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The Hottest Chefs Alive

As glamorous as rock stars (and sometimes just as difficult), the 10 chefs here are the superstars of the food world

The chefs we celebrate on these pages are hot from toque to toe. Sure, some of them play the part: they strut around in cool clothes, throw fits, attract groupies, pen books and preach their food gospel on TV. But they didn't make our top-10 list simply for their swagger on the culinary catwalk. With postmodern vision and breathtaking technique, these mavericks are paving the way to the next millennium. They're so much in demand that we were lucky to catch up with them at all, and when we finally managed to get their attention, well, they boasted, they joked, they sulked, they sighed and they flared like steaks on a grill. The next time you travel, check out their food--your meal is guaranteed to be hot.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Restaurant Jean Georges in Manhattan is his flagship. Buzz With a restaurant empire that embraces three continents--including Vong restaurants in New York, London and Hong Kong and Prime, a steak house, in Vegas--Vongerichten manages to keep his creative edge as sharp as a sushi knife. Background Born in Alsace, he trained at the celebrated Auberge de l'Ille there and worked at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Cooking style Vongerichten has an uncanny ability to match ingredients, giving French haute cuisine an Asian flair. Signature dishes Young garlic soup with sautéed frog's legs and parsley; sea scallops with cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion; sweetbreads en cocotte with baby carrots, ginger and licorice. How he feels about being hot "It's lonely. You have to fight, fight, fight all by yourself. Maybe I'd be happier running an eight-seat counter where I'd cook, serve and wash dishes." Favorite gadget "I can't live without my Champion juicer." Favorite restaurants Arpège in Paris, The Oak Room in London, Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. Fashion statement Helmut Lang with Prada shoes. "In another life I'd be a fashion designer." His view on the ratings game "Last year was the best of my life; then I woke up one Monday and discovered that my Zagat ranking had dropped. I felt like the world had collapsed." Details Jean Georges, Trump International Hotel,1 Central Park W., New York City;212-299-3900.

Elena Arzak Espina
Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. Buzz For a 29-year-old woman to run a Michelin three-star kitchen is nothing short of a miracle. At the century-old Arzak, Espina is an equal partner with her father, Juan Mari Arzak: he brings experience, she pursues new ideas. Background After attending hotel school in Switzerland, she apprenticed with Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adrià. Cooking style Espina finds fresh potential in traditional Basque ingredients. Signature dishes Crayfish with rice noodles, corn cake and foie gras mayonnaise; crab granita with pumpkin mousse. How she feels about being hot "The only thing that matters is to see customers loving my food." Details Arzak, 21 Alto de Miracruz, San Sebastián; 011-34-943-28-55-93.

Cheong Liew
Restaurant The Grange in Adelaide, Australia. BuzzModest and hardworking, Liew has earned a reputation as the father of East meets West. Last year The Grange won the Rémy Martin/Gourmet Traveller Australian Restaurant of the Year award. The judge, Patricia Wells, pronounced Liew a genius. Background Born in Kuala Lumpur, he came to Australia in 1969 to become an electrical engineer. He opened a restaurant, Neddy's, in 1975, then moved to The Grange four years ago. How he got into food He supported himself by making sandwiches at a pub. Cooking style Eclectic and boldly conceived, Liew's food offers an impeccable balance of flavors. Signature dishes Roasted barramundi with coriander, snow-pea shoots and calamari shavings; shark's lip and sea cucumber braised in carrot oil. How he feels about being hot "I'm happy if it helps my staff get some career breaks." Hobby Cooking at home. "Sorry, I'm boring." Favorite gadget Füri chef's knife from Queensland. "It's vicious and beautiful and clings to me like a third hand." Favorite restaurants Bridgewater Mill nearAdelaide, Claude's and MG Garage in Sydney, Flower Drum in Melbourne. Details The Grange, Adelaide Hilton, 233 Victoria Sq., Adelaide; 011-61-8-8217-2000.

