The high-profile chefs gathered here are all at the top of their field. They are connected to each other not only because all of them have restaurants in New York City, but also because of how fresh their cuisine is, or if it’s a true farm to table restaurant like Dan Barber’s Blue Hill. They may have an empire of restaurants under the belt, or they may just have one or two to lord over to keep their cooking consistent. Their “top chef” status may land them on talk shows on TV, while others shun their status and stay in the kitchen. April Bloomfield does the latter, and Anthony Bourdain said this about her:
“She’s never worked the room, she’s never played the game, and yet everybody knows who she is—she’s one of the only high-profile chefs who’s almost never on TV, she rarely gives interviews, and every time I walk into the Breslin or the Spotted Pig, I look back there and she’s standing behind the line, actually cooking.”
A chef can become well-known because his restaurant is a hit, or because it’s hard to get a table. These days, diners are savvier before deciding where to eat. They look at ratings on Zagat and Yelp, and they know before coming in who the chef is, and how many stars he or she has received from the New York Times. In the cutthroat world of restaurants in New York, where a star can be taken away by the Times during an update, many fine-dining and elite restaurants can literally go from hot or esteemed to yesterday’s news in a heartbeat. But there is no indicator more powerful than the Michelin Guide, which ranks restaurants each year. The New York City edition was established in 2006, and the chefs who receive recognition are ranked from 1-3, with the highest being a 3-star status. To win three stars is like winning the lottery, and two is like winning an Oscar. Since most of the chefs we’ve gathered here all work at fine establishments that have received the highest ratings possible, getting dropped a star or winning a new one can make or break a restaurant, causing it to lose its intended audience or its hip factor. In New York City, only five restaurants have received three stars. These include Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, Masa and Per Se. All of these restaurants and their chefs are recognized on our list.
So the question is: do chefs take these stars seriously? Well, let’s just say that when Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship restaurant, Jean-Georges, lost one of his stars this year—he now has only two from three—this made headlines all over the country and shook the insular world of New York City’s finest restaurants. But Vongerichten made our list of top chefs, and below you’ll find some others.
Eleven Madison Park is one of the most refined and esteemed restaurants in all of New York. It has remained a success due to its no-nonsense yet elevated food that emphasizes simplicity, purity and seasonal flavors, its attentive service and its white-tablecloth setting that sets the stage for a classic and classy dining room with very high ceilings, lending it an air of elegance. This is the world Chef Daniel Humm presides over, and under his tenure he and his team have received an absurdly high number of awards for their restaurant, including four stars from the New York Times (it was three stars until Frank Bruni, the then restaurant critic of the Times, revisited EMP), seven James Beard Foundation Awards including Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant in America, as well as three Michelin stars, the highest honor you can receive. In 2017, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list ranked Eleven Madison Park #1. The Swiss-born Humm has worked hard to get to where he is, receiving his first Michelin star while only 24, and becoming the executive chef at EMP after moving to New York City. In 2011, Daniel and his business partner Will Guidara purchased Eleven Madison Park from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, and in 2011 he opened the NoMad to much acclaim, and since its opening the restaurant has received three stars from The New York Times, one Michelin Star, and a James Beard Foundation Award. In 2017, Humm, who is often referred to, but never criticized as, the world’s best chef alive, tried out something new, opening Made Nice, a counter-service restaurant in the NoMa area, as well as opening a NoMad in Los Angeles. Humm is quite busy these days, but to retain his Michelin stars, no day can ever be a slouch day. And, yes, you don’t come to eat at EMP. You come to dine, which is a very different thing.
2. Eric Ripert
Renowned Chef Eric Ripert cooks the freshest French-inspired seafood that has made his restaurant Le Bernardin one of those rare dining experiences where the fish is simply made but tastes out of this world. The world-class restaurant, located in midtown New York, is helmed by Ripert for more than 20 years, and is home to repeat customers and those with expense accounts. The atmosphere is sophisticated and airy, and is also very formal, so if you don’t wear a jacket, you will be given one to restore order in a place where precision and perfection are key. Ripert is a very esteemed chef, and has received his share of awards here in New York. The New York Times gave his restaurant four stars only three months after its opening and the restaurant has never dropped a star even to this day. This is a major feat, as few restaurants in town have received this honor. Le Bernardin also dominates the James Beard Awards, having won “Outstanding Restaurant” in America. But all eyes are on the wizardry and talent of Ripert. In 2003 the James Beard Awards named him “Outstanding Chef” and in 2005, Ripert received three stars from the Michelin Guide, the most esteemed restaurant ranker. Getting three stars is like nirvana for any high-end restaurant, as they are the highest possible.
