Chef Awards 2002
Who dazzles, who counts, who makes us tremble, and who was who in our town's best kitchens.
THE SUPER STARS
The very top of the food chain.
Stalked by demons and setbacks after early meteoric fame at the original Bouley, he is back at the new Bouley, and as obsessed as ever.
Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne
Born into the French discipline, schooled by Michelin masters, toasted in the hot seat of ambition, he could, until recently, navigate his fiefdom by taxi. But now he's taking his Midas touch to pan for gold in Palm Beach.
Gotham Bar and Grill
A perfectionist who actually cooks, he bonded French technique to skyscraper design and changed America's way of plating dinner.
Jean Georges, JoJo, Vong, Mercer Kitchen
Unarguably the most creative chef in America, he tries to be everywhere at once in his global empire.
The French pedigree tells: Dropped into deep water at 29 after the sudden death of legend Gilbert Le Coze, Ripert had the passion, talent, and charisma to emerge his own man.
Nobu, Next Door Nobu
The shimmer and shock of Japanese purity embracing Peruvian and Italian flavors didn't exist until Nobu dared. Now he rides the jet stream to riches, and stand-ins sliver the kompachi.
THE GREAT CHEFS
The best of the rest.
He put family life before klieg lights, but when he's good, he's nearly great. His passion for cheese revived our own.
He's not a player in the star-chef follies, so it's easy to overlook his impeccable work at stern Veritas, where he plays second fiddle to the stellar wine list.
He has the skills, the résumé, and the artistry, but Daniel keeps him on a short leash. Could he go off on his own?
Gramercy Tavern, Craft
He's won raves since he was a boy wonder at Mondrian. Now he thinks he can keep Gramercy Park purring and run Craft, too -- here, in Vegas, and who-knows-where.
This seasoned pro, tortured by insecurity, was good enough at Les Célébrités. He's surprised everyone (even himself) by leaping up a notch in Gray Kunz's abandoned St. Regis kitchen.
On the cusp of superstardom, this precocious food-press darling seems discombobulated emotionally. But it doesn't show at his tables, yet.
Nish high-steps to his own celestial music, but you must be in the mood for the daunting dance of his tasting menu.
Voted the chef most likely to be spotted out on the town at dinnertime, but his complex, intricately layered food can thrill.
The founding fathers and mothers of inventions.
An unquenchable force in the campaign to promote regional Italy.
This unassuming son of St. Remy still celebrates his heritage in a Provençal cottage on East 59th.
This Roman conqueror has reprised his winners here and there over the years, often exiting with a tantrum.
Her smart flavors and simplicity made her a pastry legend at Gramercy Tavern. Now she's an executive at Pret a Manger.
The godfather of American cookery may move An American Place yet again.
Created Aureole, Alva, the Lenox Room, Metrazur, and more. Now he's commuting to Napa where his family has taken root.
He nurtured dozens of our town's chefs in embryo at the Academy of La Côte Basque.
She set a mark for women with Arcadia's three stars; now opts for a simpler life with a partner at Inside.
Still lives above his old stove at Lutèce and shares his wisdom at the French Culinary Institute.
Jacques Torres Chocolate
He could do anything Rodin did in sugar. Now he has the chocolate factory of his dreams.
TOP TOQUES AND SOLID CONTENDERS
Brand names you can count on.
Brasserie 8 and 1⁄2
He opened with élan, wowing the critics; now he's torn between cooking to his inner tune and pleasing the less-savvy crowds.
Of course it's not Indian food, I assure indignant pals from India. But it's Indian enough for Manhattan, and brilliant.
It took time to find his own more refined, nearly consistent Latino beat after stepping into Doug Rodriguez's oversize clogs.
Mesa Grill, Bolo
His southwestern fantasy became ours, inspiring a zillion riffs on the quesadilla. He's in the kitchen more than you'd guess, pitching big (if a bit too sweet) flavor.
Wallse, Cafe Sabarsky
He champions Viennese classics with authority, giving fans a rush, but for some, this Gemütlichkeit is a bit confining.
Inspired by seven years with Jean-Georges, he fills a very beige Ritz-Carlton dining room with color and buzz.
A sublime tidal pool of sea critters and fine old-style duck inspire superlatives for this River Café ex, but the kitchen too often drifts.
His peers know he's there -- Daniel Boulud's alter ego and possible chosen son -- but to the world, it looks, feels, and tastes very Daniel.
At 47 and a family man, he got an offer he couldn't refuse. So he left Oceana to be a partner here, promising not to Xerox his Oceana signature dishes.
Fleur de Sel
His meticulous French classics light up a modest space.
He's a force of nature, a legend for igniting the Latino blaze. But with his mushrooming moguldom, Pipa has lost its luster.
Union Square Cafe
He's steady and reliable, the people's choice. His food may not bring a critic to her knees, but it usually satisfies.
Swedish cookery is limited, after all. While some go gaga over his forays into fusion, lobster roll with frozen ginger ale leaves me cold.
We love his market-driven cooking when it is simplest and wish he wouldn't try so hard to be modish.
The Villagey feel of Blue Hill was a better setting for Urena's adventurous and careful cooking than this hard-edged spot -- but he's still impressive.
The boy chef at JUdson earns grown-up credentials with his elegant translation of Portuguese cooking.
A new generation basks in the scent of luxury here, though the seafood sausage and pork with prunes that amazed us twenty years ago seem ho-hum now.
CHEFS WARMING UP
The best-laid plans.
He had some great moments at Sign of the Dove.
