The 21 most influential people in the restaurant industry

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Marco pierre white Gordon ramsay

More than 16,000 people were asked to nominate the most influential figures of the industry
More than 16,000 people were asked to nominate the most influential figures of the industry
To celebrate 21 years of the Restaurant Show we asked more than 16,000 people to name the key figures alive today who have had the biggest impact on the UK restaurant industry. Here are the names we were given

To celebrate 21 years of the Restaurant Show we asked more than 16,000 people to name the key figures alive today who have had the biggest impact on the UK restaurant industry. Below are the top 21 names we were given - well 25 if you're being picky, it includes those inseparable dream partnerships - and the reasons why they can lay claim to having shaped the way we eat out today.

Roy Ackerman

If you had to name the face of hospitality it would be Ackerman’s distinctive features that would spring to many people’s minds. As former chairman and president of the Restaurant Association, chairman of the World Master of Culinary Arts, president of the Academy of Food and Wine and chairman of the Hotel and Catering Training Board, Ackerman has held more posts than a fence builder’s assistant and has won admiration from his peers for his tireless work in promoting the industry both here and abroad. He is also something of a patron, having helped chefs such as Giorgio Locatelli, Antony Worrall Thompson and Brian Turner with their ventures.

Raymond Blanc

Restaurants growing their own fruit and veg is this season’s must-follow trend but Raymond Blanc has been doing it for years at his famed restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. But then he does have the space to do so at what must be the world’s busiest two-Michelin-starred restaurant. Like the Roux brothers, Blanc has been an ambassador for French cuisine in the UK for years and is a stickler for tradition, a trait that has rubbed off on some of the UK chef superstars who have worked under him. Marco Pierre White credits Blanc with teasing out his creative side, and this might have also rubbed off on a young Heston Blumenthal, who had a brief stint at Le Manoir. He is also creative in the business sense, having founded patisserie chain Maison Blanc as well as Brasserie Blanc, which he describes as the Can Can to Le Manoir’s waltz. Le Manoir celebrated its 2th birthday this year, attended by the French ambassador, which shows the high regard in which Blanc is held.

Heston Blumenthal

Blumenthal may spurn the phrase ‘molecular gastronomy’ but his dogged dedication to getting underneath the skin of cooking techniques means that it will follow him for some time yet. When The Fat Duck opened its doors in 1995, stuffy, French haute cuisine was still the order of the day, but Blumenthal’s scientific, eccentric and downright geeky approach to cuisine has changed all that. Few diners now bat an eyelid at the thought of snail porridge or savoury ice cream. In the short term Blumenthal’s legacy has unfortunately led to more froth and foams being used in restaurants than an Ibiza pool party and a run on liquid nitrogen, but in the long term it has encouraged chefs to reappraise their cooking techniques and challenge long-held perceptions. He has also made eating out much more exciting, and that alone is something to celebrate.

Derek Bulmer

As editor of the Michelin Guide for Great Britain & Ireland, Bulmer carries considerable sway in the restaurant industry. Despite annual criticism every time the new edition is published the famous red book remains the most influential of the guides and the quest to gain a Michelin star still has the ability to keep chefs awake at night. As the guiding hand of the book, the fate of many top chefs lies in Bulmer’s hands – if he thinks a restaurant is worthy of a star it can expect its phone lines to start ringing; if a star is removed the opposite can happen. During his 10 years at the helm Bulmer has also championed the Bib Gourmand awards, which celebrate value-for-money, and launched a guide for pubs, thus influencing the less formal and pub dining scene as well.

Antonio Carluccio

Since his move to London in 1975 Carluccio has been regarded as the godfather of Italian cooking and has inspired a legion of chefs to produce simple, honest Italian food where the ingredients, rather than the cooking, do most of the talking. His eponymous restaurant chain, of which he is no longer a director, was ahead of its time and created a blueprint for the café/deli concept that is only now really being adopted by restaurateurs. Most importantly, however, has been softly-spoken Carluccio’s regular TV appearances since his debut on BBC2 in 1983, which have inspired whole generations of the British public to embrace Italian food and create the huge market for the cuisine that exists today. Thankfully there is more to Italian restaurants than spaghetti Bolognese and prawns and avocado these days – and Carluccio has had a major hand in that.

Sir Terence Conran

“Conran, more than anyone, has changed British taste over the past 40 years,” according to food critic Jonathan Meades, and few would argue with him. Since opening Bibendum in the former Michelin House in 1987 Conran has built an empire that operates more than 30 of London’s most famous restaurants, as well as a clutch in Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo. The scale and style of many modern restaurants reflect Conran’s visionary work of the early 1990s, which helped launch London into the big league of culinary destinations. These include the regeneration of Butlers Wharf and the opening of Le Pont de la Tour, and the revamp of Quaglino’s, one of London’s first large scale restaurants. Like his venues’ ashtrays, Conran’s restaurants remain much sought-after, even today.

