From a sushi star with 21 restaurants worldwide to a bread mogul–turned–pizza expert, these nine chefs have used their talent to build empires.
Daniel Boulud, ’88
His exquisite dishes first got attention at New York City’s Le Cirque. Now Boulud has six restaurants of his own from Manhattan to Las Vegas that represent every register of French cooking: superrefined dishes at his flagship palace, Daniel; foie gras–stuffed hamburgers at DB Bistro Moderne; and the I-must-be-in-France wine-focused Bar Boulud. The Boulud brand even extends to rapturous dinner parties; his Feast & Fêtes is one of New York’s top caterers.
Thomas Keller, ’88
At cooking demos, Keller quips, “You can ask me anything—except how to get a reservation at the French Laundry.” He is the one American chef worshipped by the world’s best cooks for his complex, whimsical food at Napa Valley’s French Laundry and Manhattan’s Per Se. His burgeoning number of bistros—Bouchon, Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bakery—have improved the chances of getting a Keller table somewhere. And his French Laundry Cookbook, which repopularized the coffee table chef’s cookbook, has made it possible to eat Keller’s food at home.
Nobu Matsuhisa, ’89
Iconic sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s 21 Nobus and Matsuhisas in 15 cities around the world sprang from a single Beverly Hills storefront, where he experimented with raw fish using influences from China (stir-frying, chile paste), France (clarified butter, tartare) and Latin America (jalapeños, tacos). When loyal patrons refused to let him renovate the original, dowdy Matsuhisa, he opened a flashy, David Rockwell–designed spot down the street.
Todd English, ’90
English’s roots may be in Massachusetts, but his empire of gutsy Med restaurants, including Olives and Figs, now encompasses 18 spots in nine cities. His latest frontier is airports: There’s a Bonfire steak restaurant at both Logan in Boston and John F. Kennedy in New York, with more planned for Las Vegas and Chicago.
Nancy Silverton, ’90
Silverton began baking the now-ubiquitous La Brea Bakery bread in Los Angeles in 1989, then sold most of the company in a $79 million deal. Having helped stimulate America’s desire for artisanal bread, she’s moved on to fulfill L.A.’s insatiable desire for Italian food. She serves creamy buffalo mozzarella at Osteria Mozza and puts it on the chewy charred pies at Pizzeria Mozza, both opened with partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, but there will be more Mozza bars soon.
Osteria Mozza’s Caprese, with burrata and roasted tomatoes.
Tom Colicchio, ’91
Before he was the head judge on Top Chef, Colicchio cooked at and co-owned Manhattan’s premier farm-to-table spot, Gramercy Tavern. Then he pioneered mix-and-match mains and sides at the 10-year-old, ingredient-driven Craft, also in New York City. More recently, he’s rolled out the dressed-down Craftbar, the ’Wichcraft sandwich kiosks and Craftsteak, with outposts in Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Colicchio’s legacy includes the seminal cookbook Think Like a Chef.
Terrance Brennan, ’95
Brennan, with help from fromager Max McCalman, first introduced New Yorkers to handcrafted cheese at his Med-influenced town-house restaurant, Picholine. Then he opened Artisanal, a sprawling bistro and fromagerie with 250 varieties from around the globe, and Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, a 10,000-square-foot aging complex that sells perfectly ripened specimens to home cooks, shops and restaurants. Brennan branches out to Chicago this fall with Artisanal Bistro & Wine Bar.
Lee Hefter, ’98
Hefter might not have the name recognition that his business partner, Wolfgang Puck, does. But he’s a major force behind their restaurants and catering business—and a great cook, who creates the menus at the rarefied Austrian-inflected flagship, Spago, and the American CUT steak house. Hefter also oversees Puck’s three superaccessible franchises, including WP Express (in 21 states).
Spago’s corn and mascarpone agnolotti.
Laurent Tourondel, ’98
French chef Tourondel found fantastic success reinventing the classic American restaurant. His BLT group—short for Bistro Laurent Tourondel—began with a haute steak house, quickly followed by BLT Fish, BLT Fish Shack, BLT Prime, BLT Burger and the seasonal épicerie-restaurant BLT Market (all in New York City), with BLT Steak locations in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.
BLT Steak’s double-cut sirloin with garlic confit.