50 World’s Best Visionary Chefs 2020
Soulivity Magazine’s list of the 50 World’s Best Visionary Chefs is a compilation of culinary masters from around the world who have reshaped how food is traditionally prepared and eaten. These celebrated chefs have honored their countries of origin with their contributions to the world of gastronomy. These chefs have honed their craft with inventiveness, technique, tradition, and innovation, while creating exceptional cuisine. By combining these traits (as effectively as they mix together ingredients in their recipes), these chefs present their guests with an extraordinary dining experience and dishes forever living in personal memories.
BORN: ILLINOIS, USA
As a young boy, Christopher Kostow originally had dreams of playing professional hockey. After working in the kitchen at Ravinia Music Festival, his mindset began to change from hockey sticks to what fresh vegetables to pick. And, after earning a degree in philosophy at Hamilton College (New York), he relocated to San Diego, where he worked under Trey Foshee at Georges at the Cove. Kostow then moved to France to study French cuisine, where he worked at the Michelin-starred Le Jardin des Sens in Montpelier in Paris, and in a former 14th-century abbey in Salon-de-Provence.
Currently, Christopher Kostow is the critically acclaimed chef of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, California; and, the third-youngest chef to ever receive three Michelin stars. Kostow is known for drawing upon his American upbringing and the singular beauty and bounty of the Napa Valley to create uniquely memorable experiences. As the visionary chef behind The Restaurant at Meadowood, Kostow was a James Beard Award winner in the “Best Chef: West” category in 2013. Additionally, after garnering two stars from the prestigious Michelin organization when he was executive chef at the French-inspired Chez TJ, in Mountain View, California, Kostow won a third star at Meadowood for the food he calls “evocative, not provocative.”
Kostow proudly owns four establishments: The Restaurant at Meadowood (which holds three Michelin stars), Charter Oak, Ensue (his first restaurant in China), and The Farm (a 3.5-acre culinary garden). Needless to say, Kostow’s expertise spans a number of different styles and forms, literally from farm to table, far and near. Each of his four ventures thrives on Kostow’s main love for locally produced ingredients. For example, he commits to fostering relationships with local vendors in China to create a “farm-to-table” experience at his restaurant Ensue. In America, he utilizes his own produce from The Farm; and, his Napa restaurant, Charter Oak, orchestrates a beautiful relationship between the chef and the surrounding producers (even the wine list boasts local grapes). “Local” and “Farm-to-Table” seem to be the mantras for Kostow. Between the freshness of ingredients to innovative culinary skills, Kostow is frequently celebrated for capturing the charm and splendor of regional foods through his cuisine. Over the past decade, Kostow has built a reputation for serving luxurious cooking to an exclusive and select number of diners.
His cookbook titled, “A New Napa Cuisine,” won the 2014 IACP award for “Best Cookbook of the Year”. And, in 2018, Kostow won the international Eckart Witzigmann Award in “Art of Cookery,” one of only three awards this prestigious organization awards each year.
BORN: OHIO, USA
Like many chefs, Mariya Russell’s interest in food started at a young age. Since cooking was important in her family, Russell would hang out with her mom in the kitchen as she often prepared soul food. After graduating high school, she moved to Chicago to attend The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago – affiliated with France’s prestigious cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu – and interned at Columbia Yacht Club, before graduating in 2008.
Even today, as a remembrance of her upbringing, Russell’s cooking involves her family. Her husband is a sous chef at Kumiko; whereas, her mentor and “big brother” Noah Sandoval is chef and partner of the Kumiko, Oriole, and Kikko restaurants.
Mariya Russell was the first Black Woman to earn a Michelin Star in 2019. However, her recognition did not come from her being a black woman. Instead, it comes from her “let’s do this” attitude; and, her passion, vision, and talent in the kitchen. She is best known for her style of cooking called, “Omakase,” which in Japanese translates to “I’ll leave it to you.” In Omakase, the chef—in this case, Russell—controls the dining experience for guests; leading them toward things they may not have otherwise tried, and thus, creating a stunning culinary adventure.
Russell’s culinary journey did have trials and tribulations though, ones that only made her stronger. After gaining experience in the Chicago kitchens of The Bristol, Green Zebra, Nellcôte, and Sandoval’s Senza, she and her husband moved to South Carolina. There, she worked at Tristian and 492; but, she was soon met with racism, which sparked a move back to Chicago. This move would become a homecoming that she would never forget.