3. Thomas Keller
Chef Thomas Keller is behind the praised and absurdly expensive restaurants Per Se in New York City and the French Laundry in Yountville, California. Reservations are hard to come by despite the expense, but the chance to eat a meal made by Thomas Keller is supposed to be a transporting experience. It’s no wonder that Keller, who reclaimed the nine-course meal to put a spin on it and make it his own, has won many accolades over the years. Relais & Chateaux hailed Keller as the “Grand Chef,” annually since 1998, the James Beard named him “Outstanding Chef and in 2011, he was given the title of Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur because of his contribution to French cuisine. But Keller’s most notable honor is having his two restaurants receiving three Michelin stars, the highest honor possible, making Keller the first and only American chef to have been appointed stars for two of his or her restaurants.
However, the tables have turned since Keller received these awards. Keller’s Per Se got demoted from the New York Times in 2016. The four-star restaurant became a two star one, and that is nothing to dismiss in the competitive world of high-end restaurants where diners choose them based on a review in the Times. The restaurant critic for the Times, Pete Wells, said: “The long-held perception of Per Se as one of the country’s greatest restaurants, which I shared after visits in the past, appears out of date.” The underlying problem is that Per Se is prohibitively expensive, a whopping $295 per person. But the most realistic cost would be around $610 per person if you added some luxurious touches like caviar, black Australian truffles, foie gras and wagyu. It’s a big price hike, but with Keller presiding over Per Se and French Laundry means that change is possible.
4. Daniel Boulud
Daniel, on the Upper East Side, serves other-worldly refined French fare based on the changing of the seasons, making the restaurant a true farm-to-table. The jacket-required setting is both luxurious and romantic, as well as pricey. Daniel is Chef Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred flagship restaurant, and he also owns properties across the U.S., as well as London, Toronto, Montreal and Singapore. Since arriving in New York City in 1982 from Lyon, Boulud has worked hard to keep reinventing and evolving his cuisine. He gets his sensibility from his childhood, helping his family run a 60-acre farm in Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu. As he told the Wall Street Journal, Boulud said, “We raised animals, we had a big garden for produce and a vineyard for wine, and we made our own cheese and ham.” This is why Boulud is one of the freshest restaurants in all of Manhattan.
Like other chefs here who are decorated, Boulud has also received many acclaims. The James Beard Foundation called Boulud “Outstanding Chef of the Year” in 1994 and “Outstanding Restaurateur” in 2006 for restaurant Daniel. Boulud, like Thomas Keller, was named Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2006 in recognition for his contribution to the advancement of French culture. In addition, the highest award of all, of course, is receiving stars from the Michelin guide, and Daniel, Boulud’s flagship, was awarded three Michelin stars, the book’s highest rating, in 2010. Unfortunately for Boulud, Daniel’s three-stars was reduced to two in 2015, where it has been ever since.
Most chefs have one or two singular dishes that made them famous. For Boulud’s more laid-back restaurant, Db Bistro Moderne, it is the decadent db burger, which the chef calls “the Rolls-Royce of burgers.” The sirloin patty is made with red-wine-braised short ribs, a thick slice of foie gras and black truffle that’s served on a parmesan bun with a side of Pommes Frites. This legendary indulgence is considered to have put into trend the gourmet burger to end all burgers, and at $35, you’ll just have to taste it to wonder if it’s worth the price.
5. Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship, Jean-Georges, is known for its sophisticated New French cuisine with American and Asian influences that are dictated by the freshest ingredients offered by the local farmer’s market. The unstoppable Vongerichten seems to be opening new restaurants all over the world. While his eponymous New York City flagship (located in the Trump Hotel), is the most famous, he also owns an empire with an impressive portfolio of 36 restaurants around the world. Vongerichten’s food is always fresh and rooted to the land, and he told Eater, “The fact is that as soon as I land in a new country I’m opening a restaurant in, I immediately go to the central market because that’s where you not only learn about new ingredients, but you can see what people usually buy and eat, and that’s really interesting.”
