Celeb Chefs Step Up Airport Cuisine

It is a truth universally acknowledged than an airport must be in want of fresh, delicious food for any price. Even the godfather of the celebrity-chef concept, Wolfgang Puck, has allowed his brand to become so diluted that his name on your pizza box guarantees little besides the requisite thin crust. But as the new generation has swept in to our ever more Food-Networked world, they’ve started taking up real estate in the terminals that deserve some attention.

Rick Bayless has managed to create a deep respect among his fans for both Mexican cuisine and the Chicago culinary scene, so it’s no surprise that Tortas Fronteras serves up its giant (and we mean giant) tortas and open-face sandwiches at O’Hare, in Terminal 1. Across the pond, London Heathrow tapped Gordon Ramsay to create Plane Food in their Terminal 5, offering everything from blini and Sevruga caviar to sea bass and braised lamb — and you can even get it packaged to take on your flight.

A different kind of English cuisine is happening at Boston’s Logan Airport, where Todd English’s Bonfire is grilling up steaks from around the world in a mix of Argentinean, European and American steakhouse traditions. And though customers may stumble into Las Vegas’ McCarran with nothing more than a Bloody Mary in mind, David Burke’s Burke in the Box offers up a wide selection of gourmet American offerings, like not-so-traditional prosciutto and arugula pizza and pretzel panini. But if we’re being honest, our favorite celebrity chef airport joint isn’t run by a celebrity chef at all — it’s celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda, whose Custom Burgers joint in New York’s LaGuardia airport turns out beef so tender, you won’t even need your dinky plastic knife.

The New Old White House Chef

imageWhile President-Elect Obama may be enjoy the folksy bonhomie of wolfing down a chili halfsmoke with cheese at Ben’s Chili Bowl, there’s no chance those line cooks will be working the White House grills. Recent speculation ran wild as to who would chef it up for the Obamas. Would it be Obama’s favorite chef Rick Bayless, the drawing power behind Chicago’s Topolobampo and Frontera Grill? And what about the infamous Alice Waters of Chez Panisse who offered to be head of Obama’s “kitchen cabinet”? Well, the answer is actually none of the above.

As per White House policy, chefs may come and go, but a new administration does not mean a new chef. Bush White House chef Cristeta Comerford, the first female white House chef ever, was hired by first lady Laura Bush in 2005 and will now cook for the Obama clan. “The decision was anticlimactic, if not disappointing, reports the Washington Post. “[S]ome food lovers had cast Barack Obama as the next American food hero. While George W. Bush is renowned for his love of cheeseburgers, Obama understands the pain of high-priced arugula at Whole Foods. He not only favored Bayless’s restaurants, but he also was a regular at upscale Spiaggia and South Side institution Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, famous for its corn cakes. Here was a man who could bring organic and sustainable food to the political table.” But no. There will be no loud splash. In fact, traditionally, the White House chef needs three qualifications: to be an accomplished cook, have no ego, and be discreet — rare in the world of celebrity chefs. In other words, perfect for no-drama Obama.