A star at Spiaggia (in Chicago) and San Domenico, he seeks an address worthy of his four-star cravings.
This Jean-Georges protégé amazed us in a teeny kitchen at 71 Clinton Fresh Food. Think what sonatas he'll play on his new top-of-the-line Bonnet range.
Scored at Aureole. Will run Tonic briefly as a partner, then transform it into Amuse.
This fabled Swiss superstar makes Hamlet look decisive. Even he wonders whether he'll be able to live up to his legend. Will it be Jean-Georges's Spice Market or a brasserie at AOL Time Warner?
His triumph at Wild Blue brought food lovers back to Windows on the World. Now he's shopping for new digs.
It's taking forever to get the old Texarkana space tricked up for her new act after shuttering Quilty's.
Locked out just as he'd lifted Cello to four-star potential, this gifted whisk won't settle just anywhere now.
The first-draft picks.
An aggressive and clever innovator at Jean Georges, this 32-year-old will run Vongerichten's proposed Perry Street project.
Restless in Colicchio's aura -- "The concept is Tom's," he says; "the menu is mine" -- Canora is looking for real estate. Still, he hopes to keep a tie to Craft ("like Tom has at Gramercy").
Invisible to the world, he pulled his weight in the kitchen of Daniel. Now he gets the title and toque at Oceana.
It is impossible to tell what is Batali and what is Mark Ladner at our favorite trattoria, Lupa. Being best boy for Batali postponed stardom, but now he has a chance at Otto.
Geoffrey Zakarian sacrificed his Alsatian alter ego in the kitchen of Town, bringing instant uplift to Theo (where he is a consultant). It's a next step for Tovar toward a place all his own.
From Le Bernardin to Geisha
"Humble, creative, good technician, charisma," says Eric Ripert of his most junior sous-chef and his choice to run the Serafina team's latest venture, Geisha.
The crème de la crème.
Remember the astonishing ice creams and pastries at Bouley? He's churning and gelling and tempering at Citarella now.
Park Avenue Cafe
The Mies van der Rohe of dessert has inspired a legion of imitators, spawning a thousand flying buttresses in pastry and chocolate.
After setting standards as a master patissier -- first at Le Bernardin, then at Daniel -- Payard moved on to a sweet setup of his own, with irresistibles to carry away and marvelous bistro desserts.
A Roger Verger disciple showcases herbs, chocolate, and a seasonal obsession to please Daniel Boulud.
PASTRY STARS AND CONTENDERS
Wooed from France to set up Bouley Bakery, Aumont's moved to Compass, where his stunning ice creams, his tangy fig tartare and pineapple carpaccio, score.
He's got the charisma for a media breakout. Though his fetish for olive oil doesn't always work, other trendy inclinations do.
With the kitchen heaving, let's hope this mostly unsung talent keeps turning out treats like his striking passion-fruit baked Alaska.
His peers admire his clear American flavors, decorative plates, and restraint. Nothing is too sweet.
Demasco's artistry is sabotaged by the torturous concept of building your own dessert.
Eleven Madison Park
Her remarkably focused, natural, restrained, and luscious desserts just hint of zanier days at Circo.
This CIA grad prepped at Daniel, and it shows in her elegant revision of classical Italian dolci.
He pleased Portale at Gotham; now he pleases us with more soul than his mentor Richard Leach.
She comes as "family" with Troy Dupuy from Lespinasse, her sophistication in sync with his.
Honor thy pasta.
Batali is a fanatic, obsessed student of all things Italian, a clever marketer who (with partner Joe Bastianich) has given us a Roman cucina, Italian wines, homemade charcuterie, Triestean cruda, and, soon, Neapolitan pizza.
After a lackluster interval, Tony May's homage to an ambitious spot in Imola came aglow again under Fada. Now her periodic retreats to Italy for inspiration grow longer; let's hope the renaissance doesn't falter.
Chauvinist Italians single out this Long Island fisherman as "the best Italian chef in new York," and we agree. "We kinda bang our heads against the wall," says his boss, Joe Bastianich, partner with Mario Batali here, "saying it's gotta be more Italian. But Italians love it."
How Italian? The menu isn't translated. And -- how refreshing! -- he refuses to leave his kitchen. Ever. "I gotta be there when Eric Ripert comes," he says.
In omakase we trust.
Hiroshi choreographs New World sushi thrills with charming showmanship at the bar.
Sushi of Gari
Disciples line up outside for the omakase reveries of this endlessly inventive master.
Pilgrims seeking kaiseki epiphany find seasonal imports and esoterica at the counter here.
A class all their own.
Pearl Oyster Bar
Her creamy chowder and lush lobster roll are a trip to the seashore.
A self-styled "kitchen grunt" has a devoted following for her eccentric, eclectic American grub.
His way is the only way, he'll tell you, but local Turks seem to agree as they compete for these second-story tables.
The cuisinary jet set.
The flying conglomerate, he has stars dripping off his epaulets and the most frequent-flier miles.
Matinee idol and chef for hire; when last seen, he was afloat on the Queen Mary 2.
OFF THE RADAR
Whatever happened to . . .
He impressed critics at Montrachet and then Tonic. Now he's consulting for Drew Nieporent.
He stayed at Le Cirque long enough to win back that fourth star, then left, burned out after 25 years on his feet.
The prince of discomfort food (ex of Atlas and Papillon) has disappeared with his licorice root and handcuffs.
He was boldest at Aja and brilliant wherever he landed afterward. But he has a habit of leaving us lovelorn for his mango sundae with Thai chili.