20 Most Influential: The Celebrity Chef

Non-commercial foodservice has stars in its eyes for these famed culinarians.

The Celebrity Chef

There is no doubt that celebrity chef worship has had a tangible effect on modern foodservice like never before. With the rise of the Food Network, “Top Chef” and countless other food-obsessed media, every customer has become a critic, and often what satisfies them is food with an aura of fame. And it’s not just the customers who have starry eyes.

“I know that [celebrity chef culture] motivates our younger chefs,” says Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence at Yale University. “Celebrity chefs get the more mature chefs thinking, but they really fire up the younger chefs. I have a couple of them ask, ‘How can I get on ‘Chopped?’’’ I think that is great because it tells me that everyone here is alive and well in their professions and they’re not just sleeping on the job. They are excited about cooking and being a chef.”

The most interesting thing about how celebrity chefs influence non-commercial markets is the variety of ways the culture pops up in operations. The most obvious cases of celebrity chef power wielding are Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” and Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative. Both these efforts use the weight of famous chefs to try and enact real change—for better or worse—in foodservice, especially in school meals. Another aspect of this culture’s reach is the celebrity chef partnerships that bring in recipes to operations, such as Marcus Samuelsson’s street foods concept at Restaurant Associates cafés or Mai Pham’s Asian cuisine at Sodexo accounts. Finally, there are the tried-and-true guest chef series that bring these chefs into operations for cooking demonstrations and to help train and inspire staff.

“Our students watch these shows and then demand higher quality food,” DeSantis says. “They don’t want cafeteria food. Our goal has never been to be the best college and university cafeteria in the world. Our goal is to be the best restaurant-style foodservice in college and universities. Celebrity and star chefs help us with those efforts.” 

Foodservice Director has undertaken a bold initiative by identifying people who we believe are having the biggest impact on non-commercial foodservice. Our list may surprise you and should certainly intrigue you. Our honorees have backgrounds as varied as their personalities. They range from the father of the modern-day food truck to the wife of a sitting president. They include operators and suppliers, chefs and consultants, CEOs and civil servants. There are traditionalists and there are mavericks. Well-known names share space with hot newcomers. In all, 17 people, two groups of individuals and one institution compose the list. It’s time to meet FSD’s 20 Most Influential.

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