The culinary world is full of star chefs, foodies and all-around pop icons with an entire network dedicated to food and several reality shows centered around the restaurant world. These are a few of the icons from the last half-century that have sparked movements in their respective specialties and inspired countless foodies, aspiring chefs and regular people all over the globe to play with their food.

1) Julia Child


?The original American in Paris, Mrs. Child stepped out of her shell and into the iconic Le Cordon Bleu school after experiencing the meal that opened up her soul to French cooking:  oysters, sole meunière and fine wine. She cut through the pretense and inaccessibility of French food and techniques with her cookbooks (the famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among many others) and her endearing television show: The French Chef

Honorable mentions: Wolfgang Puck for his fusion and creativity with fresh ingredients, and Emeril Lagasse for his foray into the world of chef super-stardom and revving up the public’s interest in fine dining food.

2) Jacques Pepin


?Another French food pioneer in the United States, Jacques was and is a very successful television food personality and author of many books stressing the importance of not only ingredients, but of technique. Believing a good chef is more than just a line cook, technique is what separates the amateur from the heavy-duty foodies in Pepin’s world.

Honorable mentions: Eric Ripert for his efforts in French cuisine in America at Le Bernardin, Paul Bocuse for bringing the already-worshiped French culinary world to the next level with his impact on new French cuisine and the Bocuse d’Or–the chef Olympics.

3) Lidia Bastianich 


?Lidia cut through the red sauce and mozzarella world of what was American’s ideas of Italian food and brought them the real deal. She became America’s Italian grandmother through her television series, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen and Lidia’s Italy, along with all of her cookbooks.

Honorable mentions: Mario Batali for his extreme knowledge of regional Italian food and pop icon status, and Michael Chiarello for his Napa Valley approach to casual Italian food.

4) Ming Tsai


?He brought Chinese food out of sketchy restaurants and into home kitchens with his Simply Ming cooking series on PBS. It also helps that he’s pretty easy on the eyes, ladies.

Honorable mentions: Martin Yan for his (once again) PBS cooking show, Yan Can Cook and fast, witty delivery, and Masaharu Morimoto for his contribution to cooking competitions and Asian fusion food.

5) Justin Wilson

Because you gotta love a guy that wears suspenders, eats squirrels and refers to the refrigerator as a “frig’-uh-date-uh.” He was also a larger-than-life personality with the storytelling skills of a true Cajun, with the recipes to match. Justin Wilson was a true salt of the earth kinda guy with an entertaining career and an authenticity that remains unmatched in the food world.

Honorable Mentions: Paul Prudhomme: surprise, surprise, he also has his own PBS cooking show and brought Creole and Cajun food into the mainstream.

6) Jamie Oliver


?Perhaps he’s not on your “food icon” radar as of yet, but his list of television shows, food activism (healthy lunches for school kids, among others) and proponent for locally grown ingredients will place him there if he stands the test of time. Plus, he has the ability to make traditional English food look good, and that’s saying something.

Honorable mentions: Alice Waters with her status as Queen of the Locavore Movement and her association with California cuisine and campaign against childhood obesity.

7) Ferran Adria


?The man, the mystery or the mad scientist of the latest developments in the world of chef-ism, this crazy Spaniard is credited with bringing the idea of molecular gastronomy to the world, although if you ask him about it, he’ll say it’s more like “deconstructivism.” Aside from the fancy terms and the crazy stuff he puts on a plate and calls food, he also started the annoying but catchy foam craze, but we gotta give credit where it’s due.

Honorable mentions: Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne for turning the American culinary world on it’s head with their pioneering techniques and restaurants.

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