Marc Veyrat
Restaurant Auberge de l'Eridan in Veyrier-du-Lac, near Annecy, France. Buzz As the president of the Group of Eight (whose members include Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Bras and Alain Passard), this self-taught former shepherd with three Michelin stars is famous for his guerrilla attacks on staid Gallic traditions. Background He opened his first bistro in 1978, then Auberge de l'Eridan in 1992. Cooking style A meal from Veyrat is a series of edible art pieces based on obscure local grasses and roots. Signature dishes Lake perch boudin with verbena sauce; root vegetable pouches stuffed with mountain herbs. His thoughts on the French culinary establishment Unprintable. New venture La Ferme de Mon Père, a restaurant resembling a farm (complete with live animals) will open in December in Megève. Hobby Foraging in Alpine meadows with his friend and cookbook coauthor, botanist François Couplan. Fashion statement A big Savoyard hat. Details Auberge de l'Eridan, 13 Vielle Route des Pensières, Veyrier-du-Lac; 011-33-4-50-60-24-00.

Pierre Gagnaire
Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. Buzz Awarded three Michelin stars for his place in St-Etienne in 1993, Gagnaire went bankrupt, reopened in Paris in 1996, reclaimed his stars and is now worshiped as the leader of the French culinary avant-garde. Background He apprenticed with Paul Bocuse and Jean Vignard, then served as an "admiral chef" in the French Navy. How he got into food He took a pastry course when he was 14. Cooking style Cerebral, coolly flamboyant and technically astonishing, weaving Eastern elements into an haute-French idiom. Signature dishes Roast duck with lime and bitter melon; squash soup with foie gras and black radish confit. How he feels about being hot "Recognition gives me security, though jealousy in the professional world can be really unfair." Favorite restaurants "My friends' places: Marc Veyrat near Annecy, Michel Troisgros in Roanne, Olivier Roellinger in Cancale." His view on the ratings game "Just as we lost some points in Gault Millau, we turned down 200 reservations. This makes no sense!" Details Pierre Gagnaire, 6 Rue Balzac, Paris; 011-33-1-44-35-18-25.

Susur Lee
Restaurant Lee consults for Singapore's Tung Lok Group, which operates the hip House of Mao and Club Chinois. Buzz In Canada, he earned the chef of the year title in 1998 for his work at Toronto's legendary Lotus (now closed). Background Born in Hong Kong, Lee trained at the Peninsula Hotel there, then opened Lotus in 1988. How he got into food At 14 he worked at a Beijing-style restaurant, scrubbing and oiling 180 woks a day. Cooking style Lee combines Western-inspired presentations with Eastern flavors. "Close your eyes and my food really is Asian." Signature dishes Five-spice foie gras with roast suckling pig and onion pancake; lobster carpaccio with crisp dough fritters in a hot and sour consommé. How he feels about being hot "It's fun to see chefs coming to Club Chinois and scribbling notes about my food." Favorite gadget Chopsticks for plating. Fashion statement A ponytail, an antique earring and a penchant for Van Noten and Armani. "Singapore has incredible sales." Details House of Mao, 51 Telok Ayer St., Singapore; 011-65-533-0660. Also 442 Orchard Rd., Singapore; 011-65-733-7667. Club Chinois, 1 Tanglin Rd., Singapore; 011-65-834-0660.

Gordon Ramsay
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. Buzz A table at Ramsay's tiny Aubergine was the hottest ticket in town until, last summer, he and his entire staff walked out; now they're in new digs. Background Born in Glasgow, Ramsay played professional soccer, then worked in Paris with Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon. How he got into food "I was kicked out of soccer because of a knee injury." Cooking style French oriented, intense and amazingly polished. Signature dishes White bean cappuccino with sautéed chanterelles and grated truffles; pot-au-feu of pigeon poached in a mushroom bouillon. How he feels about being hot "I have no respect for chefs who charge for autographing menus." Favorite gadget A hand blender for frothing soups. "We wear out at least one a month." Favorite restaurants Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Daniel and Jean Georges in New York City. Fashion statement "I work out a lot, and Hugo Boss shows off my figure." His thoughts on restaurant critics "I threw out one critic [A. A. Gill] and his dinner partner [Joan Collins] because he accused me of having a shotgun marriage." Details Gordon Ramsay, 68 Royal Hospital Rd., London; 011-44-171-352-4441.

