TV Show: No Reservations
True, we don’t ever witness Bourdain behind the grill, but this chain-smoking bad boy’s purveying of other people’s cooking around the world in his jet-setting Travel Channel show satisfies our palate just the same. Bourdain is chef-at-large of New York’s Les Halles, but he’s also a blogger and prolific author, penning such trade gems like 2001’s Kitchen Confidential and divulging insider secrets (example: never, ever order the Hollandaise sauce). But what renders Bourdain’s endeavors consistently easy-to-digest is his straight-shooter mentality, such as when he swiftly digs into the heart of a still-breathing cobra without so much as a second thought.
TV Shows: Rachel’s Vacation, Rachael Ray, 30 Minute Meals, $40 a Day
Foodies may hold up their nose to Ray’s simplified methods — cans! frozen goods! a repellent hot dog here and there — but even Ray has admitted, ”I’m not a chef, I just cook.” Chalk up Ray’s mass appeal to knowing how real people shop and eat. Astonishingly productive, Ray has wrung her practical lifestyle into a full-on brand: four programs — her trademark meal-in-half-an-hour cooking show, the $40 a day travel guide, and an international travel program among other Food Network faves, and a syndicated daily talk show — a lucrative cookbook series, and a magazine lay the foundation to Ray’s burgeoning empire. She’s even coined a new term: ”EVOO” (that’s extra virgin olive oil, if you’ve been living under a rock) was officially inducted into Oxford American English College dictionary in 2006.
TV Shows: Molto Mario, Iron Chef America Spain… on the Road Again
The ginger-headed bon vivant may be best known for championing his trademark orange Crocs (and helping make the rubber clogs popular again), but his Food Network show Molto Mario also revealed a thoughtful, inspired chef whose love of Old World Italian cuisine made him a passionate cheerleader of simple and fresh ingredients. Guests like Jake Gyllenhaal lent an intimacy to the show as Batali threw a spaghetti strand their way and asked them to sample it mid-process. But Batali — whose long roster of restaurants includes Babbo and Del Posto in New York — wasn’t always such a gentleman: When defending his title on Iron Chef, he could be downright imposing.
TV Shows: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie at Home, Oprah’s Big Give
The English-born Oliver first made news in Britain in 1999 with his BBC show, The Naked Chef, which proposed stripping food back to the basics (and was not, in fact, a soft-core cooking show, much to the chagrin of many of his female viewers). Since then, the U.K. pretty boy has gone on to international renown for making cooking look glamorous. A friend and regular guest on Oprah, Oliver was a judge in 2008 on Ms. Winfrey’s ABC reality show, where contestants compete to see who can help more people. In March 2010, Oliver started an ABC series to change the food habits of residents of Huntington, West Virginia.
TV Show: Martin Yan’s China, Yan Can Cook
The current Asian fusion craze? You can probably thank Yan. Back in the ’80s, the fast-talking chef’s repeated assertion of ”If Yan Can Cook, So Can You” was more than a cheesy catch phrase — it was an encouragement to thousands of Americans to introduce exotic dishes like now-ubiquitous dumplings and stir-fry dishes into their households. And it worked: the Guangzhou, China-born cook’s PBS show had a 20-year run from the late ’70s onwards, popularizing Asian cuisine and helping push wok sales something fierce. Recently, Yan started a new series, Martin Yan’s China, which followed him on a series of culinary adventures through China and then back to his kitchen with the recipes to show how to make them.
TV Shows: Boy Meets Grill, Throwdown, Iron Chef America
Who says that cooking isn’t a man’s sport? Not Flay — the boyish chef refutes the notion that cooking is for women by bringing roguish charm while throwing down chunks of marinated meat on the flames or convincing small-town connoisseurs to agree to a cook-off (thankfully, no foul play is involved; Flay is a gracious loser). It helps, of course, that the epicurean’s recipes are finger-licking good: the New Yorker’s Mesa Grill empire is expanding, with locations in his hometown, Las Vegas, and Paradise Island. And in May 2008, he launched a line of grilling and entertaining products for Kohl’s.
TV Show: Top Chef
Chef Colicchio is one tough cookie. The owner of Craft restaurants (and a former owner and executive chef at Gramercy Tavern) was already a celebrated figure in New York City; now he’s catapulted to national fame thanks to Top Chef, the Bravo gem that began in 2006. As a judge, Colicchio cuts out all the fat, but unlike Padma or Gail, his sage advice to the quivering contestants never feels cushioned or overly acerbic for dramatic effect. Perhaps his intuition is, as Goldilocks once said, ”Just right.” So what if we never really see him cook.
