicator, however nudged him up several places when Blanc produced a black truffle out of his pocket and garnished the finished omelette with truffle shavings!
Raymond has always felt compelled to share his culinary knowledge and, in 1991, he established The Raymond Blanc Cookery School. Based within Le Manoir’s kitchens, the school welcomes enthusiastic amateurs and professional cooks, as well as children, providing the opportunity for home cooks to develop their skills in a relaxed and friendly environment. He is a best-selling author, and his BBC2 television series have included The Very Hungry Frenchman, Kitchen Secrets and How to Cook Well. In 2015, he starred in a new BBC Television series filmed at Kew Gardens, entitled Kew on a Plate. All of the aforementioned series were followed by eponymous books.
In 2008, Raymond was awarded an honorary OBE in recognition of his services in promoting culinary excellence and for raising awareness about the importance of healthy food as a central element of family life. In 2013 he was awarded the insignia of Chevalier in the Ordre National de La Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest civic decoration. Some 26 of his protégées have gone on to win Michelin stars for themselves. It is no wonder that in 2005 he was voted AA’s Chefs’ Chef of the Year.
Gary Rhodes OBE is a highly respected English chef, restaurateur and author known for his love of British cuisine and the distinctive spikey hairstyle which he once sported. His mastery of the "Great British Classics" has assured him a place in culinary history, and his numerous Michelin stars have earned him the respect of his peers. Rhodes has achieved what used to be unthinkable: he made traditional British dishes desirable, and Britain's culinary culture a rival to any of Europe's.
He was born in London on 22 April 1960, and grew up in Kent. As a teenager he started experimenting in the kitchen, and often prepared dinner while his mother was still at work. After three years' training at Thanet Technical College (where he met his wife-to-be Jennie) Rhodes realised that he needed to travel in order to expand his culinary repertoire. Europe undoubtedly had the best hotel food and chefs in the world, and this where he headed. His first job on the Continent was as commis-chef at the Amsterdam Hilton. During his time there he became acquainted with nouvelle cuisine and started challenging the orthodoxy of the time, which was mainly focused on aesthetics.
Soon after his return to the UK, Rhodes become the sous-chef at London’s Reform Club in Pall Mall and, from there, Brian Turner’s sous-chef at the Michelin-starred Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge. After two great years at the Capital, he moved to the Whitehall in Essex as Head Chef. A year later, another great opportunity arose – the chance to take over from Chris Oakes at The Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset. It was here that Gary really made a name for himself, retaining the hotel’s Michelin Star at just 26 years of age. It was during his time at the Castle that Gary developed the passion for British food that was to set the course for a hugely successful career and, ultimately, it was where he discovered his talent for taking traditional dishes and refining them into new modern British classics.
By 1990, when he joined the Greenhouse Restaurant in Mayfair as Head Chef, Rhodes’ reputation as one of the UK’s leading culinary masters was well established. Here he revived great classics such as faggots, fishcakes, braised oxtails and even bread-and-butter pudding – which in his hands became a truly sumptuous dessert. With free rein to explore British cuisine, he embarked upon a gastronomic journey of discovery, reinventing and rejuvenating old favourites to create new and incredibly exciting food. Nobody was surprised when, in 1996, he won a Michelin Star for the Greenhouse – the restaurant’s first and Gary’s second.
Since then Gary has gone from strength to strength. In 1997 he opened City Rhodes and, a year later, Rhodes in the Square. Both were awarded Michelin Stars. Other restaurants followed in 1999 with three Rhodes & Cobrasseries in Manchester, Edinburgh and West Sussex. His first overseas restaurant followed in 2004: at the 5-star Calabash Hotel on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Since then he has added Rhodes Mezzanine, Rhodes Twenty10 and Rhodes in Residence (all in Dubai) and Rhodes 44 in Abu Dhabi to his portfolio. Restaurants aboard the P&O superliners Arcadia and Oriana followed, along with Rhodes D7 brasserie in Dublin and Rhodes South in Dorset. A more recent venture is Rhodes @ the Dome brasserie in Plymouth. Between them, his restaurants have garnered six Michelin stars thus far.
Rhodes’ career as a writer has been both prolific and highly successful and, to date, he has published over twenty cookery books, including New British Classics, The Complete Cookery Year, Keeping it Simple and 365. His television career has been equally successful with series such as Rhodes Around Britain, MasterChef, MasterChef USA, Hell’s Kitchen, Rhodes Across India, Rhodes Across China, Rhodes Across the Caribbean, Rhodes Across Italy and, most recently, The Great British Food Revival.
Gary has cooked on almost every continent for royalty, prime ministers, presidents celebrities. He has cooked on the QE2, the Orient Express and for British troops in Basra, Iraq. Some of the people fortunate enough to have a meal personally cooked by him include the late Princess Diana, Tom Hanks, the Jordan Formula One team, the British team at Le Mans, and his beloved Manchester United FC team. In 2006 he was honoured with an OBE for services to the hospitality industry.
Jamie Oliver MBE will forever be associated with the hit series The Naked Chef. Despite his relatively young age, he is without a shadow of doubt the most influential and philanthropic celebrity chef of his generation. His offhand manner, constant use of the words “yeah” and “pukka”, and down-to-earth personality have won him legions of fans around the world. He has sold millions of cookery books, founded a chain of award-winning restaurants, starred in numerous TV shows and revolutionised UK school dinners.
