Nobody can argue with the fact that New Orleanians love to eat—a lot. Everything we do revolves around food. Even when we’re not eating, we’re usually talking about restaurants, food or chefs. So it’s pretty easy to see why we view great chefs in this town as celebrities. Rising to the ranks of fame for a chef in this city is a feat. Locals will tirelessly argue about food and the brilliant minds that create dishes that can carry the New Orleans tradition forward. For me, a great chef should be able to open and sustain a successful restaurant. Because the curse of success usually follows, the greatest chefs in New Orleans are rarely the ones doing the cooking. So great chefs should also have a kitchen staff of expert craftsmen who are consistently sending out great food to the dining room. Here is my list of the 5 best chefs in town right now: some are very well known, and others are rising stars, poised for fame.
Famous as the owner of Bayona in the French Quarter, Susan Spicer is one of the most influential female chefs in the city. In a world primarily dominated by men, Spicer trained in Paris at the Hotel Sofitel under Chef Roland Durand in the 1970s. She was also honored when she was loosely the base for the character Janette in HBO’s Treme.
New Orleans Chef powerhouse John Besh is one of the biggest names in New Orleans cooking. He owns Domenica, Restaurant August and, most recently, a joint property with Food Network’s Aaron Sanchez. His kitchens consistently put out brilliant New Orleans-inspired food, and are considered by many to be some of our city’s best.
Chef/Owner of Herbsaint and Cochon, Link trained under Susan Spicer at Bayona before moving out west to run the famous MOJO Restaurant in Palo Alto. In 2007 Link won a James Beard Award for best Chef in the South—which, if you’ve ever been to Cochon, is no surprise.
The famous chef of Restaurant of R’evolution at the Royal Sonesta has spent his career making waves in the world of Louisiana cuisine. He also helped create the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholl State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Most recently, in cooperation with the Royal Sonesta Hotel, Folse and Chef Rick Tramonto built one of the most impressive kitchens in the city with their new Restaurant R’evolution.
Harrell, another alumni from Susan Spicer’s Bayona, moved to New Orleans in 1998 and started as a pantry cook. In 2010, he joined Sean McCusker as chef at Sylvain in the historic French Quarter. He continues to push the culinary envelope at Sylvain with dishes such as Buffalo-style veal sweetbreads, pickled gulf shrimp and braised beef cheeks.