Below is a list of the greatest Chefs of all time in the opinion of Raymond Blanc. Let Us know in the comments who you would have in your Top 3.
1. ANTONIN CAREME (1784-1833)
The first great chef of modern cuisine, Careme was rightly known as ‘the cook of kings and the king of cooks’. The young Careme earned his keep in a Parisian chophouse and went on to open a patisserie where his creations included piece montées or croquembouche, that towering cake of profiteroles devoured at every French celebration. He cooked for Napoleon and came to Britain to serve the Prince Regent, later George IV. However, he hated the English fogs, found London sombre and returned to France. He knew that architecture – as well as art and science – is an important part of cooking. Careme’s legacy remains as imposing as any of his grandest piece montées.
2. ALEXIS SOYER (1810-1858)
Auguste Escoffier was a chef and inventor who frequently cooked extravagant dinners for the elite but who thought of the poor, too. He invented the Soyer field stove for the Army (pictured above)
Oh, how I wish I’d known Soyer. He was a chef and inventor who frequently cooked extravagant dinners for the elite but who thought of the poor, too. After working in Paris he crossed the Channel to cook for the nobility. At the Reform Club in London he designed a modern kitchen with ovens that had adjustable temperatures and refrigerators cooled by water. During the Potato Famine he went to Ireland and with his novel idea of ‘soup kitchens’ fed the starving peasants. In the Crimean War he helped Florence Nightingale look after the wounded: her nursing would have been of little use if the recovering soldiers were not properly fed. Along the way he invented the Soyer field stove for the Army.
3. AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER (1846-1935)
Escoffier’s belief was simple: ‘Good food is the basis of true happiness.’ Only a fool could argue with this. Escoffier’s recipes and style were adopted by millions of chefs around the world. Some 6,000 Escoffier-inspired recipes were included in a little book called Le Repertoire de la Cuisine. You might never have heard of this cookbook but for decades it was to be found in most professional kitchens. Compared with the lightness of today’s haute cuisine, Escoffier’s stocks and sauces now seem rich, heavy and overcooked. And in the wrong hands many of his recipes were murdered. Escoffier opened the restaurants at the Savoy Hotel in London, where he allowed women to come and dine on tables without male company – unheard of at the time.
A great chef and one of the world’s finest ever restaurateurs. In the golden era of the Twenties, Parisians would enjoy the drive to the Cote d’Azur, stopping off for a wonderful lunch or evening meal at Point’s restaurant, La Pyramide, in Vienne. He came from a family of cooks, and he influenced many brilliant chefs and the food that we eat today.
Like most chefs he was a workaholic, who would leave the kitchen shortly before midnight but was up before sunrise to phone Les Halles market in Paris and put in the orders so ingredients reached him by train later that day.
I love his philosophy: ‘If the divine Creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.’
5. PAUL BOCUSE (1926- 2018)
Nouvelle cuisine, in its true sense, is about making food lighter, refining the dish. In the Sixties, chefs like Paul Bocuse led the way with this new style of cooking
This champion of young chefs is the most influential chef of our time. Nouvelle cuisine, in its true sense, is about making food lighter, refining the dish. It is also about bowing to seasonality and showing respect for produce. In the Sixties, chefs like Bocuse (who trained under Fernand Point) led the way with this new style of cooking. As we know, nouvelle cuisine turned into a nightmare of overworked, overcomplicated food. It was entirely misunderstood by bad chefs and poor journalists. Anyone who could serve raspberries with turbot was seen as a genius. Bocuse, however, was doing the real thing. He also ushered in the age of chef-patron, where the chef owns a stake in the business rather than being just an employee.
6. ALICE WATERS (1944-)
In the Seventies Alice Waters pioneered the use of seasonal, locally grown, organic produce. Thomas Keller leads the way when it comes to fine dining at his restaurant in the Napa Valley, the French Laundry (pictured)
Think of American food and an image of burgers and fast food comes to mind. But in the Seventies Alice Waters pioneered the use of seasonal, locally grown, organic produce. Again, she was influenced by French cuisine, having been a student in France. About 40 years ago she opened Chez Panisse, near San Francisco, intending it to be nothing more than a place where she would cook for friends and talk politics. Instead it became a gastronomic mecca. Also in America, Thomas Keller (who was trained in classical French cuisine by Michelin winners in France) leads the way when it comes to fine dining at his restaurant in the Napa Valley, the French Laundry.
7. ALBERT ROUX (1935-), MICHEL ROUX (1941-)
Albert and Michel come from a family steeped in cooking and they served the best of bourgeois cuisine with an unprecedented level of skill and professionalism (From left: Michel Jr, Albert, Michel and Alain Roux)
These brothers were the first great chefs since Escoffier to use their own food traditions to change British food culture. In 1967, when they opened Le Gavroche in London, the restaurant business was very different to what it is today. Other chefs in Britain were serving a dreadful corruption of the classical cuisine of Escoffier. Albert and Michel come from a family steeped in cooking and they served the best of bourgeois cuisine with an unprecedented level of skill and professionalism. My brigade at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons once played a football match against Michel’s staff. We won the match and Michel didn’t take it well. Of course, as Frenchmen we hugged and kissed cheeks, but he never quite got over it.
8. ALAIN DUCASSE (1956-)
Alain Ducasse managed to give me one of the most memorable meals of my life, at the Louis XV (above) in Monaco, where he lives. One dish was a thin tartlet of truffle with just a drop of oil and crudités
The greatest chefs appreciate simplicity. Ducasse managed to give me one of the most memorable meals of my life, at the Louis XV (above) in Monaco, where he lives. One dish was a thin tartlet of truffle with just a drop of oil and crudités – it was so fresh and clean. Ducasse trained with two masters, Michel Guérard and Roger Vergé, who led the nouvelle cuisine revolution with Paul Bocuse. The first time I met him we were meant to cook together. He sent me an advance copy of one of his recipes but when it came to the cooking I changed it completely. At first he was horrified, but he mellowed later. When it comes to simplicity I must also say that Joel Robuchon created one of the finest dishes I’ve ever tasted.
Marco Pierre White was easily the most gifted young chef of his time. Heston Blumenthal is seen as the leader of molecular gastronomy in Britain, though he hates the phrase and rightly so
9. MARCO PIERRE WHITE (1961-)
Wild-haired, madly energised and brilliantly artistic, Marco put rock ‘n’ roll into food. He was easily the most gifted young chef of his time, and I am proud to say that this Yorkshireman trained with me at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the mid-Eighties. He was a trailblazer who led a movement against the Establishment chefs, and this had some extremely positive results. Young people looked at Marco as a figurehead and he inspired thousands of today’s renowned chefs. He was the first British chef – and the world’s youngest – to win three Michelin stars. And to think that by then he had never set foot in France. Marco brought about a revival in British gastronomy. What a shame that he’s not recognised enough for his contribution. I salute him.
10. HESTON BLUMENTHAL (1966-)
Some 20 years ago I was one of the first chefs to be involved in molecular gastronomy but stepped away from it. I decided that cuisine is many thousands of things and science is just a part of it. The moment you put science above the other parts then you are in danger of creating a fashion. A few years earlier a young Heston had come to Le Manoir for a week of kitchen experience. Heston is seen as the leader of molecular gastronomy in Britain, though he hates the phrase and rightly so. He is a modernist whose food at The Fat Duck, in Bray, has style and wit: the Sound Of The Sea dish and Snail Porridge. He could choose to be the caretaker of British gastronomy and create his destiny.
Written in 2012 by Raymond Blanc – All credits to the Chef Himself!