The French are known for their love of food and drink. In a country where chefs are considered celebrities, it is no surprise that France has produced some of the most famous chefs in the world.
French cuisine is one of the most highly regarded styles of food in the world, and for good reason. The use of quality ingredients with exquisite preparation is something that has become an art form. It is not just about the food, but about the presentation.
Julia Child may be the best known chef of French cuisine, but she herself noted that she learnt from the master chefs in France. The best French chefs in the world are renowned for their techniques and savoir faire. With the astuces passed down for generations, they have been able to put their own spin on things and make classic recipes their own.
These days the popularity of TV chefs like Ina Garten have made gastronomie à la française more popular than ever. So let’s get to know the top French chefs on this side of the Atlantic, in France, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Paul Bocuse
Perhaps the most famous French chefs has to be Paul Bocuse. Known for his innovative approach to French cuisine, the chef who died in 2018 made the city of Lyon his home base, propelling it to be nicknamed the “French capital of gastronomy“.
He would go on to open the Institut Paul Bocuse, which is an elite higher education culinary institutions, offering courses in hospitality and food service.
The culinary school attracts aspiring chefs from all over the world to travel there to learn his techniques, with graduates regularly being awarded Michelin stars.
His family today still runs a series of restaurants and brasseries in Lyon, including the Michelin starred Paul Bocuse restaurant where you can try his famous stuffed chicken bladder dish. You can buy the Institut Paul Bocuse Gastronomique: The definitive step-by-step guide to culinary excellence here.
2. Alain Ducasse
What do the Restaurant Ore in the Château de Versailles and the Bistro Benoit in the Marais have in common? They both belong to famed French chef Alain Ducasse.
From the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo and multiple restaurants in Saint Tropez, Paris, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, London, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington D.C., there are no shortage of restaurants where you can taste Ducasse’s cuisine.
At one point, Ducasse became the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin Stars in three cities. He has also appeared on Masterchef in the U.S. and Italy.
3. Anne-Sophie Pic
Anne-Sophie Pic had cooking in her blood. She is the daughter of famed French chef Jacques Pic. Her grandfather, Andre Pic won 3 Michelin stars for their family restaurant Maison Pic in 1934.
Born and raised in Valence, where Maison Pic is located, Anne-Sophie Pic took over Maison Pic when her father suddenly passed away when she was only 23 years old.
After initially losing a Michelin star, she gained it back in 2007, becoming only the 4th female to run a 3-starred Michelin restaurant. Having been awarded the French Legion of Honour, she is a regular judge on shows like Netflix’s Final table.
4. Marie-Antoine Carême
Chef Antoinin Carême as he was known, was considered the original celebrity French chef of his time, in the era of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Câreme grew up in the kitchens, having been abandoned as a child by his parents during the 1789 French Revolution, and finding shelter in a brasserie which trained him as an apprentice and gave him room and board.
He went on to train as a patissier (baker) and gained fame for his cakes, especially his piece montées which were several feet high. He became renowned were these masterpieces that are today considered a French wedding tradition.
As a result of his success, he began to mix in high society, eventually even becoming the chef de cuisine to the Prince Regent of England, later King George IV.
By 1833, he was one of the most important French chefs and cookbook authors of the 19th century. He published the cookbook L’art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle (“The Art of French Cuisine in the 19th Century”), that contained 5 volumes and became the culinary reference of all time.
In it he would establish the rules for the art de la table and include a classification of French sauces, although instead of calling them “mother sauces”, he called them Grandes et Petites sauces (“great and small sauces”).
5. Auguste Escoffier
Following the footsteps of Chef Carême, was the great Auguste Escoffier. He too would systemize many of the basics of classic French cuisine, writing several books on the subject.
His 1907 Le guide culinaire (A guide to modern cookery) is today referred to as the “French cook’s bible”.
In addition, Escoffier would modernize the refined cuisine of hotel palais (5 star hotels), setting up rules of the kitchen brigade to mandate hygiene and organization. Cooking processes were refined and things like knife cuts codified.
The 5 mother sauces that we know today are as Chef Escoffier classified them, increasing the importance of sauces like the tomate, mayonnaise, and the hollandaise.
The legendary French chef is believed to have said that the three great secrets of French cuisine are: butter, butter and butter. (As you can tell, he was a big fan of French butters.) In 1928, he would become the first French chef to become an officer of the Legion of Honor.
6. Joël Robuchon
Joël Robuchon was considered by some to the “chef of the century”, having amassed 32 Michelin stars in his career by the time he died in 2018.
Born into a modest family from Poitiers, he would become head chef of a kitchen brigade of 90 cooks at the young age of 28. Success would rapidly follow, allowing him to open restaurants everywhere from Paris, Monaco, London, New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Taipei, Macao, Bangkok, Montréal, Miami, and Geneva.
He would also appear on TV in shows like Cuisinez comme un grand chef, Bon appétit bien sûr et Planète gourmande.
7. Hélène Darroze
In a male dominated profession, Hélène Darroze is not just one of the best chefs in France, but also the world. With 2 Michelin stars for her Parisian restaurant, the Marsan, and another 3 for her London establishment Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, she is also a regular on French tv on shows like Top Chef.
