These New Orleans Chefs Have Changed the Industry

New Orleans is often cited as one of the best restaurant cities in America, and it's largely due to these trailblazers.

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

This is a city of rich history where food brings people together. Creole, Cajun, Vietnamese, French, African, Irish, German, Italian, and Haitian food culture fill the streets.

Many chefs are making New Orleans their homes, with restaurants known for innovative dishes and concepts opening on every street corner. Here are a few famous New Orleans chefs making a name for themselves in the industry, and lessons you can apply to your restaurant.

Leah Chase

The “Queen of Creole Cuisine” has changed the industry by reminding others what makes restaurants so successful: heart. 

Chase's 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 was 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 am to 3 pm, and people have formed lines around the corner. According to her family, the small opening time 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

Donald Link

Chef Donald Link began his professional cooking career at 15 years old. Now, he's recognized as one of New Orleans’ best chefs. Link focuses 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 defining meals like Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique.

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

Follow his restaurants: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

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 John Besh, serving as Chef du Cuisine at Besh Steak.

With a passion for Italian 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

Nina Compton

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. 

Restaurants: Compère Lapin

Follow her: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Tory McPhail

Chef Tory McPhail grew up in Ferndale, Washington, where he lived 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 contributing to the restaurant scene in New Orleans.

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: InstagramTwitterFacebook

Susan Spicer

Susan Spicer is an award-winning chef who owns several restaurants in New Orleans, including a takeout 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: BayonaRosedaleMondo

Follow her restaurant: InstagramTwitterFacebook

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: InstagramTwitter

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.

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: MerilEmeril’s New OrleansEmeril’s DelmonicoNOLA Restaurant

Follow him: InstagramTwitterFacebook

Who are your favorite New Orleans chefs? 

Who did we miss? Who are your favorite New Orleans chefs, and how are they impacting the industry today?

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