David Eyre and Mike Belben

The Eagle does not look one bit the important venue it is – it looks like any other gastropub – yet when Eyre and Belben took it on in 1991 it was the first of its kind. The pair did away with fruit machines, sticky carpets and average lager and instead turned the traditional English boozer into a place people could get good food and decent wine. Chicken in a basket was out and fresh, homemade, Mediterranean fare was in. Never before has a trend been copied so fervently, and today there are wannabe Eagles on every wellheeled street from London to Loch Ness, though only a handful are bona fide gastropubs. Even still, pub goers across the country continue to reap the rewards of their pioneering approach.

Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver

St John was a run-down smoke house when Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver took it on in October 1994. Today it is a temple for a rustic style of cooking and dining that has led to a renaissance in using offal and cheaper cuts of meat. Henderson, a former architect, would certainly lay no claim to being the first to use the entire meat of an animal – the French and the Chinese have been doing it for centuries – but his nose-to-tail approach has led to a style of cooking that has been taken up by chefs across the world. Only now are consumers becoming aware of different cuts, and of underused techniques. St John has undeniably been the architect of this shift.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

If Fay Maschler describes your restaurant as seminal you can be sure you’re going to leave your mark. And that is exactly what Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers have done with River Café. The London restaurant scene’s First Ladies, together Gray and Rogers developed a family-oriented model, focusing on simple Italian cooking in one of the first open-plan kitchens that altered the way British people ate when it opened its doors in 1988. It has also created ripples way beyond its Thames Wharf setting, helping to launch the careers of Jamie Oliver and Theo Randall.

Jeremy King and Chris Corbin

The Ivy is a notoriously difficult place to get a table at, but it hasn’t always been so. Londoners have Jeremy King and Chris Corbin to thank (or moan at) for that. Together the pair rejuvenated the fortunes of three old-school London restaurants – the other two being Le Caprice and J Sheekey – upgrading them from ageing has-beens to celebrity hangouts with their inimitable approach as restaurateurs. They then performed their masterstroke by turning an old car garage on Piccadilly into London’s finest brunch destination, The Wolseley. The pair have since directed their Midas touch to their St Alban restaurant, a pancake toss from The Wolseley, and are set to open on top of the Bishopsgate Tower development in 2012. Very apt for two Olympians of the restaurant industry.

Pierre Koffman

The elusive Koffmann returns to the stove this month at a pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges after almost disappearing completely from view when he closed the doors to his famed restaurant Le Tante Claire in 2002. By then he had achieved three Michelin stars, worked above Michel Roux Jnr and Marco Pierre White and introduced the London public to some of the finest French food of the day. Despite his low profile since then, Koffmann remains one of the most influential chefs to have graced these shores and carries an enviable food legacy with him. The hugely successful Restaurant Gordon Ramsay now sits on the former Le Tante Claire site, as if blessed by the great man himself, and his signature dish of a stuffed pig’s trotter with morels and sweetbreads will forever remain one of the true great dishes of the era.

Fay Maschler

The pen is mightier than the sword, and in Maschler’s case it’s mightier than the meat cleaver as well – or at least as cutting. In a career that has spanned three decades, and seen her survive nine Evening Standard editors, Maschler has become Britain’s most feared and respected restaurant critic thanks to an incomparable knowledge of food and eating trends and an ability to convey this to her readers without pomp or frippery. There is little doubt that Maschler puts bums on seats – chefs such as Gordon Ramsay have said that her reviews can be more influential than a Michelin star – and that she has, albeit unintentionally, shaped London’s dining scene. Best of all, Maschler is a pioneer; when she started writing about restaurants there was little interest in food or eating out. She set an authoritative tone that is often simulated but seldom matched.

Anton Mosimann

The next time you eat out in one of London’s grand hotels give a quiet toast to Anton Mosimann, because without this visionary chef your food may be altogether different, and not in a good way. During his 13-year stint at The Dorchester, Mosimann helped redefine hotel dining, steering it away from its stuffy food and indifferent service and giving it a clean bill of health. And it was there, in the Grill Room, that the nouvelle cuisine revolution in the UK took seed. Mosimann called it Cuisine Naturelle and it championed a Continental style of cleaner, less fussy, healthier cooking that has since become the norm in any ambitious kitchen across the country. His regular TV appearances and friendly demeanour also spawned an interest in chefs and paved the way for the TV stardom that so many now enjoy.

