Driven by an idea—organics, avant-garde equipment, the ultimate pork bun—these men and women have inspired countless other chefs.

Rick Bayless, ’88

Bayless’s monomania for Mexico is one reason American home cooks appreciate chiles and the diversity of Mexican cooking. He helped start the trend at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, in Chicago, and with his six cookbooks and six seasons of the PBS series Mexico—One Plate at a Time.

Famous Dish

Frontera Grill’s shrimp with tomatillo salsa.

David Bouley, ’89

Twenty years ago, Bouley first introduced the country to New American classics like tomato water and organic ingredients. Today the Manhattan-based chef is still innovative, staging experimental Japanese cooking demos at his Test Kitchen and seamlessly combining market-driven dishes with sushi at his tiny restaurant Upstairs.

Famous Dish

Gray Kunz, ’93

Anytime you spot chiles and kaffir lime leaves on a fancy American menu, you can probably thank Kunz. At Lespinasse, the phenomenal cook dazzled with his Asian-fusion cooking, the product of training in Singapore and Switzerland. Kunz’s plans for the future: taking his small-plates lounge, Grayz, and haute brasserie, Café Gray (closing soon), beyond New York.

Famous Dish

Café Gray’s short ribs with Meaux mustard.

Wylie Dufresne, ’01

After establishing an avant-garde food frontier on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at 71 Clinton, Dufresne set up his immersion circulator a block away to create his own eccentric place, WD-50. Every visiting chef in New York invariably stops in to check out Dufresne’s amazing menu.

Famous Dish

WD-50’s eggs Benedict with cubes of hollandaise sauce coated with English muffin crumbs.

Grant Achatz, ’02

At Chicago’s Alinea, Achatz has almost singlehandedly forged an American version of Spain’s experimental molecular cooking that’s both thought-provoking and delicious. Using stabilizers, centrifuges and other gadgets, he creates dishes like liquefied caramel corn. (Profile of Achatz.)

Famous Dish

Alinea’s Hot Potato, Cold Potato: potato soup with a needle-pierced potato ball.

Dan Barber, ’02

Barber’s farm-to-table ethos is extreme: He’s even published an opinion piece in the New York Times about the Farm Bill. He also opened a branch of his Manhattan restaurant Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center in Westchester, New York, to help support the nonprofit farm and education center, and to be close to the Berkshire pigs, heritage chickens and vegetables on his menu. There, in a refurbished dairy barn, Barber spotlights his pristine ingredients.

Famous Dish

Blue Hill’s carrots with toasted spices.

Maria Hines, ’05

Seattle-based Hines is so hyperlocal that she once designed a geographically circumscribed diet, using the Columbia and Snake rivers as rough boundaries. “My organic diet is a lot easier,” she says. At Tilth, Hines obsesses over the best sockeye salmon, grass-fed beef and Puget Sound berries for her locavore Pacific Northwestern menu.

Famous Dish

Tilth’s albacore tuna with deviled eggs and tomatoes.

David Chang, ’06

In 2005, Chang put the miniscule, extraordinary Asian-accented Momofuku Noodle Bar on everyone’s New York must-visit list. Now customers vie for seats at his Ssäm Bar, with its namesake caramelized pork butt bo ssäm, or go online to compete for one of the 12 seats at Momofuku Ko, his ingenious set-menu spot.

Famous Dish

Noodle Bar’s steamed pork buns.