1. Wolfgang Puck
Though the name Wolfgang Puck is now associated with over 70 restaurants, cookbooks, product brands, and catering services, Wolfgang Puck got his start with Spago Restaurant on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA. Wolfgang Puck grew up in Austria, where his mother introduced his to cooking. Later on he was a chef apprentice in Monaco and Paris, and moved to the United States at age 24 where he worked at La Tour in Indianapolis before moving to Los Angeles and becoming chef and part-owner at Ma Maison. He published his first cookbook, Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen and soon after opened his first restaurant Spago along with Barbara Lazaroff. Spago has since opened in a few different locations. The Beverly Hills venue is consistently considered one of the top fifty restaurants in the United States. Wolfgang Pucks success and reputation in the culinary arts world shows the infinite possibilities opened up by chef internships and has put him on our list of top California chefs.
2. Alice Waters
Alice Waters not only opened what is considered one of the world’s top 50 best restaurants, she is also an activist for awareness of healthy, organic foods. Though born in New Jersey, her significant career path has taken place mainly in California. Alice Waters completed a French Cultural Studies degree at UC Berkeley. She became involved in the culinary arts while studying abroad in France. During her time abroad, she fell in love with the local produce and fresh ingredients, and the level of culinary arts creations that could be created with such high quality ingredients. She opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and it has since been regarded as one of the top best restaurants in the world. Among many award, Alice Waters received the “Best Chef in America” James Beard Foundation award in 1992, the first woman ever to win such an award.
3. Alton Brown
Alton Brown is a character, to say the least, being famous for his unconventional presentation of culinary arts education and wacky experiments and comments such as “The only uni-tasker allowed in my kitchen is a fire extinguisher.” Though he lives in Georgia, we are considering him a California chef since he was born in Los Angeles. Though he does not own any restaurants or even hold the title “chef” at a restaurant, his significant contributions to culinary education for the public have earned him a spot on this list. Before getting his start in the culinary arts, he attended the University of Georgia, where he majored in drama. He then worked in the field before deciding that the lack of quality of cooking shows had to be corrected. He enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute. In 1998 Good Eats first aired. The show focuses on the science behind cooking and cooking equipment. Alton Brown has also written reference books about the culinary arts, such as I’m Just Here for the Food which won him a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the reference category.
4. Thomas Keller
Thomas Keller is another California chef and restaurant owner whose restaurant is listed as one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world. He owns two restaurants (among several others) with three Michelin stars: The French Laundry, in Yountville, California, and Per Se, in New York City. Possibly because his mother was a restaurateur, Thomas Keller became involved in the culinary arts during his teenage years, working at the Palm Beach Yacht Club as a dishwasher and eventually being promoted to a cook. During a summer job as a cook in Rhode Island, Chef Roland Henin offered him a position cooking staff meals at The Dunes Club. Henin taught Keller about classic French culinary arts. Thomas Keller went on to a few other culinary arts positions and apprenticeships, working his way up to higher and higher quality restaurants and food businesses. He opened Rakel, an haute French cuisine company that catered to the top tier executives in New York, until the Wall Street crash. Unwilling to lower the level of the business, Thomas Keller left the venue, taking further chef positions in New York and Los Angeles. In 1994 he bought the venue for The French Laundry and opened the highly successful restaurant it is today.
These top California chefs have gone above and beyond simply having the title “chef.” They have taken their passion for the culinary arts to the best restaurants in the country, and the world. They have expanded beyond the restaurant business and have taken diverse paths to get to where they are. The two things they all have in common are a passion for the culinary world and a connection to California.