Upon her arrival back in Chicago, she took a new position at an old place of employment as a back server at the two Michelin star restaurant, Oriole. This was a change for Russell, as she was accustomed to using her skills in the kitchen, and a challenge for her anxiety about meeting new people. After a year of hard work and a fateful reunion with mentor Sandoval, Russell worked up the ladder at Oriole, transitioning to the back of the house as sous chef (and later, chef de cuisine). Russell’s second run at Oriole turned into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She realized that her experience as a back server taught her how to better interact with guests. Impressed, Sandoval picked Russell to run his up and coming restaurants, Kumiko and Kikko.
Russell notes that each chef she has worked with incorporated a Japanese technique or flair into their cooking. These bits of knowledge over the years have culminated to help her confidently run Kimiko and Kikko. The things she did not know – for example, how to make tofu – she taught herself. Russell combined her determination and adaptability to create a fearless, confident chef. And, a chef extremely grateful for where she is, while using her knowledge and experience into each and every magnificent dish.
Mauro Colagreco began his culinary journey at the Gato Dumas hotel school in Buenos Aires. After graduating from Gate Dumas, Colagreco took up learning from chefs at highly respected restaurants in Buenos Aires, including Catalinas, Rey Castro, Mariani, and Azul Profundo. Later, Colagreco headed to France and worked with Bernard Loiseau until his death in 2003. He then worked in Paris with Alain Passard at l’Arpège and Alain Ducasse at the Hotel Plaza Athénée; and, finally spent a year at Le Grand Véfour.
In 2006, Colagreco established Mirazur. And, in less than a year, he earned the “Revelation of the Year” award from Gault & Millau, as well as, his first Michelin star (followed by his second in 2012). Then, in 2019, Colagreco was awarded a prestigious third star. Also in 2019, Mirazur became officially the best restaurant in the world listed in “The World’s 50 Best Restaurant” list. That same year, he was the first non-French chef to receive the “Chef of the Year” award from Gault & Millau.
When Colagreco’s restaurant Mirazur received both the honor of “The Best Restaurant in Europe” and “The World’s Best Restaurant” in 2019 from S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, Colagreco brought four flags on stage with him. These four flags represented Argentina, France, Brazil, and Italy, as he explained: “Argentina is my roots, Brazil is the country that gave me the love of my life, France represents my culinary training, and more than half of my team comes from Italy.”
Mirazur may be his main dish; but, Colagreco has cultivated a number of other accreditments to add to his menu of restaurants. Colagreco boasts a brasserie in Paris, as well as, establishments in Courchevel, Nice, and Cannes. And, his empire does not end in France, as Colagreco has expanded to Asia and Germany, where he has created a hamburger chain called Carne.
This worldly chef is in touch with his years of training and values his team. That, in itself, is a recipe for a chef who believes in appreciating where ingredients come from and extracting their freshest and most flavorful taste. At the same time, he has been able to combine all of his inspirations to create his unique style. The Argentine-Italian Colagreco has created the perfect scenario to demonstrate his very particular view of gastronomy – he serves flavorful vegetable-focused dishes made with the products that come straight from his own backyard farm (which features almost 150 local herbs and flowers).
Colagreco has imposed a style of his own in the interpretation of ingredients and the contrast of flavors. Interesting, this style is not rooted in his cultural heritage; and, does not refer to the experienced chefs with whom he worked in France – though, many ingredients do come from locals farmers and markets in Italy, as the Italian border is a mere 30 meters from his door.
Much of what is not grown by local agriculturists is grown by Colagreco himself, in his own backyard (where he has cultivated up to 150 herbs and flowers). Needless to say, Colagreco’s focus on fresh vegetables in his dishes makes sense. Colagreco had a need to familiarize himself with local vendors for two reasons. The first is choosing to open his restaurant in a place he had never been before, let alone was aware of vendors. And, the second is his pledge to obtain the freshest and most locally sourced food, whether it be seafood or citrus fruits.
Colagreco is extremely well traveled and educated not only formally, but also by pure experience in different countries with various native foods and techniques. Colagreco is an extremely adaptable chef, who has chosen to mix all of his experience and knowledge to create dishes at his own restaurant. Though, he never forgets his roots, even using one of his grandmother’s recipes for bread. In his classic style, he revamped the recipe to utilize some of his own homegrown thyme and citrus. The way Colagreco consistently uses fresh and homegrown ingredients, as well as his unique combination of inspirations, truly makes him one of a kind.