But all is not well at Vongerichten’s Jean-Georges. When the 2018 Michelin Guide for New York City was released late last year, Vongerichten, who is known for his quick temper (he once called Zagat and demanded that Jean-Georges needed a higher rating), was supposedly fuming, as his restaurant lost one of its three stars and is now down to two. According to the New York Times, Jean-Georges has held the top three-star ranking every year since the publication of the first Michelin New York guide in 2006, and it’s only natural for the esteemed chef to be perturbed. Michael Ellis, the international director of the Michelin guides, told the Times that “several inspectors over a period of time thought they did not have quite the same gastronomic experience, and that the Upper West Side restaurant was not quite at the same level as before.” He ended his comment by saying, “I hope [Vongerichten] can regain the star,” which is the understatement of the year. If you lose a star, is hard to get one back. Daniel, Boulud’s flagship, never recovered when it lost a star, and remains a two-star restaurant since 2015.
6. April Bloomfield
Esteemed chef April Bloomfield singlehandedly introduced the US to the gastro-pub when she opened the Spotted Pig in 2003 with her longtime business partner Ken Friedman. The concept of the gastro pub is basically high-end haute comfort food. A few years later, Bloomfield, who is camera shy and has never been comfortable being call a celebrity chef, opened up the much-acclaimed bistro The Breslin at the ultra-cool hipster hotel Ace Hotel New York. She then took over more space at this lap-top friendly boutique hotel lobby by opening an oyster bar called The John Dory. The Spotted Pig and the Breslin went on to win a Michelin star, and the pubs serve hearty but elevated meat-centric fare, from braised shin of beef to stuffed pig’s foot. The importance of how we eat now has been shaped, in part, by Bloomfeld, who cooks serious and delicious food (with a bit of fats). There are no white table cloths and the restaurants are laid-back and very casual, but also epicurean. You could bring along your laptop to the Breslin and no one would mind, as long as you pay the expensive tab.
Bloomfield became a chef at The Spotted Pig after Mario Batali vouched for her to restauranteur Ken Friedman. She didn’t know then that The Spotted Pig would make her famous, and that the pub would be critically-acclaimed and wildly successful. She didn’t know who Friedman was, and she also, a bit surprisingly, had no idea who Mario Batali was. But she made her mark here, and to this day, according to Anthony Bourdain, she’s unlike other chefs traveling all around the world to build their empire. If you want to see her, she’s probably cooking, her head in pots, at one of her restaurants.
7. Danny Meyer
Seasonal American cuisine, an upscale “country” dining room, the attention to detail, and impeccable service by the staff make Gramercy Tavern, open for 23 years, one of New York’s most important restaurants in the Flatiron district. This is a Danny Meyer restaurant, part of his empire that includes Blue Smoke, The Modern and many more, so you know your experience at any one of his restaurants will be impressive, something you’ll never forget. Meyer’s childhood was defined in part by eating food all over the world thanks to his father’s travel business. He got his bug early to open a restaurant, when he was just 27. He called it the Union Square Café (an apt name since the restaurant is smack dab in the heart of USC). and to ensure its success, Meyer put a lot of attention into hospitality and customer satisfaction. With that American fare restaurant, Meyer won instant fame and went on to form the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes the wildly-popular burger joint Shake Shack, making one of the few high-end chefs around the world who have successfully managed to mix the high with the low to much acclaim. The success of all of Meyer’s restaurants goes back to his early experience at the Union Square Café when he put service and treating diners first, a guiding principle of USHG that makes every new Meyer restaurant celebration. As such Meyer and his restaurants have collected many honors, including the chef being called one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. In addition, the James Beard Foundation anointed Meyer Restaurateur of the Year Award in 2005, and the Readers Digest also called Meyer the Best Restaurateur in 2005 and, as early as 1999, he was also named the Best Restaurateur in America by Bon Appetit.
