Tim Goodell The chef with the perfect French palate who explores global flavors not because he's trendy but because he's smart.
Amanda Hesser The food journalist who can tell a story.
Pascal Rigo The baker-turned-businessman who understands that to score big you need to stay small.
Tim Goodell still remembers the stinging words of his fish purveyor when he opened his first restaurant, in 1995, a tiny Cal-French spot called Aubergine: "You're not going to make it in this business." The vendor had seen too many inexperienced chefs fail. But not only has Goodell "made it" (he was an F&W Best New Chef in 2000), he's launched an empire. If anyone can turn suburban Orange County, California, into a dining destination, it's this 36-year-old. His flawless French technique, combined with his intelligent use of Asian and Mediterranean flavors, surprises diners again and again. His second restaurant, Troquet, is a modern French bistro; his third, Red Pearl Kitchen, offers a pan-Asian menu in a setting that suggests 1940s Shanghai. He's about to take over the Ritz, a Continental-dining institution, where he'll revamp staples like chateaubriand. And in the spring, he'll open Lodge, a steak house in an open-air sports club. Five places, five styles, but Goodell insists, "My personal stamp is always on the food." Unusual for a chef, he's also zealous about balancing the books--"I'm obsessed with numbers, and I always have a sharp pencil," he dmits--and quick to acknowledge the contributions of others. He credits his wife, Liza (who runs the front of the house at Aubergine), as the driving force behind his success and rewards his staff with ownership stakes. "It's a group effort," he explains. Job stability also explains why employees stay with Goodell: He's in it for the long run (for information, call 949-723-4150).
"I'm just a regular person," says Amanda Hesser, the New York Times columnist and author of the acclaimed book The Cook and the Gardener. "Maybe that's why people are drawn to my writing." With her signature barrettes, wide brown eyes and tiny frame, 30-year-old Hesser looks like the proverbial girl next door. But she's got a lot more food credibility: She studied at France's La Varenne Ecôle de Cuisine and has apprenticed in kitchens from Boston to Burgundy. She's got a lot more guts, too. Take her 1998 article "Here's Emeril! Where's the Chef?" in which she sealed her reputation as a fearless journalist by labeling Lagasse a "zookeeper" who "dumbs recipes down." She's just as likely to expose pretention: In "Food Fight," a piece about visiting a new restaurant, she wrote that foodies are "competitive" and "overfed," making them "cranky and jaded." Hesser doesn't shy away from getting personal either, perhaps most famously by letting the public in on her unfolding romance with New Yorker writer Tad "Mr. Latte" Friend. Cooks look forward to Hesser's articles because they appreciate her no-nonsense appraisals of everything from vanilla beans to lemon zesters and because they like her inspired, unfussy recipes. But for every cook who's a fan there's a noncook who enjoys Hesser's strong voice, attention to nuance and charged sense of humor. Curious, critical and always honest, Hesser is someone whose work we look forward to reading for decades.
"A nice smile, a charming place--what could go wrong?" Pascal Rigo says with a Gallic shrug when asked about the success of his businesses, a string of bakeries and cafés in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood that are so good food lovers line up outside their doors. His real formula: keeping it simple and small, remaining in control of even the tiniest details, refusing to fall into the trend trap and offering good quality at reasonable prices. Rigo, who is 41, grew up in Paillet, in Bordeaux, where at the age of seven he apprenticed himself to the town baker. When he opened Bay Bread, in 1996, his standards were so high that he imported ovens from France and bought a mill in Utah for organic flour. From Bay Bread his other San Francisco businesses were born: Chez Nous, for such tapas-style dishes as smoky squid with olives and lamb chops in lavender salt; Boulange de Polk, Boulange de Cole Valley and the new Boulange de Marinette, for simple baguette sandwiches, exquisite pastries and big bowls of café au lait; Galette, for Breton crêpes, both sweet and savory; Le Petit Robert, for updated French classics such as braised lamb shoulder; and, opening next month, Le Table, "for a communal table and wine by the barrel," Rigo says. Rigo's golden rule is "If it's more than ten minutes from this desk, don't do it," and he has stuck by that philosophy, creating a small-town feel within a big city. His only regret? "If I'd known how fast we would grow, I'd have made sure we had more parking" (for information, call 415-440-0356).