10 Famous New Orleans Chefs Changing the Restaurant Industry

By: Allie Tetreault

9 Minute Read

Oct 29, 2018

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new orleans chefs

One of the top ten best food cities in America, New Orleans is home to many top restaurants, run by some of the top culinary minds in the country.

In fact, as of 2015, New Orleans had 2,375 restaurants, up from 2,138 a decade ago and 1,860 the year after Katrina, according to the Census Bureau.

Even before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was a city where food brings people together. Creole, Cajun, Vietnamese, African, Irish, German, Italian, German, and Haitian food surround you in New Orleans, with meals like po'boys, joie de vivre, gumbo, and more.

Many chefs are making New Orleans their home, with restaurants known for innovative dishes and concepts opening on every street corner. Here are just 10 famous New Orleans chefs making a name for themselves in the industry, and how your your restaurant can learn from their success.

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1. John Besh

John Besh is an icon in New Orleans.

Besh grew up in southern Louisiana and celebrates fresh ingredients, traditions, and heritage in each and every dish. In 2014, the James Beard Foundation induced him into “Who’s Who in Food & Beverage,” and Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America.”

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His twelve restaurants (listed below) are centered around good food and good service, and he doesn’t disappoint. With creative dishes like lemonfish cru and ginger panna cotta, and ingredients that derive from local farms, he is constantly innovating fine dining restaurants.

Restaurants: August | Besh Steak | Borgne | La Provence | Pizza Domenica | Lüke | Johnny Sánchez New Orleans | The Caribbean Room | The Bayou Bar | Hot Tin | The Silver Whistle Cafe | Willa Jean

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

2. Donald Link

new orleans chef

Chef Donald Link began his professional cooking career at 15 years old. Now, he is recognized as one of New Orleans’ best chefs. Focusing on Cajun and Southern cooking inspired by the foods and cooking techniques he grew up preparing and eating at his grandparents’ house. A James Beard award winner, Nation’s Restaurant News Hall of Famer, and more, he has also released two cookbooks, most recently Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything.

Herbsaint, one of his first restaurants, continually produces James Beard Award-winning chefs and creative meals such as Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique.

Restaurants: Donald Link | Butcher | Cochon | Herbsaint | Peche | Calcasieu

Follow his restaurants: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

3. Emeril Lagasse

While Emeril originally grew up in Fall River, MA, he has since made New Orleans his home after traveling to Paris and Lyon, France and honing his craft in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. After working for eight years at Commander’s Palace, he set out to open his own restaurants in New Orleans and eventually all across the U.S.

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His cooking, touted as “New New Orleans,” celebrates the best local and regional seasonal ingredients, and he’s spilled his secrets in 19 best-selling cookbooks. A national TV personality, you may have seen him on “Top Chef,” “On the Menu” and “Emeril’s Florida” on the Cooking Channel. He has also won many awards, including Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation for his dedicated efforts to support children’s educational programs through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.

Restaurants: Meril | Emeril’s New Orleans | Emeril’s Delmonico | NOLA Restaurant

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

new orleans chef

4. Alon Shaya

After training at the Culinary Institute of America and interning at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Alon Shaya moved to New Orleans to begin training under Chef John Besh, serving as Chef du Cuisine at Besh Steak.

With a passion for Italian cooking and Israeli cooking, Shaya diversifies the restaurant scene in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Italy to continue exploring his passion for Italian cooking, and then opened Domenica in partnership with the Besh Restaurant Group when he returned. After a few years, he opened Pizza Domenica is a “casual spinoff” of Domenica that tests the boundaries of fast casual and fine dining concepts.

Finally, he opened Shaya, his namesake, that combines his Israeli upbringing with New Orleans’ ingredients.

Restaurants: Shaya | Domenica | Pizza Domenica

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

5. Nina Compton new orleans chef

A native of St. Lucia, Nina Compton competed on Season 11 of Top Chef. After cooking for many years in Miami, she moved to New Orleans, where the show was hosted, and opened her own restaurant, Compère Lapin. Its name is taken from the Creole version of the trickster character Brer Rabbit.