8. Dan Barber
Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which is located in Pocantico Hills, New York. Barber is considered the heir to the farm-to-table restaurant, with a lot of chefs and restaurants copying his cooking techniques and flavors using the freshest, locally grown ingredients. Barber ensures that his food is at its culinary best not just be dealing with breeders but actually building relationships with them, helping him find the best crops to use with the assistance from his flagship, Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center. Barber told Eater that he is “more committed than ever to the idea that great cooking means finding the most inherently flavorful and functional versions of his ingredients possible.” You’ll find that all in the dishes he has created over the years at both the flagship and at the New York post. With that emphasis on food that does you good, it’s no surprise that his achievements haven’t been overlooked. He was one of the Best New Chefs by Food and Wine in 2002 and in 2009 he appeared on Time Magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential people. But perhaps his best achievements were from the esteemed James Beard Foundation awards, for which he won the 2006 award for Best Chef: New York City and the 2009 award for the country’s Outstanding Chef. He is so esteemed that former president Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, with an emphasis on the educational merits of food and the dining experience itself. Blue Hill isn’t cheap, but you will be transported by the unbelievably flavorful American fare brought to you by the caring staff and in a dining room that is beautiful and serene, even when the restaurant is full and cacophonous.
9. Cesar Ramirez
When Cesar Ramirez’s French-Japanese inspired food at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare was at its original location in downtown Brooklyn, it received three Michelin stars, making it the first New York City restaurant outside Manhattan to receive the highest honor. In 2016, Chef’s Table relocated to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, and Ramirez’s inventive 20-course tasting menu and its show-stopping service—there are 18 seats at a counter that surrounds the kitchen, like seats around a stage, and you can actually watch Ramirez cook right in front you—was able to retain its three stars, which is an impossible feat for a restaurant that moves its location and which may change for the worse while trying to preserve the integrity of the original. The new restaurant lucked out. Thus, the shiny stainless steel and polished copper kitchen that sparkles against the lights are back, and so are the chefs before you cooking in front of everyone’s eyes, as well as the formal dress code where jackets are required. Chef Ramirez has been hailed in many ways, but him being called a visionary is the one that sticks the most, as he keeps each dish simple but revelatory, able to tease out the textures and flavors of each ingredient he uses. He still doesn’t tire over watching his guests eat, their reaction to his cooking, after the food is served by the chefs. But like Per Se, Ramirez’s food will cost you an arm and a leg, even if it has 20 courses. At $394.36 per person, which includes service but no drinks, it is actually higher in price than Thomas Keller’s Per Se. In fact, right behind Masa, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is one of the most expensive restaurants in Manhattan. When you add in optional wine pairings, bought at the restaurant and which include neither tax nor gratuity, that will cost you an additional $195 per person. Eater did the math, and that means a fully-loaded dinner for two will set you back $1,291. Despite the cost, the former director of the Michelin Guide, Jean-Luc Naret, called Chef’s Table “one of the greatest restaurants in New York and one of the 300 greatest in the world.”
10. Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama
Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama’s childhood would dictate the person he would later become, the owner of a top restaurant decorated with plenty of stars. His family owned a fish market in Japan, and Masa would deliver the freshest sashimi to neighbors on his bike. Masa even catered weddings, preparing many fish courses. The food became a part of his life, and as an adult he moved to the United States with the intention to make his childhood dream of opening his own restaurant a reality. After being a chef to two restaurants on the West Coast, Masa then moved to New York and in 2004, he opened the most impressive Japanese and sushi restaurant, Masa, at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, the same location of Thomas Keller’s Per Se. Located next door is Bar Masa, which is cheaper and offers an a la carte menu. In 2009, Masa expanded his mini empire and opened another Bar Masa inside Aria in Las Vegas.
Masa is a master of sushi with years of training and experience. His eponymous restaurant is considered Manhattan’s best Japanese restaurant and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that serves delectable and decadent sushi and omakase meals. It’s no surprise then that Michelin gave the restaurant three stars, making history as the first Japanese chef in America to receive that honor. Since opening, the New York Times gave Masa four stars, the highest honor possible, but like all fine dining experiences, there are occasional setbacks and Masa lost a star, making it a three-star restaurant.
Masa is often called America’s most expensive restaurant. It’s tasting menu costs $595 per person, and this does include beverages and tax. If you have that much lying around, you will have an epicurean experience that you will not be able to replicate anywhere, a place where owner and chef Masa can be caught preparing your meal after having flown in fresh fish and Kobe beef from Japan.