Ferran Adrià
Restaurant El Bulli in Rosas, Spain. Buzz Adrià has been likened to Picasso and Dalí and hailed as the chef for the 21st century. Despite his contempt for Frenchified luxury, Michelin awarded him a third star in 1997. He didn't send it back. Background As a young man, Adrià studied economics, not cooking. He walked into El Bulli 17 years ago and never looked back. How he got into food He washed dishes at a restaurant to finance a vacation in Ibiza. Cooking style Subversive and conceptual; his menu is an edible futurist manifesto, jolting convention (tapas that look like desserts) and juxtaposing unlikely ingredients (eggplant puree caramelized with Fisherman's Friend cough drops). Signature dishes Parmesan ice cream sandwich; cuttlefish ravioli filled with coconut soup; caramelized quail eggs. Favorite gadgets Siphon compressors, which squirt out his famous flavored foams. His view on the ratings game "The Michelin star system is the disease of the restaurant busi-ness!" Details El Bulli, Cala Montjoi, Rosas; 011-34-972-15-04-57.

Gianfranco Vissani
Restaurant Vissani in Civitella del Lago, Umbria, Italy. Buzz Italy's most notorious chef is known as much for his antics as for his cooking. Rated numero uno by Gault Millau, he hobnobs with politicos and celebrities, publishes a newspaper column and broadcasts on television. Background Vissani worked in grand hotel kitchens, including the Majestic in Cortina and the Excelsior in Venice. How he got into food As a child, he hung around his father's trattoria. His lucky break "When I opened my own restaurant, everyone trashed it so much, I became instantly famous." Cooking style Umbrian peasant flavors and fresh local ingredients (Vissani claims he never uses a refrigerator) meet truffles and foie gras. Signature dishes Sweetbread lasagna with black truffles and foie gras mirepoix; salt cod with Chinese mustard, stewed cabbage and baby onions; quail with almond-parsley sauce. How he feels about being hot "I never think about it. I just go out there and calmly perform for hundreds. Humility and passion are my secrets!" Favorite restaurantsAubergine in London, Alain Ducasse in Paris. Details Vissani, Strada Statale 248, Civitella del Lago; 011-39-744-95-02-06.

Marco Pierre White
Restaurant The Oak Room in London is his flagship.Buzz A celebrity chef with rock and roll glamour, White has turned the temper tantrum into London's most copied plat du jour. Once the world's youngest Michelin three-star holder, White cunningly controls all aspects of his restaurant kingdom, which includes the Criterion and Mirabelle. Background Born in Leeds, he trained at several of England's haute cuisine temples: Le Gavroche, La Tante Claire, Chez Nico. Cooking style Grand and French, yet surprisingly restrained, with an occasional modern British flourish (like the smoked haddock bubble and squeak at Mirabelle). Fish and game are his forte. Signature dishes Truffled parsley soup with poached eggs; pigeon with foie gras; caramelized skate with winkles, capers and beurre noisette. How he feels about being hot "It's a temporary thing. My aims are to build a high-quality business, serve my customers and provide for my family." Best way to track him down Get hold of his fishing schedule. New venture Titanic (81 Brewer St.; 011-44-171-437-1912) in Piccadilly opened in December. "If the recession is our iceberg, we'll sail around it." Favorite restaurant L'Escargot in London. Details The Oak Room, Le Meridien Piccadilly, 21 Piccadilly, London; 011-44-171-437-0202.


Anya von Bremzen's most recent book is Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality (Doubleday).

Published February 1999
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