19 Legendary Chefs Celebrate the People in Food They Admire Most

Honoring pioneers like Julia Child and modern-day rainmakers like Mashama Bailey and Dominique Crenn, these chefs are sharing the people who inspire them.

Julia Child TV series
Photo: George Rose / Contributor / Getty Images

March can feel like a drag. Winter wants to be over but spring hasn't quite yet arrived. It's a good time to take a minute to celebrate the food people who inspire us, in the kitchen and out in the world. We asked some of the most influential, boundary-pushing chefs in America to tell us about a person in food they admire.

Some, like Stephanie Izard and Angie Rito, and chose chefs who inspire them with their food. Others chose to give a shout out to restaurateurs; Naomi Pomeroy and Jessica Largey told us why they both look up to Ashley Christensen.

Here is what the chefs had to say:

Tanya Holland: "Emily Luchetti. She's remarkable and understated. Influential and unpretentious. She's an award-winning pastry chef who can cook savory and be the interim Director for the James Beard Foundation. She's a true badass."

Mary Sue Milliken: "Julie Packard, Executive Director of Monterey Bay Aquarium. Julie is a leader who early on recognized the value of educating chefs and the public about sustainable seafood choices. She will be hailed as a champion who helped preserve a variety of fish and our oceans for future generations."

Anita Lo: "Amanda Cohen is a fierce, feminist fighter. Her piece in Esquire was so well written and was somehow at once humorous and fearlessly upfront and on point. My hero!"

Dirt Candy's Onion Tart
The onion tart at Dirt Candy. Evan Sung

Evan Sung

Nicole Krasinski: "Renee Erickson because she is both chef and restaurateur. You can feel the positive culture she has grown in her businesses from the moment you walk in the door. Her love for the industry is inspiring and on top of that, it's clear she takes moments to recharge and become a better leader."

Jessica Largey: "Ashley Christensen. She's built an empire of success in North Carolina and champions the people who work beside her to operate those restaurants. Her ability to be outspoken and transparent on social issues/justice is inspiring, to say the least. As both a human and chef, I deeply respect and admire her."

Naomi Pomeroy: "Ashley Christensen. She uses food as a platform to address social issues of the day in a powerful way."

Stephanie Izard: "Missy Robbins. Her restaurant Lilia is delicious, and she stays focused in the kitchen on what's important — making great food."

Pasta at Lilia. © Evan Sung

© Evan Sung

Ashley Christensen: "Nancy Silverton, for her constant evolution as a leader in cooking and hospitality. With each decade of working in and contributing to our industry, she only becomes more relevant (as do her restaurants). She's brought up a whole new generation of cooks, chefs, and leaders, and her story grows in tandem with their own successes. She lives, really lives. She travels the world, and still manages to be totally present in the hospitality world she has created. She's engaged in the modern culinary conversation, and she's available and accessible for young growing cooks to ask questions of her, and to find inspiration from her work and presence. I'm grateful for her ever-reaching mentorship, and for her friendship."

Christina Tosi: "Women are truly taking the industry by storm right now. It's a really exciting time. I've been spending a lot of time out in LA for our new flagship opening, as well as MasterChef filming, and the female chefs out there are phenomenal. Sara and Sarah at Kismet are absolutely crushing it. It's also hard not to mention Nancy Silverton – I DREAM of her chopped salad at Mozza."

Traci Des Jardins: "The person I really admire is Judy Rodgers. I have always had huge admiration for her and Zuni, and frequented it more than any other restaurant. It amazes me that the culture there is so strong, due in part to her business partner Gilbert Pilgram and the hugely talented Rebecca Boice. Together, they have been able to maintain this iconic restaurant and carry on Judy's vision. It is always such a magical experience, when she was there and now."

Angie Rito: "I am a huge fan of Rita Sodi and Jody Williams' Via Carota. Their food is simple but very soulful and always perfectly executed. The passion and love behind all of the cooking really comes through on each plate. The menu changes quite often to showcase various ingredients in their peak seasons, so there's always something new and delicious to try. The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe at Via Carota is the best version I've had of that dish anywhere, including Rome!"

Nina Compton: "I would have to say Dominique Crenn because she pushes the envelope and really stands for what she believes in."

Dominique Crenn
Dominique Crenn plating. © Eva Kolenko

© Eva Kolenko

Sara Moulton: "I'm a big fan of Mashama Bailey. Mashama was a guest on my public television show a couple of years ago, which gave me the opportunity to cook with her and then to eat at The Grey. I was knocked out by the uniqueness of the menu – which provides a very original and satisfying take on Port City Southern cuisine – as well as by the down-home warmth and graciousness of the service. And it was clear that everyone on the staff was delighted to work there. Finally, I couldn't help but be moved by the story behind the site of the restaurant. In its first incarnation, it was a Greyhound Bus Terminal that segregated its riders by race. Now beautifully restored and refurbished, it lays out the welcome mat to all comers."

Mashama Bailey: "I admire all the women in food right now! I admire all of the writers, managers, bartenders, photographers, and chefs! Our voice in this industry is becoming strong and loud! I am so happy to be cooking in this day and time!"

Elise Kornack: "Camilla Marcus. With west~bourne, she has created a wonderful restaurant serving healthy, California inspired food, with a major emphasis on sustainability for the kitchen and for the staff. She has partnered with a youth empowerment nonprofit, The Door, that funds hospitality job training with support from the Robin Hood Foundation, to organize a self-sustaining business model and give growth opportunity to the employees hired directly from the program. There are so many important causes to fight for these days, but within the hospitality industry, there is no denying a healthy work environment is one of them. Camilla has put that at the forefront of her business model from day one."

Camille Becerra: "New York chefs who have been doing it, Carolina Fridanza and Jody Williams, their style of food is so pure. Gabriela Cámara who is such an amazing role model for women in Mexico City. And outside of the restaurant industry, Lexie Smith and her ode to bread history, Leila Gohar with her art incorporating food, and Alison Roman who I love reading, from her twitter to her new cookbook."

Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Fried Onions and Parsley
Abby Hocking

Abby Hocking

Julia Turshen: "Shakirah Simley who thinks, speaks, writes, organizes, and leads with a great combination of compassion and focus. Her work truly affects change and she is someone I look to and trust."

Alex Baker: "Claire Welle, chef of Otway. Claire and I cooked side by side at Rebelle in 2015. She does pretty much everything herself at Otway and never ever makes compromises. She bakes her own bread, makes all her own pastries, and butchers everything herself in house. She's conscious of waste and always finds beautiful ways to utilize scrap, everything down to the duck liver and the parsley stem. She is the type of cook to help everyone else, even when she is in the weeds. What matters most to her is the happiness of her cooks and diners and you can feel this in her food. Claire is humble and selfless. She is the most talented, hardworking, generous cook I know and she inspires me daily."

Susan Feniger: "If we are talking ever, then it would be Julia Child. She was passionate, generous in sharing her wealth of info, powerful, knowledgeable and hungry to continue learning! She had an acute understanding of food and was always respectful of everyone."

Feeling inspired? Check out these recipes from great female chefs to make a feast worthy of celebrating womanhood.

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