5 Culinary Masters Who Proved Everyone Can Be a Chef

NOTE TO CLIENT: I hope this is better. I’ve intertwined the chefs into one text.


Fine dining is not just about cooking food. It involves sophisticated combinations of expertly arranged ingredients covered in extravagant sauces and served in opulent dishes from the most exclusive kitchenware shops. And yet, while all this seems self-evident, the culinary arts as we know them today are the result of the work of chefs who laid the foundations of modern cuisine, changing the course of food history in homes and restaurants.

The fancy meals we enjoy these days in superb restaurants are thanks to amazing chefs who have shaped and revolutionized the dining industry as we know it. Before they became the powerful culinary masters who left their mark on cuisine they were ordinary people, who showed that all you need to be a powerhouse in the kitchen is a few special attributes.

Here’s what it takes to be a great chef:

Obsession with food

Whether it was a latent interest or evident throughout their lives, the great chefs of the century shared an obsession with food which just exploded at some point in their lives.

James Beard wrote in his memoirs that his first food memory was at the Lewis and Clark Exposition when he was aged two and was fascinated by watching Triscuits and shredded wheat biscuits being made. He grew up in Portland and spent summers at the beach fishing, gathering shellfish, wild berries and cooking with whatever they had, and he remembers being bedridden with malaria at the age of three taking an interest in the food served him by his mother Elizabeth Beard and her Chinese helper Jue-let.

Like Beard, Paul Bocuse was surrounded by food from a young age, having come from seven generations of chefs at Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or and made his first dish, veal kidneys with pureed potatoes, when he was just 8 years old.

For young Julia Child, the fascination came much later. She was not interested in helping her mum in the kitchen or show any special culinary talent until she met her husband-to-be Paul Cushing Child, a man known for his refined palate who grew up in a family of foodies. Her epiphany moment came in 1948 during a taste bud explosion she experienced at her first meal at La Couronne in Rouen, where – according to the story – 36-year-old Julia decided there and then to devote the rest of her life to the mastery and promotion of French cuisine. The rest is history.

Enjoy simple, healthy flavors

The best chefs in the world know how to showcase flavors with simplicity while also using their own special signature flair.

French restaurateur, writer and chef Georges August Escoffier took Marie-Antoin Careme’s haute cuisine, perfected his technique, simplified his ornate style, and then stripped him of the title he had as ‘king of chefs and chef of kings’.

Child took French flavors to America, all the while increasing public awareness of wholesome well-prepared food. She cooked with less fat and red meat and presented meals which could be made quickly.

Healthy cooking was also Beard’s focus with his cuisine consisting of ingredients from his childhood: fresh seafood, such as salmon and shellfish, and game meats (moose, elk, venison) as well as mushrooms, berries, potatoes and wild plants. He defended the pleasure of real cooking and pioneered clean cooking at a time when domestic scientists were creating ready meals and Jell-O-mold. He pioneered clean cooking and championed the farm-to-table movement.

Great chefs have always known how to bring out natural flavors: from Paul Bocuse’s development of nouvelle cuisine, a new type of cooking with lighter sauces and unusual flavor combinations, all the way to Joel Robuchon’s post-nouvelle cuisine era from excessive reductionism to bringing in international influences, especially Japanese.

Great chefs have are the scientists of the culinary world, creating signature dishes such as Escoffier’s peche Melba, in honour of Australian singer Nellie Melba, along with fraises a la Sarah Bernhardt, all the way to Bocuse’s soupe aux truffes,

Curious and creative

Chefs are innovative in their recipes and approach to cuisine, elevating it to an art. The creative streak often goes beyond the kitchen. Escoffier’s boyhood passion was art, Child wanted to be a writer, whereas Beard joined the theatre… Later, they used their imagination and creativity in the kitchen, researching and bringing to life unique recipes such as the world had never seen before.

Naturally inquisitive, chefs like to experiment. Escoffier explored food canning during his time as an army chef, he helped further canning techniques by preserving tomato sauce in champagne bottles while also perfecting five new sauces which later became his legacy.

Child, too, enjoyed experimentation – in and out of the kitchen – as a top secret researcher with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, her first foray into the culinary arts came after cooking concoctions to create a shark repellent to keep curious sharks away from OSS underwater explosives.

Worldly and cosmopolitan

It is no coincidence that cuisine allows diners to travel with their taste buds, because masters of the kitchen are known for their cosmopolitan outlook and travels which bring an authenticity to their meals. For Robuchon this was evident from a young age when he joined the Compagnon du Tour de France at the age of 21. This gave the Robuchon, a bricklayer’s son, the opportunity to enjoy travels around his own country, picking up on regional techniques, before being appointed head chef at Hotel Concorde La Fayette. Aged 26, he travelled to Japan and was inspired by the culture, lifestyle and cuisine.

His travels influenced his cooking. and his global perception ensured the success of more than a dozen restaurants around the world with 32 Michelin Guide Stars, the most of any chef.