Jamie Oliver

Oliver shot to fame in 1998 when his Naked Chef TV programme introduced us to the ‘mockney’ chef and some rather curious camera work. Yet it wasn’t until he launched his ambitious restaurant Fifteen, taking staff from troubled backgrounds, that he made the transition from another bloke on the telly to someone with true industry clout. Oliver’s ‘lad about town’ persona may have irked some people in the early years, but there’s little doubt his genuine nature, and a dogged tenacity, comparable to Freddy Flintoff’s, has enabled him to communicate with people hitherto preached at. Poor school dinners have taken a bashing at Oliver’s hands and he’s worked to improve the UK pork industry, but his biggest contribution has been reconnecting the public with food.

Claudio Pulze

Along with Conran, Pulze has been influential in making the fine-dining industry what it is today, and helped propel the careers of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Giorgio Locatelli with some ground-breaking venues. The Italian-born bell-boy-turned-restaurateur first made waves when he joined forces with actor Michael Caine and White in 1992 to launch Canteen in Chelsea. This was followed a year later by the creation of A-Z restaurants, which opened the gastronomic Meccas Aubergine, Zaffareno and L’Oranger, keeping London at the forefront of eating out throughout the nineties. In total, Pulze has opened some 50 restaurants in his prolific career.

Gordon Ramsay

If Marco Pierre White developed a new breed of young, British chefs then Ramsay galvanised them and created a restaurant empire from it. In Ramsay you not only have a three-star chef, rare enough in the UK, but also a successful restaurateur with a business that spans the globe, thus placing him in the same league as Ducasse and Robuchon, and a marketable face for TV. To judge Ramsay’s influence on today’s dining scene, you need only look at the impact former protégés Marcus Wareing, Jason Atherton and Angela Hartnett are making. The backlash has begun, primarily down to Ramsay’s predeliction for shouting and the f-word, but his contribution to fine dining, and hotel dining, will never be forgotten.

Egon Ronay

Hungarian-born Ronay seemed an unlikely candidate to get diners’tongues wagging when he launched the Egon Ronay Guide to British Eateries in 1957 but his honest and impartial approach, twinned with the fact that he conducted the majority of the reviews himself, struck a chord with a general public tired of bad food and poor service when eating out. His guides may not have carried as much influence as those that have followed it, but there is little doubt that in their prime they changed the way the British ate out and raised restaurant standards to new heights. Many regard Ronay’s approach as the catalyst for the numerous restaurant guides now available.

Rick Stein

Few chefs have dominated one particular place, and for so long, as Rick Stein has done in Padstow. More impressive still is that, although he has concentrated almost all of his efforts on just one small town in the West Country, his influence has been nationwide, with fish finally getting the respect it deserves in the capital and beyond. Stein became one of the first major chef brands following his debut TV appearance in 1995 and his entrepreneurial streak has kept him at the vanguard of innovation. He was a forerunner of chefs operating different styles of restaurants, as well as delis, and his idea of developing a beer has since been taken up by the likes of Mark Hix and Ferran Adrià.

Marco Pierre White

While TV appearances help to reinforce the dark, brooding personality that is Marco Pierre White, it’s his early years, when he was carving out a career under the Rouxs, Pierre Koffman and Raymond Blanc, which ultimately led him to become the youngest chef to win three stars. While his cooking style will never leave a legacy like that of his mentors, White has been as influential, if not more, in the kitchen. Dubbed an enfante terrible by the media, he led a revolution of young, ambitious chefs, many of whom have gone on to blaze their own trails, including Ramsay and Bryn Williams. His tentacles even stretch across the pond – who knows what might have been if Mario Batali had not met White all those years ago?

Albert and Michel Roux

Albert and Michel Roux require no introduction. Before their arrival on the UK restaurant scene with Le Gavroche, in 1967, the country’s cuisine was little more than a joke. But, thanks to their tireless work, they have raised the standards of cooking so that the UK can compete on an equal footing with any country in the world. At one point the brothers ran two three-Michelin-starred restaurants, Le Gavroche and The Waterside Inn, and a further three of their protégés have also achieved three stars. But the Roux Brothers Scholarship, which encourages young chefs to meet their potential, will be their indelible legacy.

Alan Yau

Yau may not have invented the idea of diners all sitting together on long tables school-dinnerstyle, but he popularised ‘democratic dining’ to such an extent that he is often credited with its creation. What isn’t up for debate is that he brought Far Eastern food kicking and screaming into the mainstream when Wagamama burst onto the scene back in 1992, thus launching the careers of a gaggle of ‘me-too’ dim sum restaurant owners. His upmarket London restaurants Hakkaasan and Yauatcha prove that Yau isn’t a one-trick pony, but it is Wagamama, with its casual approach and nobooking policy, that has made the biggest impact. Today his influence can be felt in popular restaurants such as Wahaca, Jamie’s Italian, Comptoir Libanais and more.

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