Cooking runs in her family, with her great-grandfather, grandparents, father and uncle all being cooks of some regard. Her cousin Alain Darroze was a chef at the Presidential palace in Paris, the Palais de l’Elysées.
She was named “best female chef in the world” 2015 in the British version of the Michelin star, the William Reed Business Media publication called the Restaurant.
8. Guy Savoy
The chef that Gordan Ramsay trained under was Guy Savoy, who he described as his “culinary mentor”. Born in the small town of Nevers, Guy Savoy began his cuisine apprenticeship at the age of 16, as is the norm in France.
His eponymous restaurant Restaurant Guy Savoy in the 6th arrondissement of Paris has three stars in the Michelin Guide since 2002. A founder of the Cuilinary College of France, he was also the voice to the character Horst in the Pixar film Ratatouille (French version) that was released in 2007.
In 2020, Restaurant Guy Savoy was named “Best restaurant in the world” for the fourth consecutive year by La Liste, and is classified in the “Best tables of Paris” by the Guide Lebey. For his excellence, he has been made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.
9. Alain Passard
Alain Passard began his career at the age of 14, at the Hôtellerie du Lion d’or in the small town of Liffré, Brittany. By 26 years old, he would have 2 Michelin stars at his restaurant Le Duc d’Enghien, in the town of Enghien-les-Bains, just outside Paris.
After his Parisian restaurant L’Arpège earning 3 Michelin stars for its its chicken dishes, Passard would make a radical decision. He would remove meat and poultry from his menu, concentrating on vegetarian dishes.
More popular than ever, L’Arpège has retained its 3 Michelin star rating and Passard was featured on the Netflix’s Chef’s Table: France highlighting his journey to vegetarianism.
10. Philippe Etchebest
The British Gordon Ramsay may have Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but Chef Philippe Etchebest has the French version called Cauchemar en cuisine (meaning “Nightmare in the Kitchen”).
Years before his television success, the son of a restauranteur from Soissons, Philippe Etchebest would win Meilleur ouvrier de France in 2000 as one of the best chefs in France. In a sign of significance, he would receive his award from the illustrious Paul Bocuse and Joël Robuchon.
He would go on to become the breakout star of shows like France’s Top Chef and Objectif Top Chef, earning widespread fame.
He earned his 2nd Michelin star at his hotel in Saint Emilion (the wine region in Bordeaux) in 2008, along with the Ordre national du Mérite in 2012, and the Légion d’honneur in 2020.
11. Pierre Hermé
Originally from Colmar, Pierre Hermé had 4 generations of pastry makers in his family tree. As such, he began his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice to famed pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre.
Working with names like Ladurée and Fauchon, he would eventually found the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris in 1998, opening several patisseries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
He was awarded the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016, and been nicknamed the “Picasso of Pastry”. A prolific writer, he has also been awarded the French Legion of Honor, along with many other awards for his creativity and genius.
12. Jean-François Piège
Born in Valence, Jean-François Piège started working at the age of 22 for Alain Ducasse by whose side he would remain for 12 years.
From Ducasse’s takeover of the restaurant Le Louis XV in Monaco from Joël Robuchon, to his opening of the famed Plaza Athénée restaurant in the Triangle d’Or around the Champs Elysées, Piège would be by his side.
Piège would become head chef himself in 2004, with his restaurant Les Ambassadeurs at the illustrious Hotel de Crillon, since then earning several awards and Michelin stars for his cooking and artistry.
He has also written several books on French gastronomy and appeared on television shows in France.
13. Cyril Lignac
Chef Cyril Lignac may not have as many Michelin stars as some of the other French chefs on this list, but he is one of the most recognizable. Regularly appearing on TV in France on shows like Top Chef, Le Meilleur Pâtissier, and many many others.
Making French cuisine accessible, his latest venture is a show called “Tous en cuisine, en direct avec Cyril Lignac“, where he cooks live on set with 4 other families joining him and cooking together via video conference from their own homes.
In 2012, a poll declared him “Favorite chef on television” and in recent years he is one of the most followed French chefs on Instagram and Twitter.
14. Ghislaine Arabian
Born in Croix near the France-Belgian border, Ghislaine Arabian is a chef par excellence in Flemish and French cuisine. Initially working as a switchboard operator, she became the only woman to have 2 Michelin stars in the 1990s at her restaurant the Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris (now taken over by Chef Yannick Alléno)
She also has a 2nd restaurant in Paris, Les Petites Sorcières in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Arabian is a regular on France’s Top Chef, she is one of the most recognizable chefs in France.
15. Michel Sarran
The son of French chef Pierrette Sarran, Michel Sarran initially intended to be a doctor. After much difficulty in medical school, he began working at his mother’s restaurant in Saint-Martin-d’Armagnac, eventually changing his focus to cooking.
He would soon start working in the kitchens of a 27-year-old Alain Ducasse, with the encouragement of his mother. By 2003, he had 2 Michelin stars himself at his restaurant bearing his name in Toulouse.
Sarran has participated in several TV shows, including France’s Top Chef. His calling card is that he wears a black jacket, unlike many professional cooks who usually wear a white jacket.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about French cooking terms and techniques. A bientôt!