16 Career-Defining Dishes From American Chefs

By Kelly Dobkin  |  November 11, 2013

In every great career, there are defining moments; in the career of a great chef, there are defining dishes. We asked some top toques from all around the country to talk about the plates that changed their careers - let's call them culinary turning points. Check out these milestone dishes in the slide show below.

  • Iron Chef Jose Garces, Phildelphia, Atlantic City

    "Pernil Asado, slow-roasted, and confit pork shank with garlic white beans, arugula and orange is a dish that I developed after I had traveled to Madrid, Spain. There was an amazing old restaurant called an asador - there are different types of asadores, and this specific one specialized in roast pork from a giant clay oven. When I came back to the States, it took about two months of testing different methods for me to recreate the dish exactly, to get the perfect texture, crispiness of skin, fat-to-meat ratio, etc. This dish was on the original menu at Amada, my first restaurant in Philly, and to me it encapsulates the exact reason why it became and still remains such a successful restaurant.

    "I was determined to only put forth the best, to show a dedication and a respect for these traditional Spanish dishes that I had witnessed and tasted while abroad, and to share them in their full glory with the diners at my restaurant. My team and I still go through that same rigorous testing for all of the dishes we serve at any of the Garces Group restaurants, to make sure we honor wherever it is that they came from, and to give diners an authentic taste of the various cuisines and cultures we are representing."

  • Executive Chef/Partner Michael Ferraro, Delicatessen and macbar, NYC

    Big Eyed Tuna Tartare, with toasted soy vinaigrette, wasabi tobiko, pepper crème fraîche, taro. “This is a dish that has been with me since my first executive chef position at Fresh in 2008. Later on that year when I took over Delicatessen, this dish was one of the first to go on the menu. Since that first menu revamp this has been one of our top-selling appetizers. Five years later it is still going strong.”

  • Chef-owner Anita Lo, Annisa, NYC

    "Even though the restaurant ultimately closed, my time at Mirezi" - a Korean-focused Pan-Asian - in the mid '90s was really a turning point in my career. The one dish that got a lot of attention was the hanger steak - it was marinated bulgogi style and came with spicy potato pancakes and I think a salad."

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Morimoto, NYC, Philadelphia, Vegas

    “Sushi made me pursue to become a chef. I grew up poor, but my father took my family to a sushi restaurant once a month on his payday. It was my really happy time with my family, and I began to associate sushi with happiness. It was because of this that I started thinking about becoming a sushi chef.

    "People ask me, 'What was the dish that gave me the turning point of my culinary career?' I cannot think of any specific dish in the category. However, leaving Japan and coming to New York was actually the turning point for me. Living in New York, my culinary world has been growing by being able to learn about so many dishes and ingredients from all over the world.”

  • Chef-owner Laurent Tourondel, Arlington Club, NYC

    “My semi-smoked salmon with apple broth - featured in Food & Wine magazine, back when they profiled me as one of their Best New Chefs in 1998 - is one of the dishes that distinguished my career.”  

  • Richard Kuo, Pearl & Ash, NYC

    "The octopus dish currently on the menu is one of the dishes that has highlighted a turning point in one of the ways I cook. The dish consists of octopus cooked in togarashi and mirin and served with sunflower seed purée and shiso. The simplicity of the dish resonates with the content-driven ideology of Pearl & Ash. It is extremely simple yet tasty and really allows our guests to focus their attention on the content and experience."

  • Chef Kyle Bailey, Birch & Barley, Washington, DC

    Grilled octopus with warm potato salad, fried capers, herb salad and lemon. “This was the first dish I ever put on a menu or created as the Executive Chef. It’s a really simple, delicious dish that I still use on the menu today.”

  • Harold Moore, Commerce, NYC

    "What made the Chicken for Two one of Commerce Restaurant's signature dishes was when it was named Best Dish for Two by New York Magazine. We started seeing people coming in from all over just to have this chicken. For me, this dish represents everything that is good about cooking. Once you reach a certain level of maturity, you stop trying to reinvent the wheel and just focus on trying to be as excellent as you possibly can. For me, that means making the best roasted chicken. A ton of prep goes into preparing the Chicken for Two, but first and foremost, it starts with a great quality ingredient. That is one of the most important factors and why this dish remains as one of our top sellers."

  • Joey Campanaro, The Little Owl, NYC

    "Both the Gravy Meatball Sliders and the Pork Chop that we serve at The Little Owl were game-changing dishes for me. They helped put The Little Owl on the map on a national level - we still have people that come to the restaurant from across the country just to try these dishes."

  • Anthony Martin, Tru, Chicago, IL

    "Levitation is a dish that I created to wow our guests at the very beginning of their experience at Tru. It reflects the jumping-off point of where their evening with us will take them and is the perfect metaphor for where I want to go as a chef - surprising, luxurious, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it."

  • Michael Paley, Metropole, Cincinnati, OH

    "I think octopus was always a challenge to cook correctly, and when I finally mastered it, I saw it as a big accomplishment. I have since used it in a few different ways, starting with the octopus dish still served at Proof on Main in Louisville and now with the variations we serve at Metropole. Right now we're doing a Seared Octopus with garbanzo beans, currants, navel orange and hot pepper."

  • Daniel Holzman, The Meatball Shop, NYC

    "In 2007 I was working at Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon, and I made a roast Alaskan halibut over wilted lettuce and English peas, with a preserved lemon, toasted pine nuts and bread sauce that was selected for a 'best of' cookbook. Getting that recipe published re-doubled my efforts and gave me the taste of success that I needed to drive me towards my goal."

  • Laurent Kalkotour, Atrium DUMBO, NYC

    “When I was working at Louis XV for Alain Ducasse, we cooked a dish called Provence garden vegetable that was just vegetables with a little black truffle. Each vegetable was cooked separately to keep the integrity, flavor and color of the vegetables. In the end it’s just vegetables, but it made me realize what you can do with vegetables and food. And it was so beautiful, like a painting by Paul Cézanne."

  • Nilton "Junior" Borges, Jr., Amali, NYC

    "I wouldn't say I made it yet, as I believe I still have a lot to offer, but a dish that turned things around for me and Amali was the Oven-Roasted Broccoli with salmoriglio, pine nuts and breadcrumbs. It was a dish created in the spur of the moment and exemplifies Amali's concept. It is a simple, flavorful vegetable dish. Lagaya Mishan praised the dish in the opening paragraph of her review of Amali for the New York Times - one of our first critical reviews."

  • Credit: Facebook

    Jimmy Bradley, The Harrison, NYC

    "It was 1991, and I was in my early twenties and the chef at a restaurant named Savoir Fare in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, when I prepared a dish of zucchini, thinly sliced and sautéed, served with toasted almonds and pecorino. People dug it, and I received two stars from Alison Arnett at The Boston Globe shortly after. We still serve that dish at The Red Cat today."

  • Eli Sussman, Mile End, NYC co-author of Best Cookbook Ever, out November 19

    "At Mile End, I've always been given creative flexibility. When I was a line cook working dinner service, I made a dish for my chef at that time (chef Sam Filloramo, now at Good Fork) using schmaltz-roasted heirloom carrots and pistachio. He gave me great feedback and told me I could put it out as an off-menu plate for regulars when we sent something extra. That moment was huge for me and my confidence in the kitchen. It was my boss telling me the flavors of that plate were on point and that he was cool with letting the dish leave his kitchen. That dish evolved into what I now serve in Brooklyn as the lamb bacon heirloom carrot salad with pomegranate molasses."