Child, too was a traveler, having lived in both Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka, and China before moving with her husband to France. A Francophile, like Child, Beard too was fascinated by Paris and this crept into his cuisine as did his childhood tastes of the Chinese food he was exposed to via his mother’s helper Jue-Let.

Organization and business savvy

These days the organizational capabilities of chefs is taken for granted and seem to go hand-in-hand with their culinary skills. After all, it makes sense that their space would be tidy for them to be able to efficiently churn out food. Surprisingly, however, this was not always the case.

Restaurant kitchens were messy and noisy before Escoffier. The great chef reorganized kitchens from loud, chaotic places to conveyor-like systems run with cleanliness and military precision. Apart from revolutionizing the way restaurants operate behind the scenes, he also rejuvenated the entire experience. He is the one we can thank for a la carte dining and lobbying for women to eat in public

Escoffier, apart from being a great chef, also worked as kitchen manager of Grand Hotel, managed by Cesar Ritz. In 1890, Richard D’Oyly Carte transferred his new Savoy Hotel in London and Escoffier recruited French chefs and took over the management of the kitchen. His work was pivotal to the Savoy’s immediate success in attracting distinguished clientele. Unfortunately, he also cooked books as well as great dishes and was dismissed for ‘taking kickbacks’ from suppliers. He put his business savvy to use again when he helped Ritz set up the kitchens of the Paris Ritz and the new Carlton Hotel in London, drawing much of the high clientele away from the Savoy.

Of course the dream of any chef is to create their own establishment, and that is exactly what Bocuse did when he took over the family restaurant, the Auberge du Pont de Collonges. He earned his first Michelin star two years later, and another Michelin Star in 1960 despite the restaurant’s paper tablecloths and sub-par cutlery. He bought back the family eatery which had been sold by his grandfather in 1921 along with the rights to the Bocuse name after he earnt his third star. Later, he created restaurants for the French pavilion at Epcot Centre (Walt Disney World) in Orlando, now, a lucrative business, run by his son Jerome.

Robuchon also created many restaurants, still in existence after his death in 2018, bearing his signature style. He is also remembered for operating more than a dozen restaurants around the world with 32 Michelin Guide Stars, the most of any chef.

And it’s not just the restaurants which have made many top chefs famous, there are also the cookbooks, demonstrations, shows and endorsements. Beard once said he felt like a ‘gastronomical whore’ after making endorsement deals to promote products which he didn’t use or believe in. Having promoted everything from Green Giant Corn to Planters Peanuts, he used money for his cooking schools and his lavish lifestyle.

Sharing the love

There is no greater satisfaction for a chef than to share the love of good food with others. Beard’s ‘I Love to Eat’ TV show on the NBC helped him to earn the title, according to Child. But Child too, in turn, inspired many others when she teamed up with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to write a cookbook of appeal to Americans. The three cornered a niche market, joining forces to teach French cooking to Americans at L’Ecole des tois goumandes (The School of the Three Food Lovers).

It was Child’s effervescent personality as much as it was her culinary knowledge that drew public attention in 1962 during her appearance on a book review show on the National Educational Television (NET) station of Boston. It was her entertaining demonstration of cooking an omelette which led to her show, The French Chef, in 1963. Her show was immediately hugely successful, with her bright personality and down-to-earth manner drawing a wide audience, even becoming the first TV show to be captioned for the deaf. Her awards, including Emmys, and accolades are too many to mentioned. And though food critics questioned her use of butter and cream, her legacy lives on even though she predicted that a “fanatical fear of food” would follow as people focused too much on nutrition to enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of food.


After they die, the great chefs may no longer be around to share food they have handmade with us, but they leave behind a legacy through their books, restaurants and the way they’ve changed dining forevermore.

Take for instance Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire which outlined recipes and techniques still relevant today. He was also the first president and one of the founders of the World Association of Chefs Societies which still exists to this day. But more importantly, his legacy lives on in the way we dine.

Beard, a gamechanger in America, was also the founder of the Citymeals-on-Wheels program with his friend Gaele Greene in 1981, and thanks to their efforts, the city’s homeless still get fed. Beard’s brownstone at 167 West 12th Street Greenwich Village is now where the James Beard Foundation is housed, providing a gathering place where the public can appreciate emerging chefs and North America’s only historic culinary center. Though the foundation bears Beard’s name, it exists thanks to the efforts of Julia Child. Her own offerings to cooking were honored posthumously when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, the Olympics of the culinary world are known as the Bocuse d’Or, held every year since 1987 to honor the finest chefs.

And there will be more Bocuses, Robuchons and Childs yet to come, however long after these great chefs make their final meal, their memories linger on. They leave behind their recipes, books, shows, restaurants and all the tools for others to follow in their footsteps. And true enough, there are many great chefs out there, people who can put together a tasty meal. But to be a great chef, to be inspirational, to go beyond cooking, you need that last ingredient… you need to be a creative foodie, a great cook, organized, a revolutionary in the kitchen and, above all, fearless.

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