6 Questions With 5 Chefs & the Meal That Changed Their Life

As you can see here, the idea of what it means to be a great chef has evolved tremendously over the past 25 years. Through different kitchens around the world, some of these culinarians are vanguards helping to push the industry to the next level in different ways.

Below, we get to know five of them -- all of whom made the semi-finalist round for this year's 25th Annual James Beard Foundation Awards:

Mathieu Chartron: Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
Max Hull and Irene Li: Mei Mei, Boston
Jonah Miller: Huertas, NYC
Christopher Teixeira: Homestead on the Roof, Chicago

Rhubarb pavlova, ginger rhubarb compote, orange curd, maple whip & mochi at Mei Mei. | Credit: Instagram, meimeiboston

Rhubarb pavlova, ginger rhubarb compote, orange curd, maple whip & mochi at Mei Mei. | Credit: Instagram, meimeiboston

Foodable: What were you doing when you received the call about your JBFA nomination?

Mathieu Chartron: I was working. The Caesars Palace public relations actually told me.

Max Hull: I was in the kitchen prepping for dinner service. Mostly what I remember about it is Irene (Li)’s face when I told her. I think she screamed.

Irene Li: I'm currently finishing the last year of my degree in Ithaca, NY, but I'm glad to say that I was in Boston, at our restaurant, when I heard!

Jonah Miller: I was prepping in the kitchen at Huertas and a friend texted me. That's how I found out.

Christopher Teixeira: I was eating breakfast — oatmeal — and was getting ready for work when the long list was published, and got a text from a couple of friends.

Foodable: What’s the first meal (that you can recall) that changed your life?

Ramp & egg pintxo at Huertas. | Credit: Instagram, huertasnyc

Ramp & egg pintxo at Huertas. | Credit: Instagram, huertasnyc

Mathieu Chartron: Paul Bocuse. I was 12 years old and my parents invited me there for my birthday. It was my first 3-Michelin-starred restaurant. Since I turned 10, my parents asked me what I would like for my birthday: a present or dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I always took the restaurant option.

Max Hull: The first time I ate a pork chop from The Piggery in Ithaca, NY. It was seasoned just with salt and cooked in its own rendered fat, but the flavor was incredibly complex. It was a powerful demonstration of the reality that your food can only be as good as your product.

Irene Li: An early meal that changed my life took place at The Mountain School, a one-semester program for high school students on an organic farm. I was a student there in the winter and spring, and my first taste of spring asparagus, picked moments before off the farm, was definitely on the order of life-changing. Not only was it my first taste of fresh asparagus, but it was also one of the first experiences where I could look around the room and see the people who grew the vegetables and raised the animals, and feel part of that interconnectedness.

Jonah Miller: I was really drawn to food at a very young age (and have the home videos of highchair pasta destruction to prove it), but the first restaurant meal that felt very special, an experience as opposed to just a meal, was at La Cote Basque for my 12th birthday.

Christopher Teixeira: During a food and wine seminar trip to Spain, I had the privilege of enjoying a fantastic meal at Mugaritz.

Foodable: Who is one person that you would love to cook for (that you haven’t already)?

Vanilla panna cotta, cherry ganache & cherry sorbet at Homestead on the Roof. | Credit: Instagram, chris1987tex

Vanilla panna cotta, cherry ganache & cherry sorbet at Homestead on the Roof. | Credit: Instagram, chris1987tex

Mathieu Chartron: Everyone I can make happy.

Max Hull: I'm not sure there is anyone I want to cook for that I haven't yet. I cook for the people in my life that I love whenever I can, so I have pretty much crossed them all off the list. Of course there are people in the restaurant industry for which I have a great deal of admiration. I would like to have them enjoy my food, but actually cooking for them would be terrifying so I'm not sure I could say I really want to do it.

Irene Li: I would love to go back in time and cook for my dad, who started developing Alzheimer's disease when I was a teenager, long before I had any idea that I would work in food. Though I've cooked for him since, I have fond memories of cooking eggs, dried fish and lotus root. I think he would be very tickled by what my brother and sister and I are up to.

Jonah Miller: I would love to cook for Bill Murray, but only if I got to sit down and eat with him.

Christopher Teixeira: Thomas Keller

Foodable: Who is your culinary mentor?

Asparagus salad with caviar at Restaurant Guy Savoy. | Credit: Instagram, mchartron26

Asparagus salad with caviar at Restaurant Guy Savoy. | Credit: Instagram, mchartron26

Mathieu Chartron: I actually have two: my dad and Guy Savoy.

Max Hull: Since this is (effectively) my first foray into a professional kitchen, I don't have a culinary mentor per se. However, I do owe a lot of my early philosophy and interest in food to Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. The River Cottage Meat Book helped shape a lot of my thinking around eating meat, and the first few series of The River Cottage changed my relationship to food forever. It was the first time I really understood food's value as a way to connect people and fostering or fortifying communities.

Irene Li: Though we're largely self-taught and haven't worked directly under many chefs, I think I speak for both Max and myself when I say that the British chef and activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall changed our lives with his River Cottage series, and the work that followed it.

Jonah Miller: I don’t have one single mentor. I was fortunate to work for chef/owners, David Waltuck (Chanterelle, Élan) and Peter Hoffman (Savoy, Back Forty) at a very young age and certainly have them to thank for continuing to encourage me to pursue this career.

Christopher Teixeira: I have four, each for different reasons. Each helped me hone and develop my craft, and taught me about attention to details and flavor profiles: Francisco Migoya, Sarah Kosikowski, Patrick Fahy and Thomas Lents.

Foodable: Where is your favorite restaurant to eat at when you aren’t working?

Mathieu Chartron: Raku when I’m off in Vegas and Le Bernardin whenever I’m on vacation in NYC.

Max Hull: I love going to Birch in Providence, RI. The food is so smart and delicious, and just gets better and better.

Irene Li: When I'm not working, I love to eat at our friend James Mark's restaurant, North, in Providence, Rhode Island. The crew there puts out insanely delicious food, plus cocktail slushies. What's not to love?

Jonah Miller: Wherever I have a friend in the kitchen. It's hard to find time to catch up with old kitchen pals and it’s always special to see what they're up to.

Christopher Teixeira: Purple Pig

Foodable: One ingredient you could not live without?

A "monster truffle" at Restaurant Guy Savoy | Credit: Twitter, @mchartron

A "monster truffle" at Restaurant Guy Savoy | Credit: Twitter, @mchartron

Mathieu Chartron: Black truffle (Tuber melanosporum). My parents have a 1-Michelin-starred restaurant in the southeast of France, near Lyon. I grew up there, and the speciality of the house is the black truffle during the winter. We have a truffle farm with approximately 500 trees and bring the guests truffle hunting during the season.

Max Hull: Salt. Maybe water.

Irene Li: Despite being a total New England food zealot, I don't think I could live without lemons.

Jonah Miller: At Huertas, we'd have a hard time putting together the menu without eggs. The Spanish love them and so do we!

Christopher Teixeira: Salt