Walter Martino began his career at the exclusive Zeffirino Restaurant in Genoa and Las Vegas; cooking and learning from his mentor, Gian Paolo Belloni – a highly regarded chef to the Popes and celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Pavarotti.
Martino’s creativity is unique and special. His culinary fusions of Eastern and Western flavors are displayed on unique handmade Italian ceramic, gold, emerald, and diamond plates, specially designed by him. These exclusive works of art serve as luxurious vessels for his culinary creations. And, in essence, “luxury” is how one would describe Martino. The way in which he has crafted dishes with not only taste in mind; but, also thinking about how to push limits of experience, is inspiring. Martino is fully aware that one feasts their senses, namely their eyes, before tasting their food. This is apparent with his extravagant plating and delicious aromas. The hype is well deserved, as his decadence venture pays off in looks and taste.
Martino maintains this over the top style of presentation while combining his multicultural influences to make such dishes. His birthplace of Italian is not only represented in the beautiful dishes he creates, but also in his inspiration for cooking. This combination of creativity enabled worldwide recognition, including earning the titles for “Most Expensive Plate in the World” and “Most Expensive Champagne Bottle”. For his most recent art creation, the “Treasure Bottle” is an artwork that does social works and is an original collaboration with the Colombian artist Jaime Ojeda. Martino has been lauded by critics and has received widespread praise throughout the gourmet food world, acclaiming him the “Most Luxurious Chef in the World”; and granting him the title of “Million Dollar Chef.” Additionally, He has taken part in executive events experiences, such as the Latin GRAMMYs in Las Vegas “Golden Splash Media Tour,” and a curated menu for Après Noir concert series with Jennifer Hudson and Drake.
Martino’s Kaori in Miami is arguably one of his most innovative dining experiences. It is a place that made his visions a reality. It was a 360° cinematic experience, designed to be cutting edge, and aesthetically pleasing. This intimate restaurant takes guests on a journey through their senses with a tasting menu. Each tasting menu’s courses prove to be extravagant, such as tempura being served in ceramic high heels or golden purses or patrons given vaporizers to use the taste of dulce de leche during their meal.
Now, Martino has adapted his luxury style to connect with followers for this age of technology. His ability to combine gourmet food with accessibility to all in the age of quarantine is unprecedented. And, while Martino is praised for creating a luxurious dining experience for his patrons, he is bringing this decadence home to consumers all over the world and internet.
Sushi originated as a very casual food, often bought from stalls in the Edo Era and eaten quickly with tea, as customers departed as fast as they arrived. Now, Jiro Ono’s small sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is so popular that reservations are not even available.
Born in 1925, Jiro Ono began working in restaurants at seven years old. After working in local restaurants at such a young age, Ono moved to Tokyo to study as an apprentice. He became a qualified sushi chef in 1951; and, in 1965, he opened his own restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし次郎), in Ginza, Tokyo.
Often known as Sushi Jiro, this 10-seat restaurant has hosted US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Obama reportedly said the sushi he ate at Jiro was “the best [he has] ever had,” even after growing up in Hawaii where he ate sushi regularly.
The 94-year-old sushi chef is widely regarded as one of the most celebrated sushi chefs alive. In 2011, his sushi and original sushi stall, which he maintains to this day, was the subject of the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. Jiro is noted for developing new methods in contemporary sushi preparation at his famous Tokyo restaurant, and is praised for his ability to foster new techniques while keeping in line with his original goal of creating fresh, delicious sushi. Although he loves using fresh seafood, Ono is aware of the continual decline in some fish species and worries that over-fishing will eventually cause key components of traditional sushi dishes to go extinct. Ono’s awareness of the availability of his resources is extremely respectable, and it is obvious he takes pride in the quality and even welfare of the fish and seafood he uses.
Ono is highly respected by his contemporaries and is even regarded as the ‘best sushi craftsman alive’. This could be in part to the fact that he holds food in high esteem, making sure that his guests are aware of how to properly enjoy the morsels. If one peruses his website, they will learn how his tasting menu is meant to be eaten – literally by tasting it right away, as the “flavors are at their most exquisite when the sushi has just been prepared.” The soy sauce, as per tradition, is brushed atop the sushi so no dipping is required. Maintaining elements of tradition and appreciation for fresh ingredients, coupled with his innovative sushi techniques, makes Jiro Ono a rare combination of old and new. This combination exemplifies why his sushi restaurant and the experience it offers is so sought after by food lovers around the world.