The New York Times praised her restaurant, Food & Wine named her Best New Chef this April, and she was a finalist for the Best Chef: South James Beard Award. Her restaurant isn’t new (it opened in 2015), but it’s successful because of the creative flair she adds to each comfort dish.

Restaurants: Compère Lapin

Follow her: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

new orleans chef6. Susan Spicer

Susan Spicer is an award-winning chef who owns several restaurants in New Orleans, including a take-out food market that moonlights as a bakery. Her cookbook, entitled Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, was recognized by the International Association of Culinary Professionals with a nomination for Best American Cookbook.

As Bryan Miller of The New York Times said in a profile of her, “Her cooking style essentially mirrors her personality: vibrant, colorful, and accessible.”

She was born in Key West, FL. and then moved to Holland for several years, where she learned to recognize Indonesian cooking, then moved to New Orleans. All of her restaurants are innovative concepts that match bright American fare with a congenial, friendly setting.

Restaurants: Bayona | Rosedale | Mondo

Follow her restaurant: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

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7. Tory McPhail

Chef Tory McPhail grew up in Ferndale, Washington, where he grew up on his family’s farm eating fresh, locally sourced foods.

After attending school in Seattle, he moved to New Orleans, and moved swiftly from the lowest level of food preparation to all 12 stages of the kitchen. In early 2002, he was named executive chef of the original Commander’s Palace, and has since been rebuilding the restaurant scene in New Orleans.

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In addition to helming this historic restaurant, he also hosted his own television show, “Off the Menu,” received the 2014 Best Chef: South Award from the James Beard Foundation, and won the 2009 Great American Seafood Cookoff.

Restaurants: Commander’s Palace

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

8. John Folse

John Folse is a leading authority on Cajun and Creole cuisine and culture in New Orleans. Since starting Lafitte’s Landing Seafood House in 1978, he has now established many other properties, such as a catering and events management division, publishing house, television series, and a manufacturing company, culinary institute, which is the first chef-owned food manufacturing company in America producing custom-manufactured foods for restaurants.

With his spice-heavy foods and raw ingredients, he creates a real “taste of Louisiana.”

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Restaurants: Restaurant R’evolution | Lafitte’s Landing Seafood House | Seafood Revolution

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter

angeline-chef-alex-harrell.jpeg9. Alex Harrell

Alex Harrell, chef/owner of Angeline, creates consistent, memorable food in his restaurant. However, he didn’t always want to be a chef. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology and never went to culinary school. His passion for cooking came from his parents: his father raises cattle and makes great pasta, and his mother is excellent at pickling.

Alex worked the pantry for Susan Spicer at Bayona, and then progressed through the kitchen ranks. In 2010, he became Executive Chef of Sylvain, and in 2015, he opened Angeline. He reworked the interior design to be more casual, and now offers brunch service for cocktails and French toast. His menu “is always naturally evolving and thoughtful to customer expectations without losing my spirit,” he told Thrillist.

Restaurants: Angeline

Follow him: Instagram | Twitter

10. Leah Chase

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It might be odd to see Leah Chase on a list of restaurateurs “changing the industry” - after all, she has been a part of it for so long! However, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” is changing the industry by reminding others what makes restaurants so successful: heart.

Her restaurant, Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and she has paved the way for many activists in her time. She has been inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in Food & Beverage in America in 2010, and honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000.

Dooky Chase operates from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and people have formed lines around the corner; according to her family, that is to save her from her own work ethic. She hosts a cooking show devoted to Creole cooking, and she is the author of several cookbooks.

Restaurants: Dooky Chase

Follow her restaurant: Instagram | Facebook

What Are Your Favorite New Orleans Chefs?

Any chefs we missed here? What are your favorite New Orleans chefs, and how are they impacting the restaurant industry today?

Comment below with your thoughts!

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