TV Shows: Good Eats, Iron Chef America, Feasting on Waves
If only all science classes tasted so good: Brown is like the Bill Nye of cooking — endearing his show to even non-food enthusiasts. Brown reduces everything to a literal breakdown of ingredients and chemical reactions in Good Eats. He also features new cookware technology (like the steel lotus) and explains how they can help you in the kitchen (to, for example, make perfect chicken wings). And as the on-the-floor color commentator of Iron Chef America, Brown showcases an impressive knowledge of obscure culinary terminology. Watch his latest show, Feasting on Waves, to witness Brown braving the Caribbean in search of the exotic styles and flavors that form some of America’s culinary roots.
GIADA DE LAURENTIIS
TV Show: Everyday Italian
Whenever de Laurentiis cooks, the food always emerges looking light, clean, and crisp — as if it has been to a particularly tasty spa. No easy feat, since Italian fare is notoriously heavy. Simplicity is the trademark trick of the pint-sized granddaughter of legendary film producer Dino de Laurentiis, who was born in Rome and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before getting her start at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Los Angeles. Her Natalie Portman-looks and eager smile make her a delight to watch, but her secret is that even the clumsiest cooks can make her dishes in a snap.
THE SWEDISH CHEF
TV Show: The Muppet Show
With the beloved Swedish Chef, the wizards behind The Muppet Show managed to both parody cooking shows — by having the Chef spew incoherent phrases like ”bjor bjor bjor” while royally making a mess of the kitchen — and show kids that it was possible to actually have a good time while cooking.
TV Show: Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares
The Scottish chef may be cranky as hell, but it makes for pure entertainment gold when would-be chefs battle it out on Fox’s competition show. Oh, and Ramsay’s 12 Michelin stars and international chain of critically acclaimed namesake restaurants don’t hurt his reputation either.
TV Show: Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Always Cooking!
Ever eaten a blackened redfish? You can thank Prudhomme, as he’s largely responsible for making the once-endangered species a popular dish again. The Cajun aficionado helped raise the profile of Creole cooking, and his ”Magic” seasoning line alludes to the fact that there’s something about New Orleans that just can’t be explained. He carried the Cajun torch before Emeril kicked up his first notch.
TV Show: Paula’s Home Cooking, Paula’s Party, Paula’s Best Dishes
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that this Southern Belle remedies homesickness better than a bowl of chicken soup. Stricken with chronic agoraphobia in her early 20s, Deen stayed housebound until starting a catering business with the help of her sons. Her newfound lust for life renders viewers almost giddy when Deen ceremoniously dumps ingredients like butter, Oleo, flour, and sugar all in one bowl. And like a good grandmother, dietary restrictions are not a consideration — Paula’s ”bread pudding” recipe, for example, calls for a ghastly two-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts topped with condensed milk and butter rum sauce. Just what the doctor ordered.
TV Show: Nigella Feasts, Nigella Bites, Nigella Express
We ‘fess up to having a little crush on the English-born Lawson, whose popularity rests on her ability to bring the romance back into kitchen. The former journalist has also penned bestselling books like 1998’s How To Eat and 2000’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. She gained favor in the States with her popular Food Network show, which, like the food she prepares, is equal parts sexy and sultry — and best when paired with a glass of red wine.
TV Shows: The French Show, Baking with Julia
Ask any living chef who influenced them growing up, and the answer almost always includes the beloved Child (1912-2004). Simply put, the warm cook’s near 40-year run on television and 18 cooking books make her one of the most celebrated chefs of our time, not to mention an influential cultural savant. Her love of French food helped to make it an American staple.
TV Show: The Essence of Emeril, Emeril Live
”Kick it up a notch!” ”Bam!” It’s no coincidence that Lagasse, who often punctuates his cooking shows with such percussive catch phrases, was once a talented drummer. The energetic specialist of ”New New Orleans” cuisine has since made a market out of his Southern style cooking with his cookware products and ”Essence” spice blend, but like his onscreen persona — one that made his short-lived eponymous sitcom seem like a good idea in 2001 — it’s strangely addictive.
TV Show: The Martha Stewart Show
She’s more of a brand than a chef, but no list would be complete without the soft-spoken Stewart. The precursor to Rachael Ray, Stewart made it okay for women to be, well, women again during the post-feminist ’90s. Part of the appeal was a do-it-yourself attitude that had Stewart showing women how to do everything from harvesting your own herb garden to making dollies, which later found their way into her K-Mart housewares, the eponymous magazine, and TV shows. But don’t let her docile attitude fool you: The media mogul’s reputed net worth is over $600 million.