Oliver was born on 27 May 1975 in the village of Clavering in Essex. His parents, Trevor and Sally, ran a pub/restaurant, The Cricketers, where he practised cooking in the kitchen with his parents. He left school at age sixteen and went on to attend Westminster Technical College, where he then earned a diploma in Home Economics. His first job was as pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant, where he first gained experience in preparing Italian cuisine, and developed a relationship with his mentor Gennaro Contaldo. Later in his career, Oliver would employ Contaldo to help run his successful collection of high street restaurants, Jamie's Italian.
In the mid-1990s, Oliver moved to The River Café in Fulham as sous-chef. It was there that he was noticed by the BBC in 1997, after making an unscripted appearance in a documentary about the restaurant called Christmas at the River Cafe. In 1999, his BBC show The Naked Chef débuted, and the accompanying cookbook became a No 1 bestseller in the United Kingdom. That same year, Oliver was invited to prepare lunch for the Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. In June 2000, Oliver became the face of the United Kingdom supermarket chain Sainsbury’s through an endorsement deal worth $2 million a year.
After three series of the Naked Chef (The Naked Chef, Return of the Naked Chef & Happy Days with The Naked Chef) for the BBC, Oliver moved to Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, where his first series was a documentary, Jamie's Kitchen which followed the setting up of his first restaurant Fifteen in London. The restaurant, in Westland Place, London, continues to train young adults who have a disadvantaged background for careers in the restaurant business.
His first venture into high street dining came in June 2008, when he launched Jamie's Italian in Oxford. The concept has proved wildly successful, and there are now thirty-five restaurants in the collection. The brand has been franchised globally and now includes branches in the UAE, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Russia, Turkey, Singapore and Hong Kong. Oliver's holding company, Jamie Oliver Holdings Ltd., earned enough for Oliver to have been listed twice on The Sunday Times’ list of richest Britons under 30. In 2014, it was reported that Oliver had a net worth of £240 million.
In 2005, Oliver initiated a campaign called Feed Me Better to move British schoolchildren towards eating healthy foods and cutting out junk food. As a result, the British government also pledged to address the issue. His relentless push for improvements in nutrition resulted in people voting him as the "Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2005," according to a Channel 4 News annual viewer poll. His emphasis on cooking fresh, nutritious food continued as he created Jamie's Ministry of Food, a television series where Oliver travelled to inspire everyday people in Yorkshire to cook healthy meals.
His television output has been prodigious. Apart from The Naked Chef and Ministry of Food, he has also appeared in Pukka Tukka (2000), Oliver’s Twist (2001), Jamie’s Kitchen (2002), Jamie’s School Dinners (2003), Jamie’s Great Italian Escape (2005) and Jamie At Home (2007), to name but a few. His most recent appearance was in Jamie’s Comfort Food in 2014. Not content to only feature in scripted shows, Oliver embarked on the Happy Days Live tour in 2001, with several live appearances in the UK and Australasia. Performing to sold-out venues, he cooked on stage and interacted with the audiences with competitions, music and special effects only usually seen in pop concerts. He took the audiences by surprise by singing and drumming to a song called Lamb Curry written by his longtime friend Leigh Haggerwood. He took to the road once more in 2006 on an Australian tour where he performed in Sydney and Melbourne. Following the entertaining format of his first live show, the 2006 Australian tour featuring special guests including mentor Gennaro Contaldo and students from Fifteen London.
Jamie Oliver’s output as an author is as impressive as his TV work. He has thus far written more than 2 dozen books, including Something for the Weekend, The Naked Chef, The Return of the Naked Chef, Jamie's Kitchen, Jamie's Italy, Jamie's America, Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, Save With Jamie and Everyday Super Food. Remarkable for such a successful author, Oliver has severe dyslexia, and only read his first novel (Catching Fire) in 2013, at the age of 38.
Oliver is no stranger to controversy. He has been criticised for his public remarks about – inter alia – Marco Pierre White’s ego and Gordon Ramsay’s swearing. His school dinner campaign has not been uniformly successful: in September 2006, a community school in Yorkshire made headlines after a handful of parents revolted against Oliver's nutritious lunch plan by delivering junk food from local shops to the pupils through the school fence. One parent dismissed Oliver's food as "disgusting rubbish" and declared, "Food is cheaper and better at the local takeaways”. He has also come under fire for lack of food safety protections in his restaurants and only paying lip service to buying local and seasonal produce.
The heaviest flak he has drawn concerns his alleged underestimating the cost of supposedly cheap food he encourages poor people to prepare for themselves, and his “unrealistic” views on poverty. Author and activist Jack Monroe claimed that Oliver's comments "support damaging myths that poor people are only poor because they spend their money on the wrong things, rather than being constrained by time, equipment, knowledge or practicalities. The poor don’t need a trip to Sicily to see how the street cleaners eat. They need practical advice about what to do with the tins of food given to them by the food bank.”
In December 2009, Oliver was awarded the 2010 TED Prize for his campaigns to "create change on both the individual and governmental levels" in order to "bring attention to the changes that the English, and now Americans, need to make in their lifestyles and diet." In 2010, he joined several other celebrity chefs on the series The Big Fish Fight, in which Oliver and fellow chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsay made a variety of programmes to raise awareness about the discarding of hundreds of thousands of saltwater fish because the fishermen are prohibited from keeping any fish other than the stated target of the trawl.
In June 2003, Oliver was awarded the MBE for his services to the hospitality industry. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal College of General Practitioner in 2013 for his work in tackling childhood obesity by improving the nutritional value of school dinners. Oliver married former model Juliette Norton in 2000. The couple met in 1993, and have four children. They family live in his home town of Clavering in Essex. In March 2016, the couple announced they are expecting their fifth baby, due in August.